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Ramachandran, Dr V S - Phantom pain

Identifier

014979

Type of Spiritual Experience

Hallucination

Number of hallucinations: 2

Background

Our senses obtain the perceived body image, the perceived body image is compared with the actual body image and where discrepancies occur, the actual template and its software is adjusted.

But what happens when the senses seem to disagree?  The eyes for example say 'no limb, no body part'  but the other senses provide absolutely no feedback at all.  The perceived body image is incomplete.  The loop fails.  In this case one of two things appear to happen:

  • Either  the comparison function reconstructs the actual template from the type of template in the areas it is missing information.  This can occur where there is congenital defect.
  • Or the alternative course of action is simply to carry on using part of the actual template it had before amputation.  Thus it does not use the type of template, but to preserve the old actual template of the severed limb intact, unchanged, frozen in time.

We can see this in the following examples.  Where the actual template, frozen in time, continues to function and respond to triggers from the environment.  If the 'weather  turns cold' [remember this is all happening in systems terms] the software functions which operated at the time amputation occurred will activate.  Thus whichever functions were in place immediately before the amputation, will operate as before.  As no new sensations have been provided to help the 'comparison' function recreate a new virtual world, the old functions will simply carry on as before.  And this can have some devastating consequences for some amputees 

A description of the experience

Phantoms in the Brain – Dr V. S. Ramachandran [Professor and Director of the Centre for Brain and Cognition, University of California and visiting fellow All Souls College, Oxford]

...some patients say that the pain they felt in their limbs immediately prior to amputation persists as a kind of pain memory.  For example, soldiers who have grenades blow up in their hands often report that their phantom hand is in a fixed position, clenching the grenade, ready to toss it.  The pain in the hand is excruciating – the same they felt the instant the grenade exploded......

In London once I met a woman who told me she had experienced chilblains – a frostbite-like pain due to cold weather – in her thumb for several months in her childhood.  The thumb later became gangrenous and was amputated.  She now has a vivid phantom thumb and experiences chilblains in it  every time the weather turns cold.  Another woman described arthritic pain in her phantom joints.  She'd had the problem before her arm was amputated but it has continued in the absence of real joints, with the pain being worse when it gets damp and cold just as it had in the real joints before amputation

The source of the experience

Ramachandran, Dr V S

Concepts, symbols and science items

Symbols

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps

Commonsteps

References