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Nobody likes a Clown after Midnight

 
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peter
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 14, 2021 7:32 am    Post subject: Nobody likes a Clown after Midnight Reply with quote

A number of years ago my wife and I took my then three year old granddaughter to the circus in expectation that she would enjoy the thrilling new experiences to be found under the 'big top'.

About three minutes into the show however, the circus clowns came gambling out into the arena and upon seeing them she immediately broke down in tears which rapidly developed into screams of terror. Despite a brief attempt to calm her, it became obvious that she was deeply afraid of the performers and we left forthwith.

Now this is interesting on a number of points. She had certainly never seen clowns before: she had not been exposed to films like It or any other clown related horror stories, and yet she was instinctively (it would seem) paralyzed with fear by such manifestations. What can we learn from this, I wonder?

We are all products of a combination of nature (what is inherently given to us via our genes) and nurture (what we learn subsequent to our birth as we develop). It would seem on the face of this account of my granddaughter's fear, that her terror of the clowns was an inherent part of her makeup, genetically acquired rather than resulting from learned experience, and while this is not an absolute guarantee (who can say what other 'thing' from her experience might not have been associated with these faces) it does seem likely. Now if this is indeed the case, we must ask why this might be so. Could it be that the clown face was in some way a replication of some other threat, commonly encountered in a much earlier time in the human development story; a threat so dangerous that it actually acted upon the natural selection process which has determined what we have since become? In such a scenario, those born with a gene that by mutation or whatever, conferred an inbuilt fear of something that bore a similarly to the clown face, and by virtue of this avoided encounter and subsequent death, would pass on this gene to their offspring. Those not in possession of the gene, at a disadvantage, would die, and over generations the gene would become more widespread until it became common to most if not all humans going forward.

The alternative explanation would fly in the face of the central dogma of molecular biology, that acquired characteristics (I mean those acquired during the life of a given individual, not those acquired genetically) do not cross the barrier into the production of the gametes that go into the making of the next generation. In this alternative explanation we can see a situation where the frightening of an individual by an event (say my granddaughter's mother by a particularly nasty clown encounter) is so powerful that it becomes genetically transferred onto the next generation (ie my granddaughter).

This latter explanation seems unlikely to me - but then the former one does as well. Are we truly to believe that something in our deep history so resembled the clowns of today's circus rings, that we have carried a genetic fear of it down through the generations until today, where it still manifests in the form of the deep unease that many of us feel in the presence of a clown.

I don't know; I can't answer the question - but one thing I can say is that I share my granddaughter's feelings in respect of the face painted fuckers of today. For some reason I can't say, they give me the creeps and I don't like 'em!

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 14, 2021 6:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It has everything to do with the painted faces, which often come complete with "anatomically inaccurate" exaggerations of some features--the eyes are too big, the nose is too big, the smile is too big, etc. Painted clown faces are not "normal" and so they scare very young children. You can see similar reactions to infants when they are interacting with adults but then the adults hold up masks over their faces. They can hear the adults talking--including their own mother--but when they cannot see the faces moving and/or the faces do not appear to react to them then the infants will get confused, express fear, and start to cry.

Clowns at night (or in unexpected circumstances) scare adults because they do not adhere to our sense of "normal" or "reality"--a clown should not be on a park bench at 1am, so if we see one we hesitate until we can process the information. This is the basis of many scare pranks or "scare cam" videos.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 15, 2021 6:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, I think you pretty have it there Hashi. Even in their brief lives to this point kids have formed a pretty good map of 'what should be' and if something goes contrary to this then they are going to get frightened.

They will not understand the seeming impossibility of magic tricks, not having nailed down the finer points of this map, but something as basic as the limits of the normal range of acceptability of the human face - yes. Good explanation.
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 15, 2021 3:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting 🤔 have you read or heard of the book the man whos wife was a hat?

Or something similar. I have it but in another room and weíll meh Ö

The thing is he had a neurological deficit and from dim memory he could not picture faces.

He could see what he identified as a hat.

How we actually see things is a close mix of visual pointers and conditioning of expectation- we learn what we should expect to see. Itís a complex thing that I fail to do justice to by inadequately describing the phenomenon.

