Fearless!

After I read this fascinating article about a woman with no fear, I sent it to an acquaintance of mine who is an expert in the field, Dr. Larry Kyle of Genway – the supermarket for genetically engineered foods. Here’s his reply:

A woman with no fear?

How sad! The feeling of fear is overwhelming and so deliciously intense! I don’t want to say fear is “fun”, but when you face an incident that triggers real fear, you feel vibrantly alive afterwards.
If, in fact, you’re alive afterwards.

In this study, the scientists set out to test whether the amygdala, an almond-shaped button inside the brain, is the physical seat of fear in humans as it is in animals. Their subject was a 44 year old mother of three who had lost her amygdala as the result of a rare disease.

What did they do to test her fear response? They introduced her to a snake and a spider at a pet store. They took her on a tour of a haunted house. And they showed her excerpts from “The Blair Witch Project” and “The Shining.” When she seemed unperturbed they concluded that her fear response was inhibited.

I’m very disappointed. She’s a mother of three! You can’t scare someone who has given birth three times by using one stupid pet store spider! You need at least 1,000 spiders rushing out of a shower drain just after she has put the shampoo in her hair.

And a tour of a haunted house? Please. If you have three children, your real house is haunted every day. Yes, there’s a zombie in the closet. So what? The really frightening stuff has to do with the funny smell coming out of the dryer and the growing realization that some people in this house don’t empty their pockets before they put their clothes down the chute.

Movie clips? They’re nice, but they’re entertainment. Faux fear, if you will. Besides, if I read this report correctly, the subject (identified as “SM”) was accompanied by scientists in every instance. No wonder she wasn’t afraid. Anyone who has seen a horror film in the last 40 years knows the first thing a creature does is destroy its creator. When I’m in the movie theater I don’t even start to get worried until at least 3 scientists and a security guard are dead.

Researchers – the next time you do a study like this, I hope you’ll bring more theater into it. Yes, take your subject on a group tour of the darkened haunted house. But drop off one by one as she walks through. With each disappearance there should be a chop, or a scream, or the unmistakable roar of a chain saw. Splattering helps.

Or just observe her as she reads her children’s Facebook pages. Then we’ll see if it’s possible for a human to feel no fear!

I thanked Dr. Kyle for his expert opinion, but I’m inclined to think the study is accurate and the amygdala really is the fear center in humans. Which begs this question about getting an amygdalaectomy.

If you could have an operation that would leave you totally free of fear, would you?

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70 thoughts on “Fearless!”

  1. So glad that Dr. Kyle acknowledges what real fear is. Real fear is trying to wake up a teenager at 5:45 a.m. on a Saturday to get her to the gym on time for the bus to the gymnastics meet. I’m pretty sure that if you go into these situations in a fearless state of mind, you’ll easily make a misstep! I think I’ll keep my fear almond, thank you anyway!

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  2. While fear has been a potent, if sometimes misplaced, factor in our recent elections (I will admit to voting for a couple of candidates I liked less than my chosen person out of fear that the more noxious one I really didn’t want would win), I don’t think a world – or person – without fear would be good. I will keep my healthy fear of extension ladders, non-domesticated rodents, and Karl Rove, thank you. I will also let that little almond-shaped part of my brain named so similarly to a Star Wars character shoot a little adrenaline through my system to give me a boost when I need to move quickly to avoid a car accident or keep my daughter from being injured.

    Now – out I go, fearlessly into the cold. (Okay, maybe not fearlessly, given how bundled up I tend to get…)

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    1. Anna, I’m afraid you are right, there are some scary things we should be afraid of and I would also include Karl Rove.

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    2. There’s a good argument for instant runoff voting – being able to vote for your first choice without giving up your option to use your vote to vote against somebody.

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  3. Good morning to all,

    Are there any side effects? I assume if you have no fear you would not have an adrenaline rush that gives added energy in a dangerous situation. Maybe that’s okay. Staying calm could be better than becoming energized. In the news story SM stayed calm when attacked and walked away from the attack.

