Is it really possible to separate emotion and reason?

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Verdandi
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30 Jul 2012, 10:51 am

I don't really bother to deny emotional bias with regards to my own views, because I consider that emotional processing is part and parcel of the human mind, not something that can simply be removed without repercussion. For example:

http://bigthink.com/experts-corner/deci ... ion-making

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A few years ago, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio made a groundbreaking discovery. He studied people with damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated. He found that they seemed normal, except that they were not able to feel emotions. But they all had something peculiar in common: they couldn’t make decisions. They could describe what they should be doing in logical terms, yet they found it very difficult to make even simple decisions, such as what to eat. Many decisions have pros and cons on both sides—shall I have the chicken or the turkey? With no rational way to decide, these test subjects were unable to arrive at a decision.

So at the point of decision, emotions are very important for choosing. In fact even with what we believe are logical decisions, the very point of choice is arguably always based on emotion.


I know that I find it difficult to identify and often feel some of my emotions, but that does not mean they are absent. But, I also often find it difficult to make decisions when I do not feel very emotional at all. This could be executive dysfunction, alexithymia, both, or something else.

Anyway, I also found this article on Mother Jones:

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/201 ... ris-mooney

Quote:
In the annals of denial, it doesn't get much more extreme than the Seekers. They lost their jobs, the press mocked them, and there were efforts to keep them away from impressionable young minds. But while Martin's space cult might lie at on the far end of the spectrum of human self-delusion, there's plenty to go around. And since Festinger's day, an array of new discoveries in psychology and neuroscience has further demonstrated how our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions. This tendency toward so-called "motivated reasoning" helps explain why we find groups so polarized over matters where the evidence is so unequivocal: climate change, vaccines, "death panels," the birthplace and religion of the president (PDF), and much else. It would seem that expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the facts.

The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience (PDF): Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call "affect"). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we're aware of it. That shouldn't be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It's a "basic human survival skill," explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.


I find that interesting, that "reasoning is actually suffused with emotion." I don't find it surprising at all, and have believed such for some time - mostly due to the fact that those who accuse me of being emotional because I disagree with them appear to be quite emotional themselves. I also do not feel that having and expressing emotions about a topic should reduce one's credibility on that topic.

But, I think that between these two articles, it's hard to justify the notion that "logic" and "emotion" are entirely separable, nor that one should want to separate these things.



edgewaters
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30 Jul 2012, 11:25 am

Any logical argument needs a premise - emotions and subjective values usually provide this.

But reason itself is not otherwise "suffused with emotion" ... this is a deviation from reason. That it is so ubiquitous doesn't change the fact.

Moreover, reason is capable of overcoming knee-jerk reactions, given time and effort. People do change their views as a result of reason, in defiance of upbringing and emotional responses, this happens all the time, it just happens so slowly in a given person that it's difficult to see on the individual level. But we can see it easily on the social level. Strong arguments can shift thinking dramatically over a period of time - provided the society is receptive to reason and change (a thing we are rapidly losing lately, but at least historically, have been quite good at).



Verdandi
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30 Jul 2012, 2:35 pm

edgewaters wrote:
Any logical argument needs a premise - emotions and subjective values usually provide this.

But reason itself is not otherwise "suffused with emotion" ... this is a deviation from reason. That it is so ubiquitous doesn't change the fact.


Do you have any evidence for this? It seems neuroscience is finding that reason is suffused with emotion. I find it peculiar that so many people - NT, autistic, or otherwise - seem to place such stock in the idea that emotion can be denied, ignored, or simply not present. I tend to think that adherence to such an assumption to be an emotional act.

I would go so far as to say that reason is useless without emotion, as emotion is also motivation.

Quote:
Moreover, reason is capable of overcoming knee-jerk reactions, given time and effort. People do change their views as a result of reason, in defiance of upbringing and emotional responses, this happens all the time, it just happens so slowly in a given person that it's difficult to see on the individual level. But we can see it easily on the social level. Strong arguments can shift thinking dramatically over a period of time - provided the society is receptive to reason and change (a thing we are rapidly losing lately, but at least historically, have been quite good at).


