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Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger

Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

There's an unfortuante trend is non-fiction publishing - the rise of the New-Yorker-article-as-book. How many books are New Yorker article stretched out over hundreds of pages? Unless an idea takes hundreds of pages to develop, get to the point. I've thus stopped reading most non-fiction, though I'm glad to have read Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger (here)

"What is fear?" is how one could lead an interesting philosophical question? Socrats might say, "Tell me: What is fear itself, Callicles. Do not give me examples of fearful behavior or fearful stats. No, I want the essence of fear." It's a tricky question, though fortunately science has moved beyond Platonic dialog.

Jeff Wise astutely answers the question: Fear is a physilogocial state. Tracing and summarizing the history of the science of fear - hundreds of studies, at least - Wise shows how fear alters our thinking. It creates what he calls a "parallel mind." Rational thinking shuts down when we are afriad. Using examples of pilots who were given tests before being tricked into thinking they were about to die, he explains that people literally canno think when afraid. Fear doesn't merely make one's hande tremble: It makes one make mistakes.

Of course not all fear is bad, and he's careful to explain the upside. A little bit of fear, as Rocky explains in his "Frankie Fear speech," makes you hot. Rocky understood Yerkes-Dodson law's of optimal arousal.


As fear is a physiological state, the body can create fear where no rational process leads to fear. A panic attack is an example of fear that has no external cause. The section of stage fright, too, was enlightening. 

For an fascinating look at a subject you might not even consider fascinating, do check this book out.