17
$\begingroup$

I was thinking of an idea for an alien species in a hard sci-fi universe, and I wondered if a species, with the same amount of emotions as bottlenose dolphins (Except for fear), survive as a species.

In sentient/semi-sentient species, is fear to important an emotion? The main reason for me asking this is that I'd like to know if a truly fearless species is plausible, that could enter the most hopelessly dangerous situations without hesitance?

The species is predatory, and lives on a planet with many giant animals which it preys on. The "ground" is in fact a spongy bed of fungus, so instead of feet, it has blade-like "knives" on the end of its four limbs that sink into the sponge. It also uses the forelimbs of these to kill its prey, like a praying mantis.

The females hunt alone, but the males hunt in packs (Females are bigger and more suited to solo hunting.) The female will lay one or two eggs, but carries them in a pouch in her body. After about 8 months, the baby breaks out of the egg with its "knives" and crawls out of the pouch. After 16 years, it leaves its mother, going it alone if it's a female or joining a pack if it's male.

Just to summarize, If a predatory animal that had all human emotions (to some degree) except fear evolved, would the species be able to survive and retain that characteristic?

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Are these creatures solitary hunters, or social animals, like chimps? How quickly do they give birth? Are the litters large, or small? How quickly do the young reach independence/maturity? These are all critical details in trying to answer your question because the survival of many species (see the apex predator homo sapiens) may be largely dependent on reproductive cycles, and the social bonds it needs to build to see their young reach maturity. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM May 2 '18 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM Okay, thanks for letting me know. I've added those details in. $\endgroup$ – SealBoi May 2 '18 at 13:58
  • 4
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Sarfaraaz I came for the Honey Badger reference, and you delivered! $\endgroup$ – Ukko May 3 '18 at 16:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @sirjonsnow Yes, they are very intelligent (But have no civilization), so would be able to think strategically. $\endgroup$ – SealBoi May 3 '18 at 17:40

11 Answers 11

38
$\begingroup$

Fear is not just an emotion, but a general stimulus response

The real problem with a species having no fear is how it evolved - fear is very useful as essentially it is a reaction to the perception of danger.

If an organism has no fear, then it has no sense of danger and therefore has no responses to it. It would place the organism that has this disability at a severe disadvantage compared to one that does, and would not survive even the simplest of situations, say for instance a flood.

It is inevitable that animals in the wild would require reaction to an unknown or threatening stimulus over time, if anything just to walk in the wild, not fall off cliffs, not drown in water, hit its head on a tree, let alone reacting to its own kind in social settings. This is called Avoidance Learning and is essential to any animal in a wild environment.

The only environment this would not be required is an environment with no stimulus, and no ability for the organism to damage itself, which is unlikely and would create an evolutionary dead end environment. Even Paramecium have the ability to sense too hot/too cold and move away from it in response.

So in conclusion the removal of 'fear' is actually the removal of reaction to stimuli, and therefore actions based on it. If the species lost this ability, it would quickly die out or evolve the ability to sense it again.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Good answer. In non-humans, we can't directly evaluate emotions (even in humans it's tough), all we can do is evaluate behaviors and try to ascribe a mental state to it. Almost any stimulus-avoidance behavior could be ascribed to "fear", and any organism that has no ability to avoid harmful stimuli likely won't last long. $\endgroup$ – Nuclear Wang May 2 '18 at 19:45
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @NuclearWang "Fear" tends to be more than just avoidance of danger, though. Just because a chef takes steps to avoid cutting themselves with a knife doesn't mean they're afraid of it. Being afraid of the knife would be more refusing to pick it up in the first place. Similarly, a zebra running from a chasing lion doesn't necessarily mean the zebra is afraid of the lion (outside of projection that we humans would be afraid in that situation). A zebra which was afraid of lions wouldn't drink at watering holes with them, or would run away at the slightest non-chasing movement of the lion. $\endgroup$ – R.M. May 2 '18 at 22:04
  • $\begingroup$ One could argue that simplisticly speaking, fear is the decoupled cognition of pain (in other words, seeing a lion approaching, the zebra's brain imagines the pain of the lion biting into its body, and reacts as though the pain was already present - by trying to run). Since decoupled cognition and feeling/reacting to pain are independent developments, the question is whether you can even have them both, but not benefit from their joint effect. $\endgroup$ – crizzis May 2 '18 at 22:13
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Animals can survive without fear. Ants and bees for example will attack creatures that are much larger than themselves. Usually many of the insects die but they appear to show no hesitation. They are acting on instinct. Fear can only really exist if the creature has the ability to think ahead far enough. If they just react to immediate stimuli then they will avoid immediate harm, but not avoid getting into harmful situations. $\endgroup$ – user4574 May 3 '18 at 2:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @R.M. It's not that you are afraid of the knife, but you are afraid of cutting yourself with a knife. It's the prediction the act may harm you that causes you to avoid cutting yourself. In animals, adaptive behaviours and Avoidance Learning is the most common method to train them, for instance standard punishment/reward methodologies for training pets are already well-established. These lessons contribute to the overall mental development of the animal and is integral to their behaviour. Lack of it would be a major mental disorder, without any avoidance behaviour you simply could not function. $\endgroup$ – flox May 3 '18 at 5:27
20
$\begingroup$

