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PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2011 4:58 pm 
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A "typical" reaction to a life-threatening situation generally starts with a neurohormonal response. The autonomic nervous system inhibits parasympathetic (rest) and stimulates/enables sympathetic (fight/flight). The body similarly releases a cocktail of hormones, possibly customized to the level and nature of the threat. Short-term threats have a different response than long-term ones. Imminent, life-threatening situations have different responses than long-term stress.

What intrigues me isn't the similarities of response, but rather the differences. If you were at camp, you saw Rory give a most eloquent discussion about how females have a very different threat response profile than males. This makes them capable of level-headed responses in the short-term (e.g. preserved dexterity), but requiring a much longer time to come down from the peak of the response. Even within genders though we see differences, and sometimes we see patterns that defy the "typical" responses. Where there is variability, a scientist and martial arts instructor both want to know to what degree that variability is by nature vs. by nurture. In other words, do we have an ability to develop a level-headed response to a crisis situation?

Two recent events reminded me of this.

In one situation (I'll refrain from sharing details), I noted that I and another individual had very different responses to an extreme event. There we were after the fact, and the other individual was incapable of dialing her phone. Three people handed her their phones, and she was flustered. While well-intentioned, the Good Samaritans just didn't get it. I asked her for the phone number she wanted to dial, dialed it on my phone (no easy task in mid-day on a touch screen phone), gave her the phone with call in progress, and came back later to get the phone. While I was impacted by events and definitely was aware, my level of stimulation (or my response to it) was very different.

Yesterday we had a very rare earth quake in Virginia. I happened to be in a convenience store when it happened, and we were very near the epicenter of the 5.8 quake. As the approximately one minute of moving and shaking was transpiring, I calmly told everyone in the store we were having an earthquake. They seemed to tap into my calm, and we all were intrigued rather than frightened by it. After it was over, I asked the woman at the check-out counter if she felt like I moved her. (I made that old woman's day.) Meanwhile... if we believe reports from press sources, there were random pockets of panic. One UVa student was sent to the hospital for a fall experienced from running out of the building. Note - it was the REACTION to the event rather than the event per se that caused the injury.

I'm not trying to make myself out to be super capable of responding to life-threatening events, and I know there might be days where I might not have my wits about me. But I am intrigued by an eerie calm that seems to hit me when things go bad. I don't know if it's nature or nurture. If it's nurture, I'm not quite sure what I'm doing to make my responses better - other than constantly putting myself in a position of authority where such abilities are regularly tested.

And I'm not quite sure yet how to bottle it and teach it. I think I do, but... where I don't have evidence to back expert opinion, I will question even my own beliefs. And that's not a bad thing.

- Bill


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2011 5:22 pm 
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Bill,

Back in the early 90's I was working in Pasadena and one evening in my hotel (on an upperfloor) Star Trek Next Generation was concluding with a space battle. At the same time everything started shaking. My first thought was this was the tv show? then I realized it was an earthquake and went to stand in the bathroom doorway. Across the hall closet drawers started popping open, I'd close them and they'd open again.

I was only a few seconds but seemed longer.

Afterwards I went down to the hotel bar and asked everyone there if the felt it. The bartender gave a free drink and said, it had to be less than a 6.0 we don't feel them down here.

Of course after the drink I was feeling less <GRIN>.

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2011 9:15 am 
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I heard twenty people have died so far while surfing in Irene's path. Clearly, some responses to disasters are superior to others.

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 29, 2011 4:36 am 
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Jason Rees wrote:
I heard twenty people have died so far while surfing in Irene's path. Clearly, some responses to disasters are superior to others.

Well... not quite. The details are below.

Hurricane Irene leads to at least 21 deaths

Twenty-one people so far have died in the path of Irene. One of those deaths was a Florida surfer. However... your amusing point is well taken. ;)

Once upon a time I was one of those surfers who chased storms. That's what you have to do to get a decent wave on the east coast.

- Bill


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 29, 2011 5:27 am 
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Bill Glasheen wrote:

Twenty-one people so far have died in the path of Irene. One of those deaths was a Florida surfer. However... your amusing point is well taken. ;)

Once upon a time I was one of those surfers who chased storms. That's what you have to do to get a decent wave on the east coast.

- Bill


Yes, I saw those waves, as a reporter stood on a beach and pointed at them to tell us all how bad it was. :lol:

I know, the damage really was bad in some places, and some homes were demolished. And some fat guy was on tv swimming in his flooded street (he looked like he was having a good time) while a neighbor stood on grass and watched. This whole thing was wierd. Blown out of proportion? One thing it certainly wasn't: under-reported. If it had happened in Alabama instead of NYC, I doubt we would have had 24/7 coverage of it.

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 29, 2011 4:34 pm 
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Jason Rees wrote:
This whole thing was wierd. Blown out of proportion? One thing it certainly wasn't: under-reported. If it had happened in Alabama instead of NYC, I doubt we would have had 24/7 coverage of it.


You might be right about the amount of coverage based on the target. It makes sense if you think about it from a "news" perspective: more people potentially affected and a far less common event. 24/7 coverage of anything is mostly drivel because there isn't that much relevant information to convey, so if you are inclined to actually watch it for very long, you end up getting the same information again and again, interrupted by pointless on-location reports and speculation by "experts".