But usually, people have emotional reasons for making such a shift, as well as resisting it. Not all emotions are knee-jerk responses.



edgewaters
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30 Jul 2012, 5:27 pm

Verdandi wrote:
Do you have any evidence for this? It seems neuroscience is finding that reason is suffused with emotion. I find it peculiar that so many people - NT, autistic, or otherwise - seem to place such stock in the idea that emotion can be denied, ignored, or simply not present. I tend to think that adherence to such an assumption to be an emotional act.


I'm seeing the journalist report it like that, but what I'm hearing from the researchers' quotes and conclusions is just not that. All they seem to be saying is that people's reasoning is very often (but they do not say always) clouded by emotion, not that the two are inherently inseparable. What they're describing isn't reason at all - it's after the fact rationalizations. Sure, the people doing it typically claim they are using reason, but they are not, and it is not.

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I would go so far as to say that reason is useless without emotion, as emotion is also motivation.


To a degree. Except for very abstract things (like, say, mathematics) typically a line of reasoning begins with premises and values that are formed emotionally. For instance, if you say it's reasonable to build more infrastructure in a country with serious problems distributing food and other necessities (such as the Soviet Union at one point), you're beginning with the assumption that it's good for human beings to thrive, which is not a matter of logic or reason but simple preference.

Any position needs premises, and premises are ultimately a matter of emotion and values. So in that sense, any process of reasoning does begin with an emotional preference, but the process itself, if it really is reason, is otherwise free from it. Else it is something less than reason, more along the lines of rationalization.

Reason itself is a rare thing ... but it does exist!

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Not all emotions are knee-jerk responses.


No, but the type of thought process illustrated here is just that: "preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions ... positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts,[ in a matter of milliseconds"

And the type of "reasoning" that follows usually isn't logic at all, but mere rationalization. To be using reason properly, one must acknowledge that one is using assumptions (basic as they may be) and accept them for what they are - and then move on. Most people have a problem here because they're afraid to acknowledge their assumptions, and I don't blame them sometimes, given the vile and appalling nature of the kind of assumptions/values some people have.



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30 Jul 2012, 5:41 pm

Odd, I actually find it super hard to make decisions, which is one reason why I stick to the same thing (no need for a decision then). Not saying I don't feel emotions, but I do know I have distorted ones and I'm lacking in several.

I think you can separate them though, especially when you have no emotional stake in the matter (i.e., you don't care other than what's logically right).



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30 Jul 2012, 6:43 pm

Without emotion, I think the small decisions are the hardest to make since logically, you'll be fine either way.

I think that at the root of all logical solutions is some kind of emotional reaction to various scenarios. Sure, you can reduce or abstract outcomes into some number, but without emotion, why try to get that number higher, or lower?


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Dillogic
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30 Jul 2012, 6:49 pm

Comp_Geek_573 wrote:
... but without emotion, why try to get that number higher, or lower?


Utter logic equates to nihilism?

Makes sense, as care is obviously an emotion, so caring for what's right still isn't completely logical.



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30 Jul 2012, 7:15 pm

Yes, if you're a Vulcan.

Otherwise, I doubt it.



InThisTogether
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30 Jul 2012, 7:17 pm

No, I do not think that humans make decisions based solely on reason and logic and to be honest, I think that making decisions based solely on reason and logic can be fraught with pitfalls. We are human beings and things are rarely as plain and simple and black and white as straight logic and reason would like them to be. There are too many contingencies and constraints and at some point you have to be able to "weigh" the relative merits of multiple possibilities. And since none of us can predict the future, eventually we will need to make some kind of decision that does not have sheer logic to support it. People must use something to make those decisions, and I doubt they are flipping coins.

