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In my unending quest to rid the world of those pesky dichotomies, here’s another one: REASON vs EMOTION. This one says, basically, that the mind (which is smart, intelligent, logical, without doubt) is opposed to the feeling (which is not open to {intellectual} discussion, sensible, and empathic). And this one is deeply, deeply ingrained in our culture. If there is anyone from outside European-centric cultures (say Chinese, of Vietnamese) reading this blog please comment how you see that in your perspective. Anyway, as i already said, i do not buy this one.

Both reason and emotion are just manifestations of brain activity. They are just emergent phenomena from our complex neuronal systems. For the longest time emotions where said to stem from the heart and thought from the brain, but that is just crap. The heart is just a muscle and it does not feel anymore than a hand or the skin. Both emotion and reason, therefore, are (genetically speaking) native from the brain. That means: they come from the brain.

Now it seems that, using examples, the differences between those two categories (REASON and EMOTION) are so different that they, at least, must be two different kinds of things. Like apples and oranges. So let’s go for the examples:

  • when i answer a question in a math test
  • when i decide not to call a girl because she didn’t go to the bar

There would at first be no more “rational” kind of brain-activity than a problem-solving into a Maths test. Nevertheless, if you ever was a kid in a school, you know there are bad “feeling” consequences to not answering correctly (which means, as the teacher would like you to answer), which mount over the test as you fail to answer one after the other question and is headed to the D- or on the other hand if you are getting it all so easy and you will certainly be called to the front to show how bright you are. In fact, being very smart is almost a form of bullying. But i digress.

Now take the spiteful decision to not call. Despite being as touchy-feely a situation as possible, where more than anything else what’s at stake are how other people (or more precisely her) will feel towards me, what is really going on here is a calculation: how to maximize her liking me (or to be really sincere how can i make her crawl and beg). As devious (and socially inadmissible) as this is, the mental attitude is as based on cause-consequence modeling as a physics experiment.

So, at least, it is not so easy to split REASON from EMOTION. If they are two different kinds of things, at least they do happen in our lives at the same times and closely tied together. But i believe even that is not very correct.

Once you’ve accepted feeling and thinking to be two poles in a scale confirmation bias sets in and nothing can remove you from this belief. Nevertheless, there is no clear and dependable way to separate the two. There is no experiment which shows both kinds of things clearly divided.

This division seems more like a specific reading to which we became attached than anything else.

And, if such personalistic facts as “i feel it is right that they are two things different”, then i should be allowed to share my own personalistic view. And it is that i, too, for the longest time would believe that human inner life was based on that polarity. I even subscribed to such notions as “i am better at dealing with reason than with emotion”. But, once i came across the notion that maybe there is no frontier between the two and we could read both as simply different expressions of the mental life of the person, slowly it began to get sounder and sounder. It began to seem like “emotion” and “reason” were just two words, not two “things”, and that i was not gaining much by overly stressing the differences.

That is, i began to wonder if my belief in this difference was not making the difference itself more important than it was. And now i believe that most of the characteristics of both REASON and EMOTION are actually bad attempts at differentiation than properties of the thing.

I think this dichotomy between REASON and EMOTION skews our perspective on the world in needless ways. I think it consumes time and energy and space that we could use better.

But, probably, the best argument in this dispute is to show that understanding both REASON and EMOTION as just (not far apart) cases of “brain activity” (or whatever name you want to give it), that understanding they as things of the same kind actually helps us to understand the world better. And i actually think the benefits are huge and obvious!

For example, we could flexibilize the economic idea that human beings are “rational” without losing their traditional analysis tools, we could abandon our dumb distinctions between occidental and oriental cultures based on reason, probably many artificial barriers between various psychology schools could be bridged, we could dispense with the abstruse notion of “magical thinking”, we could look deeper into the question of consciousness, and so on and so forth.

It is a much clearer idea of the world.

4 Comments

  1. Great Post! Keep up the good work =]

  2. I have to agree that the heart is not the origin of emotion. However, It doesn’t “feel” right to suggest that emotion is bourn of the mind. The natural man has to develop reason which I think we can all agree is a function of the brain. Have you ever considered that the origin of emotion may be the spirit?

  3. Wes, to me saying “emotion comes from the spirit” and “emotion comes from the mind” and “emotion comes from the heart” all mean the EXACT SAME THING. Namely, that emotion is a different part of “our insides”, of our conscience, of that what-it-feels-like-to-be-me. Fundamentally, we WANT to believe that thinking and feeling are different forms of being. I propose that they are not, that they are at best different emphasizing of the being.

  4. so..how to draw a line between the emotion and reasoning?


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