Thursday, May 16, 2013

Melzack and Katz, Pain. Part 3a: Pain is more than sensation; backdrop

Art by Sigurd Mikkelsen of Norway, used with permission

Part 1
Part 2
The paper, Pain.

Unpacking this may take awhile. There are four sentences here, beautifully illustrated by Sigurd Mikkelsen, a PT in Norway. 

Before we discuss the words (see future posts), please bear with me as I just look at the image, and let it sink in for a little while, let my mind (once upon a time steeped in the study of art) meander some more. 

A few points must be made, according to me at least...  Chief among them is this: Art is symbolic. It's not real. See Sapolsky

Note the natural setting, the isolated tree, the ground swelling up, the sky radiating down. This poetic image has deeper psychosocial implications, and I want to highlight a few reality checks for us to bear in mind. 

The natural setting
We like to look at nature, especially when it's safely inside a harmless image, and pretend we are not part of it. Actually going out into, being out in nature, is something that our brains are excited by, made nervous by. 
  • Usually we drag a lot of expensive equipment and food out with us, and go with other people, assuage our nervousness with a psychological safety blanket. [Myself, I'm a bit paranoid about bears.]
  • We drag elements of nature inside our human world and habitat, so we might enjoy them, in safety. These are known as "zoos" and "parks." 
  • We make plastic replicas of palm trees and flowers, and decorate our winters with artificial lights
  • We invented religion so we could escape from the illusion of being marooned on some planet, enduring a life sentence, into a secondary illusion of being rescued from it somehow, sprung from jail, into some eternal wonderland where all our needs and wants are forever fulfilled and all the questions answered - and do eternal life. [Personally, I'm OK with just 'doing time', right here, until I can go back to being the way I was before I was ever conceived.]
The single isolated tree 
The tree represents life. The isolation of it evokes, but in a safe, contained way, the sense of isolation each of us feels as we move through life, an illusion of uniqueness or sense of self. 

A unique sense of self is a brain illusion - but the feeling is very real. To complicate things, to a primate, there is an inherent scariness in the feeling of isolation

A sense of isolation is itself an illusion: it's tied to the [necessary!] illusion of a unique sense of self. 

The absolute conundrum this poses, the unsolvability of this inherent contradiction, drives us to cherish family ties and seek friends, seek helpers, seek grooming, a throwback to our inherent primate troop origins. See Dunbar
To get around this and feel secure, I like to remind myself:
  • Nature is a verb, not a noun: my particular life is just part of it, not apart from it
  • I am made of the same kinds of living cells that everyone else is
  • the whole biosphere is made of living cells; multi-celled organisms evolved from single celled ancestors. See Lynn Margulis
  • my body's cells are only one-tenth "me" (with unique "me" DNA in them) and 9-tenths other, the microbiome
  • the conglomeration of living cells that holds itself together, in something we can identify as "self," is temporary, but life itself persists, driven by rather mysterious and counterintuitive thermodynamic processes possibly unique to our planet (possibly not, as life may exist elsewhere in the universe as well)
  • I can relax, knowing the planet and the world will continue on just fine without "me" having to be in it, some day. 
The ground 
It undulates, seems to lift itself up toward the sky slightly, representing the yearning we may feel to escape our "ground," our "earth," our "body," our "mortal coil." Well, that will never happen, because no matter where you go, there you are, in a body. On the planet. Unless you can go to the space station for awhile. Until that body [inevitably] lets go of its coherence, or its cells do, and we die. 

The sky 
It radiates down on the tree, sun rays giving light energy to the tree, so life may flourish

So, that's the backdrop, a fitting one! to the sentences by Melzack emblazoned over it. Which is where we will go next. 

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