    Having some fear of things is supose to be good for us, as in having a healthy fear of something. On the other hand it has been said that all we have to fear is fear itself, so if we can get rid of fear thats good, right? I guess I will keep my fear because I am afraid of what might happen if I lost it. I think I better have some coffee to calm myself after all this talk about fear.

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    1. Franklin Roosevelt’s quote about fear was specific to a particular situation – the banking crisis, when the fear of banks failing was precipitating bank failures. I don’t think he ever intended it to be a blanket statement. Of course the world is full of things that can be rationally feared.

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  4. No fear? Sincere? How queer.
    Not of peer, gear, leer, jeer, sere, tear, deer, steer?
    No one ever to the rear? To all things draw near? Thunder not hear?
    At scary movies to sneer? Off safe paths ever to veer? Oh, dear.
    How be of good cheer, when safe back to here? And no taste to the beer.
    To me it seems clear, a little fear adds spice to the year.
    But just a little.

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    1. Well done, Clyde! I have some thoughts on this I will post later in the day. I have a full day of appointments, karate competition team practice, etc. Have a great day all!

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  5. this is an interesting subject, thanks Dale. i know we have folks way more qualified than i am to speak to this. will be fun to read comments. here’s what i think: healthy fear – like not to walk on a wire strung across the Grand Canyon, or fear of consequences – like not to go around killing people or stealing or pilaging, or cautious fear like not piling the waste hay near a heating element – those things seem good. but fear of unlikely events like people driving down our road, coming inside and killing us – or not walking in our woods because there might be a bear or a cougar or a tick – or not touching doorknobs because they have germs – or not touching people because they have germs – or not touching goats (oh, gosh, i can’t imagine not wanting to pet those goats!) – those things seem unhealthy to me.
    so you folks who know more – is OCD an over-developed amygdala???

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    1. At the end of the day, most, if not all emotion has something to do with the limbic system, of which the amygdala is a part. Fear is necessary, as is guilt. Too much (or too little) is a problem. I think many people elected to work Washington, DC have issues with their limbic systems, not to mention their higher order cognitive skills.

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  6. An issue that is almost an obsession with me is the aging process. One of the things I fuss about is what is inevitably part of aging (and therefore something I can be sure will happen to me) and what is a sort of choice made (and which therefore might be avoided).

    And my first perception in my academic specialty of Old Fartism is that to become old is to acquire more and more fears. Old folks are afraid of more each week, and they long ago gave up the sense that young folks have of being “up to” meeting any challenge. They sit there with bleary eyes, seeing more and more ways they can be hurt without being able to do do a damn thing about it.

    So, do your best, dear doctor. Put me under and cut out the fear center of my old brain. I’d rather be stupidly cheerful than appropriately fearful in these next years. What will happen will happen, and I’d rather it happen without my being terrified.

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    1. Oh, let me revise. With age we do wise.
      All our fears grow to much larger size;
      everything shakes our pasty white thighs.
      We run from the look of all “other” guys.
      My, what things make our amygdala rise:
      french fries,
      all the weird things our young neighbor buys,
      all those new left-wing political lies.
      A pierced teenager brings tears tour eyes.
      “Woe, the economy,” our limbic system cries,
      for the cost of living is hitting new highs.
      What if we’ve fallen and cannot arise?
      We may not find right fillings for Thanksgiving pies.
      What if our sexual appetite dies?
      Now nature is filled with disease-bearing flies.
      So to all but a few we are cutting all ties.

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      1. Well, that might be what some tend to think about growing old, Clyde. I don’t think that is really what you think and it isn’t what I think.

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      2. I just wanted to use amygdala in a poem.
        No, I don’t, but I feel the tendency. I was, except for the left-wing line, listing things my mother grew afraid of and how she reacted.

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      3. Jim — Just so there is no misunderstanding. I am not convinced that we all “have” to become trapped by our fears, for we all know remarkable people who have not been. But don’t dismiss the observation. Even remarkable people tend to wither with age and adopt an increasingly fearful, defensive posture. As Clyde’s poem suggests, perhaps the best defense against fear is humor, but never underestimate this enemy.

