Tag Archives: fear

Writing Naked: How to Profit by Embarrassing Yourself

naked Guitar HeroEver have one of those dreams where you’re naked in public? Writing fiction is a bit like having a dream, and some writing is embarrassing because it lays us bare.

I’m talking about the kind of writing where you say something to the entire world that you would prefer not to mention to anyone, just because you want to tell a meaningful story. Or you do something in the story that has very little to do with you personally, that means a lot in the piece you’re writing, but that embarrasses you because you don’t want anyone to think it’s autobiographical. Continue reading Writing Naked: How to Profit by Embarrassing Yourself

The Changing Face of the American Apocalypse: Modern Warfare and Bad Company

Blasphemous Geometries by Jonathan McCalmont


“Welcome to the Desert of The Real” announces Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus as he introduces The Matrix’s (1999) Neo to images of the charred remains of what was once human civilisation. A civilisation that has since been digitised and placed online while the real world crumbles beneath an ash grey sky. Morpheus’ drily ironic line would later be re-invented by the Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek in an essay prompted by the September 11th attack upon the World Trade Center. Žižek’s point is a simple one : The 9/11 attacks destroyed not only some buildings, but also America’s conception of what the real world was really like. Since the end of the Cold War, the West had fallen into a cocoon of smugness created by the comforting belief that, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, all opposition to liberal democracy had simply dried up and blown away; that, as the Berlin Wall came down, Humanity found itself united in the same set of desires for elected governments, human rights and consumer goods – desires for the kind of things that the American people had. It was, as Francis Fukuyama put it, The End of History. Continue reading The Changing Face of the American Apocalypse: Modern Warfare and Bad Company

Fear of a Transhuman Future – Zombies and Resident Evil

Much like the vampire, the zombie is a long-lived trope of the horror genre whose subtext has mutated alongside the contemporary fears of the audience. So what do current zombie movies and games say about our modern metaphysical boogie-men?

Blasphemous Geometries by Jonathan McCalmont


The Horror genre is a profoundly parasitical creature. Not only is it endlessly adaptable to cultural changes, but it also has a rare capacity to track sources of social anxiety and attach itself to them, mining our deepest fears and presenting them back to us in the shape of art – a cathartic form of art that helps us to overcome our fears by making us confront them in safe environments such as cinemas and comfy chairs [Cinemas are a safe environment? Not in this town, man. – Ed.]. Indeed, Joss Whedon owes much of his fame and following to the fact that Buffy the Vampire Slayer helped millions of TV viewers to overcome the traumas born of attending high school – traumas transformed by Whedon and his staff of writers into monsters physical enough to be defeated week in and week out by a small blonde woman and a gang of geeky side-kicks. Continue reading Fear of a Transhuman Future – Zombies and Resident Evil

Fear-free living through pharmaceuticals

800px-Propranolol_80mg “We have nothing to fear but fear itself!” President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said (about the time he was enacting policies that may have lengthened the Great Depression, so he may have been wrong about that, but still, it’s a good quote).

But thanks to a team of Dutch researchers, led by Merel Kindt at the Universiteit van Amsterdam, we may not even have fear to fear in the future: using the beta-blocker propranolol they weakened the fear response and fear memories in human volunteers. Not only that, the fear did not return (Via EurekAlert):

Before fear memories are stored in the long-term memory, there is a temporary labile phase. During this phase, protein synthesis takes place that ‘records’ the memories. The traditional idea was that the memory is established after this phase and can, therefore, no longer be altered. However, this protein synthesis also occurs when memories are retrieved from the memory and so there is once again a labile phase at that moment. The researchers managed to successfully intervene in this phase.

During their experiments the researchers showed images of two different spiders to the human volunteers. One of the spider images was accompanied by a pain stimulus and the other was not. Eventually the human volunteers exhibited a startle response (fear) upon seeing the first spider without the pain stimulus being administered. The anxiety for this spider had therefore been acquired.

One day later the fear memory was reactivated, as a result of which the protein synthesis occurred again. Just before the reactivation, the human volunteers were administered the beta-blocker propranolol. On the third day it was found that the volunteers who had been administered propranolol no longer exhibited a fear response on seeing the spider, unlike the control group who had been administered a placebo. The group that had received propranolol but whose memory was not reactivated still exhibited a strong startle response.

The volunteers could still remember the association between the spider and pain stimulus, but it no longer elicited any emotional response. The researchers hope this work may lead to new treatments for patients with anxiety disorders.

Being the SFfish guy I am, I’m thinking more in terms of fearless super-soldiers, but I’m sure that’s just me.

(Interestingly, propranolol is already used by musicians and actors to deal with stage fright.)

(Image: Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]drugs,medicine,psychiatry,psychology, pharmaceuticals, fear[/tags]

An epidemic of fear – or, why terrorism and witchcraft are surprisingly similar

panic buttonLiving in a constant state of fear is not good for your health on an individual level. But scale up to the level of entire towns, states or countries, and the problem can be exacerbated by the psychology of mob behaviour. [image by krystenn]

According to documents from the Department of Homeland Security, not only is it possible for fear of terrorism to create a contagious psychosomatic epidemic, but it’s also already happened a couple of times – in the US and elsewhere.

Now, that may not be surprising in and of itself. But take a look at some of the comment reactions on this BoingBoing post about a riot in the Congo that was triggered by accusations of witchcraft; quite a few people find it ridiculous that anyone could be scared of witchcraft at all, let alone riot because of it.

And in our world, that’s probably true… but what we fear is a function of the culture we live in. The people of the Congo can blame their witchdoctors and priests for their irrational fears; I suspect our Western paranoia comes from an entirely different sort of story-teller.