On the Trauma of the Goldfish Test in Leading to Pro-Social Adaptation

Felicia Fee Carr (2023) shared a story of a traumatic emotionally charged long lasting sudden conversion event (see Richardson, 1985) that continually served to interrupt bystander effects (i.e., diffusion of responsibility; Darley & Lataná, 1968) and conformity (Milgram, 1965).

Carr had been a participant in a course wherein the instructor encircled desks, placed a desk at the center with a bowl of water with fish, and instructed students to sit in their desk, and not move, and that if they left their desk, they’d fail the class. After this, the instructor had removed a fish from the bowl and placed it on the desk out of water. Carr’s experience is best communicated by Carr, yet thankfully a peer said, “fuck this,” and placed the fish back in the bowl. The instructor returned and then revealed the lesson, wherein Carr resolved do not be “that person” that stood by and did nothing.

For the budoka in the room, besides awareness about psychophysiological realities of these effects, the goldfish is a carp (Wang et al., 2014). This is the same species presented in stories about the carp swimming upstream to face the steep falls of the Lung-Men (i.e., dragon gate) of the Yellow River (Spaulding, 2015). For the carp that makes it up the falls, they become dragons. Spaulding writes, “in Japan, as in China, this name became a metaphor for the state examinations which gave or denied access to the elite profession of the higher civil service” (p. 3), where generalized it applies to “any barrier gate to success or eminence” (p. 3).

May Felicia’s story be a light to budoka struggling with the river which turns the horizontal, to the vertical, where the wide becomes narrow, where [redacted; i.e., “welcome to the falls”], and following where mastery of warp and weft meets the mastery of direct integration/differentiation of an afferent/efferent neuromechanical loom. Beware the flaying of horses—compassion unbridled from the effects aforementioned… stops the flay.

“Hope this helps!”


Carr, F. F. (2023, March 3). The Bystander effect is real [Status update]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/felicia.carr2/videos/228260886336776/

Darley, J. M., & Latané, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8(4, Pt. 1), 377–383. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0025589

Milgram, S. (1965). Some conditions of obedience and disobedience to authority. Human Relations, 18(1), 57–76. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F001872676501800105

Richardson, J. T. (1985). The active vs. passive convert: Paradigm conflict in conversion/recruitment research. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 24(2), 163- 179. https://doi.org/10.2307/1386340

Spaulding, R. M. (2015). Imperial Japan’s higher civil service examinations. Princeton University Press.

Wang, J., Liu, S., Xiao, J., Tao, M., Zhang, C., Luo, K., & Liu, Y. (2014). Evidence for the evolutionary origin of goldfish derived from the distant crossing of red crucian carp × common carp. BMC Genetics, 15(1), 33. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2156-15-33