Fear of the Unknown

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Fear of the Unknown
Jamie Jo
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Posted Aug 20, 2010 - 6:00 PM:
Subject: Fear of the Unknown
Human domination of nature, within nature, and of ourselves as included in Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment shows that humans are essentially irrational beings. Fear of the unknown creates irrational actions and feelings in people until such time that they "know" it. After they "know" it, the fear and irrationality disappear.

Thinking about this, I wonder a few things.

1.) Can humans get over this "fear of the unknown?"

2.) Why is the unknown something to fear, when there has been a consistent pattern throughout history of the unknown becoming known is generally a good thing?

3.) Is irrationality absolutely bad then?

4.) Could any of these irrational actions that come from the fear of the unknown actually benefit humans?
transfinite
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Posted Aug 20, 2010 - 6:53 PM:

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Fear and fearlessness of the unknown are unhelpful extremes from caution of the unknown. I imagine some common sense caution had survival advantage in the past.
jaoman
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Posted Aug 20, 2010 - 8:10 PM:

Jamie Jo wrote:
1.) Can humans get over this "fear of the unknown?"


Yes. In fact, a large amount of social interaction, certainly a large amount of dating interaction is dependent on overcoming the fear of the unknown variable. Exploration, too, depends on overcoming the fear of the unknown. Ultimately, fear is not crippling. It just slows us down enough to, hopefully, give another think to the situation.

Jamie Jo wrote:
2.) Why is the unknown something to fear, when there has been a consistent pattern throughout history of the unknown becoming known is generally a good thing?


I think there is a paradox somewhere in that statement. The unknown becomes a good thing only when it is no longer unknown. However, until it is known, the valuation of the unknown is ambiguous. It could be good or it could be really, utterly terrible. Unknown (heh). People are instinctively cautious when there's a possibility of walking off a cliff with the next step.

It's about control. The less you know about what's going to happen, the less control you have of your life. Lack of control is a bad thing because it can lead to death or worth. Recognizing the possibility, people are afraid of it.

Jamie Jo wrote:
3.) Is irrationality absolutely bad then?


Only if you're a late 18th century German metaphysician. Irrationality is good. Rationality, when we come right down to it, is slightly overrated in it's utility. It actually has a very limited application. Rationality is an indexing system for the mind. It provides analysis by which we know if a piece of information or a choice or what have you is consistent with the rest of the data available. The data itself, however, is not rational. It just is. Furthermore, motivation to act, whether to discover more data, to use it rationality, to live, even, is not rational in origin. Rationality has no will. So, the irrational, by virtue of the fact that it sponsors our continual existence, if nothing else, must be considered a good thing.

Though, as irrationality also gets us into trouble every once in a while, it must be conceded that, like everything else, it is only a good thing in moderation.

Jamie Jo wrote:
4.) Could any of these irrational actions that come from the fear of the unknown actually benefit humans?


Well, of course. Since fear of the unknown ultimately leads to effort to have as few unknown variables in our lives as possible, it can be easily seen that it produces useful innovation and exploration that benefits mankind in many ways.
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Posted Aug 20, 2010 - 9:51 PM:

@transfinite: You make an excellent point. I didn't think of caution in the scenario - and this brought new light to what I was thinking about. Thanks for that. So then using caution towards what Adorno was writing about - enlightenment - I kinda want to explore how humans in general find it worthwhile to be destructive of old ideals (such as mythology) while at the same time, being cautious to form new ideologies apart from mythology to construct foundations for our future...any thoughts on this?

@jaoman and unexpiritualized: So fear can actually be a good thing because it is fear that allows us to step back and analyze a situation before proceeding? According to Adorno and Horkheimer, disaster is derived from man's blind domination - the three types that I discussed in the OP. There is a need to control (a need versus a want) for some reason - and from that, fear is developed not by the dominators, but by the dominated...within our own species. So can fear always be something good or does it allow for indoctrination of the dominated? I define indoctrination as something using fear and/or guilt to get the dominated to "believe" and "conform."

