Fear: Something to Think About in the New Year

Written by on January 1, 2014 in Family & Children & Thoughts on Things, News with 0 Comments

The Sum of all Fears:

Something to Think About


We are indeed the “The Sum of all Fears” (to borrow a book title from Tom Clancy)!

I recently re-tweeted an item from Douglas Wickard in which he quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson. The quote said “Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.”

It appears that these fears do not include just fears that we have experienced: They go back genetically through the generations.  We are all, in part, the sum of all fears of our genetic ancestors!

Recently in the Washington Post there was a very interesting item about a study involving genetic coding for fear in mice. The researchers at Emory University segregated some male mice, then exposed them to a scent of cherry blossoms, and then gave the mice a mild electric shock to their feet. The scent was thus associated with the foot shocks so that when the mice smelled the cherry blossoms they would become anxious and fearful that they would suddenly feel the foot shocks. Then, those mail mice were bred with female mice, and the resulting offspring were raised to adulthood without ever being exposed to the smell of cherry blossoms.  But, when they were exposed to that smell for the first time, they became anxious and fearful. Researchers found that these offspring were born with more cherry-blossom-detecting neurons in their noses, and more brain space for detecting that smell. Moreover, the researchers did this experiment again into another generation, and found the same effects.  Thus, a single traumatic event was indeed spread as a genetic marker across generations.

This experiment is, I think, brilliant in its simplicity, and profound in its implications, though there are those who might say it only confirms what we already knew, and there are those who say it might only be true in mice.  I don’t know.  But, if it is true that these fears are genetically encoded down through generations (think snake bites or severe storms or poisonous plants or food that makes us sick, or people who have harmed us) it explains much about all of us.

The question is: Is there anything we can do about it?  I think the first step is for each of us to recognize this aspect of ourselves, determine if our fears are rational, or are simply something inbred, or if they are an irrational or exaggerated response to an event in our own history and experience, and then act accordingly. And we need to try to understand where the fears of others come from, and if they are rational, and act accordingly. And rationally.

I suspect that if everyone did this, our world would very suddenly become a better place!  Let’s put aside irrational fears!  I for one will do this in 2014! 


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