|All of my childhood fears have been licked, except for one: heights. I'm not afraid of evil dolls, ghosts, or Michael Jackson anymore, but heights still scare me. It doesn't even have to be dramatic heights like looking down a skyscraper. Even looking down from the second floor to the first can do it. I had never given this fear much thought until today.
I was looking through The Philosophy Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained (highly recommended btw) and read the section on Søren Kierkegaard. Every section begins with a short quote from the philosopher it is focusing on. For Kierkegaard it was "Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom."
After explaining Kierkegaard's opinion that humans have absolute freedom to make choices, the book said, "As an example, he [Kierkegaard] asks us to consider a man standing on a cliff or tall building. If this man looks over the edge, he experiences two different kinds of fear: the fear of falling, and fear brought on by the impulse to throw himself off the edge. This second type of fear, or anxiety, arises from the realization that he has absolute freedom to choose whether to jump or not, and this fear is as dizzying as his vertigo."
I had never thought of my fear that way, but it makes total sense when I think about it. It isn't just the thought of falling or hitting the ground that scares me, it's the knowledge that only my choice is keeping me from jumping. I think the best example is a time I went to an amusement park with my family. I wanted to go on a roller coaster, but in order to do so I had to climb up a tall open staircase (my old nemesis). I had to really force myself to get to the top. Once I was strapped into the roller coaster, I didn't feel fear anymore. Even though the roller coaster went higher and faster than me walking up the stairs and is even designed to make you feel fear, I didn't feel any. When I got off I said that the stairs were scarier than the roller coaster. Now I know why. I could have jumped off the stairs at any point, but once I was strapped into the roller coaster I was no longer in control. I knew very well that the roller coaster might break and I would plummet to my death, but it would have been out of control. Apparently that set my mind at ease.
Can anyone else relate to this?
Feel free to post your own fears and/or your thoughts on them.
I disagree with your basic premise that the only thing preventing you from jumping is your freedom to choose not to. So much of our brain function is autonomous and biochemical and beyond any sort of "freedom".
I've heard of people on certain medications where the urge to jump out of a window or off a building isn't any kind of choice, but a literal compulsion that is difficult to overcome. That's why "suicidal tendencies" is on the side effect warning of certain drugs.
So that's two existential crises: the fact that you have the freedom to jump off a building at any moment but CHOOSE not to, and the fact that "choice" is a biochemical reaction in one of the most complex systems ever built (your brain), and may well just be the product of causality.
Anyways, as to fears, my fear isn't of heights, but of falling. Roller coasters, but of the lack of control and excessive speed. Pain and death by things I have no control over, or worse, have no reason behind them whatsoever (the scariest line in a horror movie is when the victim asks the killer "why me?" and the answer is something like "your light was on" or "you were home" or otherwise random).
And of course I have Anakin Skywalker level fear of losing the ones I love (namely my wife). And my wife has the same fear of losing me. I've heard that this is a common fear, especially among women (the fear of dying after their spouse, specifically), but among men too I imagine (I sure as hell have it). I have stories on this, but they speak more to my wife's fear than mine, so I won't share them here.
"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."
-Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear