• Question: Why would we evolve fears of silly things like height or the dark, it seems stupid as we would have less chance of survival and some people have weird fears, like panphobia (the fear of everything) why would evolution allow fears to arise

    Asked by aurum to Jess, Dean on 25 Jun 2010 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Dean Whittaker

      Dean Whittaker answered on 24 Jun 2010:

      This is a little off my subject, but I’ll give it a go!

      Because they are artefacts of something that was useful. A fear of heights is good, it stops you jumping off cliffs, a fear of of the dark is good, it heightens your awareness when something bad that you can’t see might be around.

      Evolution sometimes has some odd side effects. Something that’s good for our survival may also create something that’s neither good nor bad. So it stays too. A fear of spiders is good for our survival, some of them can be deadly. However, fearing every type of spider isn’t so good. But it doesn’t hurt!…

      At risk of you all making fun of me 😛 – I used to have a very weird phobia of making phone calls. I always had to send a txt instead (which is odd because I much preferred meeting people face to face, so it’s not about being antisocial!). I got over it but I had no reason to have that fear.

      It looks like something evolved that gives us phobias and sometimes the same mechanism gives us weird phobias. But the weird phobias we don’t want are worth it for the ones that are useful.

      I can’t think of any examples at the moment of mutations that have caused one good thing and one odd thing. If you read Richard Dawkin’s “The Greatest Show On Earth” there are probably some in there. He does his usual anti-church rants (which I hate – I get it. He doesn’t need to keep ramming the point home!) but it’s actually a very good, well written, understandable book about how evolution works and where all the misconceptions are about it, what the evidence is etc. (and there is a hell of a lot of it!)

    • Photo: Jessica Housden

      Jessica Housden answered on 25 Jun 2010:

      well, these are all pyschological things. Humans have evolved over millions of years from apes, and until very very recently (in evolutionary terms) our world was quite simple. However, things that we had to do to survive – not get bitten by snakes etc were important to us actually making it here as a species, and so our brains still retain that instinct – just more so in some people than others.

      There are also feas of things that are new to us too – our brains have to cope with a lot more than they used to!