Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Melzack and Katz, Pain. Part 6a: History of Pain Science: Descartes and his era

The paper, Pain.

Part 1 First two sentences

Part 2 Pain is personal

Part 3a Pain is more than sensation: Backdrop

Part 3b Pain is not receptor stimulation

Part 3c: Pain depends on everything ever experienced by an individual

Part 4: Pain is a multidimensional experience across time
Part 5: Pain and purpose

The next chunk of this paper is called, "A Brief History of Pain." It starts out,
"The theory of pain we inherited in the 20th century was proposed by Descartes three centuries earlier. The impact of Descartes’ specificity theory was enormous. It influenced experiments on the anatomy and physiology of pain up to the first half of the 20th century (reviewed in Ref 4). This body of research is marked by a search for specific pain fibers and pathways and a pain center in the brain. The result was a concept of pain as a specific, direct-line sensory projection system."

So, I thought, I'm no historian, but it might just be interesting to go back to that period with the help of Google, and check out the era, learn a bit about who was fighting with who and who was wearing what

Rene Descartes
So.. good old Wikipedia. It tells me that Descartes was born in 1596 and died in 1650. He was French. 

Right around then, every country in Europe seemed to be out rampaging all over the world, setting up colonies and looting the surrounding lands of anything that could be carried on a sailing ship. All this stuff ended up in Europe and created wealth that had never previously been known to exist.  It wasn't called the Renaissance for nothing. More like economic resuscitation. Suddenly a lot more people had a lot more money to spend on things like commissioned art and music. Descartes lifespan bridged the change from renaissance to baroque. It must have seemed a bit unsettling. He looks like he was a plain and simple type, even as fashion all around him changed a bit. (Maybe he was lucky he died before Rococo hit the scene. Eyew.) 

From Terminartors:
One of Bernini's last sculptures, judging by the date.
All that drapery is carved from red marble.
Oh yeah.  Stone bling. 

The art was like rock and roll. The money made everything and everybody dance, including the church. Money made anything seem possible. Music and architecture exploded too. 

That is a sizeable chunk of North America that France
controlled, over Descartes lifespan... 
Meanwhile, over in North America, colonies were popping up. France in particular had laid claim to a huge chunk of North America and called it New France. In 1608, Champlain founded Quebec City. In 1642, the mission forerunner of Montreal came into existence. In 1651, a year after Descartes died, its population was still less than 50. A Scot, James McGill, came along quite a bit later, made a fortune dealing in fur (which everyone was doing in those days), then turned some of it into a university named after himself in 1829

Much, much later on, Ronald Melzack would study and work there, and would come to four essential conclusions that would change ideas about pain that had lain unexamined from the time they had popped into the head of Descartes, way back in the 1600's. Way back when science first exploded. 

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