However, Biss soon realizes that the task of associating pain with a number and measurement is much harder than it appears due to the fact that it is unsure what it really means to "measure things". A scale can be established to reference the pain, but in the long run the numbers do not really mean much if there is nothing to compare them too. For example, a chronic headache for me may be the same caliber pain someone else feels when they have the stomach flu. To me, the allusion seemed akward.
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Eula connects these concepts to the use of a pain scale, and builds upon her own thought process through them. Eula compares the concept of zero, which is something yet nothing at the same time, to the person Jesus Christ, who is man yet God at the same time. Eula uses this comparison to show how difficult it is to rate her own pain on a pain scale that uses zero as the measurement for no pain.
Both are problematic — both have their fallacies and their immaculate conceptions. But the problem of zero troubles me significantly more than the problem of Christ…Zero is not a number. Or at least, it does not behave like a number. It does not add, subtract, or multiply like other numbers. Eula is describing zero as something incomprehensible; something that creates a problem for the patient rating their pain. From there, Eula discusses the Fahrenheit, Celsius, and Kelvin temperature scales.
Eula points out distinct problems with each scale and their use of zero. The lower fixed point, zero, is the coldest temperature at which a mixture of salt and water can still remain liquid. I myself am a mixture of salt and water. I strive to remain liquid. Zero, on the Celsius scale, is the point at which water freezes.
And one hundred is the point at which water boils. But Anders Celsius, who introduced the scale in , originally fixed zero as the point at which water boiled, and one hundred as the point at which water froze. These fixed points were reversed after his death… There is only one fixed point on the Kelvin scale — absolute zero.
Absolute zero is degrees Celsius colder than the temperature at which water freezes. There are zeroes beneath zeroes. Absolute zero is the temperature at which molecules and atoms are moving as slowly as possible. But even at absolute zero, their motion does not stop completely. Eula uses all of these problems, these small issues that do not line up, to express the great confusion and uncertainty that comes with such rating scales. Eula then uses the Beaufort scale for measuring wind.
Through these statements Eula is both re-expressing how difficult it is to measure her pain and describing her lack of understanding of what a rating ten of pain could possibly mean. Eula is using these facts about the falsity of using fictional measurements to measure Hell to build upon her argument against the use of zero, an almost fictional number in itself. Eula also utilizes mathematical concepts such as calculus and prime numbers to express her thoughts.
Eula is describing rating her own pain as if it were a calculus problem, a guess and check type of equation. An equation that she does not understand but must perform. Out of all the numbers, the very largest primes are unknown. Still, every year, the largest known prime is larger. Euclid proved the number of primes to be infinite, but the infinity of primes is slightly smaller than the infinity of the rest of the numbers. Here, Eula explains through the concept of prime numbers and their infinite possibilities the infinite nature of the pain scale and its use as a rating system.
The pain scale, she is saying, is just as incomprehensible to her as the concept of infinite primes. Eula uses all of these concepts and measurements in comparison with each other in order to point out the errors of the pain scale, and relate the anguish she has experienced through being forced to use it throughout her own life.
The pain scale
The Pain Scale By Eula Biss