"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."
Love? What about all those heartfelt and sad songs and poems, guys? I digress.
The great H.P. Lovecraft, known for his short stories and creative mythos in the earlier part of the 20th century, made infamous his opening phrase—from a larger essay—"...fear of the unknown" that gave ominous, who's-that-behind-you presence throughout his work. Countless artists have capitalized on it, such as the wave of modern Japanese horror films relying on superstitions and ghostly apparitions appearing and disappearing before you can say hello or sayonara. Going away from the unnameables and creatures from beyond that might suddenly require you to make a snap decision to fight or run for cover, my question is: What does it mean to have fear of the unknown in real life and not just in an anything-can-happen world?
Let's take the example of going hiking and camping in an uncharted terrain of woods with someone who has always lived in the city, or has a sheltered life that is oblivious of the potential dangers. Would that be fear of the unknown in this context? Would this person just suddenly become irrational and conjure up their own horrific scenarios because it's unknown to them? It's possible. The jitters and anxiety get the best of some. Though, let's say someone is about to go hiking and camping in an uncharted terrain of woods but they've previously watched a few animal attack videos or they read an article about that thing you lug around called a human body only being able to last so many days without food and water. Now, this set of woods is unknown to them but they have a prior set of separate circumstances that they have to fall back on. A partial experience and a partial knowing.
What I want to know is: do you need at least some knowledge prior to be afraid of an unknown situation? People do questionably unsafe things with a dab of innocence and no fear all the time; just ask any ranger at a National Park when someone toys with a bison, or stands too close to a cliff edge. That exact situation sparked the thoughts behind this piece. These people might be intelligent in other contexts of day to day life, but got put into a situation where their instincts didn't kick in or they simply had no alarm bell going off in the back of their head. So, is a blank slate of unknown still terrifying because you can't grasp your head around it? Or is it just because you're unable to control the outcome when throwing out the dice? Is it sacrilege to question H.P. Lovecraft? Will he rise for revenge from the grave? These are the kind of questions that keep me up at night. Well, maybe the first few.
Here's another that puts it into perspective more: "The ignorant and the deluded are, I think, in a strange way to be envied. That which is not known of does not trouble us, while an imagined but insubstantial peril does not harm us. To know the truths behind reality is a far greater burden." - H.P. Lovecraft