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The human desire to know about the unknown

By: Laura Matsuda

The supernatural and the desire to know more surrounds us on a daily basis even though we may not realise it. From horror movies and gothic literature to the belief in different gods and the paranormal, humans constantly are drawn to what cannot be explained. Gothic novels and the genre attract great attention from people, however have you ever thought about why it intrigues us so much? Why are we so keen on being scared?

Our brain on fear

Gothic novels are largely appreciated, as they often have a plot that combines terror with love which is able to appeal to a large audience. Another reason they appeal to us is because of the tense atmosphere built on the unknown and the unseen which can potentially scare us. When we are scared but we aren’t in actual danger, our endorphin levels increase which promotes pleasure. As said by Jerry Hoggle, University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English, “We’re in a state of heightened awareness, but at the same time we know we’re safe. We can take pleasure in the endorphins going off like this without actually being threatened.”

Horror and terror do not strictly apply to gothic novels, however. Instead, it can also apply to movies and even images. In 2009, the first image of “The Slender Man” was uploaded to an internet forum and it became as famous as it is now due to its appeal to the unseen and the unknown, something that humans are allured by.

Sometimes, though, our desire to know more about the supernatural is not always due to pleasure.

The psychology behind it all

There is no denying that the world is vast and is oftentimes confusing so, according to Eddy White, an associate professor in the department of Public and Applied Humanities, humans want to find meaning and an explanation for life, therefore they seek the supernatural and the paranormal. In a chaotic world, humans feel the need to know about death and what comes after it, which leads people to rely on psychics and the unknown.

The desire to know about life after death and to believe in the supernatural are not simply due to human’s lack of knowledge or curiosity, it also stems from the fact that when people are able to believe and rely on something, they are able to feel a sense of belonging and security in a world where we may feel alone.

Furthermore, believing in the supernatural is a way to subconsciously relieve our anxiousness related to our own mortality. According to existential psychologist Clay Routledge, “In a lot of ways, supernatural beliefs are a form of psychological medicine in that they help us deal with some of the difficulties in life, and our need to grapple with the big existential questions.”

Aside from a psychological standpoint, there are also evolutionary reasons as to why humans always need to know ‘why’.

How evolution led to this

According to the Theory of Mind, a theory developed by psychologists, the human brain evolved to be able to understand that other people aside from them also have motives and a mind. This ability aided in survival, as it was able to allow humans to understand what others around them aimed to do in order to determine whether they were in danger or not.

Because the brain started to apply this ability to rationalise to objects that do not have minds, humans started to see emotions and motives where there previously were none. According to psychologist Justin Barett, humans may have seen storms and assumed them to be angry or for it to be a sign of “divine intervention” which may have led to the creation of gods and goddesses related to natural elements.

Ultimately, the belief in the supernatural and the urge to learn more is harmless, as, after all, it is related to human psychology and evolution since the feeling of being accepted and of pleasure are related to discovering answers and experiencing harmless fear. On the other hand, it may become harmful eventually if one dedicates their whole lives to discovering more about the unknown to the point where other people’s and their quality of life decreases.



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