I know this isn't exactly a theological debate, but it's a question I've been struggling with for a little while now, and I came to it through atheism.

Looking at religion and other similar scams has taught me to value reason and rationality over things like hope, fear, or want. For a short while, that convinced me on an intellectual level that emotion and reason were opposites, but obviously I had trouble throwing out emotions entirely. Now I think emotions can act in accordance with reason and even help motivate appropriate behavior when reason won't, but I'm far from closing the book on this topic.

So my questions to you are these: What do you think is the relationship between reason and emotion? To what extent should we listen to each, and what do we do when they conflict?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Tags: emotion, rationality, reason

Views: 27

Replies to This Discussion

Are you looking for a scientific answer or how we each interpret and respond to this?
Emotions come from a variety of sources and it can be a complex topic. The idea that 'logic/reason' can be without emotion is really not entirely accurate. This is a really big question, and without further definition is difficult to answer.
The bottom line is, they are not really as separate as they seem. This question would need to be defined more narrowly in order to be answered coherently.
I understand that there are several neurological and evolutionary connections between the two and explanations for their connectivity, but I'm more interested in how meta-cognitive beings deal with reason and emotion when they conflict. An easy example can be seen in depression. Although a depressed person is releasing less serotonin than normal and suffering the emotional consequences, surely explaining this to a patient and telling him/her that there's no rational reason to dwell on, say, a recent break-up would fail to put an end to the dwelling or the depression. In this case, the patient is able to recognize the irrationality of his/her behavior (because it only contributes to the problem) yet can't seem to reason him/herself out of it. My question, put in this context, would be whether or not you think reason and emotion are opponents in this situation. As you said, I know that reason and emotion are closely tied, and often work in concert. But cases like the one I just mentioned seem to me to pit them against each other. If you don't see it that way, I'm curious to hear how you do see it. And if you do, how would you resolve that conflict?
What one shouldn't do is try to resolve such conflicts without any help. The appropriate help may be chemical. Or it may be psychological. Or, more likely, a combination of the two. Your example suffers from the misfortune of being about an emotion that is clearly impacted by known (not completely, sigh ...) neurochemical interactions. It, thus, doesn't neatly fall into the emotion vs reason dichotomy the OP sets up. So, without chemical assistance, there may not be any way out. However, the existence of the placebo effect clearly shows that (false) perception of an issue can effect the material world. At the basest level, talk therapy or CBT or whatever may indeed cause sufficient self-neurochemical-medication to effect a positive change.

It seems that all the non-chemical psychological treatments have as their goal the gradual rationalization of emotions so that the patient _can_ deal with them more effectively in that manner -- including learning to control, suppress, shape, or manage the emotions. Note that I did not say "eliminate." Sometimes, the result of this is such a complete submerging of an emotion (in particular situations), that it seems that it has been eliminated. What is important there is the situation. Different situations may trigger the emotion anew.

As a simplistic example: When I began my current job as a warehouse worker, I had never been on a fork-lift of any kind, let alone the kind where you stand on a platform and then rise 30 feet into the air. For a few weeks, it didn't matter how much steel, harness, hardhat, etc, I was protected with -- I was 30 feet in the frickin' air standing on a wobbly platform. I gradually gained my 'sea legs' and now do it without a second thought and only notice really unusual motions (and panic is not my first response then, either.)

I guess I'm saying that reason and emotion don't really conflict -- they are different ways of looking at -- experiencing -- a situation. We have to learn multiple ways of doing that. And which ways are more productive (or, at least, less destructive.)
Let's take the case of a failed relationship. Feelings of love and care mingle with feelings of ... I don't know ... anger, guilt, shame, grief ... whatever ... and making a decision to end a relationship depends on how much pain one feels, what consequences one faces, the pros and cons of leaving or staying, failing to see a replacement for the loss ... all these factor in.

For me, I have to think it through very carefully, what is the worst or best I can expect with either decision. What will my life be like 5 years, 10 or 20 years with each decision. I make decisions very slowly, carefully, thoughtfully, and then, when the decisions is made, I burn all my bridges, get busy at something ... anything ... and find ways to stop the "what if?" rehashing that I see other people do.

