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In a sci-fi story I'm working on, a group of aliens utilizes a implanted device that induces incredible pain solely by stimulating the nervous system; specifically, the nerves that tell you you're in pain. This is done directly, using a wired connection to the nervous system to send the signals it wants through the nervous system to the brain. Basically, it induces 'phantom pain'; you feel intense pain all over your body without having suffered any sort of injury. Sort of like Fibromyalgia.

As you can probably guess, these aliens are completely and totally morally bankrupt.

And now, the question: What kind of side effects might stimulating the specific pain-detecting nerves have on a human victim? Note that this isn't being done using any sort of toxin or virus; the firing of nerves associated with pain is the only effect.

In case you need to know, the effect's duration can range from a split second to the eventual death of the victim, though the aliens rarely make it last longer than a few minutes.

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    $\begingroup$ How are they stimulating the nerves? That's going to dictate what kinds of side effects one can expect. For example while capsaicin and fire both stimulate nerves sensitive to heat, the side effects of both are very different. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Apr 28 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ The nerves are being stimulated through an implant wired directly into the nervous system. $\endgroup$
    – Brinstar77
    Apr 29 at 11:29

3 Answers 3

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Since the mechanism isn't well explained, there is no objective answer to this question. I will give my $.02 based on things I would consider reasonable consequences, but this is not as much an answer as it is a list of suggestions, if you will:

  • No side-effects for short-term(seconds, minutes) exposure
  • Heightened sensibility to stimulus for medium-term(hours) exposure, causing even light touches to register as painful
  • Permanent damage to the receptors of that particular nerve(The chemical part of the nervous system) causing diminished or even no sensibility to pain in that particular region for long-term(days) exposure

Of course, there are also the eventual psychological consequences such as, but not limited to: PTSD, depression, claustrofobia(If it's in an enclosed space such as a cabin or booth) etc

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  • $\begingroup$ The pain is being inflicted by an implant that sends the appropriate signals through the nervous system to the brain. $\endgroup$
    – Brinstar77
    Apr 29 at 11:36
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The side effects would be similar to capsaicin

Capsaicin binds to the same receptors that activate nerves related to abrasion and heat sensitivity. Thus, why it feels like it burns. The body isn't actually burning but it still causes a ton of side effects. "They cause burning or stinging pain to the skin and, if ingested in large amounts by adults or small amounts by children, can produce nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and burning diarrhea. Eye exposure produces intense tearing, pain, conjunctivitis, and blepharospasm." wikipedia

The imaginary pain will have the same effects as real pain without the initial damage

Everything you would expect the body to do under the duress of a extremely painful injury you can expect to see in a body under the influence of this stimulation. Seizures, Shock, Adrenal response, endorphin rush, and everything in between.

If it bad enough, the reaction to the pain might cause real damage as that is the sort of thing that can cause our bodies to ignore the usual limitations set on muscle strength.

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Any stress related response

Though over stimulation can have some interesting side effects, they all pale in comparison to stress and the psyche. Especially as it doesn't take longer than a minute there is barely anything to say about direct bodily side effects.

Stress and the psychological repercussions however are too many to tell, vary wildly from person to person and can via the psychological/stress complications result in as many physical disorders.

The pain will induce stress, but only so much. The danger is the psychological effects. Fear, learned helplessness and depression can induce further stress, among the cornucopia of psychological disorders that can happen. This stress in turn feeds the disorders, reinforced by further activation of the device for further pain.

In time this can lead to other severe disorders, like catatonia or burn out. Stress can be shown in strange and unexpected ways. From relatively innocent nervous tics to violence, madness and (temporal) paralysis. Just look at accounts of PTSD victims for example.

Basically the side effects can be anything under the sun. That is why it is a good choice for a narrative, as it hardly constraints your story. The onset and type of side-effects is fluid as it differs per person. Even 'strong' characters can be weak against stress or already have been under stress for some time, pushing them over the edge or making it worse.

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