The Fact and Experience of Pain: The Intersection of Science and Culture – Ronald Schleifer (Bristol Medical Humanities Seminar, 31 October 2013)

The first Bristol Medical Humanities Research Seminar will be held on 31 October at 5pm, in the Verdon-Smith room of the Institute for Advanced Studies (Royal Fort House). The seminar will be given by Professor Ronald Schleifer, who will be speaking on ‘The Fact and Experience of Pain: The Intersection of Science and Culture’

The Fact and Experience of Pain: The Intersection of Science and Culture
In recent years, medical education and practice in the United States and the west has embraced what has been called “evidence-based medicine,” practices based upon the knowledge that has been produced by means of the most rigorous protocols in scientific proof.  However, while enormously salutary, evidence-based medicine in its aims and procedures eschews notions of experience while focusing on facts.  In my recent work I have argued that one strong conception of the work of the humanities and cultural studies is a focus on the inheritance or acquisition of schemas of experience, neurological and cognitive systems that shape and condition the quality of experience and understanding.  That is, when engaging works of art and literature, analyzing history, studying ideas and the engagement with ideas, the humanities and cultural studies develop to one degree or another, schemas of experience.  Such strategies of understanding – as much as evidence-based medicine – have much to contribute to healthcare.

In this presentation, I examine such schemas in relation to the fact and experience of pain.  That is, there is rich physiological evidence that describes the manner in which human pain is a defining and ubiquitous phenomenon of all human life.  On the other hand, the International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain in a manner than offers a striking example of pain as experienced in culturally specific ways.  These understandings of pain as both a physiological “fact” and a human “experience” makes pain, as many philosophers have indicated, a particularly important site for understanding human experience in general.  In this presentation, the special case of pain as both a human and a cultural phenomenon will be examined in order to shed light on the strategies by which cross-cultural phenomena can be understood as the study of both differences and similarities that can be brought together, negotiated, and lead to wider understanding of our shared and particular lives.

Ronald Schleifer is George Lynn Cross Research Professor in the Department of English at the University of Oklahoma, where he is also Adjunct Professor in Medicine. His most recent books include Intangible Materialism: The Body, Scientific Knowledge, and the Power of Language (2009), Modernism and Popular Music (2011), and The Chief Concern of Medicine: The Integration of the Medical Humanities and Narrative Knowledge into Medical Practice, co-authored with Dr. Jerry Vannatta (2013). His book, Pain and Suffering in the Routledge Series, Integrating Science and Culture, will appear in 2014.  He has recently completed (with Jerry Vannatta) Promoting Humanistic Styles in the Medical Interview.  He has served as editor of the scholarly journals Genre: Forms of Discourse and Culture and Configurations: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Technology.

About Centre for Medical Humanities

Centre for Medical Humanities
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