Conscious pain is always personal. It is experienced from the view of oneself, and is not real or meaningful apart from this perspective.

All pains cluster around one’s personal aperture as around a single point or origin from which they are all perceived, irrespective of where in the body pain is felt. The sensation of a pain in a hand is sensed as located in the hand, but that pain sensation in the hand is not felt from the hand, but from about the same spatial location from which that hand is personally seen, even if pain is felt in complete darkness or in a dream. It is the ‘here’ with regard to which any pain is ‘there.’

It may intuitively feel that this single experiential point is located at the mid-point between the centers of rotation of the two eyes. Mach’s drawing above shows a monocular view of this point given in peripheral vision. In fact, the empirically determined location of the point is deeper inside the head, in the midsagittal plane, roughly 4–5 cm behind the bridge of the nose. Initially developed by Herring (1879/1942), this determination identifies the intersection of a few lines of sight obtained by fixating certain locations in the environment and aligning pins with them along each of the lines of sight or attention.

The self thus located is the origin of all lines of sight/attention and so cannot be any kind of self-representation (Merker, 2007, 2013). It defines the view point from which any and all representations of sensory experience are perceived, including personal pain. It is the point from which attention is directed and relative to which percepts are located in the space whose origin it defines (Merker, 2007, 2013).

To think that self must involve a kind of self-representation is to transfer sensory experience from the sensory state to one of its sub-domains (the self), which I think motivates viewing the self as a kind of cartesian homunculus. On this cartesian view, pain is interpreted in presence of the self. To my mind, it seems the other way round: the self in pain finds itself in the presence of pain (the ‘content’ of pain). The self of any conscious pain is not inherently conscious. Pain is intruder, not self. That is why pain is an aversion.

From this single experiential point we look out upon the world along straight and uninterrupted lines of sight. This orientation is dramatically reversed in the experience of pain. During pain, attentional focus is rapidly and involuntarily moved backwards along these same lines toward their most proximal origin. I believe this reverse direction helps to characterize the meaning of conscious pain as intrusion or threat to oneself.


Hering, E. (1879/1942). Spatial Sense and Movements of the Eye. Trans. C. A. Radde. Baltimore, MD: American Academy of Optometry (Original work published in 1879).

Mach, E. (1897). Contributions to the Analysis of the Sensations. La Salle, IL: Open Court.

Merker, B. (2007). Consciousness without a cerebral cortex, a challenge
for neuroscience and medicine. Target article with peer commentary and author’s response. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 30, 63–134.

Merker, B. (2013). The efference cascade, consciousness, and its self: naturalizing the first person pivot of action control. Frontiers in Psychology, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00501.