Calculated Risk & Conditioning

The blog The Dolphin Divide has some really thought provoking articles.

In an article Seth posted last January, he talks about the intersection of risk taking and conditioning.

Risk taking, to a certain extent, is adaptive. Some individuals are more risk adverse than others, but taking risks is a survival trait – within reason.  However, our evolutionary instinct to risk isn’t all that is happening.  We are also being conditioned to take risks or not take risks.

Whenever we do something, things happen. Sometimes those things are good, sometimes bad, sometimes totally irrelevant to us. These responses to our actions make us more or less inclined to do whatever it was we did again.

However, even if we are averse to something, we can be conditioned to do it anyway and to be less averse to it.  This is done all the time in animal training and it’s used with humans to help them overcome their phobias. It’s a technique called successive approximation.  This is where you don’t ask for the behavior you want; you just keep making small incremental adjustments until the animal is doing what you want.

In the context of helping an animal/human overcome fears, you slowly and incrementally expose them to whatever it is so they are desensitized to it.  For instance, if someone is afraid of spiders, you might show them a small photo of a spider on the other side of the room and encourage them to tolerate it. Then you would make the picture ever so slightly bigger and bigger and help them acclimate to it, then you would start moving the picture closer to them – ever so slightly.

The question is – how much risk can you encourage a human or animal to take? Lots. Lethally so.

My conclusion? Fear, if it is overwhelming and irrational is counterproductive.  Being fearless is also counterproductive.  This is why the 2 following truths are both contradictory and true at the same time.

“Courage is often lack of insight, whereas cowardice in many cases is based on good information.” - Peter Ustinov
“Courage is not the lack of fear. It is acting in spite of it.” - Mark Twain

Wisdom is not being at one extreme or the other, but in finding the right balance between the 2.

“We do not display greatness by going to one extreme, but in touching both at once, and filling all the intervening space.” – Blaise Pascal

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