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    2. Dueling fears: the fear that you will suffer the indignities of the aging process, and the fear that you won’t get the chance.

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    1. Oh– it’s not directly related to fearlessness… but you can sure read that into it…

      Me? I think I want to keep that adrenaline rush… a little fear is good for you; helps you know where your limits are. Or should be.

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  7. I would not want my fear factor removed and chance compromising my intuition. Intuition is useful for poaching eggs, teaching, survival… I would, however, advocate for a universal procedure to warm cold hearts.

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    1. Donna, I read an article recently by Frances Moore Lappe that more or less says there is a universal procedure to warm cold hearts. Do a good thing and other people will see it and will follow the good example. She said that this has been found to be true by people who study behavior. Many times people who do good things do not see the positive effect of what they are doing and don’t realize that they are encouraging others to do better. We are motivated to improve our behavior and become more warm hearted when we see a good example set by another person.

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      1. There’s nothing wrong with contempt for Grinches, but I prefer to celebrate heroes. A friend (who would probably prefer to remain anonymous here) just scored a huge victory over Grinches in the school system. It is possible to thwart the cold and small-hearted.

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      1. Books have arrived, Steve. Thank you from the bottom of my warm heart and cold toes.

        My son refers to Trail Babooners and Radio Heartland listeners as “older people who are young”.

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      2. That’s so sweet. I was afraid most young people regard us as “older people who don’t realize they’re old”.

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  8. I wonder if others share my tendency to guess what story from the day’s news is likely to be Dale’s choice of baboon fodder. This is one I should have guessed, but somehow I expected him to run with the revival of “duck and cover.” :)

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  9. UMD just won the national Division II football title with a field goal on the last play–this time in a warm place.

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    1. Who knew? Strange times we live in. I did not think they would do it–I thought if something was addressed it would be the Dream Act. For a Lame Duck session they have achieved some significant progress.

      Climate change bill next? hahah

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  10. That vote is good news. It is a good day in general. Doing some Christmas baking (German Stollen), ran into several former clients while shopping who are doing well, looking forward to husband’s return from Pine Ridge on another gospel band tip, daughter is in a good mood. Who could ask for more?

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    1. I’m making julekage (the Norwegian equivalent to stollen) tomorrow. Love the smell of when it’s rising – it makes the whole house smell like cardamom. Yum.

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  11. Off topic…I have a bolognese sauce simmering on the stove. It’s improvised, but based on the process described in Bill Buford’s book Heat, where you slowly cook beef with some onion and garlic in red wine, using a little butter and olive oil. (There is also some fat from the beef as well, because if one type of fat is good, three different fats will be really good, right?) You reduce it, add more wine, reduce it some more. At the very end, you add some tomato paste. What you get is more of a meat sauce with tomato, rather than a tomato sauce with meat. I don’t cook with beef very often – because it’s sustainably incorrect – but made an exception today. Now I’m thinking, is it too early to eat? Because that really really smells good.

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      1. Ooh, too late. There is no recipe for Amish Friendship Bolognese sauce starter, because it all gets consumed before it can be shared.

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    1. This sounds wonderful — will try it!

      Sister-in-law had an Italian Christmas feed yesterday where her meat sauce also contained grated carrot, added a little sweetness that was really good.

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  12. I survived making cookies with 5 grandchildren of friends. No fear of sprinkles there.

    I think living without fear would be terrible. There is a genetic disease where children feel no pain. They suffer terrible fates like blindness because they don’t realize that something is in their eye or because they rub too much. Even negatives like fear and pain can be good. If nothing else they stop us from touching the hot stove and throwing cookie makings at our siblings.

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  13. Evening…
    Remember last week when I had to post just to say ‘Arrgh!’ ?

    Well, tonight I post to say ‘Ahhhhh…..’

    Just wrapped up the last event of the year in my space at the college. I’m going home to sleep for two days and maybe start my Christmas shopping after that and then slide gracefully through Christmas and into a New Bright and Shiny Year.

