28 May 2008

I miss school already

The worst part about graduating is leaving a beautiful campus and its people behind. The second worst thing is losing journal access. The other day I was doing a random Google search, and a JSTOR paper came up. I clicked. I couldn't read it. And it made me sad.

Don't ask me why I was searching for journal articles when I've been out of school for two weeks. Sometimes you just want to read journals.

04 May 2008

Today I fell 14,000 feet

Against all rational thought, I went skydiving today. And it was surreal. Strangely enough, I wasn't as afraid as I thought I would be, probably because I was dissociating myself from the fear I knew I would experience if I let myself fully realize what I was doing. I expected my heart to be beating out of my chest, but instead I was relatively calm as I stepped out of the plane with my instructor strapped in tandem behind me. I'm vaguely aware that I did a back flip out of the plane, and from there it felt like I was floating. Painfully floating, because my ears were popping with the pressure difference, and my face was being torn by the air rushing by at 120 mph. It doesn't feel at all like the swooping sensation you get when you fall with a roller coaster--instead, the air resistance makes it feel as if you're hovering in place.

It all went by far too quickly. They say we free-fell for 60 seconds, but it felt like half that much time had passed when my instructor pulled the rip cord. Although I didn't quite see the curvature of the Earth that I've heard other skydivers have seen, I saw a faint line on the horizon indicating the temperature inversion. Gliding down in the parachute was peaceful but a bit awkward, and the landing was smooth.

The entire experience surprised me in so many ways. Why wasn't my genetically wired sense of survival preventing me from taking the plunge when my toes were on the edge of the plane door? Why is my sense of mortality so nonexistent? I did some reading on why I thrill seek, and came up with this, from Psychology Today:

"...Research has also revealed the darker side of risk taking. High-risk takers are easily bored and may suffer low job satisfaction. Their craving for stimulation can make them more likely to abuse drugs, gamble, commit crimes, and be promiscuous....

Indeed, this peculiar form of dissatisfaction could help explain the explosion of high-risk sports in America and other postindustrial Western nations. In unstable cultures, such as those at war or suffering poverty, people rarely seek out additional thrills. But in a rich and safety-obsessed country like America, land of guardrails, seat belts, and personal-injury lawsuits, everyday life may have become too safe, predictable, and boring for those programmed for risk-taking."

And a more psychological theory:

"Larsen calls high-sensation seekers "reducers": Their brains automatically dampen the level of incoming stimuli, leaving them with a kind of excitement deficit. (Low-sensation seekers, by contrast, tend to "augment" stimuli, and thus desire less excitement.) Why are some brains wired for excitement? Since 1974, researchers have known that the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO) plays a central role in regulating arousal, inhibition, and pleasure. They also found that low levels of MAO correlate with high levels of certain behaviors, including criminality, social activity, and drug abuse. When Zuckerman began testing HSS individuals, they, too, showed unusually low MAO levels.

The enzyme's precise role isn't deal It regulates levels of at least three important neurotransmitters: norepinephrine, which arouses the brain in response to stimuli; dopamine, which is involved with the sensation of pleasure in response to arousal; and serotonin, which acts as a brake on norepinephrine and inhibits arousal.... Such individuals may turn to drugs, like cocaine, which mimic dopamine's pleasure reaction."