> Totally fascinating article (long) in the New York Times magazine. A
> few excerpts:
> My Pain, My Brain
> By MELANIE THERNSTROM
> Published: May 14, 2006
> Who hasn't wished she could watch her brain at work and make changes
> to it, the way a painter steps back from a painting, studies it and
> decides to make the sky a different hue? If only we could spell-check
> our brain like a text, or reprogram it like a computer to eliminate
> glitches like pain, depression and learning disabilities. Would we
> one day become completely transparent to ourselves, and fully
> conscious of consciousness consciously create ourselves as we
> Over six sessions, volunteers are being asked to try to increase and
> decrease their pain while watching the activation of a part of their
> brain involved in pain perception and modulation. This real-time
> imaging lets them assess how well they are succeeding. Dr. Sean
> Mackey, the study's senior investigator and the director of the
> Neuroimaging and Pain Lab at Stanford, explained that the results of
> the study's first phase...showed that while looking at the brain,
> subjects can learn to control its activation in a way that regulates
> their pain. While this may be likened to biofeedback, traditional
> biofeedback provides indirect measures of brain activity through
> information about heart rate, skin temperature and other autonomic
> functions, or even EEG waves. Mackey's approach allows subjects to
> interact with the brain itself.
> "It is the mind-body problem right there on the screen," one of
> Mackey's collaborators, Christopher deCharms...told me later. "We are
> doing something that people have wanted to do for thousands of years.
> Descartes said, 'I think, therefore I am.' Now we're watching that
> process as it unfolds."...
> How does it work? I want to ask. Just as people were once puzzled by
> Freud's talking cure (how does describing problems solve them?), the
> Stanford study makes us wonder: How can one part of our brain control
> another by looking at it? Who is the "me" controlling my brain, then?
> It seems to deepen the mind-body problem, widening the old Cartesian
> divide by splitting the self into subject and agent....
> The area of the brain that the scanner focuses on is the rostral
> anterior cingulate cortex (rACC). The rACC (a quarter-size patch in
> the middle-front of the brain, the cingular cortex) plays a critical
> role in the awareness of the nastiness of pain: the feeling of
> dislike for it, a loathing so intense that you are immediately
> compelled to try to make it stop....
> ...Patients who have undergone a radical surgical treatment
> occasionally used for pain (as well as for mental illness) called a
> cingulotomy, in which the rACC is partly destroyed, report that they
> are still aware of pain but that they don't "mind" it anymore. Their
> emotional response has receded....
> Really worth reading the whole thing at:
> (That last bit reminds me of what MMY says about Jesus not suffering
> on the cross. Pain isn't suffering if you don't *mind* it--if it
> doesn't overshadow you?)
Probably not due to the same mechanism --not even remotely. Witnessing waking,
dreaming and sleeping likely don't have any effect on the functioning of the rostral
anterior cingulate cortex. Any in CC "not minding" of pain isn't due not feeling or "caring"
about the pain, but simply due to the strength of the connections that give rise the CC
state in the first place.
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