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  1. #1
    perdu fleur par bologne Martoon's Avatar
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    Default The purpose of pain?

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    Quote Originally Posted by kuranes View Post
    One would hope that the brain would compensate for situations where there is no "move" that you can make in response. But if that were true, then pain would only last for a little while, just enough to tell us to fix something. But it doesn't.
    reminded of something that I've wondered about on occasion. What is the purpose of physical pain? I mean, there's the obvious benefits of instantaneous and short term pain, as clearly indicated by things like CIPA. Pain is a very effective rapid educator. If you do something and it really hurts, you're very unlikely to forget and do it again. Pain tells us that something is wrong, and needs to be addressed. If your right leg hurts, you avoid putting weight on it.

    But there's such an enormous number of people with chronic pain, and many of them to a very debilitating degree. I suspect this is likely the case with other animals as well. There's nothing that can be "fixed", so the pain ceases to provide any useful information. And the often-heard term "debilitating pain" indicates that not only does the pain not help anything, but in the most pragmatic sense it makes the creature less effective at doing anything useful.

    It seems odd to me that chronic pain is so prevalent, and that natural selection hasn't bred it out of organisms in general. Like I mentioned above, it's debilitating, so it seems it would make an organism less fit for survival. Also, it's well known in the medical field that pain, especially strong and/or chronic pain, is detrimental to health. It's a major stressor, shortening lifespan and slowing healing (hospitals treat pain for the obvious humane reasons, but it's also been shown that people heal faster if their pain is managed). Wouldn't it stand to reason that organisms prone to chronic pain would tend to be bred out of a species, since they're less fit for survival? For that matter, I would think that pain would be a sexual deterrent, which would also make it less likely to be passed on as a genetic trait.

    So why is it that nature tends to promote chronic pain, when it seems to be a great detriment with little or no benefit?
    I'm not a procrastinator. I'm a long-term planner.

  2. #2

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    What exactly are you referring to by 'chronic pain'? My assumption is that where there is pain, there is indeed something wrong, even if it doesn't interfere with normal movement/function. In this sense, I'm thinking perhaps nerve damage that's sending out false signals, or perhaps even the psychological effects of feeling more pain than is truly there.

  3. #3
    Senior Member meshou's Avatar
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    This is a pretty good reason. It's not mentioned, but the people who have this tend to chew off their own lips and tongue and claw out their eyes, and usually die before 25.

    But yes, "why suffering?" is a difficult question.
    Let's do this thing.

  4. #4
    Senior Member ptgatsby's Avatar
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    Hrmm... The system that causes pain is unable to differentiate between chronic and temporary pain? Far as I know, that's all it boils down to. The mechanism for selective pain has never evolved and doesn't exist in nature, meaning that we are unlikely (in the extreme) or unable to have such a system in our own biology.

    Pain normally indicates something is 'broken' - GF was in two car accidents back to back and had to deal with it. Pain is just part of her life now, which is a result of various physical strains on her body - that's normally the source of chronic pain... something strained, not quite right... There shouldn't be a significant genetic correlation (with rare notable exceptions) towards pain as it tends to be physical in nature - the chances of weeding it out in a large population is dependent on enough people having chronic pain... not all that likely... and extremely unlikely if the requirement for not feeling chronic pain is a general abscence of pain, meaning other issues like CIPA control that part of natural selection.

    Perhaps the "weakness" is simply the best solution within the confines of our own biology... with very little wiggle room to adjust.

  5. #5
    perdu fleur par bologne Martoon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by meshou View Post
    This is a pretty good reason. It's not mentioned, but the people who have this tend to chew off their own lips and tongue and claw out their eyes, and usually die before 25.

