I Am Cyborg, Hear Me Roar: The Feeling of Pain is SO Last Century!

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.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Mark Waser says:

    There *are* still some advantages to not being able to turn pain off so easily. How many people have crippled themselves for life by trying to continue to do something when badly injured (e.g. in an athletic event)? And the text message is far too slow until we have our phones *in* our heads. “Good” things are almost always a two-edged sword. We *NEED* this for patients who suffer incurable pain — but allowing everyone to just ignore pain is a really bad idea.

    1. B.J. Murphy says:

      “How many people have crippled themselves for life by trying to continue to do something when badly injured (e.g. in an athletic event)?”

      While understandable, it should be noted that this example is of those who, through pain or no pain, will continue doing what they love or die trying. Athletes have the tendency of being stubborn, and they usually come out of it okay. Reason why they’re looked up to as Gods in our modern society. lol

      As for 100% availability to pain receptor deactivation, there could also be regulations set on specific levels of pain, the cause, and whether or not it would be safe to turn off said pain, or if pain deactivation needs to first be approved by a doctor. That would be a safer route for more serious injuries, ensuring you first get it checked out before going about your day.

      But again, even this wouldn’t work for people like stubborn athletes. Which then takes us to the one libertarian example I actually agree with – each individual is ruler of their own body and should be the ultimate decider of what happens to their body.

  2. Bruce Siddle says:

    Question and a comment:

    1. I am intrigued with the circuit-based human artwork you used for this article. Can you tell me who the graphic artist is?

    2. I am a 56 year-old high-risk human factor specialist, who became a right leg amputee two years ago. I spent 30 plus years training specialists to conduct high risk motor skills in time compressed tactical environments, and subsequently learned (and taught) the biological capabilities and limitations of the human brain and body under stress. Now I am facing challenges of simple locomotion.

    I have since endured insurance-payment system of the prosthetic industry where innovation is does not exists except in commercials. I would give most anything to become part of a cyborg experiment. 3 years ago I would most likely have never read your article, today your article raises significant considerations.

    Stay the course — you never know when something your have written can open a new way of thinking about science, which triggers innovation that is life saving.

    Merry Christmas

    Bruce

    1. B.J. Murphy says:

      Hello Bruce,

      I wish I could tell you who exactly designed the picture, but to the best of my ability I cannot. The most I know is that it’s been passed around via various Transhumanist and Biohacker blogs, specifically when re-posting Ben Popper’s “Cyborg America” article. My guess, however, would be that it was an anonymous design and published for specific use by those with specific interests.

      As for your comments, I truly do appreciate them and glad to see others taking notice of the very surreal future we’re developing here. The term ‘Cyborg’ itself used to be solely a term of science fiction. Today, however, is when people are actually becoming recognized as real cyborgs, and others can follow suit with cyborg experiments – whether they be mainstream or DIY.

      So, again, thank you for your comments and a Merry Christmas to you as well!

      B.J.

      P.S. I have absolute great respect for everything you’ve done in helping people overcome their obstacles. I’d written an article that I believe you’d be interested in that correlates well with your past actions. Here: https://proactiontranshuman.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/will-todays-handicapped-become-tomorrows-first-post-human/

  3. Jordan Serson says:

    Interesting thoughts. With advances in contact lens technology and Google Glass I could see it happening. Many would love the idea. I personally would rather trust my body. But technology that could instantly recognize my pain and bring up solutions is a great prospect, especially since it’s not always easy to understand or explain the pain we’re feeling.

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