Pain - its nature

I should like to raise some questions concerning pain:

1 Is there such a thing as unfelt pain? For example, when a dentist anaesthetises a tooth and drills into it, is there still pain present (that we would feel were it not for the fact that we were so anaesthetised)?

2 Is it possible for pain to exist outside the body? For example, when an amputee claims to feel pain in the leg that no longer exists, is there nevertheless pain hovering close to, but not inside, the body?

3 Is having a nervous system necessary for having (or feeling) pain? Could a machine, or a stone, feel pain?

4 Can we forget we are in pain, so that it seems to disappear when not thinking about it?

5 Lastly, if it were possible (and, for all I know it may be) for doctors to fix us so that we never feel pain, would we want them to?

WHat do you think?



The definition of pain suggests not.

Yes, but whether anyone will ever feel pain in a place where they could never have an appendage is a better question.

Animal brains “dish out” pain by means of chemicals, so in our case it’s chemicals and a certain type of brain that we need, not a nervous system per se.

I think so, to varying extents.

It depends on how the pleasure side would be affected. If taking out the one attacked the other, then probably not, but if pleasure could stay strongly, then probably yes.

Thanks B for your considered comments. Something to think about. I’ve a suspicion that the (conscious) mind can control pain, if only it knew how. Training of a certain kind has been suggested, which may be of help to pain sufferers.



i don’t think so. Pain medication dopes the brain so that you cannot interpret things as pain (so far as i know)

i believe that it is because the nerves are still recieving messages.

There is the sensation that has yet to reach the brain and then the fact that therer are basically open nerve endings probably creates some ghostish feeling

a stone, no, but a machine that was programmed to feel pain, somehow, i believe so.

We can distract ourselves or use other techniques. My assumptiopn is it involves one part of the brain controlling another.

I personally would not want them to. Pain motivates us to keep ourselves safe.

Leprocy is a disease that removes sensation of extremeties and skin. the sores which develop are actually the result of regular damage. People don’t notice when they are hurting themselves because they can’t feel pain. This leads to many accidents.


I can control it, to a certain extent.

at this right moment, however, I’m not being succesful at that. Some pains are bigger than others.

Excellent replies from W and F. Thanks. A further question: is it possible to have a severe pain and yet not mind having it? A difficult and strange question, I know. But some think it is possible. If so, this may be of great help to those among us who suffer chronic pain.



I’m not sure. Perhaps if you live with a certain pain for a long time, the intensity of the pain will diminish, or perhaps you will some how become accustomed to it.

Beyond that i think Cyrene would be the best person to ask on this subject.

Bit of a trite observation this, so apoligies in advance, but the brain is the central organ of the the nervous system, so it would seem that the system itself is significant for the particular kind of pain we suffer; without the rest of the system for those chemicals to be distributed around our pain wouldn’t be localised in the same sense. Also, the brain is a responsive organ as much as it is active and this is clearly the case with pain: the brain responds to stimuli, whether being kicked in the shin or stabbed in the gut or bitten on the neck. This further suggests that pain has a functional role in our wider organic structure that we probably wouldn’t want to do without - for example, if someone’s taking a carving knife to me in the middle of the night I’d want to know about it!

For practical purposes that would depend on how the medication effects your PNS/CNS. Besides dentistry some medications ‘slow down’ rapidly firing altered sensory neurons, others only alter how your mind precieves those signals, irl people usually experience limited pain at the dentist anyway.

Its possible for people to ‘feel’ pain in space as if it were an extentsion of the body, but these are essentially horrifying ‘illusions’ (if we can even say that) that the brain can produce.

Depends on pain. Pain is regulated by different neurosystems one envolves how much pain, the other our perception of how copable that pain is, how noticable. Anxiety/depression can make chronic pain worse/likely even create it by messing with these neurosy cognitive systems. So circumstances it can ALTER pain perception both for better or worse. Circumstancially depending on cause/severity/circumstances people can ‘forget about pain’ when absorbed in the moment, but you’d likely see that less as pain severity increased. (depending on the cause)

Assuming you’re a regular person you wouldn’t want to not feel pain, its productive to long life. When injured or in chronic pain theres a lot of variance in choices about medications.

I think from the standpoint of neurology there is no pain in this circumstance. It has either been cut off at the nerves themselves by damping electrochemical signals at the source of injury (the gums?) or as in a global anesthetic the receptors have been plugged up so the brain isn’t receiving them.

However… Pain is really just a very particular kind of information. Our bodies can be thought of from one perspective as a vastly complex informational structure with very many layers of organization. Pain as it is felt by the total body (the conscious recognition of pain by the person) only represents one layer of this informational structure, even when dealing specifically with pain-related information. That our brain doesn’t say ‘ouch’ doesn’t mean the body isn’t reacting in other ways. If platelets organize to coagulate blood, antibodies rush in to prevent infection, cells reproduce to replace those that are lost, aren’t these all reactions to pain? What I’m saying is that the local tissue and the cells themselves might be feeling and reacting to information which is an analog to what we traditionally call pain, which becomes relevant again in question 3…

If the amputee ‘feels’ pain then as far as neurology is concerned the pain is real - that information is present in the brain whether the leg physically exists or not. This might be a poor analogy, but what of emotional pain? There is no physical object to place it upon, but the agony can still be overwhelming. I think this information-based perspective allows for these seeming paradoxes to function without irreconcilable conflict. I do not think this is a question of inside/outside though. To introduce this sends the issue into a mind/body debate in which one could argue that even those with fully extant and functional legs are experiencing ‘outside’ pain.

