Ch1 L10: A lachrymose detour

  1. To pick up where we left off, our brain had created the supersign of the thing [1] then stored it in the memory. We also learnt that a supersign contains the objective and subjective parts which are respectively perceived and conceived [2].
  2. The supersign of the thing is the first and rock-bottom MEANING that our brain has created [3]. So if you move away from the thing and come back, your eyes will receive the same visual data, then your brain compares it with the supersign; they match; so your brain will read the emotional tag which was bad due to the painful experience [4]; so, based on the earlier assessment, you get prepared for the best reaction.
  3. If the relationship between the thing and its supersign/meaning is based on the physical resemblance, we can call it iconic [5].
  1. If your eyes are closed and you smell the thing, your brain can recollect the whole supersign of the thing which is another advantage of supersign. Let’s call this connection indexical [6].
  1. The indexical connection is the first step to prediction. Animals even use this connection to scent-mark their territory. The smell of an animal is an index of its presence, then the animal’s brain can judge if it is related to danger or not [7].
  1. Animals definitely didn’t learn it overnight. To understand how our body has evolved to react to, say, a tiger, let’s do this thought experiment. Imagine (with that empty mind) you saw the tiger. How would you react?
  2. You see that the tiger is moving, it might roar which conveys its level of energy to intimidate you. You would definitely feel fear [8]. Since you’re not trained for this situation, you could easily panic then you’d run away. The tiger would chase you.
  3. Since you’re the protagonist of the story, you wouldn’t die. We fast-forward the time to the point that while running, you’d realize that the tiger was faster than you. Then would there be any solution left for you to survive? Yes, to faint.
  4. Freeze is the last fold of the triptych of instinctive responses which are called fight-flight-freeze, and its mechanism is totally different from fight or flight. It’s very important to know that, your body decides when to pass out and you have no conscious control over it [9,10]. Because your heartbeat drops, so your face becomes pale (bloodless), your metabolism and other internal functions stop and your body temperature plummets down, all done to fake death. Isn’t it genius?
  5. The freeze mode is what you experience the most in a tense and insecure workplace when you’re not the boss. You will be emotionally loaded, therefore, rationality is thrown out the window. Then, you are socially expected to control your aggression and you can’t run away from it, because you’ll lose your job. So, the only possible reaction will be to freeze [11,12].
  6. We use the freeze mode in three other situations: in hiding, fighting and grieving.
  7. Hiding is what our ancestors found a solution while being chased. If you could find a place to hide, it would be more beneficial because you didn’t need to spend all that energy which you might need later for another reaction. Then you need to lower the vital signs so the tiger wouldn’t get suspicious and find you. So, you’ll go in the freeze mode.
  8. In a fight, the freeze mode buys you some time to think, evaluate and plan out the best strategy. That’s why when you see an animal your first reaction would be to stay as motionless as possible.
  9. We learnt that in the freeze mode our body stops spending energy. That’s what we call sadness [13]. When we are bereaved two things happen: first the proximity of Death [14] releases the stress hormones such as cortisol and tears discharge them so we feel relieved after crying [15]. Secondly, we’ve lost someone dear which means a great source of energy [16]. That also makes us stressed out, besides our brain needs to re-evaluate the situation to see how you can cope up with the world without them.
  10. After this lachrymose detour, we will get back to the main path and see how our brain connects many signs in head and how supersigns grow.

Exercise 10:

  1. How can someone’s death makes us feel depressed?
  2. Think about the reasons that the tiger might chase you apart from being hungry or finding you as a threat?
  3. Since we’re wired to fake Death, how can we judge lying if we do it to survive? What premises does this argument need to conclude that lying is not ethical? or in what situations is lying allowed?
  4. What are the drawbacks of indexical relations which lead to wrong evaluation?

Footnotes:

[1] Link to supersign

[2] Link to the definition of objective and subjective

[3] We’re gonna discuss meaning after we define concepts.

[4] The thing must’ve hurt your finger if you followed the story from here.

[5] We’re borrowing the terms icon and index from the terminology of semiotics.

[6] If the picture of the rose reminds you of its scent, then the image is one of its indexes.

[7] A valid question would be if animals remember the tiger from its scent or directly relate the smell to fear.

[8] Link to the post about fear

[9] That’s why the freeze mechanism is very instinctive; because first of all, you don’t have time to think about it, secondly, if you think about it, it means that your brain is working so the fight or flight response would be activated, so you’d show some vital signs.

[10] I found a very nice video about animals playing dead which is recommended. Link

[11] If you realize in meetings, your opinions aren’t accepted or your boss says my way or highway, then there’s no reason to fight.

[12] You might be wondering why I’m talking about all these reactions in a math blog. Because the understanding of human behaviors and reactions makes us aware of students performance. When students phase out in an exam, their body chooses the freeze mode, so the brain stops functioning and they’ll fail. Why do they freeze? Because they find themselves unable to deal with the questions. Why so? Because of many emotional reasons and most importantly low confidence. Since we know the problem, it will be easier for us to plan out the best strategy to deal with it.

[13] For more information, you can refer to Emotional intelligence by Daniel Goleman.

[14] Hearing about a death, increases the probability of dying in mind. That’s why after a plane crash people are more afraid of flying though the chance is more or less the same. You can refer to “Thinking fast and slow” by Daniel Kahneman.

[15] Link

[16] Since the first post in which we defined energy as the second fundamental fact in life, we’ve seen its presence in every situation directly or indirectly. That’s why the most important thing is to come up with the simplest principles which allow you to analyze everything.

[16] The featured image is from “The Son’s Room” by Nanni Moretti.

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