According to Meyers, if you have true acrophobia, chances are you won’t even be able to climb a ladder or board a commercial airliner. “The rest of us, myself included, have a fear of falling,” he explains. “When we peer over the edge of a building, our brain can easily measure the height and we feel that familiar electric pang in our stomach, our fingers and toes curling involuntarily. As if millions of years of evolution is telling us to tighten our grip, even on feet that have long since lost this ability.”
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Meyers goes on to clarify that when we take flight, this fear momentarily falls away because just a couple hundred feet off the ground, our brain loses its ability to measure elevation. There is no connecting structure or yardstick for our brains to measure with. We become metaphorically buoyant and our feet have nothing to anchor themselves to. We give up control.
This made sense. I have friends who are afraid of heights yet have gone riding in hot air balloons or skydiving. Moments after lift-off, that paralyzing fear they faced was instantly replaced with some form of euphoric resignation—that nature wasn’t out to get them, but rather, awe them. “Just because we learn to punch through one form of fear, doesn’t mean we punch through them all,” adds Meyers. “I am nervous every time I fly. I would be worried if I wasn’t.”
So, is loss of control another reason we’re afraid?