Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"Primordial Fear"

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." - H.P. Lovecraft


        What is fear, beyond it's definition? Can the emotion of fear be quantized, measured? What is the origin of fear? Why do humans have so much of it on so many different levels?
        Fear is defined (in words) as "an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat." It sounds simple enough, but does this definition suffice? Of course not, as each individual has specific fears about certain things. However, there are fears that are shared with every single human on this world. Fears that are either inherited, learned or are passed along through endless collective memories from ancestors long forgotten. Can these primordial fears be distilled into a basic descriptive origin or, at least, an articulate and understandable definition? I believe that they can to an extent.
        Lovecraft had pin-point accuracy in the aforementioned quote. I will go one step further and offer the addition that the "unknown" that he refers to is, partially, death. Well, I can sum up by using the term 'primordial fear'.

     This term can't be applied to the two fears that we are born with, according to modern science: fear of falling and fear of sudden, loud noises. We'll deal with these two later on. I'm focusing on true primordial fears that have been with us since the rise of man. The earliest and most ancient of fears.

      Primordial fear are fears that have been around since the dawn of mankind on Earth. So, when we try and relate to those early humans, what fears did they have? Surely, a fear of darkness, starvation, being alone, death...these are but some of what they could be. What is notable that most of the examples that I can think of are learned fears. Without direct knowledge, we can only hypothesize regarding what the earliest humans learned first, but all of the scenarios all come back to a centralized fear...a fear of death. Darkness yielded predators, predators meant death. Being alone leads to feeling vulnerable, which leads to a fear of death. See, these associated fears, as I call them, are the pathways back to the central fear of death. What is death? (no theological or biological implications or thoughts here, that's another paragraph below!) Death is the ultimate unknown for an individual. Early man simply observed his fellow human to die (in whatever manner) and simply cease to function and in the fullness of time, fully cease to exist through physical deterioration of the body. A skull & crossbones represent death in modern culture to this very day. The primordial fear of death was established, the core fear - a fear of the unknown.

     Generations upon generations of humans have existed with this fear, this unknown fear. However, death itself can be interpreted as a transition to another existence could it not? Therefore, the fear of not knowing what lies beyond death is truly at the core of that primordial fear that all men share, not death itself. Those earliest of proto-hominids engrained in us the most ancient and powerful fears, fears so strong that they are stamped forever upon the modern human mind - immovable.

      This raises the question as to why evolution has chosen simply two of those primordial fears to be 'hard-wired' into a newborns brain? I think they are associated fears as well. Falling, for an infant, is something potentially harmful and unnatural at first- something to be feared, but the infant knows not why. Fear of falling is a fear of death. People fall to their deaths quite often in a myriad of circumstances; whether a trip & fall cracks open the skull or a fall off of a cliff - it doesn't matter. Loud noise, I believe is also an associated fear of death as the infant cannot determine if the startling noise is harmful or not. Both of these fears can easily be associated with death and therefore, the 'unknown'. I think nature knows that those two fears are exactly what infants need to survive, the others can be learned through exposure.

      As we grow older and our experiences teaches us the various pitfalls of life, we develop our own set of individualized fears. We learn that fear can be temporarily suspended, but it will always return in some form or fashion. We still have the fear of the unknown that keeps us alert and alive in dangerous circumstances. That oldest piece of intuition, fear, given to us by our ancestors can be attributed to our oldest and arguably greatest instinct: survival. Without the fear of the unknown, we would have no instincts to survive.

     As a society we have grown both technologically, philosophically and socially to try and keep the fear of the unknown away through developing ways to learn more about everything. Technology tries to find ways of keeping death at bay through medical knowledge, religion keeps the ideals that death is but a transcendence, socially we even keep each other connected and informed thru computers so not a shred of things go unknown. Our governments compile data about everything & everyone on the planet. We reach outward to space to explore, so we will know that is there. We explore and investigate everything that is unknown so it will be known and therefore; not a threat. Countries, entire cultures, wage war on each other because they don't know how they could live together as one people. The world is in chaos because there is that fear of the unknown. The more advanced we become, that ancient fear remains with us. It simply manifests itself in different ways.

     This can all be attributed to the fear of the unknown.

     Lovecraft was right. 

No comments:

Post a Comment