Saturday, December 4, 2010

Does Reason destroy Emotions?

As a teenager I had the notion that reason has the power to destroy emotions. That thinking on a subject and analyzing it has the power to make it detached from my values.

I think this a common viewpoint and phenomenon and I wonder what causes it.

I know it is not the way things are for me today, but the very opposite. The fact that I understand things better makes me feel more clearly and intensely - because subconsciously I see the elements involved in daily occurrences more clearly - I see how they relate to my values more clearly and so I get more emotional about them.

Sometimes reason and emotions can have an opposite "opinion". Because emotions are based primarily on subconscious thinking while reason is a conscious process. So it is possible to be very mad at someone while consciously thinking that one has no reason to be mad. The conflict can be resolved with successful introspection, but it is possible to have such a split prior (or without) introspection.

However, it seems like reason as destroying or going against emotions is a bigger issue than just a few instances. People believe that reason is inherently opposed to reason - that the way to know and live fully is to base one's cognition on emotions rather than on thinking.

I think one possible reason is that most people (and me as a teenager) do not hold a rational, consistent system of ethics. What we learn as ethical or "normal behavior" from society is almost entirely a set of arbitrary rules, based on common sense in part and on blind heritage in the other.
Meanwhile, subconsciously, people do develop their own ideas of ethics which are only experienced as "feelings" of what is right and what is wrong, without the ability to understand why it is so. The result is that every time they apply reason, they feel stiffed in their decision making and in how they feel about the situation, while when they use their emotions without reason their automatized values remain safe.

It is knowledge of rational ethics with full, clear understanding of it that actually solves the problem and makes reason a tool and an aid, rather than an enemy and a destroyer.

My conclusion is that reason does not inherently destroy emotions. It is a tool, a valuable tool to understand one's emotions and ultimately, to have the power of conviction and clarity in what one feels.

Intellectualization as a defense mechanism is still possible - it is a process of diverting one's focus from the source of a negative emotion into a "safe", yet related topic, which does not carry with it the power of those negative emotions (because it does not discuss the essence of those emotions). It is a way to use our will to avoid facing the problem. But this is not a process of reasoning. Reasoning and intellectualizing have one element in common - the use of our conscious mind and our will to consider specific content. They are both active, not passive, processes, but that is all they have in common.
In other words, we must not confuse reason with this defense mechanism. Reason is not inherently an enemy of emotions.