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Using philosophy to create a vocabulary of pain

Much like the people at the beginning of this video, I’ve often had difficulty describing my aches and pains to my doctor. And because pain is such a subjective experience, it can also be challenging for physicians to evaluate and prescribe effective treatments to help their patients.

Recognizing the need to develop a vocabulary of pain, University at Buffalo psychiatrist Werner Ceusters, MD, has turned to ontology – a branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of being or existence. He explains how in a release:

“The philosophical definition of ontology is the study of things that exist and how they relate to each other,” says Ceusters… “I am a person and you are a person so we share something. Suppose I drop dead. What lies on the floor? Is that still a person? If it is no longer a person, is it still the very same thing that was sitting here as a person but now is a corpse?”

Ceusters says that in much the same way, definitions of pain and especially of chronic pain need to be much more precise; ontology provides methods of distinguishing among categories and describing data in uniform and formal ways.

Werster, who said his goal is to create a software program that will allow pain doctors to “express themselves in crystal clear terms,” is discussing his research at this week’s International Conference on Biomedical Ontology.

Previously: No pain, no gain. Not!, Relieving Pain in America: A new report from the Institute of Medicine, Stanford’s Sean Mackey discusses recent advances in pain research and treatment and Oh what a pain

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