(Brian's Question)

...Among many many things I thought, wow, the more I learn, the more there is to be afraid of... But then I thought to myself, what good does it do me to be afraid? Just be a little more brave goddammit ! ... I have to live in my fears every day like every human being since the beginning of time - but maybe I can be a little brave about it.

... So I was wondering what role bravery still plays in our culture, for young people and old, and how we might feel about it personally (except for Hugh who may be genuinely fearless). Why have people become so afraid to state their points of view in the United States? Is bravery a dying trait? A weak gene? Does it ebb and flow? Are we in a down time? I find that from time to time I need to remind myself to be brave.


Cowardly Lion in Wikipedia

...The Cowardly Lion believes that his fear makes him inadequate, without understanding that courage means acting in the face of fear, which he does frequently. Only during the aftermath of the Wizard's gift, when he is under the influence of an unknown liquid substance that the Wizard orders him to drink is he not filled with fear. He argues that the courage from the Wizard is only temporary, although he continues to do brave deeds.

The Cowardly Lion is in fact brave, but he doubts himself. In many scenes of the classic book and film, he shows bravery in the face of danger...

and see The Wizard of Oz: More Than Just a Children's Story by Lauren Houlberg


(bits collected here and there)

Bravery: the admirable quality of being able
to confront frightening things.

...feel the fear and do it anyway...

...know what to do and just do it in the moment of a crisis.
No calculation of risks, doing what's Necessary in the moment.

Bravery is something you do, unthinkingly.
Bravado is something you flaunt for effect.
'Brave' is somebody else's judgement of your action.

To stand up on a stage alone with an acoustic guitar
requires bravery bordering on heroism
bordering on insanity.
(Richard Thompson)

There are three things all wise men fear:
The sea in storm, a night with no moon,
and the anger of a gentle man
(Patrick Rothfuss, Kingkiller Chronicles vol 2)

What's the relation of Bravery to Courage?
Lack of fear, vs. Action in spite of fear


I began with the observation that Bravery is a quality we're supposed to revere, and that a million stories and tales and myths encourage us to emulate ... and to shun its opposite (perhaps Cowardice). Heroes (in the Joseph Campbell sense) are by definition Brave and decisive.

So I found myself exploring the Fear edge of the Question, starting with wondering to myself when and in what connections panic attack joined the lexicon and emerged as a quotidian term? While the phrase is first attested in about 1970, it was made official in DSM 5 in 1980, where it was estimated that 11% of Americans (3% in Europe) suffer a panic attack each year. (citation needed...) From 'panic attack' it's easy to get to the realms of 'shell shock' and PTSD, and it's quite instructive to explore their lexical and epidemiological histories.

A bit of reading took me into Freud's ca. 1900 isolation of "anxiety neurosis" from "neurasthenia", then through a lot of more recent efforts to define and contrive treatments for anxiety (e.g. diagnosis and therapy, 1996), and I was reminded of the recently read biography of Virginia Woolf and the fear she felt of another recurrence of her 'madness':

... I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do... I can't fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read...

and then (seemingly out of nowhere) along comes a Maria Popova post with a reading of a Sylvia Plath poem ("one of the most poignant portraits of depression in the history of literature") by Patti Smith (The Moon and the Yew Tree)

...and I think of the trope of the Black Dog of clinical depression...

...and enjoy a digression into the etymology of 'panic', which turns out to be a reference to the demigod Pan, noted for causing terror, via mysterious sounds that caused contagious, groundless fear in herds and crowds...

And that gets us to 8:30 PM on Monday...


And so I ruminate further on aspects of Fear and what one might do if visited. I googled the phrase 'mastering fear' and entered a slough of self-help material, dominated by Brandon Webb's Mastering Fear: A Navy SEAL's Guide's about learning how to identify and change that conversation in your head ... to 'self-monitor' and redirect your interior dialog is what takes you from a victim mentality to a proactive mindset...
For me, there's always a whiff of the bogus in self-help advice that seems to reduce to cliché and to promote what Joan Didion calls "industrious self-delusion" ... rather empty phrases that seem portentious but are pretty conventional and turn out to be phatic, but are readily absorbed by the credulous as the direction forward... but I'm pretty cynical in this realm.

Those who experience anxiety or the various physiological experiences that are coded as 'panic' are in acute relationship to Fear, not territory that I have much experience of. But what's the range of response if one does have fears? How ought one to deal?


