Advice on a machine

Ashish Ranpura aranpura at
Thu Feb 1 16:18:22 EST 2001

This sounds like an interesting project, Marcy. One potential issue is
how the device becomes a neural interface. If your fictional device
involves sticking bits of metal into contact with conductors within
the body, both spinal cord and local reading sites could be
problematic: there are simply too many possible sites to stick that
much metal into someone.

For fictional argument, here's one idea. Peripheral pain fibers have
characteristic diameters which set constraints on the range of signals
they can carry (transmission speed and frequency, etc). Your device
might be a very sophisticated local EM field detector which filtered
out background noise and "listened" for these characteristic pain
fiber signals. This device could lie along the spinal cord to detect
incoming pain signals.

Now, there are a ton of reasons why this isn't feasible today. Most
significantly, the pain signals are far, far too weak to detect above
background. But also, we don't know enough about neural signalling to
recognize whether or not pain fibers actually have an electronic
signature. Presumably neither issue is a barrier for your fictional

But here is a much more important issue than signal detection: pain is
not experienced in anything close to a universal way. That is, the
same painful stimulus may be mildly irritating to you, but fairly
painful to someone else. So if your device intercepts pain signals
before they are processed in the brain, then it is fairly meaningless
to say that the signals represent pain. Remember that it is the brain
that gives conscious meaning to an input signal, and pain is strictly
the conscious perception of a type of input.

That said, your device could very well detect sites of injury in the
body (as in your first example with the child). Injury produces pain
signals, and it doesn't matter whether those signals actually "feel"
painful or not -- they still indicate the site of injury. So your
machine could point to a site of injury.

However, your machine could probably not rate the relative pain of
arthritic patients, again because the perception of pain is subjective
and is dependent on the brain.

Kind of long winded, sorry about that. In any event, best of luck with
your story. I hope that you will post it here, or tell us how we might
read it.

---Ashish Ranpura.

On Tue, 30 Jan 2001 15:39:12 GMT, Marcy Italiano
<marcyatwork at> wrote:

>Hi there, my name's Marcy Italiano. I am presently writing a fictional
>story called the "Pain Machine". I need your help if you have a few
>minutes (or direct me to the right place).
>I have to create a machine that will read pain from *any* part of the
>body, inside and out, before it goes to the brain for interpretation.
>This pain, however read, I'm assuming electrical pulses, then has to be
>transferred to another person in the exact same area and intensity -
>again before it goes to the brain for interpretation. How could this be
>done using some of the ideas that have been invented aleady? Would I be
>looking at reading the information locally or from the spinal cord?
>Let me give you an example or two. An infant or toddler is brought into
>the ER screaming but they can't locate the source of the problem. A
>doctor trained on this machine hooks themselves up to experience this
>pain and locate the problem. Another example could be those suffering
>from Arthritis or Fibromyalgia to find out exactly how bad the situation
>is, taking out the pain tolerance factor.
>Have fun with this one! Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

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