What happens if you cannot feel the healing?

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This past Friday afternoon, I was having an interesting conversation with a friend from work. We were talking about spas and more particularly massages – the general need and healing from being touched by other humans.

This morning on CNN a story ran on a child who never felt pain. I made a comment that it reminded me of the stories one might find by Oliver Sacks in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and more specifically the one about the woman who could not feel her own body.

CIPA (congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis) is an inherited degenerative disorder affecting the autonomic nervous system – a big deal, as this is where the heart comes in and the nervous system lives. Two key symptoms surface as the lack of feeling pain and the lack of perspiration. In CNN’s story about Roberto, they mention he can not be held, because he sucks the heat out of you. My comment was not speaking to the scientific characteristics; instead it was one of the social impacts of not feeling.

What kind of mental model for pain would a person who can not feel it, have? What kind of mental model for world pain (not individual human suffering) would they have? If they do not have the concrete knowledge of pain, how would they work with the abstract concept when applied to thoughts, imagination, inanimate objects or abstract concepts like a country?

Reach back into a psychology class and thinking about Skinner and conditioning. Try and recall the experiment where the animal, I think it was a rodent, was provided food when it hit a lever – reward the rat and the rat will continue. Map this back to people with CIPA. In the absence of sensory stimuli and limited interactions with others (not being able to be held, presumably cuddled), what is created to match the Skinner-stimuli we all use to operate in the world? Roberto might be aware of a lava stone massage one might get at a spa, but not think much of it. For those who see touch as healing and the need for it, what does it mean for those with CIPA?