Advice on a machine

Marcy Italiano marcyatwork at
Sat Feb 3 15:13:06 EST 2001

Hopefully you will see it in your bookstores when it's done - if I'm
horseshoe-up-my-ass lucky it'll be a movie. Ha! Don't worry, I won't
forget about anybody that helps me out, so you'll get it one way or

Thanks for your help Ashish, you've brought up some very interesting
points. One thing I've tried to take care of though, is the universal
pain idea. This is where I had to get creative. Only a "trained" doctor
is supposed to be judging intensity. For example, level four is
equivalent to a toe-stub, it makes you vocalize, but it's not bad enough
to make you vomit. With those descriptions or outlines, a "neutral"
doctor can be more accurate. Now, I don't want to tell you too much or
I'll give it away! You'll have to wait.


Ashish Ranpura wrote:
> 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
> construct.
> 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!
> >
> >Thanks,
> >Marcy

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