“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Reason of the Heart, Part I

We trust our brains. We live as if our reasoning leads us to an accurate understanding of reality. We simply assume that the our mental understanding of reality is true. That is, we assume that if A is true and if A implies B, then B really is true. We don't freak out and think, "wait! I'm just an assembly of quarks and leptons and my brain is merely a system of neurons and electrical signals that evolved in spacetime through natural selection!" Rather, we conclude that B is true. I think that we can, to an extent, trust our desires and emotions in the same way that we trust our reasoning. This may seem like a strange idea. Unlike logical, rational thought, emotion is often mistrusted and found to be unreliable. But I think that when we carefully consider the human perspective of reality (consciousness, thought, emotion, perception), that it only makes sense to acknowledge that there are objective implications of our "subjective" emotions.

Several objections may be made to relying on emotional experiences to establish truth. First, one might object that human emotion resulted from evolution - it is just a biological phenomenon, so there is really no reason to rely on it. However, this is poor reasoning. Let me explain. In saying, “emotion resulted from evolution,” whoever objects is assuming both that our physical perception of the world is correct, and that our objective, rational consideration of that perception is reliable. However, the same sort of reasoning would tell him that his entire human brain, with which he reasons, resulted from evolution and is a physical phenomenon. In the words of biologist J.B.S. Haldane, "If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose my beliefs are true...and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms" (cited in John Byl, "Theism and Mathematical Realism," http://acmsonline.org/Byl-realism.pdf). Thus, his use of reason would lead him to question the reliability of reason – the argument becomes circular and self-destructs. Surely he would not doubt logic because human reasoning capabilities may have resulted to some extent from evolution. It is much easier to believe in logic than it is to believe even that the perceived world exists, and of course we must trust that what we perceive as logic is an accurate description of reality. We have to start there, with the axiom or premise that we can accurately reason, or else we will never know anything. Well, in this case, the dissenter must either distrust reason as he distrusts emotion, or he must simply say that although our minds may be affected physically, we can still rely on them. The latter is certainly a better answer. Consequently, this argument fails to uphold reason while rejecting emotion.

A second objection is that our emotions sway us against reason, and therefore we cannot use them at all in establishing truth. Similarly, one might say that different people may arrive at different conclusions through the use of emotions, so how can emotion be a universal guide for all people? This is a bad argument because it assumes that just because emotion may at times lead us in the opposite direction of what we judge to be objectively true, or in different directions from one another, it is always at odds with reason and thus cannot be trusted at all. This does not follow logically. In considering when emotions are reliable, let us consider when the rational mind is to be trusted. When a man is drunk, his mind is mixed up and he cannot objectively and rationally consider reality. However, when nothing has messed up his system, he can think quite clearly and reasonably (yet he might make a small mistake in his intellectual processing). In the same way, there are times when our emotions are reliable and in agreement with what we judge objectively to be true, and there are times when our emotions lead us astray. A man may feel the desire to kill someone, but this is probably in contradiction with what he would judge objectively to be a reasonable course of action. When our desires are perverted or wrongly interpreted for whatever reason, terrible things happen.* Thus, both our intellectual and our emotional faculties can lead us in the wrong direction at times. Nevertheless, just as all people inherently understand logic and think rationally, there seems to be an underlying emotional reaction to reality shared by all people. For example, we all admire beauty in nature in much the same way, are attracted to certain people in much the same way, and are repulsed by acts of violence or selfishness in much the same way.

*The Christian response to this is that our emotional reaction to reality was clouded and confused by the entering of sin into the world. Because we live in a fallen world and are fallen beings, we do not perceive reality as it truly is. One might ask, since everything I show to be true with reason is true, then why not everything I desire emotionally? The deepest desire of every heart is to know God. Other desires, such as the desire to kill, or even the self-promoting desire to gain the approval of others, result from sin and for that reason are not to be trusted. Still others are not fulfilled because of the presence of sin elsewhere – it is all because of the presence of evil in the world. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis points out that bad desires are simply perversions of good desires, not things in and of themselves, and even without considering Christianity we can observe this perversion of emotion in the world around us.

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