Wednesday, December 19, 2012
The absence of fear
Although fear is one of the crucial evolutionary mechanisms for individual survival, in certain situations psychologically normal humans can behave without feeling fear, with a total neglect of potentially lethal risk. A classical situation is when a child is attacked by a predatory animal (or an armed human), and a parent starts an all-out fight against the much stronger attacker, totally neglecting his or her personal safety. This mechanism is present among many species, most notably when a mother behaves fearlessly towards much stronger opposition in order to save her offspring. Ethnomusicologist Joseph Jordania uses the term aphobia for the temporary loss of fear, induced by the release of neurochemicals in the brain which leads to a specificaltered state of consciousness. Jordania calls this state the battle trance. According to him, aphobia supersedes the individual's instinctive fear for selfish survival and well-being, when more evolutionarily important subjects than that individual's own life are in danger. These can be the life of a child, family members, or members of a soldier's unit. Sometimes saving unknown humans or animals can also trigger the temporary loss of fear. Strong religious feelings can also induce aphobia (for example, when martyrs sacrifice themselves without the feeling of fear or pain).Jordania suggested that battle trance and associated loss of fear and pain (known as analgesia) were designed in the course of evolution by forces of natural selection as a survival mechanism, as individual hominids were too weak to stand against the formidable African ground predators after they descended from the relatively safe trees to the ground. The state of battle trance, which can be induced by rhythmic drumming, singing, dancing, body painting, and the use of certain substances, allowed them to lose their individuality, obtain collective identity, and to fight together as a unit without feeling fear and pain, neglecting their personal safety for the evolutionarily more important reason. Unlike the feel of pain, which can be fully absent in some human conditions, there is no such condition as congenital absence of fear (although psychopaths are known to have a much lessened feeling of fear).