As with the others, I question "what is fear." It's hard to be without something without knowing what it is.

There is a model of the "base" emotions known as Lövheim's cube of emotion. It's not an "accepted" model, in that its still new and being tested out, but it's unique in that it ties the 8 base emotions directly to levels of the 3 monoamine neurotransmitter, which is a link between the mental state and the brain state.

Cube of Emotion

Now, if I may take an untested model like this, and apply some of my own highly suspect logic based off of wikipedia diving, we can apply some meaning to this.

  • Noradrenaline seems to be associated with rapidly changing environments. If the environment is in the process of surprising you or changing in ways you didn't expect, noradrenaline spikes. Low noradrenaline indicates that the environment is not changing in unexpected ways.
  • Dopamine seems to be associated with the belief of the cerebral cortex that there is some reward nearby to be had. High dopamine indicates that the brain believes there is something valuable nearby which is unseen.
  • Seratonin is associated with the general health and wellbeing of the body, and comes primarily from the lizard brain. Eating food makes seratonin go up. Low seratonin indicates that the lizard brain feels the body is in a bad place.

If we combine these together, we see that we are responding to an environment which appears to be really bad in a primal sense, isn't changing from this bad state, but our brain thinks we can act to make it better (i.e. flee to find the not-bad place).

Now I repeat that this is all my own modeling of the transmitters. Permit the neuroscientists to correct me. But I find it does a curiously good job of lining up with these emotions, so I like to run with it.

So what does this tell us about our predator? It tells us that this predator has no specialized response for when things are going bad, and not changing, but it thinks there's a way out. It simply responds in a neutral way, or another way.

Nearby ways might be:

  • Anger/Rage: If the environment is changing rapidly, we respond angrily instead of with fear. This creature may resolve this lack of fear by creating a highly unpredictable environment to act in, thus avoiding the fear corner.

  • Enjoyment/Joy: In a slightly masochistic approach, this creature may find a thrill in this state. By having a lizard brain that enjoys these situations that aren't changing but appear to have a reward nearby, one sidesteps fear.

  • Shame/Humiliation: If the creature's mind collapses instead, they may not see the "way out." In such a case, they would collapse into shame.

Interestingly enough, we see these sorts of response in humans too...

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Not an 'accepted' model" may be putting it lightly. The journal it was published in isn't even peer reviewed, and has previously published papers suggesting that homeopathy works, vaccines cause autism, and HIV doesn't cause AIDS. It's not completely a crackpots-only journal, but it's certainly crackpot-friendly. I'd take anything published there with a colossal grain of salt. $\endgroup$ – Ray May 3 '18 at 20:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ ...which isn't to say that this idea couldn't be used in fiction, just that it shouldn't be mistaken for being science-based. $\endgroup$ – Ray May 3 '18 at 20:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Ray Thanks for that input. I don't know much about the reputation of various journals myself, but I'm aware of how important it is. Myself, I found it interesting because I found it mapped well to patterns that made sense to me based on what I understood about the "purpose" of each neurotransmitter. Even if it turns out that the connection to the neurotransmitters (which is the point of the model) falters, I found the model was still useful in terms of responses like "this signal goes high if the world seems unpredictable." $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon May 3 '18 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ The lack of reputation would explain something which has bothered me, which was the lack of follow through on the idea within the scientific community. I always felt this model deserved follow up work, but if it was published in channels that aren't taken all that seriously, then the reservations make a lot of sense. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon May 3 '18 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ You seem to consistently misspell serotonin. Also, "Seratonin is associated with the general health and wellbeing of the body" doesn't seem to align with Contempt/Disgust being on its axis. $\endgroup$ – Ruslan May 3 '18 at 20:36
4
$\begingroup$

What is fear? It is a motivator to quit your current circumstances and actions because you anticipate harm or other bad outcome. Fear was adaptive to our ancestors because the ones that had fear left more offspring that survived.

