Sunday, October 24, 2010

of Tangential Interest

Subject: from 92 Stories, a collection by James Thurber

From a story entitled “Miscellaneous Mentation”

…To substitute walking under ladders for not walking under ladders is a distinction without a difference. For here we have, in effect, a person who was afraid to walk under ladders, and is now afraid not to. In the first place he avoided ladders because he feared the very fear that that would put into him. This the psychologists call phobophobia (they really do). But *now* he is afraid of the very fear he had of being afraid and hence is a victim of what I can only cal phobophobophobia, and is in even deeper than he was before.

I am shocked, *shocked*, that this concept has not been more widely propagated and understood:

-          every sportsman should immediately recognize this, particularly golfers, in that what debilitates us is not the fear of hitting the ball in the water (which is an ordinary hazard of the game), nor even fear of the fear of hitting the ball into the water (which we could avoid by laying up short of the hazard), but *fear of the fear of the fear of hitting the ball into the water* which is where we chunk or skull the ball leaving the obstacle still before us…

-          every technical participant should also immediately recognize this, particularly programmers, in the same way where we *fear the fear of the fear of making a mistake* which leads inexorably to the bureaucratization of maintenance procedures to the point where nothing can be done, due to the embedded nestings of  “from-now-on” restrictions.

-          In stock market trading, as well as in programming, this stultification is known also as “paralysis by analysis” and in that arena leads to loss-of-profits due to the *fear of the fear of the fear of losing money* which, in the main, usually does guarantee the loss of more money.

I have no answers, I have only this quaint belief that naming something gives you a handle on it, and *phobophobophobia* seems like a useful handle to me.