Scientists, including Prof. Irene Tracey, PhD, have made great strides in the study of pain. Her work is described in a recent article at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/07/02/the-neuroscience-of-pain . (The New Yorker’s freemium model gives a few free articles per month. Two thumbs up!)
It seems the “dorsal posterior region of the insula” is deeply involved with pain. “It’s just this lovely island of cortex hidden in the middle, deep in your brain,” Prof. Tracey said. “And it’s got all these amazing different functions. When you say, ‘Actually, I feel a bit cold, I need to put a sweater on,’ what’s driving you to do that? Probably this bit.”
But the root cause of much pain is perhaps an undiscovered “island of cortex” that I shall call the “Egoism and Jackass Center (EJC)”. Pain is often the eventual result of the operation of this center when it causes disputes and rash actions. One’s pain may be caused by the operation of one’s own EJC, or someone else’s, but most often when all parties involved behave like asses.
I have a quirky, sporadic angry side. IMO it is genetic on the maternal side, considering the wide variety of family members with whom I share the trait. For instance, this morning, after about the hundredth technical problem with Comcast services, I cancelled the cable-TV and phone services. I was ready to cancel internet service too, even though I knew that the internet is essential to us. My EJC was firing on all cylinders! But luckily, some more-rational “island of cortex” overruled my EJC on that.
(More overruling may occur when the rest of the house finds out there is no cable TV.)
I have a quirky taste for the TV show “Cops” and its imitators. (On “Cops”, police officers go about their normal activities, but with camera crews recording it all.) It is clear that the police generally have excellent control of their EJCs. That is, under huge stresses, and in great danger, and even under physical attack, they usually control their behaviour well, and stay within the complex rules that govern what they can and cannot do. (Of course, there is probably a bias against airing footage that shows the police erring.)
Control of the EJC varies widely among the suspected criminals on these shows. I imagine that education, socialization, and innate personality all play a role in this. The EJC stimulates dangerous and self-defeating criminal behaviours: car chases, physical attacks on police officers, domestic violence, and the like.
Suspects’ behaviour clearly varies based on the drugs that are found with the suspects and the drugs they have (apparently) used. On average and in general, alcohol and cocaine and amphetamines increase the operation of the EJC, resulting in stupid actions and great pain, but marijuana decreases the action of the EJC, which often spares the suspects the worst possible results.
The evolutionary role of the EJC is unclear. I believe that humans evolved as social animals, in groups that have leaders. Cooperation must have beeen important. But is jackass behaviour always anti-social? Or does the EJC help a leader take forceful action, without self-doubt?
Hopefully the next administration will erase the federal bans on funding scientific research into gun violence, and scientific research on marijuana. Maybe a more peaceful society is within our reach.