Fighting the Pain: My new column for Discover

Pain is a paradox. It feels like the most real, objective experience we can have, and yet it can be weirdly malleable. It’s better to think of pain, like memory or vision, not as a simple reflection of the world, but as a strategy we’ve evolved to stay alive. Thinking this way can help make sense of the awful experience of chronic pain, when this urgent signal refers to nothing except a brain caught in its own feedback loops. In my latest column for Discover, I take a look at the latest understanding of pain, and some promising research that uses these insights to search for a new, more rational pain-killer. Check it out.

[Image: Boy With A Rooster by Adriano Cecioni, 1868. Photo from Kate Eliot/Flickr via Creative Commons License]

One thought on “Fighting the Pain: My new column for Discover

  1. Carl,

    Nice article on pain. I especially liked the distinction of pain and nocioception.

    “Pain” is a good way to illustrate the difference between sensory signals and perception. Pain is a perception, while, as you point out, nocioceptors transmit sensory signals (usually of tissue damage). The perception of pain occurs in the cerebral cortex. This provides a simple model of why you can feel pain (activation of the pain network in cortex) while there are no nocioceptors activated and you can have activity in nocioceptors without the perception of pain. While pain and nocioception are generally linked, they need not be.

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