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Don’t look…down

By Timothy Cocks Metaphor and language, Science and the world 02 Sep 2014
Don't look down

Just looking at this picture gives me a strong, visceral reaction. If I begin to vividly imagine that those feet belong to me, that I can feel the wind tugging at my clothes, that I can hear the distant sound of traffic below and look out and see the horizon further away than I’ve ever seen, I feel decidedly uneasy, physically recoil, notice a change in my heart rate and breathing, and stop immediately.

I’d guess that many people, barring those with no fear of high places, would have some varying degree of a reaction (click on the picture to get a bigger version for greater effect). I don’t think I would have a hard time of convincing someone that my reaction was pretty “normal”.

But what happens if a person walks into a doctor’s / therapist’s / clinician’s room today and says, “My shoulder hurts if I just think about moving”, “My neck hurts when I see someone else move” or “My back aches just walking in the door at work” – even with all that we now know about the brain, mirror neurons, neurotags, pain biology and the complexity of human experience, how many people would still be dismissed and have their experience denied and told it’s not real, or told that they’re putting it on, or malingering, and that they need “toughen up, build a bridge and get over it…”

What is it about the experience of pain, in particular, that has led it to be so treated?


-Tim Cocks



David Butler will be in Queensland, Australia, for Explain Pain and Graded Motor Imagery courses in September 2014. Find all the details at the noigroup courses page, but be quick – places are filling up fast. 

If you can’t make it to beuatiful Brisband or the glorious Gold Coast in September you can still get your think on and immerse yourself in some brainy books with Explain Pain 2nd Ed and The Graded Motor Imagery Handbook


  1. G’day Tim,

    The realization that pain is primarily a psychological output is very unsettling at first. It undercuts a lot of the assumptions and beliefs that physios and doctors like to hold dear. It’s built into human nature to deny and avoid painful truths. It wouldn’t matter if there were 100 meta-analyses proving that physical therapies don’t affect pain or stiffness. It simply wouldn’t matter. People will still tend to believe what makes them most comfortable ahead of what’s necessarily true.

    Have you seen this doco? No amygdala!


  2. davidbutler0noi

    I hadn’t seen that clip before – it is very viscerally evocative. I am wondering if it would help if I watched it before I get on my roof to do my gutters?

    Ah – “my back hurts when I think of moving or think of something”. Much of the world believes in things that are just plain weird – Google “belief in ghosts” for example and then ponder why health practitioners can’t believe in something that is supported by evidence from converging areas. I just don’t get it.


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