Learn to fear…

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Photo by Paul Cameron from Pexels

Computers can master some tasks—like playing a game of Go—through trial and error. But what works for a game doesn’t work for risky real-world tasks like driving a car, where “losing” might involve a high-speed collision. To drive safely, humans have an exquisite feedback system: our fight-or-flight response, in which physiological reactions like a rapid heart rate and sweaty palms signal “fear,” and so keep us vigilant and, theoretically, out of trouble. Now, researchers at Microsoft are giving artificial intelligence (AI) programs a rough analog of anxiety to help them sense when they’re pushing their luck.

The scientists placed sensors on people’s fingers to record pulse amplitude while they were in a driving simulator, as a measure of arousal. An algorithm used those recordings—80 minutes divided among four people—to learn to predict an average person’s pulse amplitude at each moment on the course. It then used those “fear” signals as a guide while learning to drive through the virtual world: If a human would be scared here, it might muse, “I’m doing something wrong.” AIs using this method still had to crash to learn safe driving skills, but they required 25% fewer crashes to reach the same level of performance as a nonfearful AI, the researchers reported this week at the International Conference on Learning Representations here. (1)

Fear guides men. (And soon, computers too)

Fear creates paths.

Fear pushes one forward (or backwards)

So stubborn are we.

Full of fear. And yet, moving!

Believing that we achieve something.

That we overcome our self.

(Can you overcome your self?)

Refusing to acknowledge that what we fear is not moving.

But standing still…

Look. You are walking…

Virtual real reality…

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Photo by Johannes Rapprich from Pexels

Future therapy patients may spend a lot more time exploring virtual environments than sitting on sofas. In a clinical trial of a new virtual reality treatment for fear of heights, participants reported being much less afraid after using the program for just two weeks. Unlike other VR therapies, which required that a real-life therapist guide patients through treatment, the new system uses an animated avatar to coach patients through ascending a virtual high-rise. This kind of fully automated counseling system, described online July 11 in the Lancet Psychiatry, may make psychological treatments for phobias and other disorders far more accessible. (1)

Fearing reality. Based on imaginary fears.

Being healed. Based on an imaginary reality.

Look at the essence of the cosmos.

And you will see that there is nothing to see…

Except the things that you see…

Removing fear. Why?

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Fear related disorders affect around one in 14 people and place considerable pressure on mental health services. Currently, a common approach is for patients to undergo some form of aversion therapy, in which they confront their fear by being exposed to it in the hope they will learn that the thing they fear isn’t harmful after all. However, this therapy is inherently unpleasant, and many choose not to pursue it. Now a team of neuroscientists from the University of Cambridge, Japan and the USA, has found a way of unconsciously removing a fear memory from the brain.

The team developed a method to read and identify a fear memory using a new technique called ‘Decoded Neurofeedback’. The technique used brain scanning to monitor activity in the brain, and identify complex patterns of activity that resembled a specific fear memory. In the experiment, a fear memory was created in 17 healthy volunteers by administering a brief electric shock when they saw a certain computer image. When the pattern was detected, the researchers over-wrote the fear memory by giving their experimental subjects a reward. The team repeated the procedure over three days. Volunteers were told that the monetary reward they earned depended on their brain activity, but they didn’t know how. (1)

Erasing fear with rewards.

Erasing fear with fear.

The only thing modern humans have not learned (or have rather forgot) is to accept. To accept things as they are. To accept the fear. To accept their own self, instead of trying to change it.

It may seem the easy coward choice, but it is quite the opposite.

It takes a lot of courage to accept.

And only those who fear enough can do it…

Unseen creatures…

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Earlier this month, scientists observed the black seadevil species of anglerfish alive in its natural habitat for the first time.

You might recognize this sort of bony monster from Finding Nemo. One of them nearly swallows Marlin and Dory after luring them toward its gruesome jaws with the pretty bauble dangling from its forehead. It turns out, Pixar was pretty on point in that scene. Anglerfish hunt with their glowing protrusions in the deep sea, where they are rarely spotted.

According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in California, the group responsible for this footage, fewer than half a dozen anglerfish have ever been recorded in their natural habitats. As the video notes, this anglerfish is a female—males are much smaller and lead very different life cycles. For more on that weirdness, we refer you to this illustrated guide from The Oatmeal. (1)

Invisible creatures.
Lurking in the dark.
Unseen.

And yet you know they are there.

You are afraid of the dark.
Because there is something there.
Because there is always something there.

Deep fear.
Unseen wisdom.
Dark and yet so full of meaning.

Listen to the sea.

Fear. Behaviour. Fear. Behaviour.

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A team of CSHL scientists have discovered a new neural circuit in the brain that directly links the site of fear memory with an area of the brainstem that controls behavior. Far-reaching neurons in the central amygdala, the location of fear memory in the brain seen here in red (right), directly contact neurons in the brainstem, here in green (left). (1)

Fear controls our behaviour.

But we control fear.
So we control our behaviour.

But some are afraid of controlling their behaviour.
But they can control this fear.

But…

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