Friday, May 18, 2007


Running recently in the country, I looked over my shoulder at a passing car and then re-focused to the front. Suddenly, I leapt about three feet into the road. Luckily there was no oncoming traffic because I had no conscious control over my actions. My heart was pounding and adrenalin was coursing through me. I literally did not know what had happened and why I was standing in the middle of the road. I looked toward the side of the road and saw a three and a half foot long speckled King Snake sunning itself. Apparently, my peripheral vision had spied the creature about 6 inches from my foot and before I could consciously register "SNAKE" I had reacted.

At the time I was amazed at the brilliant way my brain registered the threat and galvanized me. (Though at the time this reaction was cemented there of course was not the dual threat from snake and oncoming traffic!) Then last night in reading Chapter 3 of Daniel Gilbert's
Stumbling on Happiness, I came upon a description of threat perception and reaction. Apparently the brain is designed so that we can experience very quickly that something is scary without knowing what that something is. This basic reaction keeps us alive. Our awareness of the object of fear comes progressively. This is one example of the possibility of the disassociation of experience and awareness (two separate things controlled by two separate areas of the brain). He goes on to begin developing the idea that we can be unaware of or mistaken about our own experiential emotional state.

My retrospective evaluation of what I called love as a child was in fact the feeling of fear. Naturally, this is not a helpful misconstruction. I may have to concede at the end of this book that additionally, I have focused on the experiences and people that I thought would make me happy while often being unaware of when I was experiencing happiness.


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