3.08.2009

on emotions and knowledge

Emotions make life worth living while, at times, challenging us to question our rational faculties by putting them at odds with our feelings. (A man who claims control over his emotions is not a liar but neither is he a wordsmith. Men no more "control" their emotions than they do their hunger. A rational man understands hunger and acts accordingly. The man who "controls" his emotions understands them and also acts accordingly. And just as men may change their eating habits, decide when and how to eat, and learn to manage their appetites, so also can men change their emotional habits, decide when and how to act on their emotions, and manage their emotional appetites.) Far too often, when an emotion conflicts with our rational decision we conclude one of two things: either our emotions are irreconcilable with rationality or the decision we made was incorrect. While the latter might be true--based on a proper understanding of "emotion"--the former is necessarily false.

"Your subconscious is like a computer—more complex a computer than men can build—and its main function is the integration of your ideas. Who programs it? Your conscious mind. If you default, if you don’t reach any firm convictions, your subconscious is programmed by chance—and you deliver yourself into the power of ideas you do not know you have accepted. But one way or the other, your computer gives you print-outs, daily and hourly, in the form of emotionswhich are lightning-like estimates of the things around you, calculated according to your values."

Emotions, though, are not as immediately rewritten as a logical construct. Emotional response builds up over years of programming. Eventually, some logical processes become automatic. That is, they become emotions.

For instance, if a man continually finds high values in someone's character, he grows to love that person. It is impossible for him to love a stranger since their values are unknown. (Unless our hypothetical man ONLY values physical appearance--which I suppose is possible but unlikely.) But as he gets to know the stranger (Betty) and identifies the values, he gains pleasure from the interaction. Over time the pleasure becomes such a positive experience that the man's mind decides to automate the process to conserve logical processing power. His mind formulates the emotion "love."

His love is necessarily conditional and necessarily contextual. If the conditions or context change, then the man becomes confused and may even decide that the changes are enough to stop loving Betty. But even as he consciously understands that it is no longer in his rational self interest to love, he finds it incredibly difficult to halt his emotions. He might become distraught, angry, or otherwise fed up with feeling "that way" for someone who no longer deserves it.

If a newly formed conclusion stands in opposition to an emotion, you have to understand why in order to make a value judgment about both the conclusion and the emotion. Note:

"Learn to distinguish the difference between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality. An error of knowledge is not a moral flaw, provided you are willing to correct it; only a mystic would judge human beings by the standard of an impossible, automatic omniscience. But a breach of morality is the conscious choice of an action you know to be evil, or a willful evasion of knowledge, a suspension of sight and of thought. That which you do not know, is not a moral charge against you; but that which you refuse to know, is an account of infamy growing in your soul."

(In our situation, Betty represented herself as pure--as pure as a South Carolina snow storm in March. Betty was, in fact, a whore. And when the man found out, he decided not to love her. His was an error of knowledge. He had no way of knowing that Betty's representation was, in fact, a misrepresentation. He is neither God nor Greg House; therefore, he is not omniscient. He cannot be blamed for giving his love to someone who was hiding her true character. If he decided to ignore Betty's whoreishness even though it deeply conflicted with his values, then he would also be committing an act of evasion and, ultimately, a breach of morality. But for the sake of this argument, he's making the (right) choice to no longer love (ugly) Betty.)

The man's emotions conflict with his decisions because the automated processes of his mind are confused by their new orders. They had been programmed to accompany being around Betty with the values that caused the emotion love. Seeing Betty resulted in pleasure, and the man's body liked it--was addicted to it--as we're all addicted to pleasure. The man must now struggle to reprogram a computer that does not want any such reprogramming. It wants what its always had: Betty (as a representation of an achievement of values). His mind can certainly be reprogrammed. Over time the new logical processes--Betty as a representation of misrepresentation--will over write the old code.

(It's hard to say if the old programming ever goes away. It depends greatly on how deep the attachment was and the will of the programmer. Its as if the programming is written in ink. Sure, it can be erased, but it almost always leaves traces of its previous message.)

Of course, the man's automated processes do not stop receiving orders during this entire process. They start writing new reports about "love" and how it actually sucks. His brain goes emo. It creates a new automated logical process in the form of the emotion fear (of attachment). The hypothetical man finds it difficult to form new relationships because he's overly suspicious, paranoid, and afraid of abandonment. He certainly enjoyed the pleasure of loving Betty, but he also wants to avoid the pain of having to experience another break up.

Its a vicious cycle but not one that's impossible to break. His rational mind keeps up with the reprogramming and, over time, his emotions stop conflicting with his conclusions--but it doesn't happen instantly. It can't and shouldn't.

Consider the ramifications of emotions forming as quickly as logical conclusions. Emotions form over time because we're fallible. That may seem contradictory, but it is, in fact, a fail safe mechanism to help us deal with the world. We do not know everything, so our mind gives us time to find out, to make multiple rational conclusions, and to make sure that our investment is worth the emotion. And, yes, we are sometimes rewarded with emotions for situations that turn out to be something other than they appear. These situations, though, should not be used to damn our emotions but to damn the people that evade reality. They are literally messing with our minds by perpetrating lies. In falling victim to these evasions, we make an error of knowledge while they breach morality.

5 comments:

Jayemel said...

Is Betty hypothetical, or did I miss something?

I can't believe you just treated emo philosophically.

It's important to note that the more knowledge you have of your own values and tastes, the more responsive your emotions will be to your logic and reason. To continue the hunger metaphor, I know I love steak, so I get hungrier at Texas Roadhouse than I would at a vegan restaurant.

GeorgeDubya said...

A philosophical description of several of the tenants of Cognitive Psychology. I love it!

And, as my father would say "Fuck feelings. Tell me what you're thinking."

Michael said...

Thank you for this insight. I only wish Betty was indeed a whore and not a complete and sudden mystery.

(*a)* said...

Michael, despite all the pop culture “relationship” and man-trapping advice encouraging women to be mysterious, few of us actually are. Chances are, if you asked her to, Betty would unravel the mystery, and if she won’t, well, she’s breaching morality. If that’s the case, Betty’s not a mystery at all, but I’m too much of a lady to call her what she really is.

Identified, in the style of The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, just for you, JML.

Brent S. Robida said...

nice post, glad to see jayemel thought about it, if only because you've nominated the female abstraction :)

emotions, wow. reason, wow. would you believe me if for a single night of my life the distinction collapsed for me in another's eyes. love, true false tragic comedic pornographic or etherial, to my understanding follows from a single principle: self-love. which itself follows from a single emotion: self-knowledge. which itself follows from a single judgement: innocent. which is to say, if the poets every began to arouse the geometricians, and vise versa, which is to say, if you guys could stop for one moment and KNOW and BELIEVE and have COURAGE and FAITH that we, those who bother to spit words at our emotions, when we love most authentically, become both poets and mathematicians, proofs modal and rational, literal and rhetorical, figural and real, cognitive and perceptive, THEN you could avoid disputes and petty fights with friends you really love, men for whom loyalty is the highest choice rather than lowest compulsion, then you'd walk on the sun.