Is there a possibility that human beings can be its conqueror? – The Nature of Fear and Beyond


The Question

The Origin of the Question

The world is a dynamic dimension of the universe as how the lives which constitute it have been playing a role to unceasingly inhabit its breadth every single day. Human beings as how we may call ourselves – reading this philosophical piece, being able to understand what is limited beyond the comprehension of other creations, and having such existence spared from anything vicious through the most possible ways we can ever think of and prepare for – are nobody until we fuse certain characteristics inside of them and let them perform the vital show in this stage of life, seemingly a battlefield reserved for a myriad players of a game.

Life is a stage and we each must play a part as Shakespeare nailed it. How much of it can be realized by how many people among the crowd trying to fit themselves in a room of limited space? The ultimate drift of this question lies unto some possible inquiries that it is neither everything you see nor touch nor hear nor smell nor taste will give you the certainty of even the smallest act that matters to you right now.

What leads this paper to the question: Is there a possibility that human beings can conquer fear? is the reality that finds itself confronting the probability of how our journey as human beings is worth taking, is worth living for, and is worth dying for – when all that we do in an entire lifetime is to struggle for survival. Time forbids, we cannot attain perfection and thus conducting us into a path that is unknown.

One of the many emotions of humans: fear. It exists as a mixture of air that we breathe in and out, as a drop of water we sustainably engulf, as a bar of imprisonment we persistently doubt. This is a conspiracy between thoughts and perplexity, ideas and ambiguity, dreams and doubts, faith and hesitancy. When our courage begins to falter as fear starts wrapping its darkness into the hopes of each individual is the confinement era of the clarity of the mind, the heart, and the soul. It then becomes enigmatic because we endlessly pursue for the reasons of why fear has to exist. What is it that we can’t avoid? What kind of guts does it contain that we suffer from it yet we succumb to an emotion that holds its grip so tight we can’t let go? What is it truly aiming at for letting us feel down and worried throughout the grandeur of its presence? Is there any chance that we can tame the ferocity of a beast that fear has in its possession?

Now here, ladies and gentlemen, is where the topic has found its inspiration.

Significance of the Matter

Fear lends color to the world says a Norwegian philosopher Lars Svenden. It is stated in the Chapter 4 of one of his philosophical books, A Philosophy of Fear (other works include A Philosophy of Boredom and Work). He generally emphasizes that our fear is a by-product of luxury that it robs us of our freedom and undermines that essential social glue: trust. He even agrees to what Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, has said: to conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom. Moreover, Svenden asserts that a paradoxical trait of the culture of fear is that it emerges at a time when by all accounts, we are living more securely than ever before in human history. A manufactured fear, however as he argues, is a revelation that he doesn’t consider of approving. Fear is not simply something we are exposed to against our will, it is often also something we voluntarily expose ourselves to in an attempt to transcend a banal, boring everyday existence. Somehow, whether consciously or not, fear has a highly-observed tendency to shape how humans act and/or react. It is a significant subject to study for it does not just define what fear is and how it is being perceived by the people; but it also deepens a compelling discussion that can help us better understand the capacity that we acquire and how to manage it well. This inquiry is vastly psychological with mixtures of different fields whereas the goal being reached pertains to the singularity and particularities of what the question is trying to seek for.

The problem is that we seem to see everything from a perspective of fear, Svendsen suggests [A Philosophy of Fear, Chapter 1]. Fear is favored over genuine thinking that causes to loose our heads [A Philosophy of Fear, Chapter 2]. It coincides with the nature of “risk” and he shows how our concept of it is systematically distorted. Later on the discussions, it will be more elaborated where such philosophers are coming from and how it can be used in this paper, attempting to answer the question that is being raised.

Furthermore, it is necessary that the applications of these instances be interrelated across our daily living tasks. Here goes the query: has it something to do with our lives? To satiate such inquiry, let another query be presented: What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? [Robert H. Schuller]. This seems to be a compilation of never-ending breathtaking questions about fear that eventually paves it way to terms such as risks, failures, and dangers – but really, fear has to offer something more than just locking up ourselves with one definition, one explanation, one belief, without even recognizing which point of stance one is located.

