Put chili powder in your eyes, rest your hands in a bucket full of ice and wait to receive an electrical shock on your body, and you might just find out how much pain you can really take.
Or just watch Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown, creators of the YouTube channel AsapSCIENCE, do all that to themselves in the first episode of "The Lab," a new series where viewers' questions are turned to actual experiments so we all can experience science first-hand. Kudos to whoever came up with this first question.
Pain is really a protective signal that alerts our nervous system to threats causing damage to our bodies. It all starts at the nociceptors, free nerve endings on the skin and throughout the body that respond to extreme heat and pressure, and relay a signal to the spinal cord and brain so that you remove your hand away from the hot stove before it burns completely.
These heat-sensing nociceptors also respond to chili peppers, sending signals to the brain about something hot and intense that should be avoided. That's why by sprinkling chili powder you can keep out the rats, or probably any other intruders. Humans may be the only animals in the world who voluntarily put hot pepper on their food, or eat a Carolina reaper, rated the world's hottest chili pepper by Guinness World Records, in the name of science:
But how much pain can a human really take if there were no fatal bodily damage involved? The ceiling seems to be pretty high—people had surgeries before the invention of anesthesia and in some traditional societies people still go through the most agonizing rites of passage, from getting
deep skin cuts all over their bodies to having all their front teeth chiseled into incisors, while refusing pain medication that's now available. If you ever found yourself in such situations, research says swearing may help.