Thursday, May 27

Amygdala = Fear

A quote from Michael Ondaatje's book, Anil's Ghost:


The name had sounded Sri Lankan when Anil first hear it.  Studying at Guy's Hospital in London, having cut tissue away to reveal a small knot of fibres made up of nerve cells.  Near the stem of the brain.  The professor standing beside her gave her the word for it.  Amygdala.

"What does it mean?"
"Nothing.  It's a location.  It's the dark aspect of the brain."
"I don't ---"
"A place to house fearful memories."
"Just fear?"
"We're not too certain of that.  Anger took, we think, but it specialized in fear.  It is pure emotion.  We can't clarify it further."
"Why not?"
"Well -- is it an inherited thing?  Are we speaking of ancestral fear?  Fears from childhood?  Fear of what might happen in old age?  Or fear if we commit a crime?  It could just be projecting fantasies of fear in the body."
"As in dreams."
"As in dreams," he agreed.  "Though sometimes dreams are not the result of fantasy but old habits we don't know we have."

"So it's something created and made by us, by our own histories, is that right?  A knot in this person is different from a knot in another, even if they are from the same family.  Because we each have a different past."
He paused before speaking again, surprised at the degree of her interest.  "I don't think we know yet how similar the knots are, or if there are essential patterns.  I've always liked those nineteenth-century novels where brothers and sisters in different cities could feel the same pains, have the same fears.... But I digress.  We don't know, Anil."
"It sounds Sri Lankan, the name."
"Well, check its derivation.  It doesn't sound scientific."
"No.  Some bad god."

Plain speak info on the Amygdala. Fear will not seem so scary now. Like a crush, anguish, devotion, laughter and disgust, it seems to be all about chemicals released into the brain and body. In the end fear is chemicals and our bodies reactions to it (potential physical violence an exception here, and fear telling you something is not right with a situation, also an exception). Fight or flight. I have always tended to be a fight person.


  1. Beautiful clip from Ondaatje's book, which I haven't read yet, but hope to. Maybe your copy will circulate at the lake this summer.

    Bonnie is the one who set me onto the other book you mention, The Gift of Fear, which I did find useful.


  2. the quote too. it seems linked to a paper I am trying to write on memory and the past...thanks!