What is the question trying to relate with humans beings? Not an exact answer can be prearranged within a single provision of space for it allows rigorous contemplation of the matter before arriving at a particular viewpoint. As of now, knowing that fear is a crucial type of human emotion, it can be deduced that discussion may not be too easy; but since it is just normal to ask such question about its nature – we flourish when we conform with what is natural, since what is truly natural is best [recognized by the corresponding neo- Aristotelian, anti- Freudian essentially humanist view].

Fundamental Principles of Viable Consequences

An emotion, such as fear, is considered to have biological, psychological, and social aspects. This so-called fear makes humans to hold back whatever it is that they are doing or change the course of their approach towards tasks which, in some cases, resorts to a small amount of productivity and efficiency in specific fields of work. There are actually a myriad possible causes and effects of fear. The horrified feeling one gets after watching a thriller movie or after witnessing a violent event, the feeling of helplessness when trapped in a confined area or left alone, traumatic phobia/s (fear of water, heights, darkness, insects, rodents, etc.), uneasy feeling while thinking about the deadlines, appalled moments of having to speak in front of a crowd, threatening failures or loss of something/ someone important, and political intimidation – are only some of the familiar examples of sources of fear; whereas the effects that it brings to mankind vary in relation to the particularity of conditions.

Fear is a tool of control [The Village by M. Night Shyamalan, 2004]. While Ernst Bloch says that the crucial thing is to learn hope; Marco Zlomislic, Ph.D., the person behind the Reaktion Books Review, disagrees. Zlomislic argues that hope without action is useless. Svendsen answers humanistic optimism best counters fear. This may suggest that perhaps fear is manipulative to humans, we can partially depend how to resolve the struggles being faced into some other forms of feat. Bloch is stating that hope helps us become steadfast in dealing with fears while Zlomilic is stating that action is what we need more in order to counter such fears. Does this suggestion take a little effort to apply just as how easy it has been said? Can humans really take hold of the amount of hope and action they must provide?

Reason is the capacity to behave consciously in terms of the nature of what is not ourselves – written by a sage of the 1930s John Macmurray [Reason and Emotion page 19] – opposes a Western wisdom that goes back in the recognition of ancient philosophy that claims humans as prone to natural feelings and impulses. These claims are proportional to just as how Aristotelian and Freudian assertions contradict one another. While Aristotle describes reason as a product of our biology as fear, anger, lust, and the allegedly irrational emotions; Sigmund Freud is in contrast with it [see the corresponding statement at the last part of Significance of the Matter].

As it can be observed, fear unto which various meanings will be enumerated later on concurs not only with the basic situations humans get involved into but also to any political associations that are deemed influential to us for example. Reasons and emotions are complementary of one another. What humans feel accords to some reasons just as how we rationalize such actions due to emotions. It’s just that the debate prevails, between the abovementioned camps, whether these impulses are naturally acquired or a product of developed human characteristics. It is important to know the similarities and differences between the two because the ultimate question depends upon whether or not it is possible to overcome fear – which will only be achieved if dogmatism among sources is neglected.

To further analyze, it must be of immense consideration that the brain and the relation of fear to it shall be discussed. Brain is an instinctive and complex organ which is constantly transferring information and triggering responses. It consists of a part known as “amygdale” which triggers primitive neural signal causing fear that can be immobilized through practicing self-awareness. Also, there is a part known as “hypothalamus” which has reflexive control over the reproductive, vegetative, endocrine, hormonal, visceral, and autonomic functions of the body. It has the significance of what has been Professor Joseph LeDoux, a neuroscientist and psychologist, says Fear is the response to the immediate stimuli. The empty feelings in your gut, the racing of your heart, palms sweating, the nervousness – that’s your brain responding in a preprogrammed way to a very specific threat. Since our brains are programmed to be similar in structure, we can assume that what I experience when I’m threatened is something similar to what you experience.” The mind of human beings can be aware of the event’s impact within 300 milliseconds. Otherwise, fear takes over the individual. It is reported by Prof. LeDoux that it takes 20 milliseconds for the human mind to swiftly respond to the pathway of danger. A specialized sensitivity receptor is developed by the nerve junctions of the brain to be able to perceive sensory signals. This implies that humans are born in this world knowing the fear itself because the brain has to deal with nature and so it must still evolve through periods of time. An excerpt from Practice Intelligence for All by Karl Albrecht, Ph.D. states that some of our fears, of course, have basic survival value. Others, however, are learned reflexes that can be weakened or re-learned. This supports the idea of the preceding statement with some specifications.

Based on the idea of instant reflexes, human mind inhabits what is being called as “micro-fear” which means fears of fears; whereas the moment that the person experiences to feel fear, he/she remembers it and turns it into memory. The reactions presented at the very moment are not forgotten and will continually exist as “memories of fear”. Is it then an ample source of where fear has originated? Not until the portion for discussion is mulled over.

The problem is we don’t have a good physiological measure of fear or any emotion as situated by Michael Lewis (director at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School). It’s very hard to define that emotion in terms of the feeling it evokes, added Prof. Joy Hirsch (director at Columbia University). It recalls that perhaps everyone also has their conceivable ideas of what fear is, the amount of it and the probability of experiencing it cannot be calculated. It has not been beyond the scientific gauge to create the exact standards of how much of a fear is being felt by humans considering that measurement must be fairly applicable for all.

Who can define pain? Who can define pleasure? – in a way that the meaning will cover the general perception and understanding of it. Quite impossible, isn’t it? This is one of the hardest problems being dealt with by the scientists in the field of neuroscience. Given this case, why should the question be insisted to extract answers coming from a wide array of sources? Then why does this paper, midst a pile of uncertainties, still continue to uphold an amalgamation of insights through a range of substantial citations? The appreciation for such inquiry is yet to arrive.


Implication of the Concept in General

            The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This quotation from a prominent figure has nothing to do in answering the question being raised but it is somehow important that this kind of simple directive is attended to. What does it imply? How is it supposed to be understood? As a matter of fact, anyone who will try to comprehend the abovementioned line will result to different interpretations. Likewise, it also applies to how everyone else will try to associate the core meaning of fear among human beings. An endless output will be recovered since words have boundless expressions. Even researchers find it vastly personal experience.

Lewis adds to his notes that we learn to become fearful through experience with the fear event, or learning from those people around us like our parents, our siblings, our colleagues. Fear has a certain contagious feature to it, so the fear in others can elicit fear in ourselves. It’s conditioning, like Pavlov and the salivating dog. Others can derive fear as a vital response to physical and emotional danger to protect ourselves from legitimate threat [Pysch Basics]. When humans imagine an unpleasant event that has happened in the past, they experience a feeling of anticipation that causes them anxiety. Here goes the “fight-or-flight response” which basically means chain reaction in the brain that starts with a stressful stimulus and ends with the release of chemicals that cause a racing heart, fast breathing and energized muscles, among other things – via stimulus [Julia Layton, How Fear Works]. Fear is a creative process, which subconsciously searches your mind for ways to escape pain. Your impulsive decisions, when triggered by fear, may not present you with any conscious awareness of the particular pain that you wish to avoid [Psych Basics].

However, Albrecht has enumerated what he calls as the Five Basic Fears that the human beings experience. Number 1: Extinction – it is the fear of the idea of no longer being that results to primary existential anxiety. This usually happens when a person is fearful that he/she will cease to exist; known as fear of death, such as that of looking over the edge of a high building leaves fear to the person. Number 2: Mutilation – it is the fear of the thought that the boundaries of a person’s body may be invaded or its parts and functions may lose the integrity. This usually happens when a person is fearful of animals and other eerie things. Number 3: Loss of Autonomy – it is the fear of being controlled by circumstances beyond our control. This usually happens when, for example, a person gets smothered or overwhelmed; physically known as claustrophobia and can also be through social relations. Number 4: Separation – it is the fear of becoming a non-person. This usually happens when a person gets abandoned, rejected, or loses connectedness causing him/ her to feel unwanted; wherein “silent treatment” can be a relevant example. Number 5: Ego-death – it is the fear of loss of integrity of the Self. This usually happens when a person is fearful of getting humiliated or disapproved because he/she feels that his/her constructed sense of lovability, capability, and worthiness are being destroyed.

Conversely, a spiritual source such as Joyce Meyer’s Facing Fear and Finding Freedom advocates that fear is the spirit Satan uses to try to rule God’s people and keep them from coming under the leadership of the true Master, Jesus Christ.

Gathering this diversified range of approaches about the meaning of fear that is inherent to mankind and how it does affect the human behavior, has not been too easy of a task; but it is quite commendable to see that such raised question is able to produce answers coming from different perspectives that is trying to aim at the closest possible thought which the inquirers of the question can settle with.

The aforementioned pieces of information pose that fear is an unavoidable human emotion. It is gained through experiences over periods of time. Human beings recognize fear because, of course, we know how it feels like not to be fearful. There are factors that trigger our nature to respond to stimuli – in which this response originate either from our natural capacity to react to certain dangers or from our developed notions to resist particular objects that we may find unnecessary for normal encounters. The feeling of fear is not a random experience for it follows a process which construes patterns of human behavior according to how we are conditioned by the environment and our personal dispositions. Extinction, mutilation, loss of autonomy, separation, and ego-death are terms that basically describe observable forms of fear among humans. For instance, these fears can hinder the growth and development of an individual in many aspects of his/ her life. Perhaps there are scholars who can counter these claims; so the fact on this matter is reserved for the next section of this paper.

While other remarks can scientifically be partially analyzed through theorizing, there are still some assertion that is somehow neither impossible to approve nor deny. The article written by Meyer, for example, is something that uses the name of God and excerpts from the Bible – whereas from here the argument is deemed over. Although there may be chances for these religious concerns to be reconsidered, it is not ideal to oppose (if ever) a belief system that take a stronghold from a supernatural being. In short, this type of source will be excluded in the succeeding arguments.

Philosophical Disputes of the Common Practice

            Horkheimer and Adorno assert that humans believe themselves free of fear when there is no longer anything unknown. This has determined the path of demythologization … Enlightenment is mythical fear radicalized. This statement is coming from a standpoint that is political in nature unto which socio-cultural norms in the society are the basic foundation of observations. The italicized text in this paragraph is said to be an irrational fear of the unknown wherein it serves as a drive to triple domination as the main source of disaster in our society nowadays – a blind domination pattern of nature by human beings, nature with human beings, and some human beings by others. Fear is destructive to society because it deprives humans to be free. When people are fearful, mechanisms for progress tend to demand higher cost from us in whatever form. The exploitation of individuals doesn’t matter as long as the needs of what is being feared will be supplied. People are trying so hard to conform to the necessities of those in higher positions (depending upon the status of the person) because we believe that once power has taken over – be it by a human being or even through the use of instruments, we must bend down and submit to the regulations that the powerful element is imposing. In this case, fear is the powerful. Is then there any way to get out of this situation and counteract the influence of an abusive power to control mankind? This is how the analogy works with the question being raised.

There are things that are worth fearing and these sometimes lead us to do the right thing. But then, human beings usually fear situations that leave us hanging for no good reason being stimulated by our traumatic experiences. What are these reasons? These may be excuses formulated from procrastination that is the root of the feeling of uncertainty because the tendency of human beings is to give in to what feels good and do it for us to feel better. This uncertainty may also be rooted from the associations of negative emotions such as stress that threatens human capacity to become anxious. Why is it natural for us to be pre-occupied by these uncertainties? The cause may be looked at the feeling of being real despite the doubts. We tend to acknowledge even the smallest hint of clinging into that immediate feeling of goodness as a defense mechanism to the hostility that fear brings to society.

On the other hand, in light of a beneficial political dogma, Thomas Hobbes [Social Contract Tradition/Theory] is claiming that the state of nature human life is “solitary, nasty, brutish, and short” because everyone is at war with everyone else. To end this war, we enter into civil society and surrender all power – all power to invoke ‘fear’ – to the state. So ‘fear’ is a good thing because it is the glue that binds people together. Here, the concept of fear transcends more practically. What does it mean? Since there have been discussions of about the basic fears and triple domination in this paper, the idea shall now be less complicated to understand. Again, fear comes in many forms and takes its effects in many ways. It is not limited to a confinement of views or it is a process that evolves and continually develops as the natural capacities of human beings are also able to transform their qualities depending upon the triggering factors in the environment over a period of time.