Could you replace fear with cold logic? Absolutely. I doubt insects feel fear but they hunt, alone and in groups, they avoid bad situations, and they leave when circumstances change for the worse. A pride of lions decides whether or not to hunt based on a evaluation of their needs and their chances for success. If the lions decides not to take on a herd of buffalo that does not (necessarily) mean the lions are afraid of the buffalo. The lions weigh the odds and decide. Likewise if a single lion decides to take on a baby rhino and the mom rhino is not as clueless as she initially looked, the lion can decide to quit attacking. I have seen video of a lion attacking a baby rhino and when the mom put up too much resistance the lion moved off about twenty feet and laid down to rest. Clearly not afraid; just folding her hand. Suppose the mom rhino gives chase. The lion leaves at speed because it is a good idea and further interaction with these rhinos will not advance its cause. It is not necessarily afraid of the mom rhino.

Fear is logic, appraisal based on past circumstance, and an adrenergic crack of the whip because that served our primate ancestors well. You could have predators evolve that used logic and appraisal of circumstances but which did not feel that crack of the whip.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "I doubt insects feel fear" - well it seems they do, at least they have this proto-fear. Their tiny brains react to anticipated danger in a way that is functionally equivalent to our fear. $\endgroup$ – Mołot May 2 '18 at 14:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ With the lion example, why would a lion run or leave the baby rhino in the first place if it didn't feel fear? Fear is a reaction to a potential outcome. The lion is fearful of the consequences and hence backs off. It doesn't look afraid because it has the experience to know what will happen. A lion that isn't fearful, wouldn't run because it wouldn't care about the consequences, there is a video of an outcast lion attempting to take down a buffalo, in such a scenario, the lion couldn't win, but it had to try, because if it didn't it would die (which I believe it did in the end). $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee May 3 '18 at 1:03
4
$\begingroup$

It's possible, but the environment has to be mostly void of danger and/or there should be a different mechanism for handling it.


The phenomenon is known as Island tameness. The most famous example of this is the Dodo bird which didn't have any natural predators at the time humans made contact. Hence it didn't fear humans (and domesticated animals) and eventually we hunted it to extinction.

While this is observed in herbivores (AFAIK), there is no reason why the same wouldn't happen to predators, assuming there are no rivalry predators or aggression inside the species.


Alternatively, the environment might be hostile, but there may be a different avoidance learning mechanism in place.

For example, when you touch a hot stove you immediately move your hand away from it. You are not afraid of the stove, you felt pain.

There probably was some evolutionary advantage to pain and fear being separate emotions that explains why we turned out that way. But it's definitely viable for a species to feel pain whenever we would feel either pain or fear as a mechanism to avoid danger.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ The environment can't "be mostly void of danger" when -- by definition -- this is a predator. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 2 '18 at 15:45
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn danger for the predator that is. If there are no rivalry predators or aggression within the species, I don't see why not. $\endgroup$ – ndnenkov May 2 '18 at 15:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn Yeah, the animal is an apex predator, and the giant megafauna means that food is rarely short, so they don't brawl over carcasses like modern predators. $\endgroup$ – SealBoi May 2 '18 at 15:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There's always danger, even to an apex predator: fire, storms, charging herds of prey animals, new, wannabe, apex predator, others of your own species who wants your harem, etc. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 2 '18 at 15:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @SealBoi giant megafauna are #1 hard to kill, and #2 aren't plentiful (because otherwise they'd denude the land). $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 2 '18 at 15:50
3
$\begingroup$

Perhaps they developed foresight really early in their evolution and became so good at strategy that they naturally never put themselves in what they would consider a dangerous situation.

