The Girl That Doesn’t Feel Pain

Justin Heckert, writing for New York Times Magazine, spent some time with Ashlyn Blocker and her parents, Tara and John. Ashlyn suffers from a rare condition called congenital insensitivity to pain in which she doesn’t feel pain:

Tara and John weren’t completely comfortable leaving Ashlyn alone in the kitchen, but it was something they felt they had to do, a concession to her growing independence. They made a point of telling stories about how responsible she is, but every one came with a companion anecdote that was painful to hear. There was the time she burned the flesh off the palms of her hands when she was 2. John was using a pressure-washer in the driveway and left its motor running; in the moments that they took their eyes off her, Ashlyn walked over and put her hands on the muffler. When she lifted them up the skin was seared away. There was the one about the fire ants that swarmed her in the backyard, biting her over a hundred times while she looked at them and yelled: “Bugs! Bugs!” There was the time she broke her ankle and ran around on it for two days before her parents realized something was wrong…

The article goes a bit into the genetic reason for Ashlyn’s insensitivity to pain, namely a mutated SCN9A gene. Interestingly, lists an older NYT article about the gene.

Readings: Pain, Woods+, Jeter’s 3,000th Hit

A few reads from today:

(1) “Thinking Away the Pain” [Wall Street Journal] – author Jonah Lehrer probes this question: can meditation and other alternative methods (including cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback, and hypnosis) help with relieving pain?

Pain is a huge medical problem. According to a new report from the Institute of Medicine, chronic pain costs the U.S. more than $600 billion every year in medical bills and lost productivity. Back pain alone consumes nearly $90 billion in health-care expenses, roughly equivalent to what’s spent on cancer.

Despite the increasing prevalence of chronic pain—nearly one in three Americans suffers from it—medical progress has been slow and halting. This is an epidemic we don’t know how to treat. 

(2) “Woods+” [Ftrain] – What is Google+, exactly? This is a hilarious take from Paul Ford. My favourite part is the allusion to the short story, “The Most Dangerous Game.”

I know it’s confusing. But this is their competitor to Facebook basically. Except you can list your friends. That’s the circles. But it’s easier to remember if you call them holes. Like I could have a friend hole and an acquaintance hole and a K-hole. And they give you a list of friends and you stuff them in the hole, like Silence of the Lambs, except you are sending them images and text messages and hanging out with them on video chats. One of the things that can happen, according to the press, is that you can, if you are very lucky, talk with one of the founders of Google, because he’s hanging out using the service too. And you can ask him about user experience, and show him your cat.

(3) “Was Giving Jeter’s 3,000th Hit Back a Dumb Move?” [The Atlantic] – over the weekend, Derek Jeter joined an elite group of baseball players to have accumulated 3,000 or more hits in their MLB career. His 3,000th hit was a home run. The big story revolved around 23-year-old Christian Lopez, who caught the HR and then returned the ball to Derek Jeter. So what’s the issue? If Lopez decided to auction off the ball:

So how much money might the ball have fetched? According to one Bloomberg report, it almost certainly could have been sold for somewhere between $75,000 and $250,000 at auction…

But I think Lopez did the honourable thing here. In return, he received luxury box seats at Yankee Stadium, valued at $40,000+. However, the point of highlighting the article is for this fact, which you learn about in Economics 101:

Criticizing Lopez’s decision as crazy misses the maxim that “money isn’t everything.” But more importantly, it ignores an important aspect of basic economics that supports that maxim: utility theory. It teaches that money isn’t a person’s ultimate goal. Instead, they seek to maximize their personal utility. Think of utility as happiness: while money certainly plays a role in happiness for many people, it isn’t all that matters.

So, to an economist (and to someone like me), Lopez giving the ball back was a completely rational thing to do. It was the right thing to do.