EMOTION PRIMES REASON

EMOTIONS SPEAK, EMOTIONS TEACH, EMOTIONS LEARN

At altitude in the High Sierra Nevada, in the crisp winter night, I was contemplating the dazzling firmament, sparkling with stars, the Andromeda galaxy fully visible. Aldebaran, the twinkling red giant star, spoke to me of my early childhood, when my grandparents and my uncles taught me the night sky, and the cosmos. Aldebaran also spoke of the Saharan sky of my infanthood, its sparkling orange accentuating that of the distant horizon. Who has not seen desert stars at dusk, has not seen the grandest sight.

I felt fully rejuvenated, full of ambitious curiosity, at one with the universe.

More evidence that emotions speak, teach and learn? I considered carefully how small children learn languages. It’s an object of wonder. And mystery. My daughter is bilingual, French, English, and is learning Mandarin. The latter is accomplished by going to a Chinese school, eight hours a day. Native Chinese speakers are impressed by her fluency.

Athena’s best friend also just turned 4 year old, the daughter of a Turkish family. She speaks English and Turkish. I spoke to Athena’s friend in French only. Surprise: the Americano-Turkish toddler understood much of what I say.

Toddler power.

How do children understand language? They do it without books, by observing contexts carefully. The exact same mental attitude that is essential to science or philosophy.

I discovered that children feel out the context, including the emotional context, and compute what the meaning has got to be. Then they learn to associate the probable sounds to the probable meaning, memorizing the whole thing ever more precisely as they correct the subtle differences between what they understood or uttered, and what allows achieving better communications.

A child is, among other things, a physicist, learning the basic facts of reality: fall, get hurt, etc. Notice that it’s the emotion that does the learning: fall, get all roughed up, break the precious skin, get distressed, cry a lot. Thereafter “gravity” (a concept Athena associates from falling off trees and holding planets around) is taken really seriously. The more it hurts, the more serious. Gravity would not have been so well understood, so seriously understood, had not as much pain been experienced.

Pain is the ultimate experience.

This shows right there that there is something wrong to avoiding pain at all cost: it would mean avoiding learning at all cost, the essence of humanity. Some will say: “Oh, we are good, and want to live as we please, avoiding pain shall be foremost, whatever it takes.”

Buddhists, of course, promote the notion. Yet, when push came to shove, they had to establish a pretty nasty empire. But not nasty enough. Nasty enough to infuriate the future Genghis Khan, not nasty enough to resist him when he came back with a large army. Yes, you have to live with others, whose pain is, all too often, your pleasure.

(See tourists, polluting with CO2 around the world as they go to far off beaches, searching for pleasure through materialistic extravaganza, insuring that those beaches they claim to love, will be flooded very soon.)

The most important books one reads, and most frequently, are books of emotions, not books of words.

A small sensation can have a huge emotional impact. People can be hated, or humiliated, or spurned, once, and never forget. Remember Hitler, who felt humiliated and alienated by weirdly dressed Jews in the center of Vienna, when he was a beggar. “Is this a Jew?” he wondered. And then Hitler learned to associate his wretched condition of truly destitute German to the alienation he experienced in Vienna, thanks to this vision never experienced before of a black dressed individual with abundant black hair hanging all over.

He was not the only German to feel that way, and it all built up into a giant hatred (helped, of course, by 15 centuries of Christian anti-Jewish emotions and pattern of homicidal abuse).

Thus a small emotion can have huge intellectual, even civilizational, or anti-civilizational, impact.

Emotions are what get people to move. People’s minds to move, that is. And more. Emotions are how minds were built.

Addressing thoughts is one thing. Thoughts are digital. Addressing emotions is addressing what reality is made of. A continuous field, just as those fields we call Quanta. What’s out there is more complicated than Homer. Because words can only clumsily approximate what we feel. Such as individual photons. Themselves, fields.

The emotional universe is where we live. It’s what we are. A civilization is not first about words, but about how it feels about the universe. And, from there, what it teaches, speaks of, and even what it can learn of.

