Overcoming fear with science

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The emotion of fear is always negative.  Our responses to fear were learned early in life as hand-me-downs, by imitating fearful, ignorant, superstitious people.  If fear is such a powerful force, why do we teach fear to our children?  Fear and ignorance are sort of like the chicken and the egg-which came first.  We fear what we don't understand and we don't understand what we fear.  Irrational responses to fear are very common. 

I remember an incident years ago that demonstrates that fear is learned.  I was visiting a friend one weekend and, while he was tending the bar-b-que, his 4 year old girl started screaming in the bathroom.  I hurried to the doorway and found her sitting on the floor screaming, looking at her finger bleed.  She was terrified!  Apparently, she had never before consciously experienced bleeding.

Rather than make a big fuss over it (I could see it was only a minor wound), I stopped, smiled and said, "I see you sprang a leak."  She immediately became silent and bewildered.  I then asked, "What do you do when you see a leak in your garden hose?"  She put her finger over the leak.  "That's right," I said.  "Hold your finger on it for a couple of minutes and it will stop bleeding."

She then started giggling, got up and ran to her mother in the kitchen shouting, "Look Momma, I sprang a leak." That little girl reacted to a new situation, in which she sensed danger, in much the same way motion pictures and TV shows portray emotional reactions to bloody injuries - by screaming.  But once she better understood the situation was a normal occurrence and there was little danger, her whole emotional response changed from fear to the joy of enlightenment.

Many of the fears children learn, they learn by default.  The parents don't attempt to explain the natural world in a scientific sense, either because they don't (or won't) make the time or don't know themselves.  If children are not encouraged to think at a very early age, through the use of science and the scientific method, their emotions will easily be controlled by others later in life because of their ignorance.  A keen interest in the nature of things - science - sets the foundation to emotional responses. Scientific knowledge and skepticism deflate erratic emotional responses simply by removing the anxiety of doubt and fear of the unknown.

Perhaps, sometime in the future, emotions will become based more on knowledge than ignorance; reason than fear.  Emotions will then become a positive constructive influence instead of the negative, destructive influence it seems to be today.

Guest post by Frank Prahl (Excerpted from his essay Reason, Emotion and Humanism). Frank is a Journalism graduate of the University of Houston; Past president of the Humanists of Houston and later, Humanists Involved in Greater Houston and has been a Humanist Advocate for more than 15 years. 


  1. irrational reaction to fear can be explained in part by the difference between low quality ignorance and high quality ignorance...knowing that you don't know and having the desire/courage to search for the answers.

  2. Great point Ronald and great essay - thanks for the link!


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