It is a remarkable achievement that today, at least in developed countries, we seldom encounter any natural, fear-evoking situations. We are not likely to meet up with snakes or crocodiles or to find ourselves without shelter during a storm. But in our efforts to command nature and our fellow human beings, we have created new hazards: highways and greenhouse gases, machine guns and bioterrorism, and the social pressures of failure and embarrassment. That these dangers are not immediate enough to evoke real fear for most people is scarcely a blessing; the anxieties of modern life can be debilitating. "Perhaps man is the most fearful of all creatures," comments Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, anthropologist emeritus at the Max Planck Institute of Behavioral Physiology in Seewiesen, Germany, "because along with such elementary fears as those of predators, he also suffers from an intellectually grounded fear of existence."
More intellectual work, however, might free us from this burden. Research into how the brain transmits, sustains, and remembers fears and anxieties is providing clues about how to control or even eliminate them. Understanding the demon will help us overcome it.
This article was originally published with the title Fear Not.