Pain is one of medicine's greatest mysteries. When farmer John
Mitson caught his hand in a baler, he cut off his trapped hand and
carried it to a neighbor. "Sheer survival and logic" was how he
described it. "And strangely, I didn't feel any pain." How can this
be? We're taught that pain is a warning message to be heeded at all
costs, yet it can switch off in the most agonizing circumstances or
switch on for no apparent reason. Many scientists, philosophers,
and laypeople imagine pain to operate like a rigid, simple
signaling system, as if a particular injury generates a fixed
amount of pain that simply gets transmitted to the brain; yet this
mechanistic model is woefully lacking in the face of the surprising
facts about what people and animals do and experience when their
bodies are damaged.
Patrick Wall looks at these questions and sets his scientific
account in a broad context, interweaving it with a wealth of
fascinating and sometimes disturbing historical detail, such as
famous characters who derived pleasure from pain, the unexpected
reactions of injured people, the role of endorphins, and the power
of placebo. He covers cures of pain, ranging from drugs and
surgery, through relaxation techniques and exercise, to
acupuncture, electrical nerve stimulation, and herbalism.
Pain involves our state of mind, our social mores and beliefs,
and our personal experiences and expectations. Stepping beyond the
famous neurologic gate-control theory for which he is known, Wall
shows that pain is a matter of behavior and its manifestation
differs among individuals, situations, and cultures. "The way we
deal with pain is an expression of individuality."
Subjects: Health Sciences, Psychology, Biological Sciences
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