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Trains, planes, the Great Barrier Reef and Woodstock

It was a bank holiday and we took the grandchildren on an old steam railway train. With my new f2.8 super dooper lens I rattled off dozens of pictures.

It was as I was taking this shot that it occurred to me that there is a lot in common with trains planes and a fear of flying. It was said that in the early days of the train sceptics  worried that travelling at such speeds (faster than a horse could run) would upset the brain and cause the eyes to bleed. We can laugh now, but  without evidence to the contrary why should anyone not have believed the critics?


The new technology then, must have been both worrying and exciting, just as planes were, and still are to some people. But here’s a difference that is worth noting.


Many fearful flyers worry about ‘strange’ noises on board so why is it that people on trains are not alarmed by the whistles and hoots that trains make? The difference is this.


If we are walking in the country, walking around town and we hear a train whistle we process the sound differently from noises on planes because the environment and emotions in which we hear and associate the sounds are different. We can relate a train whistle with being in a ‘safe’ environment … being in the country, walking through town etc. it doesn’t materially change our state of mind. We put the recognition of “train whistle’ into the part of our long term memory called ‘noises  when I feel safe’.  So the train whistle doesn’t alarm us when we’re on the train because it’s normal. It’s associated with good things.

If we were railway permanent way workers, a train whistle would be stored in ‘safety sounds’, because we would have learned it differently.

The only time a fearful flyer hears the clonk of the wheels going down or the whirr of the flap motor running is when they are in a heightened state of anxiety.

Where you learn it is where you recall it. It’s a fundamental of human learning.

If I ask you the words of Rock around the Clock while we’re swimming around the Great Barrier Reef you’ll find them hard to recall. If I ask you to tell me how to put on your scuba diving gear while we’re singing and dancing at a pop festival, that too would be difficult.

Circumstances influence learning and recall.

If you want to learn how to overcome your fear of flying come along to our next ground course and unlearn your fear in a ‘safe’ environment. Isn’t that a better way to learn how to overcome your fear of flying than digging unnecessarily  into your past,  tree hugging or mild group hysteria?

The metaphorical question to ask is this. Would you prefer to do this in a stationary first class carriage with three other people and the driver or on a crowded platform with a  hundred other passengers with the message being blurted out over the tannoy by someone who reads a script?

Maybe that’s a rhetorical question not a metaphorical one?

Captain Keith



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