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Entangled brains and the experience of pains

Entangled brains and the experience of pains

The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) revised its definition of pain to “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience.” Three recent recommendations for understanding pain if there are no clear brain correlates include eliminativism, multiple realizability, and affordance-based approaches. I adumbrate a different path forward. Underlying each of the proposed approaches and the new IASP definition is the suspicion that there are no specific correlates for pain. I suggest that this basic assumption is misguided. As we learn more about brain function, it is becoming clear that many areas process many different types of information at the same time. In this study, I analogize how animal brains navigate in three-dimensional space with how the brain creates pain. Underlying both cases is a large-scale combinatorial system that feeds back on itself through a diversity of convergent and divergent bi-directional connections. Brains are not like combustion engines, with energy driving outputs via the structure of the machine, but are instead more like whirlpools, which are essentially dynamic patterns in some substrates. We should understand pain experiences as context-dependent, spatiotemporal trajectories that reflect heterogeneous, multiplex, and dynamically adaptive brain cells..

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