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  • Mark Brafield

Laughing at the dinosaurs

In my consulting room I spend a lot of time explaining how the mind works to my clients, in particular, the 'fight or flight' mechanism.

Just as a quick recap, our minds have a number of different layers. The top level is our rational mind, highly intelligent, articulate, and able to see things in context. In rough terms, this layer of our mind arrived around 200,000 years ago. However, it overlays a number of primitive levels, the deepest layer of which can be traced back around 100 million years. This deepest level contains our most powerful and primitive drives, designed to keep us alive in the simplest and most blunt terms - the 'fight or flight' mechanism.

This part of the mind generates fear and anxiety - a useful alarm system if you were a primitive animal on the steppes being chased by a sabre-toothed tiger or a mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex. (And here's a picture of T Rex in my consulting room that I use to illustrate the point). It goes on to press the alarm button that activates our 'fight or flight' mechanism; your heart starts to pound, you receive a powerful surge of adrenaline or cortisol, you find that you cannot think or speak, you may want to rush to the toilet; all perfect preparation for running away from danger.

The problem is, however, that Mother Nature has never got rid of this primitive level of the mind, with the result that it still triggers this powerful response when faced with today's more mundane challenges - an argument, a job interview or a parking ticket.

As I say, I find myself explaining this to clients every week, but I came across a new angle on the problem in an interview with David Hockney in the Sunday Times magazine of 9 February, 2020.

Reflecting on the consolations of age, Hockney reflects on the importance of laughter ;

'Over lunch, Hockney tells a funny story about taking his mum to Tate Britain and her being perplexed by an artwork that was a piece of rope. "She wanted to know if the artist had made it," he says, shaking his head and grinning at the memory of it. "Do you know why laughter is important ?" he asks, turning towards me. I shake my head. "It's the only time as human beings that our fight-or-flight response is turned off. It's good for you."

So it's official. Laugh - it's good for you. And it may just see off those dinosaurs.

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