You speak about people being cautious when they are about to walk off a cliff. Where does this fear come from? Fear of Death? Fear of Pain? Where did they learn about this fear if they've never walked off of a cliff before? They've seen what it happens or read what happens - or common sense tells them that they will fall and die or get hurt. But why fear it? Why fear death? Why fear pain? Why do we as humans reject those types of things? Is it because of the "unknown?" Do we want to control our own death or the pain that we receive?

Why are we so uncomfortable with the unknown? What is this tendency to want everything "known?" Even in our daily lives - the unknown prevents us from doing certain things. Where did this fear come from? More importantly, if we are going to use control as the catalyst for this fear - where did this need for control come from? Is it learned or innate?

Edited by Jamie Jo on Aug 21, 2010 - 9:46 AM
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Posted Aug 21, 2010 - 4:53 AM:

It has to do with control, people want to control everything as much as possible. If they meet something unknown it's out of their control and they become irrational to fix the problem at hand. Fear takes over and they start losing control.

Being rational comes together with control.
To fear the unknown less you have to let go more and let things more out of your control, that would be my advice.
Jamie Jo
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Posted Aug 21, 2010 - 9:47 AM:

I just edited the post above. It's to you as well, unexpiritualized.
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Posted Aug 21, 2010 - 10:22 AM:

Jamie Jo wrote:
Human domination of nature, within nature, and of ourselves as included in Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment shows that humans are essentially irrational beings.


That reactionary Adorno. 'Tis true that man is constantly trying to dominate and subvert nature to his will, but to claim that this is "irrational" is a gigantic leap of faith. If one sees rational science and the subsequent technology as being the chief contemporary tool for the subversion of nature (which even Adorno, as a "Marxist", must), then it follows that the desire to dominate nature is inherently rational, as per it's use of rational means (science). Domination of nature and other humans is incredibly rational; it is this fact (coupled with the fact that the only widely successful antidote to domination has been scripture-based religion) that makes oppression so difficult to overcome.

As you may have guessed, I'm not exactly a huge fan of Adorno and his Frankfurt buddies. Lenin over Horkheimer; Marx over Marcuse. sticking out tongue

JJ wrote:
Fear of the unknown creates irrational actions and feelings in people until such time that they "know" it. After they "know" it, the fear and irrationality disappear.


Yes, I think this follows. Until the rational step of understanding of something comes, irrationality will rule. Unfortunately, as regards both nature and society, the next rational step seems to be domination and oppression.

JJ wrote:
1.) Can humans get over this "fear of the unknown?"


Yes, by coming to know it - "negating the negation." That is (in Marxist-Hegelian fashion), by negating (i.e. refusing to accept) the negation that is "the unknown."

Sorry to sound so obscure. But if you can understand The Dialectic Of Enlightenment, Jamie, then you're already three steps ahead of me. cool

JJ wrote:
2.) Why is the unknown something to fear, when there has been a consistent pattern throughout history of the unknown becoming known is generally a good thing?


Good question. Perhaps...

Karl Marx wrote:
History always repeats itself: first as tragedy, then as farce.


grin

Jamie wrote:
3.) Is irrationality absolutely bad then?


I think we're beginning to see the boundaries of what is "rational" and what is "irrational" blur a little, as can be seen by contemporary doubts within philosophy of science and epistemology. For instance, what is the purpose of knowledge gained from reason? Is rationality worth pursuing for it's own sake, or for social purposes?

In other words, I think your question hints at the issue of whether knowledge is truly worth pursuing for it's own sake (the mentality of the Enlightenment). We might be better off, however, ignoring irrationality for now and questioning the nature of rational knowledge.

JJ wrote:
4.) Could any of these irrational actions that come from the fear of the unknown actually benefit humans?


Presumably (as you've wisely put this in the social sciences section smiling face ) you mean "irrational actions" in terms of social practices - like how we should treat outsiders, religious groups, that sort of thing. I can't see how irrationality in respect to these questions could lead to anything good personally, but that doesn't mean we should accept, say, liberal notions as rational and conservative ones as irrational, or anything of that sort.