I think the answer to this lies in the precise limits of what you are defining as ‘pain’. My opinion - Yes. I personally believe that all entity in the universe has a form of consciousness, and that being conscious it also has self-interest. If it has self-interest then it has a category of potentially harmful circumstances that it would do well to avoid, which it would call ‘painful’ (I’m being really careful not to get too anthropomorphic here). This is sort of an extension of the ‘selfish gene’ all the way down to the bottom of reality (and all the way up to the top), in which it is useful to remember that even protons, neutrons and electrons were not around in the ‘beginning’, and at some point must have been selected for and propagated.

Machines are an interesting case, mostly because they are a very distinct ontological category from other ‘inanimate’ objects. We can’t help but treat them differently than stones because they are artifice, and in a sense, our children. I suppose it doesn’t alter my fundamental opinion, but I will admit that as a purely visceral, instinctual reaction I want to say that machines are an exception and feel no pain. I would not care to argue that side of a debate however, and will have to remain in conflict with myself over it for now…

Absolutely. Anecdotal evidence certainly supports this, however it is both temporary and incredibly hard to control. One must not only engage with some distracting element, but also forget that they are being distracted. There is a very self-aware kind of duplicity required, and it is susceptible to falling apart without notice. As a prescription it is mostly useless. There are probably circumstances in which the attainment of great mental control, such as through meditative practices and their adjuncts (yoga, tantra, et al), can approximate or even succeed fully in this task without the self-trickery, but it’s probably not a practical measure to pick up such a hobby for one who is experiencing pain in-the-now.

As a survival imperative, I don’t suspect you would last very long. The problem with pain is that it is not a single sensation but rather a spectrum of a great deal of different kind of experiences, in which spectrum both pleasure and neutral experiences (texture, pressure, wind, temperature) also take part. Even within the part of the spectrum that is distinctly unpleasant, there is a lot of difference between a sharp pain and a throb, shooting pains, burning pain, and so on.

For a doctor to ‘remove’ pain is to also remove all the rest. Aside from not experiencing pleasure (suck!) you would not know if you are gripping a soda can so hard you will crush it, or so lightly that you will drop it. You won’t realize when your hat has blown off your head. You won’t be able to tell if you’re too hot or too cold, if your hand is on a burning stove, or if someone is carving runes into your back with a knife as you walk down the street (hey, it happens). I suspect it would create balance and locomotive issues (you wouldn’t feel that your foot is in contact with the ground). I could spend all day typing out the things we take for granted in the sensation of touch, but I think the point is clear.

I think ‘not mind’ is an overly nice way of putting it, but I think it’s possible to refocus it into creative means. The easy example is with emotional pain, which can create incredible works of art. Physical pain is more difficult, but I’m sure that inner strength, perseverance, courage, ambition, and a slew of other valued characteristics can grow in the face of the adversity that a chronic pain would represent. The victim might even eventually come to embrace the pain as the source of their strength (though if later given the option of removing the pain I’m sure most would very enthusiastically accept it).

Approached from a more morose side, there is an array of psychological disorders which drive individuals to seek out and (to some degree that ‘normal’ people do not understand) ‘enjoy’ pain. Algolagnia (the term which describes BDSM fetish) and DSH (deliberate self-harm, or ‘cutting’) are two auspicious and not uncommon forms of this sort of mental affectation. However, I don’t suspect that this is the variety of ‘not minding’ pain that you were referring to. I recommend anyone who experiences these to seek counsel.

I think anesthetic injection (like some other injections) can create a small cyst and cause pain, later.
I feel that a cyst like this can block the flow of nerve current or blood stream or something and it can cause (sort of) clogged energy.

Also, lack of the pain signal may prevent physical body reaction that may heal better the wound. And this can cause more pain.

In general, I think it’s better to feel all pains without any blocking attempt (anesthetic treatment or simple tension of body).
It’s not easy, but we seem to heal better and faster.

Sometime, I have the impression that there is a tension between my head and my shoulder.
In physical reality, I think it’s neck or shoulder problem causing this feeling. :slight_smile:

Although it wasn’t painful, I may feel my arm and hand at different location than it actually is. It used to happen when I was sleeping with my ars under my body and the nerve was somewhat blocked.

I don’t know. You should ask them. :smiley:

I think it’s more of attention or awareness than “thinking”.
If our attention isn’t with the pain at all, I don’t think we would feel it.
But pain usually pulls our attention. It’s the nature of pain, I think.
It’s like an alarm signal. So, you may want to know.

