Fear of Snakes is from the fear of snakes


Quick summary: A fear of snakes is one of the most common fears held by humans… why? Many would answer, “they are poisonous and can kill you,” but many things kill significantly more humans than snakes (especially in the US). I am going to offer a hypothesis that I have been thinking about. The fear reaction of a snake is seemingly instantaneous… perhaps we fear snakes as they represent an emotional reactivity unhindered by a cognitive filter… they react to the ‘unsafe or danger’ emotion in the present moment without projecting a deductive tool of a belief system onto the invoking stimulus. There is then no way for us to assume control without a control of our own emotional disposition as the snake will react instantaneously to our disposition.

Historically there were many in both the religious and scientific (redundant perhaps) communities that claimed that animals lacked emotions (excluding the human animal)… anyone who has had a dog would argue that such a belief is crazy. For whatever reason this message stuck with me subconsciously and I have recently come to realize that I have projected this emotionless notion onto reptiles.

Human have a consciousness of their consciousness. With this meta-consciousness we hold an awareness of our emotions and an ability to observe our emotional reactivity. Perhaps the early peoples concluded that animals did not have emotions, as animals are arguably less conscious of their emotions and less likely to attempt to alter there emotional reaction as humans so commonly do.

Many Animals (especially mammals), I would suggest, do have a consciousness of their consciousness… and this ability is often augmented by domestication… which is perhaps why domesticated animals do not fair well in the wild as they lose there ability to react according the natural law in the moment.

  • I will suggest that emotions are an intuitive guide for survival within the natural environment. When we cognitively alter or suppress our emotions, perhaps we limit the survival abilities most adaptive to the wild.


  • If you try and take food from an untrained dog, the dog will likely bite you… there was danger in moment and the dog would instantly react against the danger (survival response).  A trained dog would notice the danger (you are taking its food which it needs to survive), but alter its’ emotional response to a response that it learned was ‘better’. This cognitive override takes time… In the wild the dog would have an increased likelihood of dying.


Snakes (I am not an expert I am simply offering a hypothesis created for entertainment) do not appear to have a consciousness of their consciousness… therefore, they react instantly to a perceived danger. I would suggest that this reaction to danger illustrates emotional dictation of a behavior…

  • Most humans seem to be terrified of emotional dictation of behavior. Our Ego’s want control and certainty… emotions are inconsistent and heavily influenced by external forces.


  • Many humans have learned to experience an emotion – make a conscious and unconscious decisions about that emotion – and then engage in a behavior which is influenced by both beliefs and the emotion. This process offers validation to the misguided belief that life is predictable and that we control our destinies (no matter how smart and ‘emotionally regulated’ you are there is nothing you could do about our universe crashing into another universe).


Snakes are a tangible reminder of our inability to control our destinies… despite any cognitive intervention… a snake could kill you…

Humans consciously and unconsciously desire predictability… the emotional reactivity of a snake makes them inherently unpredictable… they are a symbol of unpredictability.

Many would suggest that snakes cannot be domesticated… their non-threatening behavior while in captivity creates the illusion of predictability when in truth it is our disposition related to believing the snake to be ‘safe’ which placates the snake.

In conclusion, we fear snakes as they represent the unpredictable nature of life… an “unpredictable life” is the archenemy of the human ego.

I sat once with a rattlesnake that had been recently run over by a bicycle. It was coiled and ‘angry’… it was perhaps terrified by its’ physical pain… the pain made its’ very existence dangerous. I sat next to it far enough so that it could not strike me. I contemplated my fear of the snake and became conscious of its emotionality… The instance became a metaphor… a life lesson that I desperately needed in my own time of suffering… I felt compassion and gratitude for the snake… the snake slowly uncoiled and moved away peacefully.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.
William Hambleton Bishop
William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

3 thoughts on “Fear of Snakes is from the fear of snakes

  1. Pingback: Cognitive Neuroscience of Mindfulness Meditation | Taking care of your pet

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