Imprisoned in their brutal view of man, the Greco-Romans did not learn enough to prevent the near collapse of civilization. We won’t have the second chance they got in us. Time to feel right. Enshrine it in the law as needed.

Patrice Aymé

***

Note: The fancy philosophy above is fully compatible with the most recent neurobiology, and takes flight from it, extending its dendrites where the glia are the most active…

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19 Responses to “EMOTION PRIMES REASON”

  1. Paul Handover Says:

    Profound essay. A number of disconnected thoughts (feelings?) arose from reading your words.

    The first is the night sky as a friend. In 1991 (1992?) I sailed my yacht, a Tradewind 33, solo from Gibraltar to the Azores, a distance of 1,000 nautical miles. It was a night sky during the third night at sea that settled me down; put a rest to the screaming in my mind from being alone. A night sky where the stars could be seen all the way down to the night horizon in every single direction.

    I can never look up at a starry night without remembering those times.

    The second is on the aspect of pain, as in being lost. For there is much truth in the saying that to find oneself, first one has to be lost.

    My final thought is about emotions and the struggle that so many of us have in really knowing who we are and why we behave the way we do. In part, connected to my second thought of needing to be lost before one can find oneself.

    That final thought being that looking inside oneself, in that journey of discovering who we are, can only come from silence. For the truth about ourselves only comes out of that silence.

    Sorry! I’ll crawl back into my kennel!

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Very interesting Paul, and you too are deep. Happy new year! Sorry I did not react before, I had a major car dysfunction.

      Car broke in two, basically, just like that, and partly caught fire… with baby sleeping inside! Ford claims it has got to be fracture that evolved from an “outside influence” (exact quote). Hahaha: NSA, CIA? Happily, I was not going fast. At 70mph on a mountain freeway, let alone an Alpine road, it could have been tragic. Anyway, I have had to go 100 miles one way to Nevada, rent a car, etc.
      PA

  2. Jon Awbrey Says:

    Aristotle understood that the affective is the basis of the cognitive.

    Words spoken are symbols or signs (symbola) of affections or impressions (pathemata) of the soul (psyche); written words are the signs of words spoken. As writing, so also is speech not the same for all races of men. But the mental affections themselves, of which these words are primarily signs (semeia), are the same for the whole of mankind, as are also the objects (pragmata) of which those affections are representations or likenesses, images, copies (homoiomata). (Aristotle, De Interp. i. 16a4).

    Interpretation as Action : The Risk of Inquiry

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Jon: Yes, Aristotle understood lots of things, an astounding number of things. Obviously there was lots of thinking going on at Philippe of Macedonia’s court!

      Only 47 of his works survived. Yet some say he wrote 400, and some, even 1,000!
      Although Aristotle got inertia ridiculously wrong, as far as we know, he had the scientific method pretty much invented for life forms (Lamarck invented the word biology circa 1800).

      Strange times. Some suspect Antipater got Alexander killed. If Alexander the monster had lived, maybe things would have turned out differently…
      I will read your link later, my car just blew up, something rich in possibilities in the high Sierra…

  3. gmax Says:

    Very fascinating, indeed. Better than Chimsky!

    Could you please elaborate the connection with brain studies?

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      My car’s “power unit” broke in half. That’s the axle transmitting power to the back wheels. Gear oil got into the exhaust system, and so on…. said the Ford dealer, 100 miles away (after the car got towed from California to… Nevada). There maybe more damage.
      So neurobiology of the mind will have to wait. Today I do spine of the car.
      PA

  4. Sallie Reynolds Says:

    Your essay is moving and I agree with the ideas and feelings expressed. But I still believe that making laws about expressing feelings is the wrong way to go about changing people’s feelings. How humans react to the world is as much hard-wired as any animal’s. And it can be changed, but the changes take place slowly and sometimes subtly. Someone wise once wrote, in effect, that we will protect only those things we love, and we will love only those things we understand. Will making laws against words help our understanding? I do not believe it will. Look to how we educate our children in the ways of the world, and make your laws there. There are consequences of hate speech in the US. But no hard and fast laws, as yet. Remember the hateful preacher who burned a Koran. He created a storm and it broke his power (which was in stirring hate), but he was not jailed.