For the reasons I said earlier, I think it’s better to feel the physical pain.
And we can get used to pain.
I have the physical sensation pretty much similar to head ache and other pain as soon as I relax (or even without relaxing).
But they don’t bother me much. By feeling them everyday, I got used to them.

Also, it seems it hurts more when we resist to the sensation and when we try to block, or when there is something blocking the flow of nerve signal or blood flow or other flow of liquid or energies.
By relaxing and feeling the pressure caused by the resistance or blocking, they will yield and the flow would be reestablished.
This can be felt as icy or chilly filament sensation sort of things, or other typical release related sensation.
We may feel pounding pressure beat, just before these.
The guy who started cranio-sacral therapy has written something similar, too.

Although it’s normal to tray to turn away from negative things, I think it can actually harm us more.


Some thoughtful, sound responses from everyone. Thanks for your time and mental energy.

Next, I imagine that we all have a natural aversion to pain, and would prefer (well, most perhaps would) not to be in pain - ever - even when it serves some useful biological purpose such as warning us of bodily damage. This aversion covers not just the pain, thought, or what might be called the pain sensation. It also, and significantly, covers the element of dislike/fear/worry/dread and so on, that is as bad as the pain itself.

So suppose we had a pain but knew that nothing was wrong. Would that knowledge enable us to cope with the pain better? E.g., I have a raging toothache but the dentist (correctly) tells me there’s nothing wrong with the tooth or with anything else. It’s just one of those things and I needn’t worry. Under such a circumstance, would the pain be far more bearable?

One more thing: why can’t I feel someone else’s pain nor they mine? And imagine I could plug myself into another person (no, not like that!) in such a way to feel their pain. Would the two of us feeling the pain halve its intensity?

Thanks guys and gals.


Our ‘attention’ to pain, our perception of pain is controlled by a neurocognitive system envolving certain neuro-chemicals, its not an issue of willpower how much one person can ignore pain to the next (well there is some extent that plays part) but much more is how that person’s neurocognitive system for attention to pain is working.

damage to your central nervous system and PNS can cause alterations in how those neurochemical systems are working.

Thats a seperate cognitive system from ‘feeling’ pain to begin with. On some days i’m in agony and its easy to ignore, other-days its as easy to ignore as a dog chewing on my face, my willpower isn’t great one day and then weak the next but my serotonin levels and other levels envolved in pain perception may be changed from one day to the next.

This is why depression/anxiety can ‘make pain worse’ because it fucks up your neurocognitive systems for how much attention you pay to pain.

depends on the person, since stress/anxiety can make pain worse/alter it, then yes any source of anxiety/stress could make it harder to cope with. Having a nonharmful painful tooth can cause stress in some people, for others, because it is nondangerous they can ignore it better, maybe not feel the pain at all.

Depending on if its inflammatory pain, nerve pain or whatever, the simple act of being in pain can cause damage to the CNS/PNS, and better than that it can cause alteration. Your brain becomes better and better at precieving pain, your ability to feel it increases and your sensory neurons can take damage to start firing faster, at lower thresholds and etc.

Pain can make you cope with pain better, or it can alter your biology to make your perception of pain clearer, faster and more efficient. YOur body feels pain and because of that can adapt itself to feel pain better nad better.

infants circumsized without anesthesia aren’t more pain resistant than other babies, they respond to routine injections with crying/fast heart-rates, in comparison with other babies. Pain can prime biological systems for future pain on TOP OF THAT, pain especially from inflammation can cause alteration to sensory neurons.

So it depends, pain can make you stronger or weaker depending. (tolerance to pain)

That being said some people seem to get both results. Say if I had a chronic pain in my hand, that pain may get worse endlessly, but my perception of pain throughout my whole body could be so out of whack that stimulation thats normally painful isn’t.

I can pinch my arm as hard as I can pretty much anywhere, or the skin on top of my foot to the point of ripping it off and I don’t feel it properly, it takes less than the pressure it takes to write on paper, for such stimulation to cause agony in my face though.

Smiling causes me agony, but I could take a knife to my arm and not feel it properly. So it depends, on pain (whats causing it) where the pain is at, how your brain changes/alters in response to being in chronic pain. Theres a lot of variance ebtween individuals on any of these questions too.

Thanks cyrene and everyone for appropriate insight.

Scientists Melzack and Wall postulated a ‘gate’ theory of pain. They identified three types of nerves entering the brain, two of which transmit (conduct?) pain signals while the third does not. The two that do conduct sharp, immediate pain quickly (e.g., when touching a hot plate) and dull, chronic pain slowly (the throb of back pain, say). All three types pass through a ‘gateway’ into the brain, and the theory has it that by stimulating the nerves that don’t transmit pain, pain signals from the other two are blocked. This accounts for pain relief from mental distraction, for example, or from massaging an aching muscle.

Could all pain be blocked in this way? Gib might know: he’s something to do with neuroscience (or something).