Category Archives: Fear

A hostage situation


The longer you stay hostage to your fears, the more you identify with them.

According to Wikipedia

In psychology, Stockholm syndrome is a term used to describe a paradoxical psychological phenomenon wherein hostages express adulation and have positive feelings towards their captors that appear irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, essentially mistaking a lack of abuse from their captors as an act of kindness.

The longer you cower in the corner, the more comfortable the box.

Cowering in the corner

Toxo mouse rocks the house


Toxoplasma (“Toxo”) is a parasite that changes mammalian behavior. According to Robert Sapolsky

When you look at normal rats, and expose them to cat urine, cat pheromones, exactly as you would expect, they have a stress response: their stress hormone levels go up, and they activate this classical fear circuitry in the brain. Now you take Toxo-infected rats, right around the time when they start liking the smell of cat urine, you expose them to cat pheromones, and you don’t see the stress hormone release. What you see is that the fear circuit doesn’t activate normally, and instead the sexual arousal activates some. In other words, Toxo knows how to hijack the sexual reward pathway. And you get males infected with Toxo and expose them to a lot of the cat pheromones, and their testes get bigger. Somehow, this damn parasite knows how to make cat urine smell sexually arousing to rodents, and they go and check it out. Totally amazing.


And suddenly, one of them jumps up, flooded with 40-year-old memories, and says, “I just remembered back when I was a resident, I was doing a surgical transplant rotation. And there was an older surgeon, who said, if you ever get organs from a motorcycle accident death, check the organs for Toxo. I don’t know why, but you find a lot of Toxo.” And you could see this guy was having a rush of nostalgic memories from back when he was 25 and all because he was being told this weird factoid … ooh, people who die in motorcycle accidents seem to have high rates of Toxo. Utterly bizarre.

What is the bottom line on this? Well, it depends; if you want to overcome some of your inhibitions, Toxo might be a very good thing to have in your system. Not surprisingly, ever since we started studying Toxo in my lab, every lab meeting we sit around speculating about which people in the lab are Toxo-infected, and that might have something to do with one’s level of recklessness. Who knows? It’s very interesting stuff, though.

You want to know something utterly terrifying? Here’s something terrifying and not surprising. Folks who know about Toxo and its affect on behavior are in the U.S. military. They’re interested in Toxo. They’re officially intrigued. And I would think they would be intrigued, studying a parasite that makes mammals perhaps do things that everything in their fiber normally tells them not to because it’s dangerous and ridiculous and stupid and don’t do it. But suddenly with this parasite on board, the mammal is a little bit more likely you go and do it. Who knows? But they are aware of Toxo.

Toxoplasma, a parasite that makes cat urine smell sexy to rats, makes humans more likely to crash their motorcycles, and might be just what you need to overcome your mousy ways. Unless you’re pregnant …

If you’re ever pregnant, if you’re ever around anyone who’s pregnant, you know you immediately get skittish about cat feces, cat bedding, cat everything, because it could carry Toxo. And you do not want to get Toxoplasma into a fetal nervous system. It’s a disaster.

Update: A recent article from The Economist.

The monsters under your bed are real


In 2000, the Weekly World News published a funny satire headlined “The monsters under your bed are real!” (A somewhat modified, but not for the better, version is still available on the web here.)

Yes, they really are. And ignoring them doesn’t make them go away.

From Earth-shattering threats like nuclear weapons and global climate change all the way down to the little tumor that could have been detected and treated if only one had had that annual exam.

Why is it so terrifying to look monsters in the eyes, and so easy to turn out the lights and go to sleep?

Even as we sleep there lingers a background of worry. And according to A.J. Cronin

Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, but only saps today of its strength.

Thanks, Stanislav Petrov


According to Bright Star Sound

Few people know of him … yet conceivably hundreds of millions of people are alive because of him. Stanislav Petrov, a retired Soviet military officer, is credited with preventing the start of World War III and the nuclear devastation of much of the Earth.

According to this

In 1984, the Soviet Union built a doomsday machine called Perimeter, to prevent launch on false warning.


Anxiety as “the flip side of desire”


According to Ellen Willis

Our culture of images notwithstanding, it cannot fairly be said that Americans’ capacity for fantasy is impaired, even if it takes sectarian and apocalyptic rather than utopian forms. If anxiety is the flip side of desire, perhaps what we need to do is start asking ourselves and our fellow citizens what we want. The answers might surprise us.


If the stampede is starting, you’d better get ready to run, or you’re going to get trampled.


I wrote here

I’d agree that fear […] can be infectious, unfounded, paralyzing/stampeding, and difficult to resist. And sometimes that’s exactly why it’s a useful instinct sending a signal that you need to prepare yourself for trouble.

For example, if the stampede is starting, you’d better get ready to run, or you’re going to get trampled. Just look at a chart of the DJIA for the last 6 months.