    Happy New Year! I live in the Sierra too. And have a favorite high valley where the stars wheel and seem to speak. It was inhabited (on a seasonal basis) by a people dead now for more than 5000 years. I sometimes believe, looking at their stonework, that I can sense their presence. They were interesting in that, unlike most humans, they wished to leave no mark behind. Their stone carvings are not self-expressions, but maps.

    Blessings to all.

    Sallie

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Happy New Year Sallie (and all who happens to read this, and comment on this site).
      I am next to Tahoe City, and towing an exploded car 100 miles, and related issues, has kept me busy in the last 2 days (and it’s not over yet: that car will need at least 2 weeks of repair, and may even not be repairable; Ford is the main culprit, one way or another…)

      Burning a Qur’an, a Bible or the USA Constitution ought to be, and is lawful in a serious republic. In France, you can do whatever you want to the flag all day long.

      To go public on the Internet to call people to kill people (not just the president) is unlawful in the USA, or France. And should be. Doing things that used to be done with children is also unlawful and rightly so. So it is to propagandize these things as good, or even tolerable, or expressing the feeling that’s OK.

      Charlie Manson got life along similar lines, influencing Satan like, that was not yesterday, but long ago.

      Hate crime is one the rare cases where my fiend Barry implemented some of what I recommended. Anyway, here is a slice of Wikipedia for you.

      The Civil Rights Act of 1968 enacted 18 U.S.C. § 245(b)(2), which permits federal prosecution of anyone who “willingly injures, intimidates or interferes with another person, or attempts to do so, by force because of the other person’s race, color, religion or national origin” [1] because of the victim’s attempt to engage in one of six types of federally protected activities, such as attending school, patronizing a public place/facility, applying for employment, acting as a juror in a state court or voting.

      Persons violating this law face a fine or imprisonment of up to one year, or both. If bodily injury results or if such acts of intimidation involve the use of firearms, explosives or fire, individuals can receive prison terms of up to 10 years, while crimes involving kidnapping, sexual assault, or murder can be punishable by life in prison or the death penalty.[2] U.S. District Courts provide for criminal sanctions only. The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 contained a provision at 42 U.S.C. § 13981 which allowed victims of gender-motivated hate crimes to seek “compensatory and punitive damages, injunctive and declaratory relief, and such other relief as a court may deem appropriate”, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Morrison that the provision is unconstitutional.

      Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (1994)[edit]

      Main article: Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act

      The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, enacted in 28 U.S.C. § 994 note Sec. 280003, requires the United States Sentencing Commission to increase the penalties for hate crimes committed on the basis of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or gender of any person. In 1995, the Sentencing Commission implemented these guidelines, which only apply to federal crimes.[3]

      Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act[edit]

      Main article: Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act

      On October 28, 2009 President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, attached to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, which expanded existing United States federal hate crime law to apply to crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, and dropped the prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally protected activity.

      Expressing emotion is fundamental speech. Speech comes under the watch of law.
      PA

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Sallie: Where in the Sierra do you live? Northern, southern? I think Sierra people, like other mountain people, are bound to be interesting, from the very nature of where they live. Amazingly warm weather, BTW…
      PA

  5. Old Geezer Pilot Says:

    “Your beliefs become your thoughts,
    Your thoughts become your words,
    Your words become your actions,
    Your actions become your habits,
    Your habits become your values,
    Your values become your destiny.”

    ― Mahatma Gandhi

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Excellent, OGP, and Happy New Year. Never heard of that quote before, thanks! Gandhi keeps on surprising me. He is quite a bit like Obama: giving good speeches, and acting just the opposite.