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    1. ahhhh. Pour yourself your libation of choice and keep your feet up for a few days.

      BTW – made my first loaves of friendship bread today. I wasn’t able to get to the baking with the starter was ready, so I had it in the fridge for a day or two. I think I should’ve let it warm up a bit more…the bread is still yummerific, but shorter than the loaves you brought to me (either that, or I can blame my husband for bringing home organic, almost-good-for-you pudding instead of loaded-with-chemicals-Jello-brand…there may be a difference between old fashioned pudding you cook and the instant variety).

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      1. Hello Anna… I am sitting here with my feet up, thank you very much.
        The loaves I bought up were higher than my usual loaves are… don’t know if it was the 4 vs. 6 loaves or who knows what…

        Don’t worry about the fridge for an extra day or two; mine is still on the counter and I’ll bake tomorrow.
        Hmmm… I didn’t know there was ‘almost good for you’ pudding?? Course I never looked I guess…

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  14. Very interesting responses and poems today, baboons. If I could excise fear, I would like to be rid of the fears that limit me and what I believe about myself and my abilities. When we read about remarkable people who accomplish wonderful things and live fully, they aren’t crippled with fear about peer reactions, fear of failure or success, fear of reprisals or breaking oppressive or useless laws. Operating above limiting fears empowers people to be whistle blowers in unethical places, overturn stupid laws and revolt against unfairness in government, work or cultural norms.

    In the movie, “Gandhi” the most remarkable and moving scene involved great fear but also great courage to do it. The Indian people wanted entrance to the British-controlled salt mine so they could make and mine their own salt from the sea as they had done for centuries. Ordinary folks, young men and old, lined up to request permission to enter. The women on the sidelines were ready with first aid. British guards, armed with sticks or batons stood at the gate. Armed with only strength of conviction for courage, fearful Indian men approached the British guards in pairs. Each Indian man was savagely beaten and pushed aside to be cared for by the just as brave women. Another pair of men stepped forward, offering no defense, knowing their fate. And on it went for hours, I believe.

    Gandhi clearly showed that civil disobedience would contrast the savage and ugly cowardice of the British towards unarmed, peaceful entreaties toward equality and self-rule. That scene is forever etched in my memory as a powerful image of overcoming fear, true courage and the strength of conviction of what’s right, just and fair.

    Without the shackles of limiting fears, maybe I would have pursued my dreams much further, asked more of myself, asked more of others, spoken my truth and ideas, found a way to do difficult things or accomplish more.

    Appropriate fear should be reserved for true danger to life and limb. All the other fears that seem to control and limit me, I would like to be rid of. Is there a simple way to accomplish that?

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  15. Morning all!

    Enjoyed reading the end of the day comments from yesterday. Hope everyone has a great day today!

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  16. Joanne–I once wrote a poem on here that said about what you just said. So we are in sync again.
    You wish for more risk-taking in the name of, among other things, morality. I wonder if risk-taking is more often done with immorality. Risk-taking wed to morality may be a much harder act for the brain. Are Ghandi’s rarer than Hitler’s? The whistle-blower rarer than the pilferer?

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  17. Krista in Waterville: I’m making your chili recipe and have questions/comments. Do you drain the diced tomatoes? I did not. Do you drain the kidney beans? Those I did drain somewhat. I’m using a lb of ground beef I had on hand that needed to be used up as well. Plus, I used a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes and an additional 14 oz can because it seemed light on tomatoes. That’s a lot of good stuff! It just barely fits in my big crockpot! We’ll see how it turns out for supper.

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  18. Ah, so many wise and eloquent thoughts and poems! I think I will keep the “healthy” fears that keep me from ruining life and limb, and hope for continued relative sanity in regard to emotional fears, as I’ve seen up close what happens when those run amok.

    Most of our weekend has been tied up with yesterday’s Large Family Gathering (happily at someone else’s house), and recovering today. Onward with the rest of the baking and preparations,. Babooners!

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