What I find in practice is that even with the most stringent of the logical and rational, the more closely something is tied to a personal value, the harder it is to divorce emotion from the equation. Even the belief that emotion should not be a part of the decision could sway the decision for fear of allowing emotion to play in role. Even among the exceptionally logical Aspies I have known, I have seen them become almost comically over-emotional when something "pinged" their sense of rationality or justice.

The very worst decisions I have ever made have all been when I over-rode a very strong emotional bias against the rational decision I made. I think my emotion was my intuition trying to tell me something.

Me? I am best served when I allow logic to gather the pertinent information and emotion to make the final decision.


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30 Jul 2012, 7:30 pm

Think about it in term of the development/evolution of the brain. The amygdala, where emotional response occurs, is a more primitive part of the brain that is present in a lot of animals. The neocortex, where logical reasoning and conscious thought occur, is present only in mammals. So the emotional part of processing came along before reason, but the introduction of one doesn't mean the old method is discarded. The two now work together. Take away emotion, and you can't make decisions. Take away reason, and you do everything by instinct and emotion.

Each new brain region builds upon what is already there, rather than taking over or working separately.



philippepetit
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30 Jul 2012, 10:11 pm

no
think logically
the human mind is not a magical metaphysical truth seeking device and there is no way to logically believe anything without axioms
you're a smart animal but you're still just an animal
rational thought is basically for manipulation of the physical world and social dominance through argumentation i think



tjr1243
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30 Jul 2012, 10:22 pm

That is interesting about the study done showing that people who can't feel emotions have trouble making the simplest decisions. What if they were instructed to always make the 1st (or 2nd) choice, no matter what....would they simply be able to follow the instructions? Is it apathy that is causing them to be unable to make the decision? It makes sense that lack of emotion could cause an inertia of sorts.



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30 Jul 2012, 10:57 pm

We couldn't have a true thought if there were not an emotion connected to it. Everything we do - 'our experiences'- our thoughts - are tagged "good" or "bad" via what? Emotion. Without this filter the data would be just that - meaningless.



Verdandi
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30 Jul 2012, 11:07 pm

edgewaters wrote:
[I'm seeing the journalist report it like that, but what I'm hearing from the researchers' quotes and conclusions is just not that. All they seem to be saying is that people's reasoning is very often (but they do not say always) clouded by emotion, not that the two are inherently inseparable. What they're describing isn't reason at all - it's after the fact rationalizations. Sure, the people doing it typically claim they are using reason, but they are not, and it is not.


I do not believe that emotion being involved is the same as "clouded by emotion." I think it is possible for reason to be clouded by emotion, but any involvement of emotion at all is not by definition a "cloud."

I think you are trying to place reason on a pedestal when reason itself is generated by brains that are functionally emotional. How can you excise emotion from reason entirely? My observation in the past is that the rejection of emotion as a component of reason is itself often emotionally charged.

Quote:
To a degree. Except for very abstract things (like, say, mathematics) typically a line of reasoning begins with premises and values that are formed emotionally. For instance, if you say it's reasonable to build more infrastructure in a country with serious problems distributing food and other necessities (such as the Soviet Union at one point), you're beginning with the assumption that it's good for human beings to thrive, which is not a matter of logic or reason but simple preference.


This is not a matter of simple preference, however. It's not a matter of simple preference to want one's own species to thrive, nor is it simple preference to want to minimize suffering and hardship. I think framing it as such is eliding numerous issues that such a question raises - for example, the responsibility of a society to its people.

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Any position needs premises, and premises are ultimately a matter of emotion and values. So in that sense, any process of reasoning does begin with an emotional preference, but the process itself, if it really is reason, is otherwise free from it. Else it is something less than reason, more along the lines of rationalization.

Reason itself is a rare thing ... but it does exist!


Of course reason exists, although I would argue it is not a rare thing. I do not think it is possible to separate emotion from reason and end up with anything that is really workable. I do however think that people are likely to resist new information that conflicts with their beliefs and opinions, and will try to rationalize their way around that information or deny it entirely rather than face the possibility that their worldview is in some way flawed.

