Pain and Consciousness in Humans. Or Why Pain Subserves the Identity and Self-representation

Irene Venturella, Michela Balconi


Abstract: Traditional definitions of pain assume that an individual learns about pain through verbal usages related to the experience of injury in early life. This emphasis on the verbal correlates of pain restricts our understanding of pain to the context of adult human consciousness. In this paper we instead support the idea that our understanding of pain originates in neonatal experience and is not merely a verbally determined phenomenon. We also challenge the definition of pain as a merely sensory message related to peripheral tissue trauma. We aim to move beyond this definition by considering the relationship between the centre (Central Nervous System) and periphery, taking into account certain phenomena such as phantom limbs and interoception. We show that pain helps an individual to develop a sense of awareness of himself immersed in a social context, and is thus a complex and adaptive phenomenon, that supports bodily integrity and social behavior.

Keywords: Awareness; Consciousness; Experience; Pain; Self-representation


Dolore e coscienza negli esseri umani. Ovvero, perché il dolore favorisce l’identità e la rappresentazione di sé

Riassunto: La definizione classica di dolore presuppone che l’individuo ne apprenda l'uso verbale attraverso esperienze dolorifiche legate all’infanzia, favorendo una maggiore attenzione per i correlati verbali del dolore. Questo spesso relega il dolore nel contesto della coscienza dell’uomo adulto. Il presente lavoro si propone, in primo luogo, di sottolineare alcune evidenze, a partire dall'esperienza neonatale, a sostegno dell’idea di dolore come esperienza umana e non solo come fenomeno determinato verbalmente. Un secondo aspetto emerge dalla definizione di dolore, il concepirlo come un semplice messaggio sensoriale in seguito a lesioni dei tessuti periferici. Ci si propone, pertanto, di andare oltre tale ipotesi considerando il rapporto tra centro (Sistema Nervoso Centrale) e periferia, a partire da alcuni fenomeni come l’arto fantasma e l’interocezione. Il dolore aiuta inoltre a sviluppare un senso di consapevolezza di sé immerso nel contesto sociale; si tratta dunque di un fenomeno complesso e adattivo, dall’integrità fisica alla dimensione sociale.

Parole chiave: Consapevolezza; Coscienza; Esperienza; Dolore; Rappresentazione di sé

Parole chiave

Awareness; Consciousness; Experience; Pain; Self-representation

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