One of those Strange Coincidences/Conjunctions, worth reporting in some detail:

John and Laura and Kian passed through Philadelphia on their way back to San Francisco, and Laura picked up a book that somebody had abandoned: The Serengeti Rules: The Quest to Discover How Life Works and Why It Matters, and John started to read it during the flight. Yesterday he called us from the road (he was driving back from Fresno in a new Tesla... longish backstory) to tell me about the book, which I then grabbed via Kindle and started reading. The first scientist to appear in its pages is Walter Cannon, a professor of physiology at Harvard in the early years of the 20th century, coiner of the word 'homeostasis' ("one of the seminal integrative ideas in biology") to describe the state of balance that living systems are continuously engaged in, fundamentally a matter of regulation by chemical and nerve-conducted information passed via the sympathetic nervous system. An idea vital to cybernetics...

Cannon did positively Heroic work as a front-line medico in WW I, specializing in "shock" as a treatable physiological response to "trauma", and in later work he investigated the body's signaling pathways. I don't think I'd ever heard of him...

Before my mind could even form the thought "Mad elephant! Run!" a primitive part of my brain, the amygdala, was signaling danger to my hypothalamus. This almond-sized command center just above the amygdala promptly sent out electrical and chemical signals to key organs. Through nerves, it signaled the adrenal glands that sit on top of my kidneys to release norepinephrine and epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. These hormones then circulated quickly through the bloodstream to many organs including: my heart, causing it to beat faster; my lungs, to open up airways and increase breathing rate; my skeletal muscles, to increase their contraction; my liver, to release stored sugar for a quick supply of energy; and smooth muscle cells throughout my body, causing blood vessels to constrict, skin hairs to stand on end, and blood to shunt away from the skin, intestine, and kidneys. The hypothalamus also sent a chemical signal, corticotropic releasing factor (CRF), to the nearby pituitary gland that triggered it to release a chemical called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) that traveled to another part of the adrenal gland and triggered the release of another chemical—cortisol, which increased blood pressure and blood flow to my muscles. All these physiological changes are part of what is known as the "fight-or-flight" response. Coined and described a century ago by Harvard physiologist Walter Cannon, these responses are aroused by both fear and rage, and quickly prepare the body for conflict or escape. We opted for escape. (pg 17)

Cannon knew that all the outward signs of emotional stress—the pallor caused by the contraction of blood vessels, "cold" sweat, dry mouth, dilation of pupils, skin hair standing on end—occurred in structures that are supplied by smooth muscle and innervated by the so-called sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic system comprises a series of neurons that originate from the thoracic-lumbar region of the spinal cord and travel out to clusters of nerve cells (called ganglia). From there, a second set of generally much longer neurons extend to and innervate target organs. Most of the body's organs and glands receive sympathetic input, including the skin, arteries, and arterioles, the iris of the eyes, the heart, and the digestive organs. These same organs also receive input from nerves originating in the cranial or sacral parts of the spinal cord. (pg 19)

Cannon's student Philip Bard subsequently demonstrated that the hypothalamus is the critical part of the brain for control of the so-called involuntary (autonomic) functions of the nervous system, including digestion, heart rate, respiration, and the fight-or-flight response. Both this part of the brain and these emergency responses are ancient. (pg 21)


And who knew that there's a journal called Heroism Science?

Heroism Science is a peer-reviewed open source research journal that aims to advance heroism science theory, research, and application from a broad range of disciplinary perspectives ... Heroism Science is the official journal of the Heroic Imagination Project. The field of heroism science is roughly two decades old. Since the year 2000, scholars have shown a new (or renewed) interest in topics such as morality, cooperation, altruism, wisdom, meaning, purpose, resilience, hope, flow, human growth, courage, empathy, spirituality, health, public service, self-control, emotional intelligence, and character strengths. The past decade especially has witnessed a surge in research on two types of exceptional individuals who best exemplify these positive qualities: heroes and heroic leaders. Heroism science is a nascent multiple disciplinary field which seeks to reconceptualize heroism, the hero's journey and heroic leadership through a close examination of the origins, types, and processes. With the use of a mix of traditional and newly emerging epistemological and methodological frameworks, and their application in a wide variety of settings (e.g. pedagogy, crisis management, healthcare, counseling, workforce, community development, popular media, online activism, human rights, international relations, digital humanities), heroism science is part of a broader movement that aims to foster holistic well-being, promote heroic awareness and action, civic responsibility and engagement, and build resilient individuals and communities in the face of increasingly complex social landscapes.
(from Adam Tooze's Chartbook)

Heroism science: Frameworks for an emerging field (via APA PsycNet)