However, I think we should bear in mind ideology at all times when deciding how to act in relation to the unknown. And that should mean that a correct ideology involves "coming to know the unknown," whilst an incorrect one would embody "rejecting the unknown by virtue of the fact that we do not know it." Or something along those lines, anyway.

Great topic; sorry if I've been waffling or unclear. Nice to see some discussion of Marxist issues (albeit of a strand I don't really like grin ).
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Posted Aug 21, 2010 - 1:15 PM:

People use control to be not played around by coincidence. If I do A, B 'll happen. It has to do with the free will concept again. Someone fears death because it is out of your control, it's mostly coincidence. You can live it up and die old, or you can adapt your food, sport, no smoking, and still die young. People always want to limit the risks, work hard and want as much control over a situation as possible.

We don't like suprises. And fear is a reflex to survive. Freud thought people are irrational too, they all 've Unconscious desires to feed those desires the people must get what they want. So people didn't buy stuff because it's useful, but it served to control their unconscious desires. If they didn't had that they would riot and trash everything. That's the theory.

I hope it adds something to the discussion. ^^
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Posted Aug 21, 2010 - 1:44 PM:

Jamie Jo wrote:
Human domination of nature, within nature, and of ourselves as included in Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment shows that humans are essentially irrational beings.

I don't read the book that reductively. Horkheimer & Adorno seem to be saying that 'instrumental reason' applied to various modes of 'domination' (e.g. of nature, human nature & humans by one another) are self-destructive -- dialectically negating themselves -- in the long run, that is to say, they're misuses of reason (i.e. "irrational"). It's contrary to, and a considerable misunderstanding of, Critical Theory (of which the authors are founding proponents) -- and the Marxist tradition to which they belong (albeit critically) -- to claim that they conclude anything "essential" (i.e. invariant) about "human beings".

Fear of the unknown creates irrational actions and feelings in people until such time that they "know" it. After they "know" it, the fear and irrationality disappear.

Thinking about this, I wonder a few things.

1.) Can humans get over this "fear of the unknown?"

2.) Why is the unknown something to fear, when there has been a consistent pattern throughout history of the unknown becoming known is generally a good thing?

3.) Is irrationality absolutely bad then?

4.) Could any of these irrational actions that come from the fear of the unknown actually benefit humans?


1. No.

Note: Btw, Jamie, I don't think "fear of the unknown" is the main culprit of "irrationality" ... and that's clearly not the thesis of Dialectic of Enlightenment.

2. The human brain's limbic system tends to preempt cortical systems. Though loquacious, we're primates before anything (e.g. 'self-consciousness' (pace Hegel et al)) else. To be Human is to wrestle (consciously or not) with 'the inner Ape' (i.e. Id) of oneself & others.

3. No. It depends on the stakes involved.

4. I agree with Nietzsche who points out (the biological obvious) that we owe our (belated) "humanity" (i.e. capacity for 'self-referential discursive rationality') to the prehistory -- pre-rationality -- of our species. However, in the spirit of Horkheimer & Adorno, the misuse of reason -- "irrationality" -- comes about whenever 'institutionalized normative systems' (e.g. ideologies, orthodoxies, bureaucratized media education employment health/medicine justice/prisons etc) do not account for, or inherently discount, non-linear complex feedbacks (i.e. dialectical negations/reversals), and so, as history shows, tends to be a net harm to most people. We must struggle against the genetic fallacy: though we cannot escape what Darwin noted as "the indelible stamp of our lowly origin", we need not succumb to it or remain "lowly", that is to say, in Humean fashion, the IS-Ape does not entail the OUGHT-Ape; rather this sobering self-recognition opportunes striving over against the OUGHT-Ape (e.g. regressions, atavisms, etc) and the preservation, as best we can, of the fragile humanizing (i.e. reasoning) fruits of this striving -- (dialectical) self-overcoming.

