Thursday, September 20, 2012

Nietzsche is an Asshole.

This we already knew, but he's making me particularly angry today.

Listen, the whole "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" thing is utter BS. No, really. That which almost kills you makes you more susceptible. It's called sensitizing, and it's bouncing baby boy is kindling.

Here's what I am talking about. There's this idea that as we experience more and more stress, we become better able to handle it. Less sensitive. This is true to a point. We see this in the classroom, where we develop the ability to sit through an hour and a half of calculus where once a 15 minute music circle was all we could stand; and in the gym, where we grow stronger and build endurance. So it's tempting to believe this is true of life circumstances as well. But that's not always the case, and here's why: Eric Kandel and slugs.* What we now understand is that neurolgically, we can either habituate (become less reactive, like a drunk who can put away a fifth of vodka) or sensitize, which is the process of becoming more reactive to stress and strain. The fundamental difference seems to be the element of pain.

Kandel studied the neurology of sensitization by observing gill withdrawal of a seaslug. He observed that the slugs had a weakened gill withdrawal response where they were repeatedly touched on their tender flesh, so that they stopped withdrawing as quickly, if at all. However, after the slugs were habituated, the experimenters paired the touching with a noxious electrical stimulus to the tail, and gill withdrawal re-emerged. After this sensitization, applying a light touch even without the pain to the tail produced a strong gill withdrawal response. This was still true days later.

So yeah, we who have been privy to life with a NSN hurt more. And it's neuro/biological. And entirely the fault of the noxious stimulator. If it goes on long enough you might even get lucky enough to slide into "learned helplessness" and think there is nothing you can do to save yourself. (That's when Nice Gals kill themselves and everyone shakes their heads sorrowfully, feeling pity for her mental health.) The good news is that apparently there is a point past which you don't become further sensitized: the world can keep piling on the crap and you don't get any more broken. You're as crazy as you'll ever be. I know I've gotten there (Thanks, Assmonkey! I'm glad there's an upside to your psychosis, chronic unemployment and proclivity to break things - besas!) and I'm grateful to know I won't be taking the dive some of my Nice Gals have. But you never know. It's pretty much a game of Russian roulette.

* He got a Nobel Prize for that, y'all.

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