Alex Honnold represents one of the most enigmatic neurology cases. He is the exception to the rule. Most people are afraid of falling. Therefore, even newborns can feel discomfort if they feel they are falling.
It is an instinctive fear. It lies in our genes. Falling endangers our integrity and lives. Therefore, biology takes effect and fills us with fear as a warning against the danger of falling into the abyss.
The strange thing about Alex Honnold is that he is not afraid of falling. He is a 33-year-old climber, born in the United States. He became famous for his free climbing adventures (without safety lines or protective gear). He actually climbs all alone. Those who climb themselves know that climbing alone makes them very vulnerable. It’s almost life threatening!
But for Alex Honnold, it’s a normal adventure. When he climbs that way, he feels like drinking coffee. He in no way feels fear or nervousness. This prompted neurologists to study his brain.
For Alex Honnold, every climb is a battle for life or death. He likes surfaces that are practically vertical. He wears sportswear. However, he only climbs with a belt bag with climbing lime to reduce the humidity. He only uses his hands and feet to climb.
He already holds many world records. His style is solo climbing. He is not the only one in the world who climbs this way, but he is the only one who does it at the same height and the same degree of difficulty.
He seems like a normal guy. His attitude shows that he does not feel different or special. He laughs a lot and is very calm. He knows full well that his activities are dangerous. Many of his friends have died due to climbing like his.
When asked if he experiences fear, he replies that he has accepted the idea of death more than others.
His mother says he was a difficult child to have, but he denies it. When he was 10 years old, he started training on a climbing wall. Then he started going on rock climbing trips. As a 19-year-old, he dropped everything else to climb full-time. He lives in his van and says he is a minimalist.
Alex Honnold’s brain
This young man’s climbing farms caught the eyes of a group of researchers, and they decided to examine his brain. It all started when neurologist Jane E. Joseph heard Honnold’s statements.
She thought there must be something wrong with his brain, because of the things he described and the way he talked about his adventures. She thought there was something wrong with his tonsils, the fear center of the brain.
The University of Carolina School of Medicine decided to examine Honnold’s brain. They performed an MRI scan. The first ones they checked were if he had an almond kernel and if he had, if it had damage.
The next thing they did was show him a series of very shocking pictures and evaluate his reaction. They found that his tonsils were not activated. It did not respond at all. It was as if these dangerous situations had no emotional impact on him at all.
An interesting overview
The researchers were able to prove that Alex Honnold could not feel fear. These results led them to come up with some interesting hypotheses.
According to their evaluations , it is possible that Honnold’s brain has adapted to this type of climbing so much that it is used to the stimuli. Therefore, what is risky for most people is a completely natural situation for him.
This conclusion opened up new possibilities regarding fear. A new theory emerged. It says that fear can be removed through adaptation. Gradual and systematic exposure to dangerous stimuli can make such situations completely harmless to a person. If true, brand new alternative therapies for treating anxiety can be developed.