This post starts from two seemingly diverse places:
Last month (Aug 2014) the University of Sussex published an article in ‘Current Biology’ (Vol 24 No. 15) on the important role played by the eye, and particularly the ears, in communication between horses. Now this may seem to be a very contemporary start to a historical blog, but I include it to show that visual communication remains in the 21st century a topic of interest as it was in the 19th century. Whilst the current study focused on the use of the ears and eyes in indicating attention to food, the use of facial features – the mouth, the eyes, the nose and even the ears – within intra- and inter-species communication, alongside more general body language, can be found in countless naturalist and anatomical writings from the 18th century onwards.
Pain is a difficult subject to write about, because it is a difficult concept to truly understand in a wider context than the personal. My experience pain, and therefore my understanding of pain, is different from yours. I cannot experience your pain, no matter how much I can empathise with it, and as such it remains something abstract within my experiential field. Javier Moscoso writes in Pain: A Cultural History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) of pain being a temporary entity and one which “cannot be located either in the history of the passions or in the history of the sciences. For one thing, it does not refer to the acquisition of knowledge, but to the production of meaning.” Pain finds itself “halfway between the world of emotions and the realm of sensations…” As not only is pain a physical entity, it is also an emotional one; yet in both cases, a physical language, as much as a verbal language is used to express these (physical and emotional) feelings.
And therefore my two beginnings are brought together…….In the communication of pain – and here I emphasize communication not understanding – we, as humans relay on expression – both facial and bodily. And, as it turns out, so do the lower animals. But this notion is nothing new.