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 15, 2021 6:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That's what that book's about? I've heard the title, but never heard anything about it.
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 16, 2021 1:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Itís about neurological injuries/deficits - Iíll grab it this arvo and re-acquaint myself with the issues raised.
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 16, 2021 4:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The book is called "The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat" by the now deceased neurologist Oliver Sacks. I read it many years ago. Well worth a read (the final chapter on autism was particularly good if I recall).

As I remember, the man in question lost his ability to recognise things - not just faces - for what they were. He was a musical professor who came to Sacks at the prompting of his wife, no doubt shortly after he had reached out and taken hold of the top of her head in an attempt to place her on his own. In one recorded incident Sacks held up a common everyday object which the man described as follows. "A continuous surface, infolded upon itself, which appears to have (at this moment he hesitates) five outpouchings." The object was a glove.

Interesting as it is however, I'm not sure it relates so much to the situation as to what seems to be an almost instinctive fear of clowns. The degree to which this is learned (and from what inputs) as opposed to being inherent in our genetic makeup (and why) is what is at question here. I think Hashi has come up with a good argument to suggest that it is perhaps more learned than genetic; presumably even the idea that it is the deviation from the norm (that has been established in the mind of even a toddler in respect of facial characteristics) has its roots in a genetic predisposition of some kind. One must assume that by random chance a mutation occurred that conferred fear of such deviation on its holders, and subsequently they were the ones that survived in larger numbers. This then, is what we were seeing manifest in our granddaughter's behaviour. She had learned that range, and knew that the clown's face was outside it - but that propensity to learn such a range must be genetic, and underlie the learning of it.
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 16, 2021 7:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I beg to counter 😉 and perfectly described. You have an excellent memory.

Now to my differing Ö the assumption that fear of clowns is inherent - as opposed to fear of clowns being neurological thereby explainable.

Prosopagnosia is an inability to recognise/form faces - I canít recall if the Oliver Sacks patients issue was that or something else but it seems that recognition is neurological as well as what our visual expectations may be ie the jarring experience of an abstractly shaped and positioned mouth.

Quote:
Neurological evidence strongly implicates a dedicated machinery for face processing in the human brain, to explain the double dissociability of face and object recognition deficits.

Furthermore, it has recently become clear that macaques too have specialized neural machinery for processing faces.

Here we propose a unifying hypothesis, deduced from computational, neurological, fMRI, and single-unit experiments: that what makes face processing special is that it is gated by an obligatory detection process.


The process involved in face detection are reasonably complex - we detect, identify, assess, measure - distinguishing features, categorise, assign position and scale invariant recognition to tell one face from another.

As such we learn and expect a set of known (and confirmed) features (that we have become accustomed to processing previously) in human faces and other objects.

This jars uncomfortably with abstract images and features that do not fall neatly into those established parameters.

Human response to difference is invariably fear and discomfort - and a pressing need to reconcile the inconsistency or flee from it lol 😂

I had an accident a few years ago which left me with a neurological deficit. I recovered but took the best part of a year. During this period I was at Uni - and particularly after neurologically taxing myself - I could not distinguish faces.

I recall a group of people walking towards me as I moved from one class to another. I could identify broad shapes, see movement - to know people were heading my way. I could navigate the walkway to avoid collision but their faces were missing. Like someone had hatched them out (as on tv interviews to safeguard a persons identity).

A person called my name - I looked to the direction of the voice that used my name. I was so aware of my thoughts - I recognised this voice. then from recognition I calculated & categorised the voices I know - and slowly the blurred face became recognisable.

Interesting how the brain works - and what it does when it is under stress.

My injury caused my brain to grow new neural pathways to circumnavigate the damage I had sustained. We are incredible creatures, are we not?
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 21, 2021 12:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

peter wrote:
She had learned that range, and knew that the clown's face was outside it - but that propensity to learn such a range must be genetic, and underlie the learning of it.


Not even genetic but biological...it's the mechanism by which young identify their carers I think.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 21, 2021 2:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If I recall, infants can differentiate their mother's voice after only a few hours, but it takes a couple of weeks to begin differentiating faces.
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