Edited by 180 Proof on Aug 31, 2010 - 5:48 AM. Reason: Clarifying my confabulations ...
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Posted Aug 22, 2010 - 1:51 PM:

Jamie Jo wrote:
So fear can actually be a good thing because it is fear that allows us to step back and analyze a situation before proceeding? According to Adorno and Horkheimer, disaster is derived from man's blind domination - the three types that I discussed in the OP. There is a need to control (a need versus a want) for some reason - and from that, fear is developed not by the dominators, but by the dominated...within our own species. So can fear always be something good or does it allow for indoctrination of the dominated? I define indoctrination as something using fear and/or guilt to get the dominated to "believe" and "conform."


Indoctrination of the dominated is not necessarily a bad thing. It depends on your perspective. If you are the dominator, indoctrination rocks. Also, without a clear plan of changing the system, there is survival benefit to conforming – at least, until such time as a plan comes about.

Yes. Fear is a tool that can be used to benefit oppression. But even if we assume that oppression is bad – a valuation that is highly dependent on perspective – it is equally true that oppression can only happen in a vacuum of resistance. Perhaps it is because there is too much fear at one time or another. In which case, it is a natural balancing act to push a civilization to overcome its fear.

However, most of the time, what we see is not a single domination. Rather, we see a collection of competing dominations at every level of society and nature. From the up and coming to the firmly entrenched. Each is afraid of being overrun by its competition. So, each evolves and adapts to avoid extinction, becoming stronger as a result or it is in turn overwhelmed and replace by a stronger force. We see in this model a piece of the historical arms race of all living species that spurs forward evolution. Fear is part of the collection of instincts that makes it happen. It can undermine those who are not ready, but it also breeds necessary caution and helps fuel the drive for a better evolution that will render its object no longer worthy of it.

Jamie Jo wrote:
You speak about people being cautious when they are about to walk off a cliff. Where does this fear come from? Fear of Death? Fear of Pain? Where did they learn about this fear if they've never walked off of a cliff before? They've seen what it happens or read what happens - or common sense tells them that they will fall and die or get hurt. But why fear it? Why fear death? Why fear pain? Why do we as humans reject those types of things? Is it because of the "unknown?" Do we want to control our own death or the pain that we receive?


Well, the heart of it is valuation. We evaluate pain negatively. That is, in fact, a prime factor in the definition of a sensation as pain – that the mind process it with a negative value.

Where do the specific fears come from? Experience. At some point, between the ages of 2 and 5 (randomly chosen, I just mean young), while we were learning to walk, numerous times we fell on our head and didn't like the sensation. It was an “Owie!” Well, think about it, if a short fall causes a small “Owie” and we feel it as sharply as we do, how much bigger will the “Owie” be after falling off a whole cliff?

Children have no intrinsic fear of the unknown. They explore often without regard for danger. In the process of that exploration, they (we) eventually learn that some of those unknown things are not so fun. As we grow older, the need to explore diminishes. We develop patterns and surroundings that more or less satisfy us. We also begin to pour more and more of the energy that used to be reserved solely for exploration into maintaining those surroundings. What's left, if anything, is therefore very precious to us.

Furthermore, as we grow older, we also begin to own things, and so become familiar with the concept of loss.

In this paradigm, the idea of exploration is viewed with a certain amount of cost analysis involved. We could explore, however, only at a price. Since we know from experience that the price could increment sharply at any moment through the discovery of something unpleasant or even lethal, we find ourselves more hesitant to explore than when we were children. Even afraid. After all, the consequences could be extreme. And some of those consequences, such as death, produce an instinctively negative evaluation in the mind. The more negative evaluations build up, the more fear one has.

In a simplified way, that's where it comes from.

Jamie Jo wrote:
Why are we so uncomfortable with the unknown? What is this tendency to want everything "known?" Even in our daily lives - the unknown prevents us from doing certain things. Where did this fear come from? More importantly, if we are going to use control as the catalyst for this fear - where did this need for control come from? Is it learned or innate?


Control is an alternative to loss. The older we grow the more we invest in our environment, the more we associate our environment with “this is good”. This investment happens as we gain control of it by learning about it and usurping our parents. If we lose it, we go back to square one. That prospect forces us to recognize how much time we've spent getting where we have up till now. It makes us aware of our own mortality, which produces a negative evaluation in the brain. Fear is the result.
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