Daily Archives: May 5, 2012

The Importance Of Emotion

In my last post (“The Limits Of Reason”, April 29) I discussed how reason is like a transportation device: it takes you from point A to point B. The points I refer to are the parts of a logical discussion. Reason begins with an assertion or statement, which is often arrived at without the use of reason. Given a set of assertions or statements, reason can work out their logical implications. However, reason itself is not “self-contained”. If we trace the logic of a discussion back to its source, we will find there are assertions and statements that are arrived at without a logical process.

What is the source of these “core” assertions? By core assertions, I mean the statements one starts with that form the foundation of the logical discussion.

Before answering that question, let’s relate this to science. As I state in my book, the scientific method starts with a hypothesis that is verified or refuted by experiment. How one obtains the hypothesis is not specified. In many cases, it is a guess (usually a well-educated guess). This very point has been made by the physicist Richard P. Feynman, one of the world’s preeminent scientists.

Now I’ll answer the question. Whether the assertion is related to science or other endeavors, the source of our most fundamental assertions is emotion. Believe it or not, this is also true in science. Scientists have been very successful believing in the simplicity of nature. They have unlocked key mysteries about quantum physics and fundamental forces by asserting that the answers must be simple and “symmetric”. Aesthetics, our emotional perception of beauty, plays a role also.

Finding a simple root cause that explains complex natural phenomena is emotionally satisfying. Belief in simplicity and aesthetics has led to scientific success. If our emotional orientation toward simplicity had not existed, we might have been less successful as a scientific species. A species with a different emotional makeup than our species might never have been successful scientifically.

Emotion is what delivers the core statements upon which logic is based. Emotion (including aesthetics) plays an important role in the progress of science. In the most fundamental scientific questions, emotion is an indispensable guide.

How do you feel about that?