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No, but the type of thought process illustrated here is just that: "preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions ... positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts,[ in a matter of milliseconds"

And the type of "reasoning" that follows usually isn't logic at all, but mere rationalization. To be using reason properly, one must acknowledge that one is using assumptions (basic as they may be) and accept them for what they are - and then move on. Most people have a problem here because they're afraid to acknowledge their assumptions, and I don't blame them sometimes, given the vile and appalling nature of the kind of assumptions/values some people have.


This is what I mean by rationalizing conflicting information away. You've determined that because emotions rise more rapidly than conscious thought that this is always knee jerk. I do not believe this is so. I think that sometimes it can be characterized as knee jerk, but I think often it is practically unnoticeable to people unless it is very intense, because it is simply part of most people's neurological "background noise." To be fair, I am resisting your interpretation of the issue because I do not think it adequately accounts for the existence of emotions in the reasoning process. It is fairly obvious that part of this resistance is that I find the argument in my first post more emotionally satisfying (and I will add true to my experience).

I distrust the notion that emotions are bad, that they always cloud an issue, and that they are incompatible with reason. This is because I have seen assertions that one is too emotional used to silence and shut down particular arguments, and mobilized against people for whom the subject is vitally important. The equivalent of telling a gay man that he is too emotionally invested in the legalization of same-sex marriage too produce rational and reasoned arguments, when the opposite is often true. However, I have also seen that many who use the "You are too emotional" argument are often doing so from a place of emotional hyperreactivity, and this is a way to rationalize ignoring others whose points of view they simply refuse to see. I see no point in denying whether emotions are involved in a discussion because without emotions there would typically be no discussion.

Dillogic wrote:
Odd, I actually find it super hard to make decisions, which is one reason why I stick to the same thing (no need for a decision then). Not saying I don't feel emotions, but I do know I have distorted ones and I'm lacking in several.

I think you can separate them though, especially when you have no emotional stake in the matter (i.e., you don't care other than what's logically right).


Although what is logically right may depend on factors that rely on emotion or other issues. Logic itself is a cognitive tool, but the application of logic to a problem may get different results depending upon one's emotions, moral values, ethical values, etc. For example, if I hate shade trees and you love shade trees, we could each produce logical arguments to support our stances. This does not necessarily mean either argument is more "right" than the other. If we both share environmental concerns you may be able to more easily sway me to your side of the argument, but if neither of us considers the environment important I am not sure that either of us could sway the other. This is an overly simplistic example, however.

Incidentally, I also find it super hard to make decisions and it is also one reason I stick to the same things. I also know my emotional processing is unlike that of NTs in that many of my emotions seem less intense, harder to identify, and often I do not know that I am experiencing emotions at all.

InThisTogether wrote:
What I find in practice is that even with the most stringent of the logical and rational, the more closely something is tied to a personal value, the harder it is to divorce emotion from the equation. Even the belief that emotion should not be a part of the decision could sway the decision for fear of allowing emotion to play in role. Even among the exceptionally logical Aspies I have known, I have seen them become almost comically over-emotional when something "pinged" their sense of rationality or justice.


I agree with all of this.

yellowtamarin - precisely. every brain structure is built on older structures and most likely relies on their functioning to some extent to function as well.

tjr1243 - I find when I have trouble making decisions that having a default decision helps move things along.



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30 Jul 2012, 11:28 pm

Without emotion there is no end to logic, you can't reason as there is no goal. Emotion is required to form that goal, and logic is used to reach it.


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Verdandi
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30 Jul 2012, 11:46 pm

Mdyar wrote:
We couldn't have a true thought if there were not an emotion connected to it. Everything we do - 'our experiences'- our thoughts - are tagged "good" or "bad" via what? Emotion. Without this filter the data would be just that - meaningless.


There are people who - due to brain damage - apparently do lack emotions. However, that lack is apparently fairly severely impairing as they are unable to make decisions. So it is possible to have thought without emotion, apparently.