Home Discussion Forum Is pain useful to an organism without consciousness?

Is pain useful to an organism without consciousness?

Suppose a given organism with a nervous system were purely mechanical, having no consciousness. What then is the purpose of pain, if the stimuli do not inform a subject but simply cause a series of biomechanical functions?
Can all neuronal activity find an explanation on the basis of biological systems, such that pain for an animal may represent to the body how to respond to the environment without awareness of representation?
By ‘pain’ I mean ‘the kind of subjective discomfort I feel’ — I agree that there are many simple creatures that appear to follow their instincts purely, are governed by rules, and do not require the subjective character of consciousness that I’m after. I readily agree that there are many unsensed and automatic processes our bodies initiate without our awareness… my question is whether or not the structures that do give rise to painful experiences in humans are exhausted in their functional description on the level of biology.
The question is vague, a better formulation might be: Are all the neuro-physiological systems necessary for our experience of pain functionally and exhaustively explained without reference to consciousness?
That is, what is the point of having awareness at all, if the body just responds rather deterministically to the environment?
Fair answers so far. I’ll reply later if anyone remains interested.
I’ve clarified the motivations for this question. Of course consciousness is necessary for pain — but can you biologically explain away what appears to produce pain (details about the nervous system) without reference to consciousness….
Biology plays a role but the question is philosophical in that ontological committment to conscious states seems to be requisite to a biological description of the nervous system. The qurestion is about inteliigibility and explanation and not about contingent factors that I could care less about.


  1. sounds like an argument to justify killing animals. I am with 100% of the way 😉 Your question is rather confusing on what you are asking. Are you saying consciousness seems pointless when it seems that we could survive on the nervous system responding to the outside world? whatever your asking it seems like your are simplifying the human existence. We are not just creatures thriving off biological urge a slave to the pain complex you seem to be focusing on. Their is a body and mind connection, but the two effect each other while being able to work independently. There are so many other things to consider to approach the understanding of why we humans are the way we are. It seems that one of the biggest difference between us and the animals in our self awareness. This self awareness is both a blessing and a curse.

  2. The purpose of pain is to provide negative stimuli to prevent damage to the organism in question. The issue is whether or not this negative stimulus will have any effect on an organism without consciousness, and I believe that it will. (With nothing to really back me up on that.)

  3. Romans 1-19/20, states that all things from creation have been shown all there is to know of God even unto the eternal power and Godhead. All things have consciousness,just more limited in their awareness. All things are but God expressing his vision of himself. “God dwells within you as you”.

  4. i can’t go into the biology of it but it seems logical to assume the pain can direct the body away even if it lacks consciousness. worms and such with simple nerve systems react to pressure and chemicals and light, to move towards food and such but have no consciousness. also a program for a robot wouldn’t be too complicated to tell it to randomly move untill it is out of a situation.

  5. Define consciousness: 1. An alert cognitive state in which you are aware of yourself and your situation. 2. Having knowledge of.
    Pain: A symptom of some physical hurt or disorder.
    Philosophers need to be sure to accuratly and completely define things. We could not define your answer without first defining consciousness or pain. Ok…time for the answer…
    Pain is the conscious intrepretation of stimuli. A processor (brain) must intrepret the stimulus as pain in order for something to be defined as being in pain. Therefore, pain cannot exist without consciousness.
    If an organism does not have consciousness of pain, then the organism is not in pain.
    But what degree of consciousness would have to exist before an organism could be described as being in pain? Does a dog act the same when it is sick? Does an amoeba not find food? Does an earth worm not react to flooded soil when it rains? We assume that these organisms are less conscious than a human. But as we can clearly see, they, in their own degree of consciousness, intrepret pain.
    Let’s look at this: you find that you had cut yourself on something, but you do not have any other consciousness of the matter. You notice that the cut is scabbing over. You did not experience pain consciously. Why then would the cut scab over. There was no pain because your brain was unable to process the stimuli, but you did start to heal. Your body then, without classified as being in pain, began to heal itself? Well, your body was conscious of the stimulus or nothing would have happened.
    Something that cannot exist cannot be useful to any organism.
    I see you added things up there…this is the philosopy section. We have to define things completly before we can answer anything. You cannot have pain without conscousness. Any other answer would be against the very nature of philosophy…unless someone else has proved me wrong on this matter (I hope not). 🙂
    UPDATE: I appreciate that you updated your question. Now that I know that this is a biology question and not a philosophy question, go to http://www.howstuffworks.com there you can find out how the nervous system works. Sorry, but I don’t have the energy to answer anymore of this question.
    UPDATE #2: Man, I am sorry, but your second update made no sense to me. I have no idea what you are asking for. Let’s call my answer “good enough”.

  6. The manifestation we call pain is a direct result of the lack of consciousness regarding the vast majority of human bodily functions. The so called usefulness of pain is really an assumption based on human ignorance about the real functions of the physical body or its original design. Those that wish to subscribe to their own peril may do so w/out attempting however to drag along the rest of us.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here