Friday, November 10, 2006

If it hurts you more than it hurts someone else, are you just a sissy?

Not necessarily. The old "telegraph" model of pain is being replaced by a model that looks more like the Internet:
... in the last decade or so, psychologists and other pain researchers are coming around to a new definition of just what is pain — and how the experience looks to be different in men and women.

Gone is the old telegraph model that served medical science for thousands of years: You put your hand in a hot fire you felt the pain of the burn until the tissue eventually healed.

In its place, some scientists are putting forward the notion that pain ricochets through the body more like the way the internet works: The initial experience sets off a complex chain of reactions involving one's general health, genetic makeup, brain chemistry and perhaps even how one has come to think about pain in the first place.

Even more, the placebo effect and its evil twin the nocebo effect, functions of your own mind, play a great role in what you will or won't feel.
Much, though, is clearly in the deep recesses of the mind. Two years ago, for example, researchers in London and Pittsburgh hypnotized otherwise healthy people and told them they were in acute pain. Brain scans then showed these subjects had virtually the same electro-chemical activity as patients with actual ailments — another indicator pain can actually originate in the mind.

Obviously, if it hurts you, it hurts. But no one single standard of pain can be applied to everyone because many factors, including your own mind, play a role in what you are experiencing. Remember that when someone tells you that your mind does not really exist.

My other blog is the Post-Darwinist, which keeps tabs on the intelligent design controversy.

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