For depression, which I used to have and no longer do, I go through a process of evaluation. It includes looking honestly at myself as I am, without masks or pretenses. I pay attention to the things I do well and feel good when doing them. I attend to the influences in my life and whether they provide me with honesty, caring and are trustworthy, or if I feel used or exploited when with them. I consider my thoughts as they come to me and determine if I am doing all I can to live in balance with myself and others, and with my feelings and reasonings. I then think of myself as part of a family, community, circle of supportive friends to determine it they are reciprocating their time and attention with me, and I with them. I cannot explain why this works for me, but it does. I have many stressors, but none that cause me to feel helpless, hopeless or afraid.
For me, personally, I had to learn as a small child, helpless and powerless in family dynamics, to store my emotions because they didn't help me find the safety and security I needed. I learned, very early, to think, reason, scheme, and manipulate just to survive. I became a clever survivor facing domestic violence, not a thriver. As an adult, I had to learn to experience feelings and intuitions and recognize them as assets. Having access to my feelings, coupled with my skills as a thinker, gives me the strength and power to face real world problems and conflicts and do those things necessary to live a balanced life.
Interesting topic. Trying to put reason and emotion in opposition is a mistaken notion.

It is my understanding that reason is ultimately subservient to emotion.

Cognitive scientist George Lakoff regularly points out in his lectures that people who have lost their emotional ability through brain damage often have great difficulty making even the simplest decisions. You can't tell what you want or don't want.

If you think about it, what could motivate you if you had no emotions? You wouldn't care about anything.
I see your point, and I'll definitely check out George Lakoff (thanks for the reference!), but I'm still not quite satisfied. Even without emotions, we'd surely be motivated to survive and reproduce, wouldn't we? I wouldn't project emotions onto fruit flies, and yet they still manage to act in accordance with their evolutionary needs. Isn't this reason (to the best of their limited capacities for reason) without emotion?
The more prevalent notion is that they would be acting on instinct -- a non-rational (in the sense, of 'none') impetus. For many, this would be closer to emotion than to reason.
I found a reference in this article by Lakoff:
A Good Week For Science — and Insight into Politics

"Real reason is inexplicably tied up with emotion; you cannot be rational without being emotional. False reason thinks that emotion is the enemy of reason, that it is unscrupulous to call on emotion. Yet people with brain damage who cannot feel emotion cannot make rational decisions because they do not know what to want, since like and not like mean nothing. "Rational" decisions are based on a long history of emotional responses by oneself and others. Real reason requires emotion."

George Lakoff is best known for his theories tying cognitive science to politics, and his promotion of liberal political views.

I'm interested in reading up on the experiments he mentions.
You wrote "So my questions to you are these: What do you think is the relationship between reason and emotion? To what extent should we listen to each, and what do we do when they conflict?"

Reason is the process whereby we may use logic to plan for life enhancing or cogent experiences. Emotions are merely outcomes of experiences. You may have noticed that some experiences and the processes that mitigate them are within our control, and some are not.

For instance, if my ancestral home in place X is over run by some unfriendly neighboring tribes, without warning, when I am as yet a child, THIS IS BEYOND MY CONTROL.

When I grow up, I may choose to slaughter those peoples who have captured the ground where my ancestors were living, or I can choose to find another place to revere as significant in such a context. It need not be on land as such. It could in fact be on the keyboard, fretboard or register of a musical instrument. Such a place could be found in the instrumentality of some as yet undiscovered technology or within the orthodoxy of an existing group of practices.

The point being, do I choose to fashion my own identity or is it bound to the victimization of my ancestors as I seek to find conquest in the succeeding victimization of future generations of children as yet unborn? Do I resolve my personal conflict by killing and subjugating others or by reevaluating and reinventing my own place in the sun? The bellicose choice or that of the pacifist; it requires careful consideration, on this point I think we agree.
I think the George Lakoff’s quote posted by George sums it up quite well “Real reason requires emotion

Emotions are fundamental to be able to live as the social animals that we are. The tension between emotions and reason is inevitable all the more so if you are committed to reason. I think it is more productive to acknowledge the role of emotions and their influence in our decisions than try to suppress emotions.
Reason can be seen as same by everyone, thus leading to a common understanding or conclusion. Now emotion, varies GREATLY among individuals.

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