From the series of “random thoughts I can’t shake off”, I got to thinking about how a highly socialised animal like a human function, were their brain/body unable to feel fear. Partially the question was inspired by a short story “Shudder” by Daniel Morden’s upcoming collection “Strange Tales”.
In most of the animal kingdom, the lack of fear usually means death. A parasite infects a mouse, making it fearlessly approach the cat. The cat eats the mouse, thus providing a fine intestinal habitat for the parasite.
However, in human societies, the lack of survival instinct on this basic level would not mean automatic demise, seeing as tigers and bears seldom roam our streets anymore.
Additionally, some types of survival-based behaviours in humans are simply taught. As a child you learn, for example, that should you be mean to your friends, they will cease to BE your friends. That is unpleasant. A small child might not have a concept of ethics, but they understand the unpleasantness of being left out. So they learn to avoid behaviours that cause it. Same with pain. If you touch the fire, your hand will sting. You learn not to touch the fire. In most people, they learn to experience fear in tandem with the avoidance instincts.
So what if you simply did not experience fear? You wouldn’t know you don’t experience it, necessarily. Humans find iti hard to conceptualise experiences that are alien to them. To a person with aphantasia(where you can’t picture things in your brain), the concept of imagining and conceptualising things develops in a different ways. The brain wires out the gaps, and creates a new mode of behaviour. Yet a seeing person with aphantasia might eventually realise that others do not experience the world in the same way, because the description of the process of imagining something with your eyes closed is related to something they are ALREADY EXPERIENCING.
Not so for a person with no fear. The heart palpitations, the sweaty palms, the fight of flight response… How can that be explained to someone who does not have the same physiological response.
Another question I’m mulling over is how do we categorise fear for such a hypothetical person? Are anxiety, the “jump scare” response, dread and the tingling warning that something wicked this way cometh all one and the same? What about the fight or flight response? Are fear and aggression linked?
Now for the benefits. It’s easy to conceptualise the negative result of experiencing no fear. Would you jump out at the last moment out of the way of a speeding car? Run from suspicious people eyeing you in a dark alley? Possibly, depending on your analytical skills and calculated risk avoidance. But something I wondered about was: would there be long-term positive consequences to the lack of fear response? Often, different pathways wiring their way in the human brain, can bring unexpected benefits. Once more, for people with aphantasia, they can often find their recovery from traumatic events and grief somewhat easier, as their brains don’t play the nasty tricks on them, replying in technocolour the most devastating experiences of their lives. So what, if any, benefits could there be to the lack of fear response?
One possible positive result that popped into my mind is the advantage that comes with risk-taking in business, and life in general (though that can just as well be a negative, as the lack of fear wouldn’t influence the person’s other talents and skill-sets. A bad gamble is the more likely result of over-confidence and underestimating the consequences). What about the joie de vivre? Without fear, would we all truly carpe the hell out of that diem? Or would we once again underestimate the threats? I somehow imagine the survivor bias would be strong in any research ever done on the subject.
So here it is: My list of questions with no answers. Sometimes I like it better this way.