Pain is simultaneously a consuming, blinding reality and a complex and slippery object of study. This section aims to capture the essence of pain – what precisely it is, how it is generated and what purpose it serves. Two influential contributors round out the section. Ronald Dubner, professor and chairman of biomedical sciences at the University of Maryland Dental School, offers on page 12 his call to arms on what the research community must do to translate basic research advances into much-needed new therapies. And David B. Morris, an English professor at the University of Virginia, on page 14, explores the roles of culture, context, and experience to form a central part of the pain experience. Lest this appear a purely academic exercise, on page 17 we present the story of a woman whose life has been reshaped by chronic pain.

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