Bushwhacked: Phobias follow a certain logic


THAT thing with Cogho being lifted by a crane to raise money for Give Me 5 For Kids was an interesting example of just how complex and weird the human brain can be.

(No offence, Cogho. Can someone get him to read past the first paragraph so that he understands there’s no offence? Ta.)

Like many of us, Brian Coghlan claims a fairly hefty dose of fear of heights, or to use its proper name, acrophobia (from ancient Greek for “peak, or edge” and “fear”). I share that phobia, not just for me, but for anyone else who looks to be at risk.

I can’t bear to see people standing too near cliffs or the edges of tall buildings without being swamped by sweltering waves of fear. Even in films I have to peek between my fingers when characters look like falling from dangerous places.

It used to be believed that the phobia came from a traumatic experience in earlier life, but now it is considered more likely to be a handy example of human evolution: don’t go too near the edge, don’t go too high or you could get hurt.

It’s a sensible and probably advisable phobia.

My other phobias include arachnophobia (spiders) and ophidiophobia, (snakes) sometimes confused with herpetophobia, but that’s a fear of all reptiles, and I quite like little stumpies and skinks. Again, I consider these quite logical and clever examples of human evolution.

But it can be paralysing sometimes. I find it hard to sleep in a room when I’ve seen a perfectly harmless grey hairy spider on the ceiling. I imagine them dropping onto my face, or worse, my open snoring mouth, during the night. Strangely, redbacks don’t cause the same fear and loathing even though I know they can pack a real punch.

I was bitten on the arm by a redback recently and I can tell you it came off worse than me, not just because I’d had a few reds already.

I can’t eat crabs or crays because they look too much like large spiders from Mars.

So, Cogho, maaate, well done, but you can bask in the added knowledge that you screaming like a infant from high above the Mall was, in fact, a mere example of the highly developed stage of evolution you have achieved.

It could be worse.

I once knew a person who developed an uncontrollable fear of lifts and escalators, a combination of claustrophobia, escalaphobia (one of the newer phobias) and agoraphobia, fears of being in dangerous spaces, stuck on a moving conveyor belt AND trapped. Seeing she lived in Melbourne at the time, it made moving around the city a difficult mental exercise.

New phobias are being invented all the time.

About four years ago, the British Post Office coined the word “nomophobia”. Guess what it’s a fear of?

Yep, no mobile phone coverage.

There are hundreds of identified fears, some weird and some quite sane.

Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia comes under the weird heading: a fear of the number 666, the biblical number of the beast.

While it would, on the other hand be quite logical for journalists to have a touch of hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, a fear of long words.

If a journalist can triumph over that, it might just help with his agoraphobia, that dreaded fear of dangerous open spaces.

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