Listen to part a lecture in a psychology class.
Professor One of the greatest emotions humans and animals have is fear. People are afraid of many things. Can anyone give me an example?
Student A: The dark, snakes, failure, almost anything.
Professor: Very good. Almost anything can cause fear in a person. But, especially, memories can cause some of our biggest fears and even affect our lives in dramatic ways. Has anyone heard of the term post-traumatic stress disorder?
Student B: Isn’t that what thos’ guys had after the Vietnam War? I mean, they were crazy.
Professor: Not exactly crazy, no. I wouldn’t say that. They suffered from the shock of combat and the death and destruction they saw. The memories of those events were so powerful that they suffered from insomnia, paranoia, and other dramatic side effects. It is not only war veterans that suffer from this. Anyone who has been in a car accident, been robbed, been in a fire… almost any kind of traumatic event, can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. I have personally suffered from an abnormal fear of dogs since I was bitten by one when I was a child. I’m sure everyone in this classroom has at least one thing you’re afraid of.
It has only been recently that we have begun to understand how fear works inside the human brain. For a long time, we’ve been able to observe the effects of fear on the human body but not in the brain. First, I’ll explain what happens to your body as you sense danger, which is the beginning of the fear response; a sense of danger nearby, whether real or imagined, triggers various reactions in the body.
First, the pupils in your eyes dilate, or get bigger, to allow you to see better and transmit information to the brain. You start to breathe faster in order to take in more oxygen. Your heart rate and blood pressure rate increase dramatically, sending large amounts of blood to your muscles and brain. At the same time, your liver breaks down more glycogen, which is used for energy, and your spleen contracts, releasing more white blood cells and blood clotting materials in case you’re injured. Other chemicals are also released, especially adrenaline, which will give you more energy and strength. Your stomach gets tight, which is a reaction you may recognize. It’s just your digestive tract diverting more blood to your muscles. You may also experience chills and sweating as your skin’s blood vessels constrict. A side effect of this is that your hair stands on end. Finally, your bowels and bladder prepare to empty their contents because, if they experience an injury, their contents could infect your body. This may seem a little strange because the last thing anyone wants to do is make a mess of ourselves, but it’s the body’s way of protecting itself.
So, next time you experience any of these symptoms, you aren’t being a coward. It’s just a natural reaction to a perceived danger. Now, as I said earlier, for a long time, we didn’t understand how the brain worked in dangerous situations. In recent years, a great deal of experimentation has gone into fear and where it is centered in the brain. I won’t bore you with a lot of medical details, but they have found the area of the brain where fear is centered, and some experts have determined that the brain reacts to danger in two ways: one is a conscious, rational assessment of the danger, and the other is an unconscious, innate reaction.
For example, you are walking through a forest, and you see something long and brown in the grass. Your rational mind tells you it’s just a stick, but your innate mind tells you it could be a snake. The memory of a past encounter with a snake would make that very much stronger. In fact, if you had a particularly nasty experience with a snake, you could be so paralyzed by the fear of that memory that you would probably not have entered that forest in the first place for fear of encountering another snake. This is where our memories have raised irrational fears of danger where there is none.
Again, the experts have hypothesized that in mankind’s early days, this innate fear response was necessary for survival in a land full of danger and predators. But our modem society, while still having some dangers, is very safe, despite what you see on the nightly news. This research has been important in treating returning combat veterans. War is the one place where this innate response to danger is still important for humans for their survival. Unfortunately, the memories of war are so powerful that many soldiers bring their fears home with them. Overcoming these fears is the first step toward a return to a normal life.
Listen to part of a lecture in a world history class.
Professor: Now you may think the greatest conqueror in the world was, say, Alexander the Great or Adolf Hitler, but, in fact, it was Genghis Khan, the great early thirteenth-century Mongol leader. With his horse–riding, arrow-shooting hordes, he conquered a territory greater than any other leader either before or after him. What makes Genghis Khan’s story even more remarkable are his humble beginnings and the backwardness of the people he led. But it was because of these factors, not in spite of them, that Genghis was able to forge his people into the greatest class of warriors the world has even known.
Genghis Khan was bom in 1162 in Mongolia near the present-day border with Russia. Mongolia at that time wasn’t a nation but was a land of many tribes, which were usually warring with each other. Genghis’ mother was actually captured from another tribe by his father. His real name was Temujin, and Genghis Khan means “Great Leader.” His tribe was one of the poorer ones, living north of the great Gobi Desert in areas with marginal resources. The people were herders of livestock and had hard lives, depending on their animals for much of their livelihood. Most of all, they were master horse breeders and riders. Most Mongols could ride and shoot the bow and arrow from horseback at an early age. This mobility was their greatest asset in warfare.
Genghis’ father was killed when he was only nine years old, and the tribe cast his family out. Basically, they were considered a burden since the family consisted of Genghis’ father’s two wives and several children and had no men to protect them. Yes, Mongols had more than one wife. Soon after his father’s death, Genghis’ first challenge was from his older half-brother over leadership of the family. Many accounts say that Genghis stalked and killed his older half-brother. This crime became widely known, which further set Genghis’ family apart from the tribes and set him on the road to being a great warrior. By adulthood, Genghis had been through a series of rough and tumble encounters with various adversaries, who tried to enslave or kill him and his family. This early life made him a hardened warrior and taught him many useful strategies he would later use on the battlefield. Genghis’ next great challenge came when a neighboring tribe captured his wife. He could have relented and gotten another bride, but he decided to attack. With the help of an allied tribe, Genghis was successful. But his wife was pregnant, and a son was bom. For the rest of his life, the Mongols secretly and at times openly speculated that Genghis’ oldest son was not his but the father was the man who had captured his wife. This had serious consequences for the line of succession when Genghis neared the end of his life. After the recapture of his wife, Genghis set his mind toward either conquering the other tribes in the area or allying himself with them. His reputation as a fierce warrior and master tactician grew, and, over the next ten years, a fierce civil war engulfed the Mongol tribes until Genghis was master of them all.
The Mongols now eyed the rich lands south of the Gobi Desert. After conquering some cities and capturing their luxuries, the Mongols’ taste for the rich life grew. To please his people, Genghis and his army set off on further conquests. The rich lands of modern-day Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran beckoned. Genghis often sent an emissary ahead to a city to ask for its submission. If the people killed his emissary or refused to surrender, the Mongols showed no mercy. But, if they did give up, the Mongols were very civil conquerors. Their reputation soon preceded them, and rumors floated all the way to Europe of these unstoppable beasts from the east. Much of the Middle East, Russia, and parts of Eastern Europe were conquered by the Mongols. Only India, with its hot, muggy disease-ridden climate unsuitable for Mongol warriors, managed to avoid becoming a vassal state.
Despite his great skills at warfare and administration, Genghis failed to provide for the longevity of his empire. He had four sons, with the oldest one’s parentage in dispute. Because of this, his two eldest sons hated each other intensely, so Genghis made his third son his successor. He, unfortunately, was an alcoholic and wasted the wealth Genghis had captured. Genghis was a better leader than teacher and had trouble teaching his sons things he knew by instinct from his years of strife and warfare. Genghis died in 1227, some accounts say from a fall from his horse. His sons all died early, and the empire did not last long, but its legacy is far-reaching, influencing the world from China to the gates of Vienna.