Melanie Thernstrom, author of the New York Times article “My Pain, My Brain” has been a sufferer of chronic pain for the past 10 years. She experiences it in her neck and face, a pain caused by an arthritic condition. She wishes to be able to see her brain at work, and control her pain centers to make herself feel better. She was able to do this thanks to a new technology called real time functional neuroimaging, which allows patients to see their own brain’s activity while in pain, and attempt to control it. A study showed that patients were actually able to control their pain while looking at the image of their brain. There is not only one pain center in the brain, but rather a network of 5-10 areas interacting. The network contains two systems: pain perception and pain modulation. “The pain-modulatory system constantly interacts with the pain-perception system, inhibiting its activity. Much chronic pain is thought to involve either an overactive pain-perception circuit or an underactive pain-modulation circuit.” The pain modulation circuit can be activated by stress, and believe it or not, belief of the person. Believing something will work that actually does nothing can still relieve pain. That is called the placebo effect. Thernstrom was once able to control her pain modulatory system in a clinical demonstration at Stanford University, where she was able to numb the pain of a burning rod using her mind and willpower. The rest of the article goes on to discuss to what extent pain can be controlled by the mind, and the projected efficiency of the fMRI imaging machine.
I was deeply intrigued by this article. I am a strong believer of the concept of mind over body, which is a prevalent theme in her writing. I often use the concept myself in my everyday life. I was very interested to learn about the real time functional neuroimaging technology. I never thought that a feeling such as pain could be displayed and manipulated by the mind in that way. I was not surprised however at the results of the clinical demonstration that Thernstrom participated in. Despite the interesting scientific aspect of the article, I believe that it lacked focus. In the beginning Thernstrom discussed her pain and a couple things she tried, then she talked about consciousness, and then went back to discussing the imaging technology. She finished by talking about consciousness again, and raised questions about it rather than talking about her pain.