Phantom Limbs and the imperative account of pain


Abstract
Amputation of a limb can result in the persistent hallucination that the limb is still present [Ramachandran and Hirstein, 1998]. Distressingly, these socalled ‘phantom limbs’ are often quite painful. Of a friend whose arm had been amputated due to gas gangrene, W.K. Livingston writes: I once asked him why the sense of tenseness in the hand was so frequently emphasized among his complaints. He asked me to clench my fingers over my thumb, flex my wrist, and raise the arm into a hammerlock position and hold it there. He kept me in this position as long as I could stand it. At the end of five minutes I was perspiring freely, my hand and arm felt unbearably cramped, and I quit. But you can take your hand down, he said. (quoted in [Melzack, 1973] 53) In addition to the obvious medical issues, phantom limb pain also presents philosophical problems. Here’s a thorny one: are phantom limb pains hallucinations of pain?
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