31 October 2019

Is fear the most negative of emotions?

Is fear the most negative of emotions?

There is no doubt that fear is the most negative of motions. It is the most negative because in serious cases it activates our survival instinct and secondly because we usually feel hopeless and doomed when we’re overcome by fear.

The second aspect of fear is that we experience fear in two ways: physical fear and psychological fear. Vertigo, strange animals, flying, walking in the dark, these, I will describe, are physical fears. We are challenged with physical harm and our fear will mostly disappear once the perceived danger disappears. This does not mean that we have overcome our fears or phobias about flying or spiders, just that when we’re not flying we are not afraid of flying and so on.

Psychological fears are different. Physical fears are about the here and now, psychological fears are about the future and future events. We are not afraid today when we can pay our mortgage, but the day when we cannot pay our mortgage then we fear for our quality life and dwellings. But if today we are afraid, because of justifiable reasons, that some day in the future we might not be able to pay the mortgage then that psychological fear is not going to disappear just because today we can pay the mortgage.

I would argue that the key operating factors of fear are risk assessment and knowledge about the situation. It is part of the rational methodology that to be able to assess a risk we need information (knowledge) about the situation we find ourselves. This does not mean that given enough information and enough risk assessment tools we eliminate the risk, the risk will never go away. Flying in a plane will never be risk free of falling down to Earth, this is the nature of flying and gravitation. Gravity will always work if your flying plane fails. Household spiders are usually harmless, but this does not mean that a dangerous spider cannot make its way to your home, especially in tropical regions.

The scope of risk is indeed to know the nature of the dangers we might face against the benefits of taking the risk. This is why millions of people fly every year although many are really scared about flying. But lack of knowledge or the right information can have a causal effect on the reliability of our risk assessment.

Our second most important factor is when we don’t have vital information available to us, which may sometimes be false assumptions masquerading as useful information, which will lead us astray in the future.

It’s one thing to have a fear of flying, but it is another matter to fly with an airline that is banned from EU skies because of a really bad safety record. Indeed we are very prone to falling into a language trap such as: this is an airline hence it must be safe because flying is a safe mode of transport. Indeed this kind of thinking and assumptions about language might make any valid logical argument useless in real life. The language trap here is the noun “airline” since not all airlines operate the same even though they might be bound by the same safety rules. Moreover, a quality airline would not use language tricks like we fly to Capital City X if they don’t land in an airport in or close to the city. Low cost airlines do sometimes employ such tricks, such as flights to Capital City X but the airport is some twenty kilometres away is some middle-of-no-where airfield.

Finally, our fear can also affect other emotions such as: love, pain, elation, joy, sadness, and so on. But as I have argued above the issue with fear is always risk assessment and access to the relevant information. Basically, the nature of other emotions activates an element of fear in us. When we fall in love we fear how long it will last, will we be loved back, is this the right person to be with and so on. When we experience pain it is not just a physical felling of the nervous system but we also experience the associated fear that it might be a serious illness, expensive to fix, and so on.

It seems that fear functions as an early warning for challenges to life and our well being, what is not clear is whether fear is an instinct or a rational process. Surely over coming fear requires some risk assessment (conscious or not) thus making fear a causal effect to start a rational process. But we also know that lack of fear can be the consequence of some brain disease. It is well observed that many patients with advanced dementia can lose their social inhibitions and might even be aggressive that in normal situations would be unacceptable.

In conclusion fear stops us from doing many things and maybe holds us back from a happier life, but rational fear, that is fear based on reasonable factors, can be a positive emotion. We might save our life by being slightly afraid about things. Like paranoia, excessive fear can be really damaging but a little bit of fear and paranoia can serve us well in our life.

Best Lawrence

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