I don't know if you know this but if you're normal, you have amygdala areas in your brain. These control your emotions and fears and when suppressed, allow you think with ruthless logic untroubled by almost anything else; just your own survival.
It seems that's what kicked in when I faced that tricky situation on the motorbike. I've heard several similar stories (some mentioned in comments by readers of Part 1) and you may well have experienced the same lack of fear on your own behalf or for others. Suppression of response to its signals allows you to ignore anything else except for the best way to tackle the task at hand.
The amazing thing is this; in some people, that spot in the brain doesn't respond to anything. They have few if any fears about personal safety, they think with utter calm, and they have no conscience. All they know is that they have an objective, and nothing else matters.
These are true psychopaths. They do very well in the military for special ops and in matters where a conscience would get in the way.
All people with emotions are on the psychopathy scale somewhere. Some of us can damp it down almost to nothing for limited periods, and others can't at all. They're the ones most likely to panic in an emergency.
I was given a reference by Mark Colvin to a fascinating article about a Cambridge researcher named Kevin Dutton who spent some time with an British military officer with this quality of no amygdala response. His daredevil life must be beyond the understanding of most of us. The article documented some of his actions. To most of us, they are unimaginable.
Dutton allowed an experiment to be performed on his brain, where the amygdala was dampened down electromagnetically so that he could experience what it was like to be a psychopath – for twenty minutes or so. It was, he said, to be "suddenly locked down into a hypnotically deep code red of extreme and ruthless focus."
In tests demanding skill, logic and daring, he performed far beyond anything he'd been capable of before. From that brief experience, he knew what it was like to
...cruise through life knowing that no matter what you say or do, guilt, remorse, shame, pity, fear, all those familiar, everyday warning signals that might normally light up on your psychological dashboard‚ no longer trouble you.
I remember that feeling of switching off emotions. All I said to Tracey was, "What's the way we deal with this? What are the steps we take now?"
That was it.
For most of the time since, it's been that way. It's not courage or anything like that. It's just that I'm one of those people, probably like you, who doesn't always collapse in a screaming heap when there's an emergency.
Well, not yet anyway. This is going to be tested much more severely.
Afterthought: I should have said when I first posted this that the amigdala in Tracey's brain must be flipping on and off constantly, which, I must say, has been enormously to my benefit.
October 22, 2012
"Psychopathy's Double Edge"
By Kevin Dutton
http://tamutimes.tamu.edu/tag/stephen-maren/ [Original brain image, adapted by me.]