• TheMadFool
    13.9k
    In the span of a lifetime everyone undergoes a rich variety of experiences. Some are joyful, others sad, and still others are simply boring.

    What I'm interested in is a class of experience that can be described as shocking/surprising and our reactions to it.

    Some shocking experiences are earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, deaths, winning a lottery/competition, etc. (Use your imagination). Like any other type of experience shocking events evoke a response/reaction from the experiencer. It is in these reactions that I find something intriguing. I shall focus on verbal responses as indicators of our state of mind while experiencing shocking events.

    ''Holy shit!'' is a common expression greeting shocking events. Even a superficial examination of ''Holy shit!'' reveals that this, to say the least, is an oxymoronic juxtaposition of words. ''Holy'' connotes goodness and suggests something to be aspired to while ''shit'' connotes bad and something to be avoided. Similarly we use ''what the hell!'' and ''good heavens!'' in response to shocking events. It is plain to see that ''heaven'' and ''hell'' are run contrary to each other and yet they are both common responses to shock. I don't know whether other languages/cultures have this curious feature or not but I'm willing to go out on a limb here and say that it is a characteristic of other cultures/languages too.

    Non-verbal responses to shock also exhibit this curious behavior e.g. hysterical laughter in response to extreme pain, tears on winning a competition.

    My question is how do we make sense of this ''strange'' behavior?

    Does shock short-circuit our minds, making us contradict ourselves?
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.7k
    I thought this was the title of Harry Frankfurt's next book.
  • apokrisis
    5.9k
    I shall focus on verbal responses as indicators of our state of mind while experiencing shocking events.TheMadFool

    There is a prosaic answer. A "lower brain" area - the cingulate cortex - is responsible for expressive vocalisation in social animals. So chimps hoot and howl in an "emotional" fashion using this bit of brain. Then human speech built levels of more abstract motor planning - capable of supporting syntactical speech acts - above this.

    So when we get a jolt of adrenaline, the cingulate kicks in with the rote expletives. Instead of just howling, we exclaim god damn or holy shit. But the reasons are the same.

    In the same way reading words like fuck create a cingulate level shock. Bad language leaps out and catches us at that more basic emotional valuing level.

    The religious, sexual or scatalogical connotations of the words is a learnt association. The cingulate just wants to make a noise, and what comes out most naturally is any language that has that association to its job of evaluating shocking things even before the higher brain can turn around and focus its full attention.
  • TheMadFool
    13.9k
    I don't know. Sorry.

    So, it's just normal brain function in the sense that the lowerbrain reacts without involvement of the higher? brain.

    However, of the many possible responses - we could cry out, groan, moan (we do that too), etc. - why is there, among these expletives, logical contradictions? In other words, instead of simply crying out ''ah'' or ''oh'' or ''fuck'' or ''shit'' why do we have in our reaction-bank contradictions/contraries? It appears to me that the lower brain is not in harmony with the higher brain at a fundamental level.
  • Baden
    13.2k
    In other words, instead of simply crying out ''ah'' or ''oh'' or ''fuck'' or ''shit'' why do we have in our reaction-bank contradictions/contraries?TheMadFool

    Semantic content is not so important here as emotional connotation or weight, so the presence of contradictory meanings in our reaction bank shouldn't be cause for puzzlement. What would be odd would be emotionally neutral words finding their way into these phrases. If you meet someone who shouts "book shit" or "fuck jacket" every time he stubs his toe, consider calling a psychologist. Anyway, as it happens, religious, sexual and scatalogical words tend to be among the more taboo or emotionally laden and therefore among the most closely hooked up to the brain areas controlling emotional reaction. Logical opposition in terms of denotation is irrelevant in this context.

    So, it's just normal brain function in the sense that the lowerbrain reacts without involvement of the higher? brain.TheMadFool

    It appears to me that the lower brain is not in harmony with the higher brain at a fundamental level.TheMadFool

    What's interesting, (and this is something Steven Pinker mentions in his book "The Stuff of Thought", which has a whole chapter ("The Blaspheming Brain") on this issue) is that aphasics who have lost the ability to articulate language due to damage to areas of the left hemisphere of their brains can retain the ability to swear, suggesting swear phrases may come packaged in prefabricated formulas stored in the right hemisphere of the brain - the one which is also most implicated in emotional reactions, especially negative ones. Pinker implicates the basal ganglia though rather than the right cerebral cortex (Tourette's sufferers, famous for uncontrolled swearing, for example, have damage here). So, yes, a "lower brain" area, and seemingly not only not in harmony with, but functioning independently of higher brain linguistic systems.

