The Metaphysics of Horror

Why we fear threats to our worldview the most.

“What would your feelings be,” asks Ambrose in Arthur Machen’s novel The House of Souls, “… if your cat or your dog began to talk to you, and to dispute with you in human accents?” He goes on:

You would be overwhelmed with horror. I am sure of it. And if the roses in your garden sang a weird song, you would go mad. And suppose the stones in the road began to swell and grow before your eyes, and if the pebble that you noticed at night had shot out stony blossoms in the morning?[

Machen’s examples are disturbing, but it’s not immediately obvious why. It’s not that they’re frightening, at least not in the ordinary sense of the word. Normally, we’re scared of things because we think they pose a physical danger to us, but singing roses don’t pose any such hazard, so why is the thought of them so nightmarish?

Notice that Machen said that if you enc

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Alexandra Konoplyanik 2 November 2019

The interesting bit is it may only apply to "normal" adults. There is a thought in Sophie's World which I found striking: if one morning the father starts flying around the room, who will find it more disturbing: the mother or the kid? Kids are still discovering the world and believe fairy tales, so may find singing roses perfectly delightful! Alice in Wonderland was not horrified by talking rabbits or flowers, merely surprised. Is there rigid something about our adult worldviews? Could we learn something from the kids?

In terms of the Other as metaphysically dangerous, I find the thought interesting, but am not persuaded. After all, if it is not a one-off but becomes a fixture in our reality, even if unpleasant for some, wouldn't we just get metaphysically used to it? We may be surprised (horrified?) by the first singing rose, but not by the 1000th. By the first black swan, but not by the 100th. By the first Other, but not by the 10th. Also, we know the Other are possible/ exist in principle, like it or not, what's metaphysically dangerous or impossible about that? For me the Other is more black swans than singing roses.