Irene was a typical hurricane insofar as you usually do not know how severe the impact will be until after the fact. Having grown up in Panama City, Florida watching numerous hurricanes approach, and having actually hunkered down through two that struck nearby (Agnes and Eloise), the coverage I bothered to watch seemed familiar enough to me. They always emphasize the worst-case scenario, and it's usually not as bad as they predict. Occasionally, obviously, it is very bad, worse than predicted in some way or other, though this seems to have occurred about once a decade in my lifetime.

Having said that, I can well imagine what it would have seemed like from the other side of the continent. Aside from a less than predicted storm surge, the results are not very different in Massachusetts from what the smart money predicted. I'm sure many thousands of people are better off today for stocking up on drinking water and provisions that do not require cooking, if they even needed the advice in the first place. I was pleasantly surprised to have been spared a power outage, but we always expected that power outages would be sprinkled around randomly. The dice just came up in my favor this time.

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 01, 2011 2:54 am 
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As the saying goes... A recession is when someone else loses their job; a depression is when you lose your job. The same perspective can be brought to the wrath of Irene. For many it was an exciting, non-event. For some it was devastating. Sister in VA Beach had the eye pass over her home, and no damage. Sister in Princeton had the 250-year-old house on her horse farm flooded. Sometimes it's a crapshoot.

- Bill


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 01, 2011 5:53 am 
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Inland flooding has been bad, actually, and the number of folks still without electric power is incredible. I was expecting a 2-3 day power outage, myself, but it looks now like a lot of folks are likely to be without power for more than a week.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 03, 2011 5:24 am 
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Bill, would your non-reaction have been the same had the roof collapsed on you all? Everyone laughs when someone jumps at the guys who startles when a fake zombies pops out at Halloweeen but he's the same guy that runs when the real gunmen break out at Wymoing Tech.

Is "panicing" and getting everyone in to a safe position pretty much always the better reaction? Should you have herded everyone outside or to doorframes?

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing, I'm notorious for not reacting to anything (other than involuntarily [seriously] front kicking cars that honk at me in crosswalks), just playing devil's advocate.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 03, 2011 5:57 pm 
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Ahh TSDguy.... you are a person after my intellectual heart.

We mathematicians trained in the discipline of differential equations like to speak of system responses as being dependent upon initial conditions. In other words under one set of conditions, we respond like so - sometimes with a range of responses (albeit predictable). Under another set of conditions, we may respond in an entirely different manner. And then in our nonlinear world where initial conditions are just so, we have "the butterfly effect." In other words, the system has a hypersensitivity to initial conditions, making a response deterministic but totally unpredictable unless we can define said conditions to an infinite number of significant digits. In other words sometimes life can be a crapshoot. To those who think math can't capture life, mathematical chaos shows otherwise.

Maybe I digress, and maybe not.

You are correct that in the earthquake situation, I showed one response to one set of initial conditions. How would I have responded in a different quake in a different building where the room was collapsing around us all? Well... it's not really for me to say, since I don't know for sure. But if all we have to go on when predicting the future is the immediate (but narrow) past, well we all tend to look for leaders who are "cool under fire." Sometimes we don't have much to go on, so we SWAG it. (SWAG = Sophisticated Wild-Assed Guess)

As I stated above, TSDguy, I am my own strongest devil's advocate. Lacking rigorous analysis, I tend to hold all beliefs in doubt until compelling evidence and first principles understanding illuminate the dark just a bit better.

I do however want to point out the other situation where one party lost fine motor coordination while another did not - both having started from the same baseline and having experienced the same event. Rather than tooting my horn, I'm merely pointing out that 1) uncoordination happens under extreme neurohormonal stress, and 2) some are affected more than others.

As martial artists, we shouldn't be concerned about fine motor coordination under extreme stress, other than to know that we shouldn't be teaching "gymnasium techniques." In other words, don't get cute by teaching techniques that don't work when we're quite literally pissing our pants. But as martial artists, we absolutely should recognize that good martial techniques involve some complex motor coordination, and said abilities can deteriorate in many when we need them most. So when we discover that some can preserve complex and even some fine motor coordination under extreme stress, perhaps we should pay attention. What caused it? Was it nature or was it nurture? And to the extent that it was at least partially nurture, can we bottle it and sell it?

Years back when I first started teaching martial arts at UVa and had an introductory meeting, at least one person in the class would ask if I taught "the mental part" of martial arts. At the time I believed in a lot of things, and I believed there was something to all that. But it frankly was more mystical than concrete to me. I had a mental box where I stored all those ideas, and figured I'd get to it when my education and experience allowed. Well today... let's just say I'm glad I kept that box. And it isn't such a mystery to me any more.

- Bill


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2011 3:15 am 
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TSDguy wrote:
Bill, would your non-reaction have been the same had the roof collapsed on you all? Everyone laughs when someone jumps at the guys who startles when a fake zombies pops out at Halloweeen but he's the same guy that runs when the real gunmen break out at Wymoing Tech.

Is "panicing" and getting everyone in to a safe position pretty much always the better reaction? Should you have herded everyone outside or to doorframes?

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing, I'm notorious for not reacting to anything (other than involuntarily [seriously] front kicking cars that honk at me in crosswalks), just playing devil's advocate.


Rory touches on this in his latest book, Facing Violence. Our survival as a species requires variation in response, between the freezer who stands there to get eaten by the threat, to the one who gets others to safety, to the one that runs for help, to the ones who respond with overwhelming force. You're never going to condition the populace to react in one certain way, and our survival dictates that you wouldn't want to even if you could.

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