The tattoo on my right upper forearm is that of a polypeptide chain of the neurotransmitter Substance P. This neurotransmitter is responsible for the feeling of pain being transmitted to the central nervous system. Next to it says “RNAi This!” RNAi (Ribonucleic acid interference) is responsible for determining what genes are turned on and what are turned off. Today we use RNAi in research as a means of targeting certain genes and essentially flipping the switch, per se – choosing which genes to turn on and which to turn off. In other words, my tattoo is basically saying, “Feel no pain!”
I’ve been confronted about this, however, with remarks similar to, “Feel no pain? Why in the world would you not want to feel pain? We need pain to help alert us when something wrong is happening to us biologically!” In which case they’re mostly correct. We do rely on pain as a means of informing ourselves that we’re experiencing some form of physical trauma. Without it we’re then increasingly susceptible to harming ourselves much more often than usual.
But then, ask yourself, “Why is pain our means of alerting ourselves when something’s physically wrong?” It would seem that evolution got it right by gradually designing a sensitive nervous system. Pain is the quickest and surest way of not only alerting us of physical trauma, but also to ensure you do something about it – unless you can handle the pain, in which case the ongoing alarm system known as pain just becomes increasingly annoying, i.e. a stubbed toe.
So pain isn’t perfect, you might say, but it at least does the job right. I agree. But then I also don’t believe it’s the be-all,end-all of alerting us when physical trauma has/is occurred/occurring. After all, pain can also occur during non-emergency situations, in which all of us, I would argue, would want to tell it to shut up every now and then.
Whenever the alarm systems in our homes go off, we’re then alerted of a possible break-in. The majority of the time the alarm is correct and potentially saves your life because of it. But then alarm systems are meant to be turned off when told to – especially if no break-in occurred at all and it was simply a false alarm. The same applies to our cars during a potential robbery, or when someone bumps into the car, etc. The alarms are necessary, but they’re also very annoying, especially when they don’t turn off when told to. Another good example being our alarm clocks! We need them to ensure we wake up at a specific time, but then we’d probably go mad if we couldn’t shut the things off.
Why then should pain be any different? I’ll take it another step further: why should pain be our chosen alarm system for physical trauma? Imagine being able to turn off the feeling of pain altogether, and then replace it with an augmented alarm implant. No sounds, no pain – just simply a bio-digital alarm system which flashes near your retina, alerting you of physical trauma, where the trauma is located, and how to proceed. And to top it off: you can actually turn off the alarm if desired!
Too sci-fi for you? Okay. How about the implant is connected via WiFi to your cell phone? If physical trauma occurs, then it’ll simply send you a text message alerting you of the trauma, where it’s located, and whether or not you want it turned off. The feeling of pain would no longer be necessary; the feeling of pain would become an inefficient primitive tool that would be thrown into the dustbin of history.