One of my college courses this year is called "Posthumanism in Science Fiction" (it actually counts towards the core classes needed to graduate). The instructor, Dan Dinello, used to work with Stephen Colbert back in the 1990s, and recently he decided to show the class one of the short films he made with Colbert, a strange dark comedy called Shock Asylum. Like everything else, it happened to be on YouTube (though this version is shorter than the one I saw), so enjoy:
I wonder what would have happened had Dr. Sherman's plan been put into action? It would certainly relieve stress -- and provide a much more realistic view of the world -- if we were all taught from day one to accept our mediocrity. Reported in the Newark Advocate, Dec. 1, 1936:
Training for Failure
It seems that parents are wrong in counseling their youngsters to study hard and aim for the presidency.
Anyway, Dr. Mandel Sherman, mental hygiene specialist at the University of Chicago, advises that young people be trained to become failures, in the ordinary sense of the word.
"Our educational system is suffering from an overdose of success stories," he contends. "One person in 10 is neurotic, one in 22 insane today because we train only for success. And only a few can be successful from a material standpoint."
Youth perhaps should be taught that a successful life need not include fame and riches. But history, studded with instances of handicapped youngsters who fought their way to success, indicates that it would be difficult to get the younger generation to bow its head to the inevitability of failure.
Paradoxical undressing is a term for a phenomenon frequently seen in cases of lethal hypothermia. Shortly before death, the person will remove all their clothes, as if they were burning up, when in fact they are freezing. Because of this, people who have frozen to death are often found naked and are misidentified as victims of a violent crime. Why does this happen? According to M.A. Rothschild and V. Schneider, writing in the International Journal of Legal Medicine:
The reason for this paradoxical behaviour seems to be the effect of a cold-induced paralysis of the nerves in the vessel walls, which leads to a vasodilatation, giving a feeling of warmth. Another theory proposes that the reflex vasoconstriction, which happens in the first stage of hypothermia leads to paralysis of the vasomotor center giving rise to the sensation that the body temperature is higher than it really is and in a paradox reaction the person undresses.
But wait! It gets even weirder. Once they've undressed, the dying person will frequently try to crawl into a small, enclosed space. For which reason, victims of hypothermia are often found naked, squeezed into cupboards or beneath beds. This is called Terminal Burrowing Behavior. Again from Rothschild and Schneider:
In 20% of our cases of death due to hypothermia the bodies were found in a position, which at first induced the suspicion of an attempt to hide the body. But after all our examinations together with the police investigations it was clear that no other person was involved. Obviously the strange positions in which the bodies had been found, were the result of a (pre-)terminal behaviour, which - for lack of comparable descriptions in the literature - we have called "terminal burrowing behaviour". The discovery positions always gave the impression of a protective burrow-like or cave-like situation, as the bodies were found under the bed, behind the wardrobe, in a shelf etc.. The clothes of the bodies were always strewn on the ground in front of the final position, sometimes forming a trail. In every case the paradoxical undressing had obviously happened before this self-protective "burrowing behaviour". This is sustained by the fact that the removed clothing was never found at the final position where the body was found, and some of the victims due to cooling had obviously been crawling around. In most cases the final position in which the bodies were found could only be reached by crawling on all fours or flat on the body, resulting in abrasions to the knees, elbows, etc. This crawling to the final position seems to have happened after undressing as there were abrasions to the skin but no damage to the corresponding parts of the removed clothing.
I came across a description of this experiment in an old newspaper (Reno Evening Gazette, Sep 8, 1941) and have never found any other references to it. The experiment was conducted by British psychologists who wanted to find out if "civilian populations can be made immune, through familiarity, to fear caused by air raid noises." The methodological problems with the design of the experiment are obvious, but it's interesting that it was conducted nevertheless. The details follow:
The London experiment consisted of herding workers, children and bomb-shocked neurotics into underground vaults and there subjecting them to an 'artificial blitz bombing.'
Sound effects used in the test were recordings made during one of London's worst air raids last year, amplified to simulate the real thing. An Associated Press writer who witnessed the experiment reported:
"The sounds swelled in the dark vault. The guns kept banging. Then big bombs burst. The guns kept up. More bombs. Then the crackle of flames. Next clanging fire engines added their noise, the other sounds continuing."
According to the reporter, the subjects stood the test very well: 'No one was crying out. A flashlight swung around the room, revealing drawn faces and frightened eyes. But no one was swooning. The experimenters stepped up the amplification.'
The British psychologists responsible for the experiment were reported delighted with the results. They said it proved their theory that whole populations could be exposed to 'artificial blitzkriegs' and thus rendered immune to fear during air raids.
