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An Algorithm to Remove "Hurt" from Pain


The behavior of pain was enigmatic. Its responses were strange. It was only a pin prick, but the surrounding skin reddened and the child cried out in pain. Yet, the caress of a gentle finger around the injury subdued that pain. A person suffering from the agony of chronic pain reported no pain at all, while focused on painting a canvas. Again, hypnosis caused a patient to report that his pain did not hurt. How could just a touch, or a change in the focus of attention reduce or remove pain? How could there be a pain, which did not hurt? Could such phenomena be explained as clear algorithmic behaviors of the brain? Could such knowledge be used to subdue the distress of pain?

An algorithm was a repetitive procedure, which yielded a trusted result. Recently, a new view of the mind suggested that it was an algorithm, which enabled the mind to race, like a lightning streak, through neural regions. It saw, recognized, interpreted and acted. In the blink of eye. From input to output, it took just 20 milliseconds. Myriad processes converted light, sound, touch and smell instantly into your nerve impulses. A special region recognized those impulses as objects and events. Another region, the limbic system, interpreted those events to generate emotions. A fourth region responded to those emotions with actions. The mind perceived, identified, evaluated and acted. So, the scream followed the injury, as swiftly as a flash of lightning. All of this was powered by intuition, a pattern recognition algorithm.

The algorithmic view received support recently, when science discovered that animals instantly differentiated between millions of smells through combinatorial coding. That discovery won a Nobel Prize in 2004. If a nerve cell had dendritic inputs, identified as A, B, C and so on to Z, it could then fire, when it received inputs at ABC and DEF. The cell could be inhibited for XYZ. It only recognized some combinations. ABC and DEF. A recognition algorithm. This new view of the mind suggested that such combinatorial coding enabled all regions of the mind to respond instantly and logically to incoming information. Such pattern recognition was intuition.

Even with pain, the mind perceived, recognized, interpreted and acted. The brain perceived tissue injuries through nociceptors. A neuron, which carried this pain message had many incoming dendrites. These branches informed it of neighborhood pain, touch, tension and much more. The neuron received a kaleidoscopic combination of inputs. If the neuron responded to combinatorial coding, it could fire for neighborhood pain to report sympathetic pain. Sympathetic responses by neighboring pain reporting neurons could increase the child's sensation of the pain of a pinprick. The neuron could become inhibited when it received a touch message. The combinatorial coding algorithm could explain how the child's pain reduced, when its parent caressed the regions surrounding the injury.

Similarly, the response to an emotion was an algorithmic action. If fear was generated, a deer bounded away. A bird took flight. A fish swam off. But, such escape was hardly possible by heading into the predator. An algorithmic intelligence remembered, evaluated and instantly chose the best of multiple escape routes to increase distance from danger. That region responded to pain, with a massive search for escape routes to avoid the pain. While nociceptors selectively reported pain, the action region generated a powerful drive to escape from it. That algorithmic drive was the "hurt" part of pain. Hypnosis was known to still that drive. A similar result was reported for an older surgical procedure, which cut the neural link between the perception of pain and the dynamic response to it. Both treatments had patients reporting the disappearance of "hurt."

Pain was an awful affliction. Chronic pain sufferers had to endure it over extended periods. Physicians recommended the acceptance of pain as a solution. They suggested that a patient's attitude was also critical to the treatment of pain. But, "acceptance" and "attitude" were difficult concepts. How could one accept continuing pain? How could a subconscious attitude ever be changed? This was where an appreciation of independent algorithmic processes of the mind helped. Practical steps could yield a trusted result. Remove the "hurt" part, the distress, of pain. Learning "acceptance" was a worthy endeavor.

The mind had the unique ability to see itself. Across centuries, sages looked inward and recognized their own feelings and thoughts. In the same way, it was also possible to identify your own drives. The key was awareness. And, the insight that identification was possible. The vital secret of the atomic bomb was just that it was possible. The drive to escape pain was a unique entity. Its operation had recognizable symptoms. By consciously identifying its physical symptoms, a patient could learn to identify it as a distinct mental event. Identify the tensions of the urge to escape, of the impatience, of the desperation. When the urge was recognized, it vanished. Later, this drive became a familiar entity, which vanished, on recognition. Recognition and practice stilled the "hurt" drive. The pain was there, but it did not hurt anymore. Which went on to prove that even "acceptance" could also be an algorithmic process.

Abraham Thomas is the author of The Intuitive Algorithm, a book, which suggests that intuition is a pattern recognition algorithm. This leads to an understanding of the powerful forces that control your mind. The ebook version is available at http://www.intuition.co.in. The book may be purchased only in India. The website, provides a free movie and a walk through to explain the ideas.


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