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Pain tolerance with mind vs body

  1. Aug 2, 2014 #1


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    I was thinking, in the world in general, there are many people who would actually prefer to do hard labor over mind stimulating work.

    Even in my own studying I often get pain in the head and frustration. It doesn't take (relatively) too much thinking to get me to get up and take a five minute break. Many concepts in math and science just hurt the head to try and understand.

    Do you think humans have a higher threshold of pain tolerance for their muscles over their brain, where it would be less painful to do a full day of manual labor over a full day of equally intense studying?

    I know this is a biased audience with many brilliant people, but for me learning these "elementary" concepts prove to be very challenging and frustrating.
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2014
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  3. Aug 2, 2014 #2


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    I think different people have different wants/needs/preferences. I doubt that you can make a good generalization. I knew one guy for example, who did manual labor and who know an absolutely amazing about about baseball. He read sports statistics the way some of read textbooks and I doubt that he thought of it as studying. And it wasn't just facts, it was an ability to put them together. Now I'm pretty sure reading that stuff would make my head hurt and it could be that he would feel the same way about a math text, but can you generalize from that?
  4. Aug 2, 2014 #3


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    I don't ever get physical pain from studying. It is fatiguing and uses energy but not in the same way as physical labor. I do have to occasionally "wipe the slate" though.

    I wish I knew more about the actual mechanics behind how the brain processes information, but it seems as if after you collect a bunch of information your brain needs some time to organize and discard some it before you can continue effectively.
  5. Aug 2, 2014 #4


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    Are there?

    I suppose this really depends on your definitions. But when you're looking at situations like this, it's important to keep in mind that most people on the planet don't have that much choice in the work they do, yet many will try to make the most out of the opportunities they have.
  6. Aug 2, 2014 #5


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    During summers between years at university, I worked as a plumber's helper (on campus) and maintenance man/pipe fitter, as a manual laborer at an oil refinery, as a janitor and maintenance person, and as an iron worker. I loved doing the iron work, which was much like a building a giant erector set. There was some use of my physics/engineering background that I used in the construction, including devising field modifications. But none of those paid as well as being an engineer. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hard physical labor, even when working in a truck or in boxcar in temperatures > 120 F, or on iron when the iron was hot enough to cook an egg, and it was >100 F with > 60% humidity.

    Now I enjoy solving challenging problems, but I miss doing iron work.

    There's nothing like standing on a 6 inch flange with nothing for 100 ft or more below - except the ground. It's even more interesting when the wind blows and the iron wobbles or sways. :biggrin:
  7. Aug 2, 2014 #6
    Are you saying your head literally hurts, or are you speaking figuratively?
  8. Aug 2, 2014 #7


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    Yes, I actually have painful sensations when studying. Of course it's not the same pain as being punched, but it's something more akin to a headache
  9. Aug 2, 2014 #8


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    That could be tension/stress - or eye strain. Perhaps should take periodic breaks, e.g., every two hours and just walk somewhere, or step outside, or eat a snack, or some kind of exercise.

    I have a friend who likes to read books while walking on a treadmill.
  10. Aug 2, 2014 #9


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    I'm not so sure about that, I can do trivial arithmetic without it coming in. But as soon as I try to close the gap between not understanding a new mathematical construct and understanding it, I get a headache
  11. Aug 3, 2014 #10
    bold mine

    I don't know whether you can apply the following to your situation or not. I had two situations involving physical labor in the last month.

    When digging a hole to find an old pipe I became frustrated because I don't find the pipe for quite a while. I got a headache and my back hurt.

    On the other hand I spent an equal amount of time digging a hole to plant a large tree with no frustration or pain whatsoever.

    Perhaps you feel you should close that gap faster and get tense when you don't. I used to experience your problem when I was younger. I remember saying to my friends: "I have been thinking so hard my brain hurts."

    A long talk with a good counselor may help with your problem.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2014
  12. Aug 3, 2014 #11


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    I think I understand what the OP is saying (maybe?). The other night I spent about 2 hours proofreading a story for someone. After I was done I felt "out of it" from the effort I put in. It wasn't quite pain, but more like fatigue of the mind. The same thing happens if I put a lot of mental effort for an extended amount of time into trying to learn something.
  13. Aug 3, 2014 #12


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    I'll have to agree with Astronuc. Certain muscles will tense up without realization when concentrating on a problem. Squinting of eyes, clenching the jaw, jutting ythe head out more towards the paper, just to name a few. All of this tightens muscles, tires them out, and changes blood flow.

    Just put a hand to your temple and clench your jaw. You will feel muscle movement.
  14. Aug 3, 2014 #13
    I am a first-generation college student in a blue-collar family.* Having worked with my dad for some time before deciding to study computer engineering, I can say that there is a certain satisfaction in doing a hard day's labor and building things. I was never more fit than when working with concrete and cinder-block, and the things I built and helped build were there for all to see.

    That said, construction hurts a lot more than studying. I get about one or two migraines a year these days, and that's it. I was always very sore after a day working under the sun.

    *My father was joint owner of a dairy construction company with dozens of employees for several years. He was by no means forced to do physical labor, but he chose to work alongside his employees.

    These days, he works with my brother and brother-in-law pouring foundations.
  15. Aug 3, 2014 #14
    I used to do hard labor for about 10 years, and now i work as a programmer for about 10yrs also. Every day still feels like a holiday compared to the physical work. Just the mere fact that you can yawn or stretch for a few seconds, or get a glass of water when you feel like it. And waking up at 6am is like sleeping in. I do have good memories of the non-serious conversations and such, but i would never go back.
  16. Aug 3, 2014 #15
    O.K., this isn't universal, nor is it inevitable. The cure is not in chucking intellectual pursuits in favor of physical labor, but in learning ways to obviate stress. I think you've probably just picked up a lot of bad habits in this regard.

    Physical labor must be like anything else in the sense that there is no one reason people do it for a living. And, if it actually were your life, you might find out the stress is just as bad, if not worse, over the long haul.
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