25 Jan 2012

Joseph Ledoux, for the New York Times:

The capacity to fear … is pretty universal among animals. But anxiety ― an experience of uncertainty ― is a different matter. It depends on the ability to anticipate, a capacity that is also present in some other animals, but that is especially well developed in humans. We can project ourselves into the future like no other creature.

Our capacity to believe in a world unlike that which we see and touch. It is this which allows us to create a better world, to plan for events unthinkable, and to alter our surroundings with tools and constructs that transform the very definition of a human being. It will be the key to our ascension into utopia – a future so impossible that we cannot yet see it in our lives. We can only just barely begin to imagine what it would be like.

Is the cost of such ruminations the possibility of anxiety? It would seem that this power to project ourselves forward holds as much opportunity for dismay as it does joy. If we are to use this gift that humanity has been given, we must also overcome its drawback: the worry that we will be unable to transcend the events of our pasts. We, the human being, is that which must be overcome.