I don’t know how I got this paper cut. I don’t use much paper these days, even if the world uses twice the amount of paper it did in 1980, and even if I did vote on a paper ballot yesterday (we really need to figure out this whole voting by smartphone thing). But I know that it hurts a lot. I also know, thanks to this Scientific American video, why it hurts so much.
Our fingers have a greater concentration of pain receptors than the rest of the body, and while skin, with its random orientation of collagen fibers, is quite good at coping with, say, a pencil prick, it’s not so strong against the shearing forces of the edge of a slice of paper. Paper’s also quite rough — imagine a saw on your skin — and the tissues and neurons that get exposed easily come in for a beating, especially if you spend most of your day throwing your fingers across a keyboard or doing anything else really. Paper, especially fancy paper, can also be coated in chemicals like bleach, which can further irritate those pain receptors, and give you exposure to things like Staphylococcus aureus bug, aka MRSA, which, I read, without the right medical attention, could eat your flesh.
But what really makes a paper cut so hurtful, I think, rests in psychology: the thought that a teeny tiny bit of paper could ruin everything is a deafening blow to my dignity and my humanity. Good thing I have science.