Feeling Is Not Cognition

People complain that we think too much and feel too little. In fact it is the other way round. Any culture that follows the verb “to feel”, not only with a direct object but also with the conjunction “that”, thus making a propositional statement, is necessarily in big trouble. “Feeling” that something is or is not the case out there in the real world is akin to hearing the planet Mars or smelling the Devonian Epoch. Emotions are not tools of epistemology; the state of your endocrine glands does not tell you much about external reality. But, you will say, “feel” is here being used merely as a weak synonym of “think”, “believe” or “consider”. That is true, but the question then becomes why this precise word was chosen as a weak synonym of verbs of cognition.

Posted on April 1, 2009 at 13:44 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE LONGEST CON, Religion As Design Fault

2 Responses

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  1. Written by Urban Djin
    on April 2, 2009 at 01:23

    Oh, yes and no. There’s a little too much mind/body dualism here for my taste. I do not accept that emotion is strictly endocrine. I don’t want to get into the mind/brain problem, but, last I checked much of the brain serves non-logic-chopping/sensory-information-processing purposes. Yes, a lot of that is autonomic stuff, but a lot isn’t. You and I have privately discussed music and the limbic system. When I’m listening to or playing music I believe I’m doing a kind of thinking that is strongly linked to feelings. I don’t believe it can easily be written off as merely glandular, as Plato might like to.

    Most of what I think I think about the world around me is revealed as a network of judgment calls, once I step back a bit. Judgment often involves more than a marshaling of gathered facts into a coherent arrangement. Indeed, exactly what it entails can be very difficult to pin to a specimen board. And yet we exercise judgment all the time. And we recognize good and bad judgment, in much the same way we distinguish sound and faulty reasoning. They seem somehow related.

    Have you ever had a “gut feeling” that turned out to be prescient? Have you ever benefited from acting on the basis of an intuition. I certainly have. I don’t ascribe such experiences to psychic ability. I chalk them up to thinking, a kind of thinking that does seem to have something to do with extra-rational processes. “Gut feeling” became a commonplace expression because it describes the experience fairly well in only two words, not because we’re all brain dead.

    I see a gray scale where you want black and white. Perhaps “feel” is widely used as a weak synonym for “think” only because others see that gray scale too.

    In the basic propositional sense you articulate you’re right, of course. “I feel that the Earth is a flattened sphere” is beyond lame. And yes, most of us can get pretty sloppy with our diction, at least from time to time, and say other than what we really intend. Many inane locutions seem to be just ‘in the air’. We use the same expressions that our friends use. Or we thoughtlessly parrot banal cliches gleaned from TV, even if we don’t own one, as is my case. It’s good to notice these verbal tics. Awareness of such lapses is a good first step towards eliminating them.

    All well and good, but I don’t see the big payoff in addressing your “why” question. Our culture is necessarily in big trouble because we reject a taxonomy of the human being which assumes rigid dualism? Because our experience suggests more integration than that model allows?

    I too would like to see reason rule emotion in many spheres of human activity, politics/governance, for example. And I prefer that reason prevail in such nuts-and-bolts disciplines as engineering. I want bridges that don’t collapse, roads that are durable and well drained, etc. But in all spheres? As a rule? No.

  2. Written by Hugo Grinebiter
    on April 2, 2009 at 10:30

    I hear you on mind-body, although I’m not convinced that ‘intuition’ is actually anything to do with the emotions, so that ‘gut feeling’ is perhaps a misnomer. And in my defence, I was in fact thinking about the way people describe and justify their judgments about external reality, as opposed to suggesting a comprehensive theory of mind in one paragraph. 🙂 I do think that our culture overvalues emotion, though; this is something we can come back to as my oeuvre grows.

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