Imagining pain

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!

– Eli

  1. 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
  2. Who are also my legal and social parents. I say “biological parents” because the genetic relation is probably the most important thing here. back
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