Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hedonism: The Essential Problem, Emotional Logic

Includes a full discussion of emotional logic versus rational logic, and a cultural critique.

I suddenly realized that I never mentioned that I want editing. I want people to tell me what's not clear, catch bad grammar and formatting, and in general do things that would normally make you a dick. Yes, please be a grammar nazi. Get up on my case for putting things in the wrong order. Nitpick the crap out of this piece, and every piece I write. Call me out on every single time I'm being vague. Because I want to write better.

If nothing else, it means I don't have to do all of this myself.

The point of the emotions is not to feel good. The emotions are a sense, a tool, or an instrument through which you determine that you are good.

Hedonism completely misses this distinction. Yes, casual sex might feel good, as do drugs. But do are they good for you? They are not, and if you don't stop at the shallowest possible view of your emotions, they will tell you just the same.

So, to say that should feel good? Very true. But that's simply because we assume that when your emotions are working properly, when you feel good, you are good. Again, you must ensure that it's a wholesome pleasure, not a guilty pleasure or otherwise mixed.

As I've mentioned before, the emotions are one of two logical systems that a human being can access to solve problems and make decision, the second being rationality. Both are valuable, but different, tools.

Now, it is controversial to say the emotions are logical. Aren't they just a sense? Don't they arise basically straight from hormones? Are you telling me that a man in an uncontrollable raging temper is being rational?

Emotional Reasoning
Yes, I'm aware that this is far from obvious. This is how it works.

The emotions are caused by something. This something is, with a few caveats, consistent. If you're insulted, you get angry. If, another day and another time, you're insulted again, you get angry. So the emotions are self-consistent, a statement I can make with no caveats; the previous one being necessary precisely because the world is messy and the emotions are consistent.

Being both consistent and evolved, the emotions have been selected to give useful information about the world. The only useful information about the world, again with a few caveats, is true information. As such, the emotions are, and in fact must be, logical.

Further, the emotions can take into account abstract concepts, like money, betrayal, imaginary humans, and so on. (The 'irrational' basic emotions, like that temper, come from the amygdala. More complex ones likes these come from the insula, a structure which I believe is just above your ear on both sides.)

Basically, if you give your emotions abstract concepts like money, sex, or really anything, they will give you a response. This response is consistent, and has been selected to be useful. As such, the emotions are logical, and this is exactly how you access your emotional system for the purpose of solving problems. (I don't have to examine how you make decisions based on emotional responses, do I?)

Note the counterfactual; if the answer to the question* "Are my emotions logical?" is 'no,' then it would be useless for solving problems; it would either be inconsistent, being no more advantageous than flipping a coin, or it would be not like truth, and cause more problems than it solves. In either case they would have quickly been selected out.

*(I'm going to use excluded middle again.)

Just from this I can see that the emotions are logical, but do clearly work differently than the rational system. Nevertheless, I will now show it explicitly, hopefully for good reasons.

The primary way to input information into the emotional system is also the primary problem with not recognizing the existence of two separate systems. To input information into both is the same; use language.

Because your consciousness uses information, it cannot use the thing itself, it must use abstractions, and thus symbolizations. Shared symbols for communication is the definition of language, and thus to direct your problem-solving systems toward anything necessarily requires that you give it language. English is an example, but you can also use pictures, pure emotions, and so on.

The difference is that the emotional system, shockingly, will use the emotional content of the sentence, while the rational system will use the rational content. But, sentences in English always have both, which means that if you analyze a sentence for logical structure that was meant for the emotional system, you get nonsense, and vice-versa. Can you figure out who you know that primarily prefers their emotional system? I certainly can. Having come up with the distinction, I immediately knew who was what.

Having given your emotional system an emotion to process, it will give an emotion back out. Hopefully an example will illustrate this.

The education system's infamous 'everyone is special' is supposed to be a purely emotional sentence. It's immediately obvious that, factually, it's just not true. If everyone is special, everyone is identical in this regard, a contradiction. Rather, you're supposed to take the feeling 'I am special' and, when you run into difficulty, ask your emotional system what 'I am special' means you should do. Note how silly this looks, rationally speaking...but, try it. Giving your emotions this 'I am special' does boost self-esteem, helps counter the urge to quit, increases energy, and so on.

The problem here is that even the tiniest hint of rationality getting into the mix fouls it up, because it is so silly, rationally speaking.

Rational Reasoning
The rational system is one I hope you're familiar with, since it's the one our culture respects more. (Ultimately, though, it does not truly respect it - more on this further down.)

As a practical matter, the rational system and emotional system can supply an overall solution to any problem you give them, but their competencies in details lie in different areas. You cannot do math emotionally - or at least nobody has figured out how to give the emotions a math question, since it needs to be in the form of an emotion. (Giving the emotions a math problem gets the solution, "You don't need math to solve your real problem.") However, since the emotions don't need to be fed information serially, it can synthesize a much wider array of facts into any given solution, often facts you're not even aware you know.