    More or less what apo said in other words.
  • TheMadFool
    13.9k
    Thanks for your reply. Seeing it from your's and apokrisis' view it would be even stranger to hear emotionally neutral words when in shock.

    However, I still have certain doubts about the explanation provided.

    Are we sure that this is the work of our lower brains? I may be wrong but certain mystical traditions like Zen Buddhism are all about shocking you into realization of truth - whatever that is. Such practices seem to imply that real truth is to be found in the lower brain as opposed to our higher brains. So it is possible that what you call lower brain could actually be the higher brain. This goes to renew my curiosity in the contradictory nature of our lower (higher?) brains.

    Any thoughts?
  • apokrisis
    5.9k
    Are we sure that this is the work of our lower brains?TheMadFool

    I'm giving the simplified version, but it is like a short circuiting as you said. The lower emotional areas are involved in normal speech acts, giving the felt tone and emphasis. But a sudden startled response is a reflexive response - a quick physiological reorientation to get prepared while the more complex analysis by the higher brain starts trying to catch up.

    So normally everything would work together in smoother fashion. But when things are surprising, we get a quick flush of emotional "getting ready" in a fifth of a second, followed by the full attentional analysis after half a second. And in that time we have yelped or sworn, as well as jumped or tensed and started to focus our attention.

    The way to think about it is that we need to react to the world as fast as possible. So the brain is set up to start with a quick and dirty emergency response - shit, something's happening. Then a split second later, the more considered analysis can kick in.

    Thus the lower brain is about quick simple habits. The higher brain is about creative and considered plan making. And they work in combination, but with slightly different inherent speeds.
  • Wosret
    3.4k
    I can suppress my startle reflex.
  • TheMadFool
    13.9k
    Thanks for the posts.

    I have a fair grasp of what you're saying. Your posts explain the process of how we respond to extremely stressful events. However, I find it puzzling why you don't find anything interesting in the content (contradictions) of the stress-induced reactions.

    At the risk of boring you let me repeat myself. Zen Buddhism is especially famous for Koans which are deliberately shock-inducing e.g. what is the sound of one hand clapping? The same thing may be said of other mystical traditions in various religions. All this, of course, indicating that the real truth is hidden somewhere in the lower? brain.

    Does this not merit a careful investigation?
  • TimeLine
    2.7k
    Semantic content is not so important here as emotional connotation or weight, so the presence of contradictory meanings in our reaction bank shouldn't be cause for puzzlement.Baden
    It is surely environmental. For instance, notions like masculinity play a pivotal role in opinions that are not really authentic, particularly in relation to moral points of view. I said recently that to be loved is something earned and that one must appreciate how to give love in order to recognise what they should do to earn it, but the men I spoke to immediately denied the concept of love in its entirety because it was like their masculinity depended upon it. People have been taught that earning respect is a given if you conform to the right image and so people are not only not learning how to give correctly, but they are also expecting it to be given if they do conform. Those who have conformed to these notions are the ones that react with confusion since they are shown their perceptions of the world are false.

    Reactions themselves could even get violent or aggressive because their entire identity is at risk.
  • TimeLine
    2.7k
    I can suppress my startle reflex.Wosret

    So, if you met an attractive girl who is funny and highly intelligent, you would not be startled?
  • Wosret
    3.4k


    I'm confident that there's plenty.
  • TimeLine
    2.7k
    I'm confident that there's plenty.Wosret

    Good answer.
  • Baden
    13.2k
    However, I find it puzzling why you don't find anything interesting in the content (contradictions) of the stress-induced reactions.

    At the risk of boring you let me repeat myself. Zen Buddhism is especially famous for Koans which are deliberately shock-inducing e.g. what is the sound of one hand clapping? The same thing may be said of other mystical traditions in various religions. All this, of course, indicating that the real truth is hidden somewhere in the lower? brain.

