what is threat?

What follows is an unfinished post, but…I will either add to it later or do a follow-up post.  Publishing it here in case anyone reads it and wants to come share ideas with me on this topic in  my

discord server

#the-fred-inside-us-all and #attention are two of the related articles on this topic; jotting them down now because it took me a while to find them and I don’t want to have to do it again if I forget 


I didn’t actually re-read those, just skimmed. There will likely be some overlap here. That’s okay, though, because I realize not everyone is actually going to click those links.
So! I’ve had two periods of my life during which I was being conscious, and active, about my process of personal growth and thought experimentation.
The second is now; this year basically. The first was in college, and accelerated rapidly after I started doing cocaine.
During this time, I worked at a deli on the main downtown drag of Santa Cruz. That place was my petri dish. I could experiment with myself and in my interactions with others with less riding on the results than in my personal life. I was dealing primarily with strangers and co-workers, not close family and friends. This gave me quite a bit of latitude, in my mind, that I would not have otherwise taken advantage of. I’ve talked elsewhere about my experiments during that time with my anger response, for example (though I’m not going to risk losing momentum by trying to find that one as well right now).
During this process, which involves more than I’ve talked about anywhere in this server but which I will no doubt get to eventually, I started watching my brain. Watching what it did, moment to moment. This was during a period of a couple years during which I read nothing but, perhaps, wikipedia articles (though not sure about that). I avoided all books save fiction. I had some early thoughts, and I wanted them to be as mine as possible.
Part of this was ego, yes. But a not insignificant part of this was because I felt wholly average. I thought if I could come up with some general theories about why humans are the way we are, and keep it limited as much as possible to my own observations about my own brain – then there would be more of a chance they’d be applicable to people Not Me.
Disclaimer: I do not mean average in a disparaging way, though it was so then. I think I’m pretty rad, but I believe with the foundation of my being that if I could become so with analysis, effort, and experimentation – everyone can.
One thing that gave me the first real indication that maybe, just maybe, I might have something useful to say, was reading about neuroplasticity after I began reading again.
What I had been trying and failing to communicate to my friends at that time had a lot to do with the way I came to believe my brain was operating, moment to moment, on a fundamental level. And despite having read nothing about neuroplasticity prior to that point, that’s what I’d been describing. Not using the correct terms, of course, and without any idea of the official science behind it, but that’s what it was (this post doesn’t really get that far, though!)
Any of you ever feel like some people you meet are more awake/aware than others? That some seem to be more on a kind of autopilot than others? What I came to believe about the way human brains function, in my mind, explains that phenomenon. It is also pretty fundamental to my convictions that this is a thing which can be taught to anyone. But I’m getting ahead of myself.


I believe that the way humans process information and then act in response to is, typically and largely- automatic.
But that only part of it has to be.
Each moment, there is what is.
Within a flash – our brains scan the available sensory information. Label things, based on a rapid, subconscious calculation of what is most relevant to us.
Threats mostly, yes.
But also things that have potential value. This is attention.
Shiny things on the ground catch our eye; might be money!
Flashes of motion in the corner of our eyes; might be danger!
Pretty people, might be potential mates to our subconscious brain. Scary people, might be threats.
I believe we have no ability to directly control this process; that it happens below a conscious level. Based on how things get identified/labeled during this so very rapid sifting of sensory information, chemical messengers are released.
Reward/punishment, etc.
Potentially good things give us the feel-goods, potentially threatening ones make us feel bad, scared, etc.
Note the potentially bit. This is quite frequently a preemptive thing. Threat of things being bad, not always things that are already bad. The people who seem most on autopilot are the ones that then act, immediately, in response to those chemical messengers. Those emotions.
I believe that everything up until the action part of this process is out of our direct, conscious, control. But that those people who seem more..awake…are simply those that have developed some degree of conscious control over the action part of the equation.
Someone makes you angry? Insults your identity in some way? Do you run away, start crying, punch them immediately? Say something cruel in response? Or do you observe your hurt, and decide not to act out on it, instead?
But that’s not what I intended to go into here. What I wanted to talk about here was what goes into that process of labeling.
How do our brains determine what threat/value even are?
What makes the most sense to me (and this, like everything else I write about, is much more my own thoughts/observations than anything based directly on official scientific research. This is merely a way of making sense of the world and myself that I’ve found utility in, nothing more) is that it’s a combination of learned/inherited factors. That, perhaps, we have a unique set of instincts at birth, our own particular brain maps, that cause us to react in particular ways to events in our lives. That those events and the way we react to them shapes who we are, and who we will become – moment to moment.
I believe that the strongest pushes and pulls are those most ancient ones – the need to be right is a huge one. I’m pretty sure I talked about that in one of the channels I tagged in the beginning.
Humans who had good ideas but didn’t have the conviction to follow them were less likely to survive, to reproduce. Speed was, I imagine, a huge factor in the early days of our species.
But as time has passed, things for us have become ever more complex- frequently far faster than our genetic information has time to match.
Wat do?
Bend them.
I find it unlikely that we have instinctive information on how to deal specifically with things like cars, with corporate greed, with the internet, global warming.
But we have instinctive information on threats.
Or at least how to culturally learn about threats, in this modern world in which day to day survival is no longer the driving factor in the success of an individual (broadly speaking!)
Alright. So, now we come back to: “what is threat?”
Definitions are harder; I’ll start with a description of what I believe threat to be.
I view threat as anything that triggers the fight/flight response.
But that, again, is something which I view…. broadly.
What constitutes fighting? What constitutes flying?
Could a crusade for social justice perhaps be perceived as an aspect of what the fight response has become, in our strange, modern world?
Could withdrawing from friends and family perhaps be thought of as a form of flight?


I spent three years living on the street in Los Angeles. I came out of that, changed. This is my story.

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