      Note though, that a belief is, mostly a system of thought. I propose to go deeper, and visualize, and criticize, emotions.
      In the case of Gandhi, the emotions were that the Brits were the max evil (they were not… he was!), and also that Indians were, first of all, Hindus. They were not: that battle had been lost 13 centuries before.

      Two wrong beliefs to which Gandhi was extravagantly attached…
      PA

    • Old Geezer Pilot Says:

      Obama does not inspire the huge following that Gandhi did. MLK would be a better example.

      And Obama missed his chance to offer RESISTANCE to the Republicans in the House whose stated sole aim was to make him a one-term President.

      But, yes, he does give good speeches.

      • Patrice Ayme Says:

        I don’t even read “Obama”‘s speeches anymore. I read the one on inequality, though. Stuff I have written for years. Obama ought to have given it on day one, to explain why he gave an executive orders confiscating the properties of all financiers involved in the 2008 crash. Oops, guess that would have involved his “friend” JP Dimon and W Buffet….
        PA

  6. EugenR Says:

    Patrice, 100% agree, emotions are the prime reasons driving the human acts and also the human history. And since the human emotions are unpredictable and uncontrollable it is the major cause of the tragedy play called “The History”.

    Lets take as an example the brake out of WWI. Nobody predicted it and there was no rational reason to start it. At 1914 everything seemed to be in positive trend and positive evolution. Science (Atomic and sub atomic discoveries, psychology, etc.), technology (benzine and diesel motors, electricity, aeronautics, etc), economic prosperity due to new technologies and products, social evolution (introduction of social legislation of pension systems, education and health care) and also international political stability due to family relations of all the European kings. And suddenly a confused student, who lost his way, kills a prince, and an 80 year war starts, that its tragic political consequences diminished only recently with the collapse of USSR.

    Now lets take the world today and to where the emotions drive us;

    On one hand the world economy is advancing to more riches and more evenly distributed wealth among different regions. The Asian and South American economies are caching up with the highly developed US-Europe-Japan. Technology is advancing at accelerating speed, introducing to the market every few years a consumption paradigm changing new product. Science is advancing in wide range of new fields. Birth rates are collapsing in increasing speed. These are all good news.

    On one hand the world economy is advancing to more riches and more evenly distributed wealth among different regions. The Asian and South American economies are caching up with the highly developed US-Europe-Japan. Technology is advancing at accelerating speed, introducing to the market every few years a consumption paradigm changing new product. Science is advancing in wide range of new fields. Birth rates are collapsing in increasing speed. These are all good news.

    But what about the bad news?

    a. The environmental problem. The world failed to create a global institution that can enforce environmental protective policy with all the price to be paid of such a policy. As an obvious example of price to be paid is the need to reduce hydrocarbon fuel usage, but also the need to change the custom of meat eating.

    b. The wake up of irrational anachronistic ideologies mainly in the Muslim world, that see destruction as a legitimate tool to achieve their goal of imposing their faith on rest of the world. The worst of all this is that their system denies the reality, that political-legal-social-religious system, that was very successful 1400 years ago, cannot be applied on a world with population more than twenty fold higher, with hunger to consume more and more products. It may be said that when the realities exposes the difficulty to implement their fundamental policy (as it is happening in these days), the religious fundamentalist movement will be eventually marginalized. Yet, because of the level of commitment of the followers, by using the tools of the modern world (as they showed they know to do), even very small group of believers can endanger the whole human civilization.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Hi Eugen: Thanks for the appreciation. Sorry I could not answer earlier, I have had deadlines right and left. Your comment is interesting in many ways. I am trying to find time to answer it, perhaps in a little post. But first time has to be found.

      Did you read what I wrote in the past about 1914, a plot, and the moody connection with WWII? Does not look like it (hahaha).
      PA

  7. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Emotion primes reason, be it only because neurohormones prime neurons.

  8. MOODS RULE THOUGHTS | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] have gone one further, by introducing Systems of Moods. Why moods? Emotion Primes Reason. However, rarely does one emotion rule alone, but for ravenous hunger, abject terror, and other […]

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