BRACE YOUR­SELF

Popular Science - - CONTENTS -

NO, THAT’S NOT A MINI mael­strom tear­ing up your stom­ach. It’s one of the most in­cred­i­ble chem­i­cal sym­phonies on our planet: the hu­man phys­i­o­log­i­cal re­sponse to dan­ger. Your en­docrine sys­tem dumps adrenaline, dopamine, and other hor­mones into your blood, which ratch­ets up your senses (en­hance!), and tells your heart to start feed­ing your mus­cles ex­tra juice. Your res­pi­ra­tion in­creases to take in more oxy­gen. Coiled for im­mi­nent ac­tion, your body is primed to fight—or get the heck outta there. You are now su­per­hu­man. At least, tem­po­rar­ily.

We share this trans­for­ma­tion with an­i­mals across the nat­u­ral world, twirling be­tween rou­tine and high alert. As you ex­am­ine the causes and ef­fects of this fear dance, you can’t help but no­tice that one crea­ture’s dan­ger is just an­other’s af­ter­noon snack. Or, for some as­pects of our uni­verse, threats are sim­ply nor­mal move­ment: As­ter­oids aren’t will­fully at­tack­ing our planet any more than an ele­phant at­tacks the ground on which it steps. Still, each one cre­ates real peril for what­ever’s in its path.

Some­how, though, nat­u­ral threats aren’t enough for us: We ac­tively quest for dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions—seek­ing out that choice adrenaline buzz. We board ve­hi­cles that reach lu­di­crous speeds; we cre­ate ex­plo­sions just to see the smoke. If our an­i­mal cousins could com­pre­hend why we do what we do, they’d prob­a­bly think we were in­sane.

Or maybe they’d get it? Maybe that ex­plains why a cer­tain por­tion of the ro­dent pop­u­la­tion risks be­com­ing road­kill by div­ing in front of my car—to gain cred in their squir­rel com­mu­nity. Small-mam­mal mo­ti­va­tions are al­most cer­tainly not that com­plex, but ev­ery res­i­dent of this planet does feel some snap of fear al­most ev­ery day. We hu­mans—the ones be­hind this magazine, any­way— sure are fas­ci­nated by it. So we de­cided to go long on dan­ger: more than 100 pages de­signed to get

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