If they have always been the apex predator and have always dominated, maybe there would be no evolutionary need for fear.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

Ants and bees don't seem to have any "fear", and I don't think it's because they are insects... I think it's because they don't evolve as individuals, they only evolve as a unit (with the queen), so self preservation wouldn't even be a trait available to their gene pool--however the desire to protect and defend the hive as a whole would be as strong as our self-preservation instinct.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It's worth noting though that bees and ants are eusocial creatures, with their eusociality meaning they come with extreme cases of altruism. I don't think it's so much that they're fearless as much as it is that they have little regard for their own existences if it can't serve to benefit the collective they belong to. $\endgroup$ – Pleiades May 2 '18 at 18:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Pleiades -- How would an insect display the difference between a lack of personal fear and extreme altruism? Either way sounds like exactly what the question was asking for--a species that would run into combat without considering the odds. $\endgroup$ – Bill K May 2 '18 at 20:33
  • $\begingroup$ You can be terrified and still put yourself in danger. The two aren’t mutually exclusive; one just has to have the skills necessary to overcome instinctual fears, often displayed in species with altruistic behaviors. $\endgroup$ – Pleiades May 2 '18 at 20:54
  • $\begingroup$ "You can be terrified and still put yourself in danger." it even help survive if the fear don't paralyze you. Fear is common in battle, where people put themself in danger $\endgroup$ – Tryss May 3 '18 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ Of course, my question is what behavior in ants makes you believe it's one or the other in ants and bees? Without some kind of prediction and observation it's all guessing and metaphysical posturing, and either way the hive evolution could be a good reference for the scenario the author is trying to create. $\endgroup$ – Bill K May 4 '18 at 16:05
3
$\begingroup$

I can tell you what a human with no fear is like (from a medical condition), and it is most definitely not a person who acts remotely like The Terminator or a movie monster.

I used to work in wildlife telly. One of the cameramen who was a friend of my series producer had a medical condition which meant that his body did not respond to adrenaline. He had no fight, flight or freeze response. He felt no fear. He could assess threats in an intellectual manner, but that was not a fast response, nor an instinctive response.

He was like the cliche of the absent-minded professor who says "How intriguing - a tyrannosaur is running towards me. They've been extinct for 65 million years, don't you know?" when everyone else yells "Aaargh!" and runs like hell.

For instance, one of my series producer's tales of a film shoot was the time he had to grab the cameraman and haul him out of the way of the angry, 2 tonne elephant seal bull which was charging down the beach, intent on squishing them. The cameraman was so busy framing the shot he had not noticed that he was in danger. (All camera people are a little like this - he had it dialled up to 11).

The benefit of a fear response is that minimal processing power in the brain (and therefore minimal time to react) is required. If you are doing a lot of thinking and not much feeling, then you'll probably blithely walk off a cliff and have Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy sperm whale thought process of "I wonder if it will be friendly?" before you hit the ground.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

If we take a very simplistic view; fear is another way of saying response to danger. If dangers abound, then a species is unlikely to be able to be successful unless they are very numerous (bacteria have no fear, but multiply freely - indeed insects probably don't either).

Assuming that we're talking about a complex predator, then high multiplication probably isn't a practical solution.

This leaves one option - the species has no fear because there is no danger. Perhaps it's an apex predator, and there is little natural disaster to be scared of either - so a lack of fear is no great handicap. It would likely need to be by far the strongest predator though - as it stands to reason that juvenile animals would otherwise still be vulnerable to predation, and thus need to have a sense of fear.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

THere is a urban legend about honey badgers not feeling any fear, and confronting any predators head-on.

Unfortunately, it's just a urban legend. This animal is hard to kill, but it still has natural predators that can take on it.

Even if you make an invulnerable predator, it can still drown on rivers and floods, get ridden with fleas, get poisoned by snakes, getting a cold during heavy rain, falling while climbing a cliff, etc. It will always have natural enemies, natural threats, natural ways to get itself killed if it's too fearless.

Advice: make it fear specific things, then make sure that these threats don't exist anymore on the environment. Then it doesn't need to feel fear of anything.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

There will never be any basis to attribute human/animal emotions and other psychosomatic characteristics outside our evolutionary subtree. Having said that, if a species did not acquire the necessary threat models over a gazillion of years and circumstances, it had better work hard to cram as many threat scenarios as it can before going on a rampage

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

It may be enough that they get around being foolhardy risk takers by also being incredibly prolific. Answers which discuss hive organised insects are linked to this as the hive is pretty much a baby factory.

Without a centralised hive to control over-breeding you'd need to consider mass starvations, or have them hatch on a seasonal cycle like cicadas or locusts.

Either way, they'd need to retreat to a dormant phase (eggs or burried maggots or whatever) that they only emerge from when they sense sufficient prey. At which point, they eat and breed until their population is decimated by whatever event or perhaps even another predator (which ignores their dormant phase).

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.