Someone said something to me the other day that got me wondering: If a man stamps on a baby's forearm and breaks it (presumably causing the baby a great deal of pain), but the baby is taken to a hospital, has its arm put in a little cast and grows up to have no lasting physical/emotional damage or memory of the incident, has the man done anything wrong?
LET ME ELUCIDATE. When I was 4 years old, my parents took me to the park; unfortunately, they wanted to leave before I did. My dad lifted me into the car and tried to strap me into my booster seat, but I wriggled free. I remember this very clearly. I remember saying "I want to go to the park, I want to go to the park!" and my mum responding "But we've just BEEN to the park!" I even remember my frustration at not being able to articulate the point that we hadn't been to the playground area, because I had no separate word for 'playground' to differentiate it from 'park'.
What I don't remember are the events that immediately followed. As I tried to exit the car, I slipped and cut my back on the metal railings that the front passenger seat slid up and down on. My parents took me to the nearest hospital and I had stitches. I then have a very vague memory of leaving the hospital, but otherwise, the only evidence I have that the accident took place is the word of my parents and a small scar on my back.
I've asked my parents if I blacked out from the pain, and they say I didn't. They say I screamed all the way to the hospital, which raises several questions for me: When did I stop remembering this? Did I ever remember? Was my experience of it only in the moment? Did my direct knowledge of the event fade with the event itself? And if that's the case, did I really experience it or was it just some pale imitation of experience?
If you'd asked me at the time, "Do you want your back cut open?", I obviously would have said no, but ask me now if I wish the event hadn't taken place and I wouldn't be able to honestly say I care. I have no access to the 4-year-old me of that moment, nor to the one who suffered in pain during the subsequent days; he might as well have not existed. So what do his thoughts and feelings matter? As far as I can tell, they lasted a few hours, then they were gone. Should such temporary suffering be of concern to anyone?