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Random Phobias, oh Joy!

October 27, 2010

Fear is a funny thing. It can be everything from the faintest butterfly in the stomach, to all-encompassing, mind-obliterating terror. Most of the time, we dislike fear. Sometimes it thrills us, and we deliberately seek it out.

And sometimes we’re just bewildered by it.

There are instances of tension between rational consciousness and the older, animalistic part of our brains. Or, if you prefer, the cerebrum and amygdala. Even when our logical selves tell us there’s nothing to fear, other areas of the brain may be wailing full-on sirens. As strange as the concept of a warring brain is, it’s even stranger when that fear attaches itself to a seemingly innocuous object or situation.

Welcome to the land of phobias.

Some phobias make sense. An odd sort of sense, but sense nevertheless. Say you were bitten by a dog as a child. Growing up with an intense fear of all dogs may be extreme, but it’s quite possible to speculate on how it happened.

So what about the truly bizarre phobias? What about Aulophobia (fear of flutes), or Logophobia (fear of words… thank goodness I don’t have that one), or Porphyrophobia (fear of the colour purple)? Clearly, some shift has occurred in the brain when it emits a fight-or-flight response to the right side of its own body (Dextrophobia).

Is it displacing fear about something else into a nice, neat little package? A vague, existential dread can’t be avoided. Cats can be avoided. So what if the brain is coping by recreating this oppressive, pervasive fear as Gatophobia?

For my part, I wouldn’t say I have any phobias… though I may just be in denial, because I do have a fairly strong, persistent fear of losing my teeth (Dentapathaphobia? Fear of tooth disease?). As long as I can remember, I’ve been fairly paranoid about going to the dentist; I’m afraid they’ll tell me that my teeth are rotting. But at the same time, I’m always anxious to go… just in case my teeth really are decaying in their sockets. Obviously, there is no logical basis for this fear. I brush, floss, have regular check-ups, don’t eat excessive amounts of sugar… my gums are receding a little, but that may be the amygdala talking.

Still, as I sit here, checking my teeth, I have to reflect that phobias can be somewhat comforting.  They mean we don’t yet know everything about the way our mind works, that the wonderful machinery in our skulls can’t be reduced to a few cut-and-dried rules.

Because that would be really scary.

Arvik

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One comment

  1. Love phobias . . . especially those filled with Superstition and Wonder:

    http://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2010/08/13/superstition-wonder-friday-the-13th/

    Take good care of your teeth . . . or you’ll have to drink Smoothies when you grow up.



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