It is quite noticeable that fear undermines tons of significant moments in our lives. It is difficult to apply what the 14th Dalai Lama has put into a quote: Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk – because human being does not take total possession of his/ her own hold of emotions, of what to feel, of how much of an exacting passion is to be given and is to be received. It’s somehow ironic that in anonymity, someone has said that the interesting thing about human condition is that the minute we experience pain, we never want to experience it again. Well, of course, nobody wants to get hurt but feelings (such as fear) is inescapable state of mind attached to the very being of a person.

Meanwhile, Richard Huganir [Investigator with Howard Hughes Medical Institute] has this discovery which suggests that timely manipulation of specific molecules which regulate synaptic plasticity in the amygdalae of animals can remove the fear response. The neuroscience professor has identified an unusual protein, which appeared in the amygdale of animals, which had been conditioned to respond to sounds accompanying a foot shock. Does this lead to an idea that such behavioral and pharmacological therapies can actually intervene with the natural order of human nature? Does this signify a huge transformation in the internal and external figures of humans in the near future? Whether or not this attempt of chemical linkages will succeed, it is still an undeniable fact that human emotions are inevitable and no combination can perfectly attain the state of how we should feel and act because not even a single standard can be released to match a generalized character of every individual in the world.

In a reduction ad absurdum argument written by Onora O’Neill, a philosopher who has written about trust as the cement of civil society (the opposite of philosophy of fear written by Svendsen), proposes that where fear is universal and everyone were to deceive anyone else, then there could be no trust or reliance on others’ communications, hence nobody could deceive anyone else. What does the society need?

What does the mankind demand for in order to overcome such overt yet rigid emotion called fear? Is it even justifiable to think that there is any possible way for human beings to escape the terrible imprisonment of an unyielding feeling? The last section of this paper is intended to sum up what have been discussed and from there, conclusions will be derived. Hopefully, the proposals that are going to be built shall be of a purposive venture in fulfilling reasonable probabilities of the answers which attempt to unlock the mystery behind the question Is there a possibility that human beings can be the conqueror of fear? – Nature of it in relation to human beings and the topics beyond an infinite journey of this philosophical inquiry.

The Overture

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. – an excerpt from Frank Herbert, Dune – Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear. Does it make sense? In fact, this is a very idealistic viewpoint. It has been discussed that fear is not something which humans can manipulate in subtle ways. It takes too much of an effort to overcome fears since it goes beyond the horizon of the human instinct to perceive the danger yet conquer it immediately. Fear is tricky. As how Timothy A. Pychyl’s Don’t Delay article has put it into words of encouragement: I may have fear, but I need not ‘be’ my fear. Choose to take action from another part of your being, as there is more to you than this immediate emotional experience. This is similar to I can have fear, but I need not be fear – if I am willing to stand someplace else in my inner landscape from the page 57 of the book of Palmer that has been published on 1998.

In addition to these, more sources of encouraging words about fear will be cited. It is essential to get a good grasp of these kinds of wisdom for it doesn’t just uplift the spirit of the human beings but it also promotes a catalyst of change for a better understanding of how fear, through the eyes of different people, is perceived and translated into constructive dilemmas to become productive for the society.

