Functional brain imaging studies reveal the complexity of brain activity during pain. The marked explanatory gaps that separate such research from classical neurophysiology and perceptual psychology raise the challenge of integrating knowledge gleaned at multiple levels of investigation into a coherent multidisciplinary account of pain. A conceptual framework from consciousness research, grounded in the concept of self-organization, can address this challenge through nonlinear dynamical systems and related models. We propose a constructivist model that construes pain, not as the passive registration of sensory information that traditional research would presume, but rather an active process of generating and shaping awareness. If pain is a dynamic product of a self-organizing brain, then pain research needs a theoretical framework to address the observations that functional brain imaging yields.