As a child I was absolutely terrified by skeletons in general and skulls in particular.

I am curious now as to where this fear sprang from. Of course skulls are associated with death but as a very young child death is something you are blissfully unaware of. Is the fear of the skull something built in, an instinct that evolved over time or is it something that is learned?

Very young children do learn to recognise faces very early on, and smiles in particular. You would expect that a baby's instinct upon being presented with a skull would be to smile - the skull is, after all, a very simplistic representation of a smiling face. One way of testing this would be to experiment with babies and pictures of skulls but this could very well turn out to be unethical and cruel should the findings of the research be that that a fear of the old bone face is not learned but is in fact built in...

It could well be built in. In prehistoric times human bones would generally only be found in dangerous places like a lion's larder. They'd also be found in situations where an entire tribe had been wiped out by contagion - Thugg the Caveman and his band of foragers would do well to steer well clear from a valley in which they discovered that the human inhabitants had died so quickly that they hadn't a chance to bury their dead.  Fear is a much better enforcer than a mere sign saying "keep out" which explains the presence of the death's head on warning notices to this day. Like the colours yellow and black the skull may be an icon of fear that is wired into our brains.

If it is learned then it must be learned at a very young age. The appearance of skulls in visual media associated with frightening situations might do it, but this would take time. To gather that a skull is a bad thing a child would have to watch a lot of TV and read a lot of picture books with skulls in them - and I think this simply wasn't the case with me.  If anything books aimed at children make a point of avoiding the depiction of skulls - as a slightly older child I was relieved that HergĂ© appeared to have gone out of his way to not draw a skull in The Adventures of Tintin book "Destination Moon" even when illustrating a clever slapstick sequence involving the Thompson Twins, an X-ray machine and a skeleton.

I am inclined to think that fear of the dead is part of our instinctive makeup.

As a child I recall one of my peers saying that like me she hated skeletons. However she had absolutely no idea that a she had a skeleton inside her; she just thought that they were frightening creatures like vampires, werewolves and frankenstein monsters, a mere entry in the dramatis personae of dread.  I clarified matters for her and once she realised that I didn't mean she had a small bony imp running around insider her but that a skeleton was in fact the scaffolding upon which she'd been built, she seemed less scared.

This didn't work with me. If anything it used to scare me more. I used to play chicken with myself in front of the bathroom mirror, running my fingertips along the ridges of my eye sockets and cheek bones, pulling faces to discover which expression most revealed the skull beneath the skin. I'd then rush towards the mirror pulling this face in order to see who'd flinched first.

Like all fears, my fear of skulls gradually started diminishing as I reached adulthood. I now have a plaster skull on the shelf above my computer which is in the same room in which I sleep. This would have been unthinkable as a child when I couldn't even bear the thought of a picture of skull in a book on the shelf in the same room in which I slept.

I would like to think that this diminishing of fear is a case of overcoming our instincts. Our instincts may have been very useful in getting us where we are today but they're now standing in our way. Overcoming skull fear is just a start.

We now need to overcome fear itself.

If you will forgive this entry for being a little meta, it is always nice when someone comments on a blog entry. On the whole I mean this unreservedly. Whether positive or negative, having taken the time to write something underneath means that they've read it, a fact which is much more satisfying than endless hours spent poring over Google Analytics.

Generally the comments fall into three camps.

First are the Me Toos. These are people that generally agree with (or very occasionally feel enlightened by) the content of the entry so much so that they feel moved to express this, often citing incidents from their own experience which match or mirror those being discussed in the main entry.

Then there are the No Buts. These people disagree with some or all of the points covered and furthermore have the facts the prove it - their experience is very different from that depicted in the blog, and they can say why.

Finally there are the Nit Pickers. Their response is not as broad as that of the Me Toos or the No Buts and generally tends to focus on one aspect of what was discussed - perhaps a detail of one paragraph, a specific example, a word used. In particular it tends to focus on how the author has got it wrong. I suspect this is because the aspect touches on something which is very close to their heart and they simply can't let what they consider a gross misrepresentation of something they care passionately about to pass.

All of these are valid comments and all equally rewarding. Sometimes you get all three types at the bottom of one entry. The primary nugget of information that I take away from the interaction is that at least they all actually read the thing. My time writing it was well spent.

Sometimes you get spammers as well, some well meaning, some not. At the bottom of an entry which was probably about quantum theory and the nature of consciousness or something I got a comment inviting me to sent in a complaint to the BBC about a trailer for Graham Norton's Over the Rainbow which had appeared across the bottom of the screen during the climax of the Doctor Who episode Time of Angels. I have yet to have a comment from someone trying to sell pharmaceuticals or fake university degrees, although I assume it is only a matter of time.

But the other day I received a comment that was none of the above. I reproduce it here verbatim:
HELLO ,MY BLOG AT HTTP://SLUGGISHA.BLOGSPOT.COM HAS OVER 60 POSTS OF MUSIC FROM MY BAND ,CAT MACHINE!IN EXISISTENCE FROM 9/1990-9/1991! I WILL NOT ASK YOU TO CEASE AND DESIST FROM USING OUR NAME (COPYRIGHTED!) IF YOU AGREE TO PIMP MY SITES ON YOURS!
HTTP://SLUGGISHA.BLOGSPOT.COM
HTTP://MEDIACHRIST.BLOGSPOT.COM
I WILL ALSO LINK TO YOUR SITE!
THANKS , GOD
I must admit I was surprised, not least because as a rationalist I had hitherto been convinced that God was an elaborate fiction invented by primitive human beings to explain the mysteries of a vast and complex universe and later sequestered by those in power as a method of controlling the masses. And yet here He was posting a comment on my blog.

At first I was puzzled by the fact that it was all capital letters - surely such a primitive mechanism as the Caps Lock key would be as naught to The Almighty - but then reasoned that He would probably be used to speaking in Illuminated Manuscript and that the Caps Lock was the only facility available to Him that came even remotely close. I was also puzzled by the fact that He had confused the concept of copyright with the concept of a registered trade mark which seemed a bit of an oversite for someone allegedly omniscient.

Nevertheless I felt I should at least respond. It is not often that one gets such a communication, and during the days of the Old Testament those who did so were considered prophets. Whilst responding to this comment hardly puts me up there with Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, I did feel that I couldn't simply ignore it. And so it comes to pass that I am hereby officially pimping God's blogs. I firstly added them to the My Blogs list and have now written this blog entry to plug them:
Sluggisha's Vault
A BUNCH OF BANDS I'VE BEEN IN!,AND MY SOLO PROJECTS!,AND MY FRIEND'S BANDS!,AND OTHER MUSICS YOU WILL FIND NOWHERE ELSE!THE 80'S-90'S FT.MYERS,FLORIDA UNDERGROUND SCENE!,WGOD RADIO PODCASTS!,AND THE OFFICIAL HOME OF WHEELCHAIR FULL OF OLD MEN RECORDS AND TAPES ON THE WEB!!!MUSIC YOU WILL FIND NOWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD!!SLUGGISHA!!

Media Christ
Music*Art*Video*Zines*Flyers*Movies*TV And Other Cultural Phenomena From The Deepest,Darkest Crevices Of The Underground ..And More
Amen.