Dr. Fredric J. Neuman, M.D. has devised Overcoming Phobias: Six Important Principles. It has an intended usage in planning how to confront issues among individuals that may, as well, confront the fears building up inside of us. Here, fear is associated with the concept of phobia since they share commonalities that can aid in distinguishing the abstract to more concrete visualization. First principle: In order to overcome a phobia, the affected person has to spend time publicly trying to do things that everyone else can do effortlessly. The person must first be aware that he/she actually feels the fear and he/ she must not deny it; but rather, let the people know it because it takes the first leap to risk one’s weaknesses and let the mind open for possibilities that the person must learn from the given situation and be able to counter whatever necessary thing it is that will come throughout the course. Second principle: Practicing to overcome a phobia takes time, sometimes a lot of time. And repetition. Overcoming the fearful conditions where a person is situated in cannot be achieved in one sitting. In order for a person to learn managing himself/ herself in crucial situations, he/she must be exposed to possibilities so he/she may be immune with how he/she should deal with the environment that is presented. Third principle: The things phobics are afraid of are not so awful when they do happen. What is seen as fear to a person may not exactly be seen with the same amount of emotion to another person because we all have differences and it can be realized that it is true that our feelings are created by our own minds (take not of the brain and the interconnectedness of its functions with the bearing of human emotions). Fourth principle: You can judge progress by what you can do, not how you feel. A person who is determined to overcome his/her fears will try his/her best to know himself/ herself better and transcend the pre-existing weak points into some forms of warning that will lead to another path where he/she is more comfortable with. The feeling of fear may not be totally gone but it sure has diminished a considerable amount that can keep him/ her going. Fifth principle: Phobics run into “stuck points” from time to time. Using an aide or a helper makes all the difference. ‘No man is an island’ and it is obvious that a human being needs an accompaniment with someone whom he/she can reasonably put his/her trust. In this manner, a person can let other people (often those who are with similar concerns) interact with him/ her that can aid in releasing the tension and be a drive to fulfill some goals. Sixth principle: Sometimes the very things phobics are afraid of give them the most satisfaction when they are no longer afraid. In this moment, the person is able to revive a sense of achievement within himself/herself and gratitude towards his/her surroundings. There can be a stronger push to strive in going further to overcome a person’s fears if it will be put off as follows.

Other sources may include a pile of optimistic quotations for human beings to get motivated overcoming their fears, such as: believe in yourself; shared interests of trust, reason, and respect; it will always be okay and you will always land on your feet; surrender the outcome; replace the risk with hope; develop accurate perception; feelings fuel our actions so keep an open mind – because if we allow fear to stop our forward progress in life, we’re likely to miss some great opportunities along the way.

The moment that the cause of fear is located, in any seemingly possible way, is the time that will give way to humans to free ourselves from emotions – not in way that we won’t be able to perceive feelings but it will lead us into a redirection of the outcomes of our actions – that is being aware of ourselves. Our inner being can somehow be relieved from the worries that fears have been causing to us if the acquired habit of being fearful is taken (for improvement) one small step at a time. Don’t expect that overcoming fear is going to happen instantaneously because no matter how strong the willpower of a person is, his/her natural capacity as a human being dominates the upshots. Svendsen, once again, thinks that fear can be controlled. Fear may be irrational in the sense that it makes us prey to manipulation, but can be rationally appraised and managed. We may not be able to completely master our emotions, but we can understand them and be alert to how they may be both exploited and moderated. Alternatively, Albrecht has articulated – once more, that when we let go of our notion of fear as the welling up of evil forces within us – the Freudian motif – and begin to see fear and its companion emotions as basically ‘information’, we can think about them consciously. And the more clearly and calmly we can articulate the origins of the fear, the less our fears will frighten us and control us. This greatly implies that fear as a human emotion requires specially designed agents of manipulation to alter the negativity that it carries for a less adverse impact.

Fear, for a notable affirmation, facilitate           s our being to grow as a person. It is definitely “the masterpiece of our brain” due to its prevailing ability to actually maneuver our actions. Perhaps it conquers humans even through the most unfathomable ways that can ever be fully imagined, but this does not mean that we cannot reverse the assumption that we can be “more powerful conquerors” of it. This is why this issue of fear is heaved as a fundamental question in the spherical terrain of humanity. There may be a multitude of determinants that can attack this apprehension through distinct contexts and relative importance yet unlimited suggestions will persevere to influence the mindset of the people as long as there is life, as long as the competence to think exists.

Behind the recourse of the production of this paper, is an ultimate question which fuels the citations and insights of the writer about the subject matter that is deemed a significant endeavor in undertaking studies about the human being. The challenge is now being tossed as to the strength and courage that the mankind can sustain in order to endure fear that may we may eventually overcome – but for it to be conquered will take us to prove all the way through a span of our lifetime.

~ May these fears inspire us to surpass what humans have thought as the boundary of our being ~

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