    Does this not merit a careful investigation?
    TheMadFool

    There's a significant difference between the kind of reflexive verbal ejaculate that results in swear phrases, and the sudden shock of deep realization a Zen Koan might cause. Note for a start that the words are going in opposite directions in each case and are absolutely opposed in terms of semantic richness. The Zen Koan is likely, if it's to have any meaningful effect, to resonate with connections that involve higher brain functions. The fact that it may be difficult to articulate that effect in words doesn't mean the higher brain isn't involved. The swear word reflex on the other hand is at best cathartic and at worst embarrassing. In terms of meaning, there's really not much to look for.



    The environment has a role to play in all reactions with a linguistic character, of course. I don't see how that fact isn't accommodated by what I wrote, or how what you've written fits into the issue raised by the OP.
  • TimeLine
    2.7k
    The environment has a role to play in all reactions with a linguistic character, of course. I don't see how that fact isn't accommodated by what I wrote, or how what you've written fits into the issue raised by the OP.Baden

    The failure to consider non-verbal responses to shock that exhibits curious behaviour, which heavily involves psychological frameworks; the OP mentioned hysteria, for instance. The exhibitions of irrationality are often induced by the shock reflecting on their perceptual understanding and changes to their self-awareness which, itself, can be shocking.
  • Baden
    13.2k


    I see where you're coming from now.
  • Cuthbert
    795
    "jolt of adrenaline" - OMG
    "the cingulate kicks in with the rote expletives" - WTF
    "curious behavior e.g. hysterical laughter" - LOL

    It would make a good T-shirt slogan. I think it already has.
  • TheMadFool
    13.9k
    So, you see no suspicious activity in all of this?

    Well, coming at the issue from another angle, I think it's safe to assume that we're using our higher brains in this discussion. I presume logic and rationality are in play here - in a sense the higher brain is analyzing the situation (lower brain). Also assuming here that the higher brain doesn't tolerate contradictions - they're impossibles in the realm of logic and are anathema to any ''worthwhile'' mental pursuit. In a sense all of philosophical history has been an attempt to remove contradictions from all discourse and polishing ideas to crystal clarity (exaggerated?).

    If you agree with me upto this point and you hold our higher brains to be sole purveyors/custodians of truth then we have a serious problem because sitting in the backyard (lower brains) is a world of contradictions/contraries/inconsistencies.
  • TheMadFool
    13.9k
    I have no idea what you're talking about
  • Bitter Crank
    10.9k
    My question is how do we make sense of this ''strange'' behavior?TheMadFool

    You are analyzing an observed / remembered reaction to a sudden, intense traumatic event in the leisurely comfort of our philosophy forum and over-thinking it. When your are T-boned in an intersection on your way to work, there is a 99.99999% certainty you won't be wondering what zen koans have to do with your reaction.

    The words that bubble up from

    ... a "lower brain" area - the cingulate cortex...apokrisis

    will have to be words you have heard/used before and have available, and they have to match the situation. "Holy cow" has been an expression of amazement / shock much longer than "holy shit". According to Google Ngram, "holy cow" has been used (in print) since 1800. "Holy shit" started appearing in print abruptly in 1960. The Supreme Court obscenity ruling had something to do with that.

    I'm 99.99999% certain that if you are T-boned in your car, you will not say "oh fudge", which hit peak usage in the 1970s. If, on June 25th, 1977, you dropped your keys on the wet sidewalk you might have said "oh fudge", were you old enough to be carrying keys at the time.
  • Bitter Crank
    10.9k
    It is surely environmental. For instance, notions like masculinity play a pivotal role in opinions that are not really authentic, particularly in relation to moral points of view. I said recently that to be loved is something earned and that one must appreciate how to give love in order to recognise what they should do to earn it, but the men I spoke to immediately denied the concept of love in its entirety because it was like their masculinity depended upon it. People have been taught that earning respect is a given if you conform to the right image and so people are not only not learning how to give correctly, but they are also expecting it to be given if they do conform. Those who have conformed to these notions are the ones that react with confusion since they are shown their perceptions of the world are false.TimeLine

    This is intriguing but I don't see how it figures into the cingulate cortex and to shocked reactions. Unless, of course, your saying "to be loved is something earned" was a sudden, shocking, traumatic event to the guys you were speaking to.
  • Hanover
    8.3k
    I can suppress my startle reflex.Wosret

    I once knew someone who could suppress their gag reflex.
  • TimeLine
    2.7k
    I have no idea what you're talking aboutTheMadFool
    Not many people do get me, but in saying that admittingly it was not explained all to well. I had a long day rock-climbing with whinging girls.

