Pain and suffering are usually described in different terms. Pain has a very definite biophysical, biochemical meaning. Pain receptors at various sites receive "painful" inputs from the internal or external environments of the body, the sensory neurons then transmit the impulses to the appropriate areas of the brain where they are processed, and one "feels" the sensation of "pain". An interesting observation is that the brain itself has no pain receptors, and so has no way of detecting inherent danger to itself. Pain, after all, serves as a survival mechanism, warning the organism to stay away from the danger that the input represents. Thus children who lack the appropriate receptors, or lack the ability to correctly process the incoming signals pose a great danger to themselves, for they have no threshold. The point is that while everything about the way pain works in the body and in the organism's interactions with its environment may not yet be clearly known, it is forseeable that everything about pain may one day be described in terms of neurons and action potentials and EPSPs and IPSPs.

Suffering, on the other hand, is more vague, and its source not so easily pinpointed. One might say that suffering is to behaviour what pain is to brain. However, the notion of "suffering" does not necessarily contradict the brain- behaviour equivalence. Perhaps suffering just represents an extremely complex pattern of multiple pathways numerous enough to pose severe computational difficulties. But for argument's sake, suppose that every pathway in the "complex" could eventually be mapped, and suffering was reduced to a complex algebraic series of EPSPs and IPSPs of action potentials, it might still seem prudent to forget that kind of a reductionistic description in order to be able to deal with the macroscopic realities that suffering induces in the daily lives of people.

Why, then, bother to map out all the pathways, if it serves our purpose better to treat the feelings and phenomena in a "holistic" manner? Certainly, detailed knowledge of the exact ways in which the various circuits function is intellectually stimulating, and has applications in the manipulation of behaviours by physicians and other health professionals. But is it truly worth manipulating the mind with behaviour- altering drugs to the extent that we have been doing? And what possible repurcussions can this have for future generations, who may have at their disposal a "happy" pill, and a "sad" pill, and an "angry" pill, and a "calm" pill?

Nice distinctions, at several levels. Indeed, "pain" is, at this point, better understood in terms of neurons than is "suffering", but one can at least glimpse how the latter might also be recognized as corresponding to patterns of neuronal activity. Is it worth it? I think so, because doing so will, I think, close off the thoughts of "happy" pills and all the associated (and appropriate) fears of mind manipulation. "Suffering" can be no less complex understood in terms of brain function than it is understood holistically (if brain is behavior), and so will continue to exhibit all of the questions inherent in it as a holistic concept (multiple causes, benefits and costs, contributions to/detractions from personal growth). And it will correspondingly involve lots of widely space neurons using lots of different transmitters, and so not be "correctable" using pills (or surgery). At least that's the way I think it will come out. PG