Best to explain by example of my inspiration. I was finishing up Cujo last night and a couple of times reached such a pitch of terror that my body was tingling all over. Now, this was partially because I was trying to feed my fear as much as possible in order to psyche myself out because I feel like it’s my duty as a man to be familiar with the sensation of fear, so I can keep a cool head in terrifying situations. (Usually I accomplish this by cold showers or rewatching the end of Berserk or Evangelion or something, but the shower I use right now was only designed to use hot water for some reason.)
Anyway, I had reached that region of fear where every little shadow in the corner of your eye can trick you into thinking it’s a face that’s watching you and every small movement looks like a spider or an earwig until you look closer (and it’s just a crumb or a dark speckle on the carpet or something). This wasn’t nearly as strong of a reaction as I used to get as a child- when it seemed perfectly reasonable that believing something was in the closet could make something really, actually be there- but it was pretty impressive for an adult.
Slight tangent to demonstrate the gulf between adult and childhood fear: I used to have a recurring nightmare, for several years running, that I’d be out playing and miss my bedtime at precisely 9 ‘o clock. When the clock turned 9, a face would appear on the television and I’d have to race to my room because after half a second, the face would jump out of the TV and start chasing me down. Sometimes I made it to my bed and under the covers, sometimes I didn’t, and when I didn’t the face would eat me. A couple of weird times, I only made it as far as the bathroom and tried to hold the door closed while the face would try to bash the door open. After a while, coming across any TV set in a dream was enough to cause the face to appear, and it didn’t even have to be 9 o’ clock. It was much more likely to happen if the room was dark, but it could still happen in bright light (it’s a lie that light levels don’t change in dreams- it’s also a lie that you can’t feel pain).
Nowadays, I will occasionally come across a TV set in a dream, and sorta stand there staring at it, daring the face to appear. Part of it is plain, bloody-minded rage and a desire to fight and tear the face to pieces as revenge for all the nightmares, and part of it is an appalling, repetitive stupidity where I taunt monsters in dreams and then watch in horror as they turn on me. But the face hasn’t showed up in many, many years. Maybe it’s because my imagination can’t handle it, or my brain has lost the capacity to emulate the necessary level of fear, or maybe it’s the deceptive feeling of competence that comes from being a big, strong adult who feels like he would have a fighting chance against a rabid Saint Bernard without a weapon. I don’t know. This is part of the reason the movie The Ring wasn’t at all scary for me. It’s old-hat.
So last night I’m up to maybe 1/3 or 1/2 the sort of fear that I could achieve back when nightmares were more or less every night, instead of being fun bimonthly occasions. And even as my visual field was starting to to act very strange around the edges, I noticed that I had some access to parts of my brain that are usually hardcoded and off-limits. I played around with this a little bit, and made some changes. This was very interesting in light of Lazer Laz’s suggestion that at higher-level mental “circuits” people can fix their deep-seated psychosexual issues. Presumably, this is also true for other sorts of serious psychological problems for which people seek therapy, or trip on mushrooms or whatever. I won’t go into specifics because nobody wants to hear about it, but I have some psychosexual issues myself. And I think I made some progress in fixing these by using an associative technique I had to invent spontaneously (none of this was planned).
It remains to be see whether these registry edits persist after a few reboots. We’ll see. If they do, I’ll be entirely certain that the premise of the title is correct: extreme fear doesn’t just make us highly receptive to new forms, it can actually cause us to write over old ones (for good or ill).