The School Of Practical Philosophy: Philosophy Works - Week Seven
Posted February 28, 2011 at 11:56 PM by Ben Nadel
This week's class was all about negative emotions. And, as I sit here and reflect on our conversations, I am reminded of George Orwell's 1984. In the book, Orwell describes something known as "Newspeak" - an enhancement of our language in which the negative aspects of expression of removed and replaced with positive ones. At a simplistic level, this might appear to be a brilliant move towards positive habituation; of course, if you read the book (or watch the movie), you clearly see how critical negative emotions can be.
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Now, granted, it's hard to say how many lessons can really be gleaned from a work of fiction. If, we look at science, however, the same lessons can be learned. As discussed in the book, "How We Decide" by Jonah Lehrer, emotions of all kinds are critical. Whether by birth defect, brain surgery, or trauma, there are people in this world who literally do not have the part of the brain that deals with emotion. At first, you might expect these people to be hyper logical - to be able to make the most optimal decisions free from the prison of emotions. To be, if you will, Spock.
What we find, however, is that these people are completely dysfunctional. Rather than making extremely logical decisions, they are, often, incapable of making even the most mundane of choices. For a person who lacks emotion, having to select something like a pen or a box of cereal can be a debilitating task.
As the picture of our neurological mechanics becomes more complex, what we realize is that negative emotions are not implicitly bad; nor are positive emotions implicitly good. Each of these is simply a tool to be used when choosing our next actions.
Of course, these emotions are only tools if we learn how to leverage them. And, we can only leverage them if we become conscious of them. This week's exercise is be more aware of the thoughts that we are having; and, if they are negative thoughts, to think about how they can be either dismissed or leveraged. The key to this practice, as is true with every other practice that we've received in this class, is to learn how to act rather than react. The brain, after all, is a reflex organ - it is a slave to the world of stimuli around it. Our job, as conscious beings, is then to take the messages that our brain sends us - emotional or otherwise - and learn how to use them as wisely as possible.
And remember, Spock wasn't void of emotions, nor did he repress them - he was simply master of them.
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Yet another interesting and thoughtful post from Ben Nadel. Your Spock analogy is suprisingly effective.
You blog makes me realize it is totally appropriate to include off topic posts occasionally. This is something I've often wanted to do in my blog, but have been afraid of alienating my readers. I've been using your blog as a resource for a year or so now; this dose of human is a nice break from the code.
FYI - you can officially consider yourself a steward of the trees. Useful blogs like yours make it possible for weekend warrior web "hacks" like myself able to make really cool stuff. My cool website and blog, in turn, helps me reach the green community which helps the trees. Thanks!
Well, as usual, I come to your blog for an explanation of a coldFusion concept and get sidetracked by one of your wonderful blogs. Thanks! Sincerely -- it was a nice distraction for a minute from work. Good stuff. Now back to work...