Pain as sensation – after Elaine Scarry

FIGURE 1. Jastrow aesthesiometer in Owens 1888 p552It took two years from initial submission to final publication. It started with an invitation to a conference in Brighton, UK in 2015 celebrating 30 years of Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain. She was there, and gave a keynote. Subsequently a special issue of the journal Body and Society was put together by the conference organizers. This week the article I submitted for that issue has been published – check it out here.

The article takes a path through the history of science, psychophysics, even cybernetics to understand various models of pain. There is a theory of the organism, from Kurt Goldstein, of reflexes from Charles Sherrington, and much else besides.

Here is the abstract:

A recent widely reported study found that some participants would prefer to self-administer a small electric shock than be bored. This flawed study serves as a departure point to diagram pain and sensation beyond the boundaries of the individual body, consisting of four sections. First, in terms of laboratory-based experimentation and auto-experimentation with pain, there is a long history of viewing pain and touch through introspective means. Second, later theories of pain successively widened the scope of the physiological mechanisms and external influences on the organism, such as Melzack and Wall’s cybernetics-influenced gate control theory. Third, we briefly consider the nervous system as a homeostatic system, which finds an historical parallel in explanations of the milieu intérieur of the organism, via Claude Bernard and Kurt Goldstein. Fourth, pain helps tip the organism as a whole from perception to action, but also operates beyond the organism as a biopsychosocial phenomenon.



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