Remember when I said we should talk about how we experience the world? This post is me doing that.
I can't imagine pain. At all. Or, since even the word “imagine” might have slightly different meanings to different people, let's be more specific:
There's something I can do that I call “imagining”, which works very well for sight, and sound, and physical touch, and a few other things. I can conjure up the feelings in my head, and feel almost as if the thing is actually happening. But this doesn't work at all for physical pain. I can try to conjure up the feeling of pain, but nothing happens. I can imagine reacting to the pain, but I can't imagine the pain itself.
The same is true in my dreams and my memories. Even if I've actually experienced pain recently, like if I stubbed my toe, I can't remember the actual feeling of pain afterwards, not any more than I could normally imagine it.1 My dreams usually have visual images in them, and occasionally have sounds or touch-sensations. They try to be semi-realistic, so, for instance, if someone hits a gong in my dream, the dream provides the sound of a gong. But if someone drops something on my foot, then the dream tries to provide a pain sensation, but fails.
Since I've never been anyone but myself, I don't automatically know whether anyone else shares this quirk. So, after I was thinking about this yesterday, I decided to ask my biological parents.2 And that was interesting, because one of them said ze could imagine pain as easily as anything else, and the other said ze couldn't.
So, dear readers, I'm curious: Does your imagination work this way? Please leave a comment if you feel comfortable doing so!
- As far as I've heard, when the brain remembers a sensory experience, it uses pretty much the same process that it does to imagine one. So this shouldn't be too surprising. back
- Who are also my legal and social parents. I say “biological parents” because the genetic relation is probably the most important thing here. back
I don't think I experience physical pain in my dreams the same way I can if I'm awake and imagining. If I'm dreaming about something that involves pain, usually the emotions I feel are dominant over any physical sensation, and I will usually wake up before feeling pain.
As for dreams, I don't think I feel actual pain in them. I don't have many of them, though. I'm pretty sure I get hurt, but it's just a functional handicap. More of a video-game style experience than actually being stabbed or poisoned or what-have-you.
Also, you should know that your registration process assumes smart-aleck humans are bots. (I typed “I am not a bot”: first. Complete with quotation marks. :P )
When I dream pain, though, it usually just comes across as a vague feeling of pressure or wrongness. I have dreamed some fairly violent things happening to my body, and being, for example, dream-stabbed in the gut just felt like an oddly localized kind of nausea. (Dream sex is similarly void of recognizable sensation, unless I'm having a hypnagogic hallucination, in which case oh my. I don't know what pain feels like during HH; my HH dreams have never, to my recollection, involved it.)
Contrast this with, say, taste: my sense of taste in dreams is truer to life than my imaginary sense of taste while awake.
Brains is funny sometimes.
The type of pain I'm trying to imagine influences the ease of imagining it.
Having been a cutter for such a long time, I can imagine the feeling of slicing into myself pretty well, probably because I've experienced it so many times. It's still slightly blurry (stolen from Untamable Spirit, i immediately thought “yes!” when i read that in your post), but more accessible when I'm contemplating doing it again or thinking really specifically about how cutting feels.
However, there are other kinds of pain I can't imagine easily. For some reason the type of pain I experience when something that causes a large enough amount of pain that it makes me pretty much unable to think about anything else, I can't access at all.
I guess for me it's based on what I've experienced the most.
By contrast, I can't imagine color much. I remember/imagine most things well. I like colorful things, and I have feelings about colors clashing or going well together when I'm looking at them, but when it's just inside my mind it's all fuzzy. I can usually remember clothing that's black or white - it's hues I forget - I rarely recall any more detail than how colorful somebody was.
(Also curious if you'd seen this post: http://forums.xkcd.com/viewtopic.php?p=2565898#p2565898)