We all know, our body is able to roughly localize pain sources or react to imbalances or defects:

  • the stomach hurts because we may have eaten something spoiled,
  • muscles hurts after exercising too much,
  • we feel dizzy after we drank too much alcohol, and so on.

However, the body is not able to "detect" most of the imbalances and their causes on its own. We certainly do not know why exactly we feel in a certain way, or which current issue is causing pain. We can't "listen" to our body to find out why we feel uncomfortable.

Let me give you some examples:

  • Our hand hurts because of the carpal tunnel syndrome, but we only receive the information that our hand hurts.
  • We feel tired, dizzy and suffer from headaches because of a vitamin D deficiency, but we only feel tired and dizzy instead of knowing that we are missing on the vitamin.
  • Our body reacts to a virus like influenza with the typical flu symptoms. But the body does not tell us, that it's a virus infection right now.
  • Rather hard example: we experience pain the left arm and feel uncomfortable around the heart area, and we can only assume that it's a heart attack. But the body does not tell us that the heart is having issues right now.

Why, from a biological perspective, can't we "listen" to our body to find out the real causes for our issues, and not only experience some symptoms? What would our body need to actually be able to tell us what's wrong?


As cooperative entities (cells) form a larger body, the larger body takes up functions that are beyond the scope of an individual cell. This involves storing and processing information at a higher level of abstraction and quantity. Your blood cell wouldn't be able to understand what a computer is, in the same way your blood cell doesn't expect you to understand how it recognizes a virus, because as a large body, you cannot see the virus.

This is very similar to how a Prime Minister may not be able to understand all the complexities of building a rocket, but he/she can direct a space agency to build one. If there any problems, the space agency can convey that to the Prime Minister without going into detailed explanations, because he doesn't need to know anything about the equations of the rocket's trajectory. He just needs to know information at a larger scale.

So the answer to your question is that we can't "listen" to our body because everything is happening on a microscopic scale, while our large body is tuned to have senses which "listen" to macroscopic phenomena.


You give good examples, but they are a bit one-sided.

The short answer is: these alarm signs you list were not crucial for our collective survival.

Pain with CTS at least makes you stop using your hands, and if you use your brain, you might find the specific cause (without doctor or warning from your keyboard vendor).

I once had a bad blow to both my shinbones - walking was no problem, but as soon as I came near a table with chairs, it was red alert - for weeks, automatically. It was so tender, I just did not want to bump into something. My shinbones were screaming: let us heal! Without the (fear of) pain, I would have exposed my legs to normal bruises, and it would not have healed.

Your virus/flu example I don't understand. You mean being able to differntiate between if and which virus?

Infections make fever, and fever changes your behaviour - good for your group if you skip a hunt and stay at home. Today you can get scanned at the airport. Same idea.

The vitamin D example has to sides: tired and dizzy is neither sensitive nor specific. More often than not, it has other reasons (sleep,hunger,rotation,low blood pressure), and bone problems are the usual "symptoms".

In a way, our hunger and appetite leads us to get enough (too much) of the good stuff. After salty food we drink, without thinking (actually we think, leave out the salt, think again and drink and then we think we didn't drink enough, probably) But then again, you can't have a precise warning sign for every vitamin, essential amino acid, element and metabolite. You can, but then it is a machine.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer. Seems very reasonable, that such a system would not really have any benefits. $\endgroup$ – Kevin Woblick Feb 3 '20 at 12:25

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