    But yes, "why suffering?" is a difficult question.
    Yeah, like I mentioned in my original post, I understand the obvious benefits of short term, immediate pain (which is why I had linked to that CIPA article). I'm referring to chronic pain. And I've had the philosophical question of why there is suffering, but here I'm specifically asking why has nature bred in, and not out, a trait that seems to make organisms considerably less fit for survival?
    Quote Originally Posted by sundowning View Post
    What exactly are you referring to by 'chronic pain'? My assumption is that where there is pain, there is indeed something wrong, even if it doesn't interfere with normal movement/function. In this sense, I'm thinking perhaps nerve damage that's sending out false signals, or perhaps even the psychological effects of feeling more pain than is truly there.
    I think that chronic pain is often or even usually an indicator of something else being wrong, but it's generally something that can't be fixed, or to which the solution is not evident to the organism experiencing it. That would seem to eliminate it as any kind of effective biological imperative.
    I'm not a procrastinator. I'm a long-term planner.

  6. #6
    Senior Member meshou's Avatar
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    An individual being less fit for survival tends to weed out those less fit for survival, and give those without chronic pain, and therefore, likely better genes, better chance to breed.
    Let's do this thing.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Martoon View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by sundowning View Post
    What exactly are you referring to by 'chronic pain'? My assumption is that where there is pain, there is indeed something wrong, even if it doesn't interfere with normal movement/function. In this sense, I'm thinking perhaps nerve damage that's sending out false signals, or perhaps even the psychological effects of feeling more pain than is truly there.
    I think that chronic pain is often or even usually an indicator of something else being wrong, but it's generally something that can't be fixed, or to which the solution is not evident to the organism experiencing it. That would seem to eliminate it as any kind of effective biological imperative.
    Yeah, sorry - my question was kind of simplistic in that I was rhetorically asking for a specific case of chronic pain; though I see you agree that it might single out something else being wrong.

    (Unfortunately, I have nothing that might relate to your larger question.)

  8. #8
    Doesn't Read Your Posts Haight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Martoon
    The purpose of pain?
    . . . so that the sadists and masochists will have something to do!?

  9. #9
    Senior Member Crabapple's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sundowning View Post
    What exactly are you referring to by 'chronic pain'? My assumption is that where there is pain, there is indeed something wrong, even if it doesn't interfere with normal movement/function. In this sense, I'm thinking perhaps nerve damage that's sending out false signals, or perhaps even the psychological effects of feeling more pain than is truly there.

    Well, from what I understand, there can be nerve damage in chronic pain-
    there are also neural pathways (oh, I know I'm not explaining this well!) where pain travels, right. And the more these pathways are used to transmit the impulses of pain, the stronger they get. So the more you have pain,the more you have pain.... Say you've a bad back. The pathways used to transmit that pain from your back to your brain become stronger and stronger, so the more painful your back becomes. It's not exactly a "false signal", being as you really do have a backache.

    And I might get jumped on for being too F (Fe?), but for me the warning given by pain is secondary. I think that warning is an alarm in the case of sudden or acute pain. I tend to view chronic pain as a transformative experience- like purifying, or readying (like in the case of someone with the pain of incurable cancer. I see them as being made ready for or more accepting of their immanent demise).

    A pagan viewpoint, perhaps. But I don't think of suffering as being without reason. Without obvious reason, perhaps.
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  10. #10
    Senior Member HilbertSpace's Avatar
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    I think that pain in general serves at least two purposes - the immediate response, and the learning component. Pulling your hand away from a hot stove because of pain is the former, and the pain that throbs for a couple of hours afterwards is more likely to play a role in the latter.

    In any case, evolution doesn't care as much about getting you past the age of thirty or so. I believe that the incidence of chronic pain is probably lower among the under-thirty crowd than in the over-thirty crowd.

    Also, it might be that a number of cases of chronic pain are residual from injuries that would have themselves tended to be fatal in a primitive culture. If that's the case, then there's going to have been little need for a way to turn off chronic pain because it would not have generally come under selective pressure at all.

    One other thing that occurs to me is that we might have become hyper-sensitive to pain. I see, for example, my dogs frequently careen off of furniture while running around. Rather than stop in their tracks like I would and yell whatever a dog would use as an obscenity, they just go on running. We can also read about even relatively recent events where people didn't have ready access to pain relief - major surgeries without anesthetic (even on children, in some cases), and what seems a general ability to detect, but not obsess over, physical pain.
    JBS Haldane's Four Stages of Scientific Theories:

    1. This is worthless nonsense.
    2. This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view.
    3. This is true, but quite unimportant.
    4. I always said so.

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