Contemplating pain

I’ve been thinking about pain lately, mostly due to my repetitive strain and much of the reading I’ve been doing on the brain. What is pain exactly? Obviously we know that nerves fire and deliver messages to the brain which are interpreted as pain, but why do some people feel pain differently than others? How do the various chemicals in your brain mitigate or exaggerate pain?

It interesting to note that you can feel pain even when there is no physical cause. For example think about walking along barefoot and watching a rusty nail go through your foot. You feel that, don’t you? Not on the same level as if it actually happened but there’s definitely something. Or think of your eye being sliced open with a razor (as seen in the famous Luis Buñuel film “Un Chien Andalou.”) Ouch!*

What I find curious is that certain visualizations of body damage don’t seem to solicit this phantom pain. For example: visualize yourself being shot in the chest with a shotgun. Do you feel pain? I find that I don’t, even though this would seem much worse that a nail through the foot. Think of someone knifing you in the gut. Again, I find the rusty nail thought more painful. Or imagine coming home, getting knocked over the head, waking up and finding yourself tied to a pole, naked. In walks Bob Steinbeck, the guy you always humiliated in high school. You plead with him, “Bob, I’m sorry I always called you Bob the Blob and I’m sorry I had sex with your girlfriend and please let me go… please…?” And he says, “Finally, after all these years I will have my rev… wait, you had sex with my girlfriend?! Anyway, not important now. I’m going to place your penis and scrotum in this fish tank filled with microscopic flesh eating piranhas**. Over the next hour they will consume your manhood in tiny, delicate bites.” And then imagine Bob actually placing your package in the tank and imagine the onset of the tiny bites, little needle pricks, slowly disintegrating your penis and scrotum.

Do you feel that? Me: not so much.

*Neuroscientists have discovered “mirror neurons” that fire in a person’s brain when they watch another person perform an action. For example, as you watch someone pitch a baseball, neurons in your brain fire and you, on some level, experience the act of pitching. I wonder if these neurons fire when you visualize the painful acts I am describing here.

** That Piranha 3D movie coming out looks AWESOME!

1 Response to “Contemplating pain”


  1. John Saleeby

    Funny, I was just about to place my penis and scrotum into a fish tank filled with microscopic flesh eating piranhas. Thank you you for prompting to reconsider this action.

    That 3D Piranha Movie will be THE cinematic event of 2010.

    Joseph Gordon Levitt: A 3D Piranha Movie? How come I’m not in that!?!
    Leonardo DeCaprio: I’m gonna fire my Agent right now!