Hugmachine.org offers complete instructions on how to build your very own, low-cost hug machine. For those times when you need to feel the comforting press of two mattresses around you.
The Hug Machine was invented by Temple Grandin as a way to treat her autism. From Wikipedia:
The idea for the hug machine was devised during a visit to her aunt's Colorado ranch, where she noted the way cattle were vaccinated while confined in a squeeze chute, and how some of the cattle immediately calmed down after pressure was administered. She realized the deep pressure from the chute had a calming effect, and decided that might well settle down her own hypersensitivity. Whereas psychologists at her high school sought to confiscate her prototype hug machine, her science teacher encouraged her to determine just why it helped resolve her anxiety and sensory issues.
The Westermarck Effect is a psychological phenomena named after Finnish anthropologist Edvard Westermarck. The effect is that (according to Wikipedia): "when two people live in close domestic proximity during the first few years in the life of either one, both are desensitized to later close sexual attraction." Which is why most people don't get the hots for their sibling.
However, if siblings don't grow up together and only meet for the first time later in life, they may be intensely sexually attracted to each other. This is known as genetic sexual attraction, or GSA. Again, from Wikipedia:
Several factors may contribute to GSA. People commonly rank faces similar to their own as more attractive, trustworthy, etc. than average... Shared interests and personality traits are commonly considered desirable in a mate... In cases of parent-child attraction, the parent may recognize traits of their sometime mate in the child. Such reunions typically produce complex emotions in all involved.
Finally, there is the phenomena known as the Westermarck Trap, which occurs when two people who have grown up together (and thus are sexually desensitized to each other) are expected to marry each other, because of an arranged marriage. According to one theory, this is what the novel Frankenstein depicts:
Students of the Westermarck effect may be interested to know that this trap is depicted in the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, in which Victor Frankenstein is expected to marry a cousin reared with him. Instead, he creates a monster that persecutes him and murders his prospective bride before the marriage can be consummated. It is suggested that the plot owes something to Mary Shelley's own experience of the Westermarck effect, following a childhood in which she was reared with a stepbrother. Her own personal solution was not to create a monster but to elope with a married man (Percy Bysshe Shelley) at the age of 16.
these individuals carry around with them in their unconscious mind a death suggestion, while on the conscious level they have no knowledge whatsoever of it. In fact, when told they believe themselves dead they deny it even though their symptoms and their behavior continually affirm the diagnosis of the Walking Zombie syndrome...
Walking Zombies are present on the streets of every city, and not a single practitioner will escape their complaints. Even though they may faithfully attempt work every day, they are for the most part nonproductive and often represent more of a liability than an asset to their employers, families and friends. Many are accident prone, and most Walking Zombies cost their company a great deal by chronic absenteeism.
It's hard to detect wannabes...they can become enmeshed in the community and be quite active, or perhaps they eventually figure out that they were wrong and leave -- the realization is probably due to some type of disillusionment...
There is also some measure of fan-culture around some mythological archetypes -- such as Elves in the wake of the Lord of the Rings movies, Vampires after Buffy:TVS and so on. Due to the prevalence of these archetypes in popular media, the community does attract some people who "Wanna be" elves, vampires, etc. even though they know that they aren't. Some of them hang out for a while before realizing that we're by far an unromantic and rather boring community as a whole. They also probably leave disillusioned.
I believe that the social psychologist Leon Mann was one of the first to describe the phenomenon of the "baiting crowd." He did so in a 1981 article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:
We assume that most people are concerned for the life and well-being of others. It comes as a surprise to learn that crowds gathered at the site of a suicide threat have been known to taunt and urge the victim to jump... In my examination of the baiting phenomenon, I searched all listings for suicides and suicide attempts in the New York Times Index for 1964-1979... The following extract from the New York Times for June 8, 1964, is an example of the data source: A Puerto Rican handyman perched on a 10th floor ledge for an hour yesterday morning as many persons in a crowd of 500 on upper Broadway shouted at him in Spanish and English to jump. Even as cries of "Jump!" and "Brinca!" rang out, policemen pulled the man to safety from the narrow ledge at 3495 Broadway, the north-west corner of 143rd Street.
Mann identified five factors that contribute to the phenomenon: 1) the anonymity of being in a large crowd; 2) cover of darkness; 3) distance from the victim (but being close enough so that the person threatening suicide can still hear the cries urging him to jump); 4) duration of episode (people get bored and restless waiting too long); and 5) hot temperatures.
My theory is that people are okay until you gather them together into a crowd, at which point they transform into the lowest form of life imaginable.