    The point was that when you analyse something like hysteria, exaggerated emotions like uncontrollable laughter in the face of a shocking experience and other really strange exhibitions or behavioural displays indicates these conversion disorders are usually due to the person being unable to manage the ensuing shock or distress and so resort to highly imaginative actions to convert the anxiety into something that is not anxious - hence laughter, or sexual displays etc. This is the same with dissociative disorders or even people who experience PTSD.

    The brain instinctually desires the immediate alleviation of distress or anxiety and as such people can during traumatic or shocking experiences repress the shock - this is a non-verbal expression, what you mentioned.
  • Bitter Crank
    10.9k
    I had a long day rock-climbing with whinging girls.TimeLine

    Of course they were whinging -- after 2 of them had just splattered on the sharp rocks at the bottom of the cliff.
  • TimeLine
    2.7k
    This is intriguing but I don't see how it figures into the cingulate cortex and to shocked reactions. Unless, of course, your saying "to be loved is something earned" was a sudden, shocking, traumatic event to the guys you were speaking to.Bitter Crank
    What I was attempting to convey - albeit poorly as I tend to get assumptive that people would simply get it - was that people adopt false perceptions of the world based on notions like masculinity and their identity over time forms under the umbrella of these misconceptions and so solidifies as reality. When these misconceptions are shaken, somehow, where they are shown that the structure of their perceptions and identity are actually false, they are confronted - shockingly - with the 'truth' or with self-awareness because they realise that the way that they viewed and believed in the world around them was not actually real. This can be confronting when you tell them or show to them that they are thinking incorrectly and sometimes such people exhibit violent or aggressive behaviour towards the party that exposes their false idea of the world since it may result in the complete collapse of their identity.

    I guess what I was trying to show was how ideas of love are rejected by some men who only do that because it is a masculine attribute and so go on living brutish lives that when they are confronted with real 'love' get completely shocked and baffled and start displaying odd behaviour.
  • TimeLine
    2.7k
    Of course they were whinging -- after 2 of them had just splattered on the sharp rocks at the bottom of the cliff.Bitter Crank

    :-O

    No, it was indoors...
  • Bitter Crank
    10.9k
    Suppressing the gag reflex is more useful than suppressing the startle reflex. Unless, of course, you were gagged by an unusually large organ menacing you at midnight in a Walmart Store with Widor's 5th Organ Symphony and you screamed "Holy shit!" and ran from the store, seeking comfort in early crude rap.

  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    2.1k


    One sees this sort of reaction a lot in thought about gender, sex sexuality and identity, where the meaning or status of an individual is found or argued to be otherwise to what has been thought-- ontological shock, where existence is found to mean something which is impossible.

    It's traumatic because it involves the undoing of how someone understanding the world to with respect to identity, status, power and worth, a loss of the ideas and narratives which one has sorted the world into-- those who they thought were men are suddenly women, women who are supposed to have vaginas sometimes have penis, those who are meant to be only attracted to the opposite sex suddenly seek the same sex, men who find their masculinity of possessing and parading their sexual partners is not love, etc.
  • Bitter Crank
    10.9k
    This can be confronting when you tell them or show to them that they are thinking incorrectly and sometimes such people exhibit violent or aggressive behaviour towards the party that exposes their false idea of the world since it may result in the complete collapse of their identity.TimeLine

    It's traumatic because it involves the undoing of how someone understanding the world with respect to identity, status, power and worth, a loss of the ideas and narratives which one has sorted the world into...TheWillowOfDarkness

    We are to assume, I suppose, that the agents pointing out to these guys that their thinking is incorrect, or undoing someone's understanding of the world with respect to identity, status, power, and worth, are correct and the objects of their instruction are wrong. I mean, armed with right theory and right praxis, how could agents correcting these neanderthal troglodytes possibly go wrong?
  • Bitter Crank
    10.9k
    So. There was no chance of them dying. What were they whinging about, then? Or, had they been here, whining about?

    When "hwinan" became "whinen" in Middle English, it meant "to wail distressfully"; "whine" didn't acquire its "complain" sense until the 16th century. "Whinge," on the other hand, comes from a different Old English verb, "hwinsian," which means "to wail or moan discontentedly."
  • Wosret
    3.4k


    You'd have to be able to with the stuff you swallow. Terrible doesn't equal true. Beware the stuff you joke about -- you believe it after awhile.
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