This Science Daily article, “Increased Light May Moderate Fearful Reactions,” seems to support an age-old truth: that the dark is scary. I try to be rational. I mean, really rational. But truthfully, when our power was out for two days, and I made the uniquely poor life choice to read the last 100 pages of Blindsight by flashlight while everyone else in my house was asleep.
Objectively, I knew no resurrected genetic vampires were outside of my door. But that didn’t stop me from being afraid.
I even took a picture while reading Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere later that night--I wanted to document the level of my poor decision-making skills under the influence of a lack of air-conditioning and internet.
This study looked at learned fear responses in mice, which is an interesting specification, just as much so in humans as in mice. Behavior and psychology are effected by previous experience, and it’s reasonable to expect that one major factor that would be encoded in a memory would be the level of light or lack thereof at the time the event took place. Therefore, an initial slight instinctive propensity for heightened fear responses in low-light conditions would presumably be strengthened by experience.
The article gives a good explanation of fear as we understand it:
Fear is a natural mechanism for survival. Some fears — such as of loud noise, sudden movements and heights — appear to be innate. Humans and other mammals also learn from their experiences, which include dangerous or bad situations. This “learned fear” can protect us from dangers.
… But really. I’ve been studying for the GRE, and undergoing the requisite parallel-universe stress that accompanies any major life change. “How can I choose School X, when I would be equally happy at School Y and become a completely different person based on the people I meet and life experiences I have there?”
There was this cute little Lutheran school that I was thinking of going to, back in 2008. And Northwestern was always on the table. And I could have gone to either of those schools, and that would have been fine. That would have been more than fine, that would have been real life. And I would have absolutely no idea of the people and experiences I had missed out on from my current real life.
Frankly, I find the infinitesimal odds of being where I am in life right now vaguely worrisome. I need a Worry Hat. (Although, to be fair, I like what my unthinking use of the word “infinitesimal” does for my chances on the GRE.)
I am also a bit more homesick for NASA than I can remember being homesick for home. And then there’s Norway. And the debt ceiling thing. And I’m really trying to finish A Dance With Dragons? And my internship. I love my internship, I really do; maybe someday I’ll write about it. But part of my job is making graphs like this:
Incarceration Rates Among Men, by Age and Race, 2008. All data from Pew's "1 in 100 Behind Bars."
And yes, we’re working to fix problems of disproportionality. And I don’t mean to disavow my previous wild-eyed optimism about a slightly-less-terrible future for all of humanity. But life is looking just a little grim from where I’m sitting.
It’s probably just all the practice exams.