Actually, if someone could figure out how to decode emotional responses properly, it would be strictly better, as it's faster and more powerful, while being just as accurate when trained. (Untrained rational systems are just as useless as untrained emotional systems.) This difficulty is the primary reason the rational problem solving system exists.

Cultural Disrespect
The simple reason our culture hates on the rational system is because it does not respect the full power and ability of it. Yes, we have biases. Yes, for the non-expert thinker, using the scientific method, an extra-rational algorithm* is one of the only ways to reach any kind of actual truth. However, this misses the fact that our biases have also been selected, along with a second fact. They are the caveat to the fact that truth is the only useful thing. Our biases causes us to create effective ideas, not necessarily true ones. This is a kind of truth; while we should not expect these ideas to truly match a fully rational system, it is rational to use them. Especially considering that even once we give our ideas to someone else, they will still have bias, and this will affect how they use the ideas.

*(The scientific method, like all sets of instructions, cannot be called rational or irrational. It simply prescribes action. If you have a purpose, you can match the properties of the algorithm to the purpose, which is rational, but alone algorithms simply exist.)

This is how bias works; even with the truth, you get biased when you're interpreting it, causing your conclusions about how to act to diverge from the truth. But with ideas created in bias in the first place, the errors match and work out; we're taking the same shortcut. It also often takes an idea too big in its full truthness to really get your head around and distills it to an essential series of instructions. Yes, this method is not foolproof and makes mistakes. This does not mean it's a power we should castigate and neglect entirely. If absolutely nothing else, it is faster. Truth, unless you're a truth-seeker like me, is technology; the purpose of it is to improve our lives, not to be known per se. Any technique which achieves the same goal is exactly as valuable as truth is.

Of course it is critical to note that truth has some properties, that improve our lives, that are unique, which is why the original enlightenment philosophers preferred it. For one, given some truth, you can work out other truths. Given a biased, bogus 'theory' that nevertheless works in practise, you cannot. The bogus theory may have many advantages, but it will never have this one. If the purposes you're going for are related to these unique properties, only truth will do.

In connection, biased theories are often much better for matching the rational system with the emotional system; you can talk and use both at once. While this is possible with truth, it is excessively difficult, and most people don't even try. This is what I was getting at with the 'I am special' example. The feeling this sentence evokes could have been matched to the actual reason you should feel this way. It should be so matched, so that people can feel that 'I am special' feeling legitimately. Note that it will most definitely not be because you're special.

The second fact I mentioned previously is that a fully trained rational system is simply superior. It's superior to the scientific method, it's superior to a computer, it's superior to received wisdom. The human mind is, absent all the crap the education system and bad upbringings put in there, an incredibly powerful tool.

And here is the proof; look at the machine you're reading this on. This machine was made, from dirt, sticks, and stones, ultimately. A human mind turned those things into this thing. Your mind can do this too. There are only two differences between a 'genius' and a dumbass, the first being processing speed and the second simply being hard training. You can't understand? Bullshit. You're just lazy.

(Do note that it's not always worthwhile to understand a thing, but this is very different than 'can't.')

Thinking of things the human mind can't do is harder than things it can...when properly trained.

But, the ultimate point of this section is that our culture hates human beings. It hates our minds and, even more, it hates our feelings.

Now, before today I could not see how badly it hates feelings, because I was falling under the broken window fallacy; I didn't quite realize how it should be.

But it finally hit me. I watched a video to music. Now, the situation in the video is one where usually a bunch of people would be talking. Not only during, but before and after. I compared how the situation with talking felt to how it felt

With the music, it felt right. It felt full, complete. When I'm in the talking situation, it feels stilted, one-sided, missing something. What, I asked myself, was the difference?

Music is all about emotion. It is completely non-rational. And I immediately realized that this situation wasn't unique. You can find it everywhere; when people in our culture talk, it is incredibly biased toward rational discussion, even if people get emotional or start mentioning their feelings explicitly, it's all supposed to be dealt with rationally and only rationally.

In fact, having a discussion on the emotional side is completely impossible. It may as well not exist, socially speaking. I want to explore what my emotional logic is saying about situations all the time, but I cannot. Ever. Instead I have to talk about the 'practical' if I want to talk about anything. Mechanics, not flavour.

I haven't completely explained how it can be complete if instead of being rationlly imbalanced, it's emotionally imbalanced. That's simply because I'm very heavily tilted to the rational side, and I bring it with me everywhere I go. I watched the video with the express intent of analyzing it and learning something. This, combined with the music, balances the situation.

The opposite situation can be found really easily. There's a kind, which our culture denigrates an order of magnitude more than it denigrates true rationality. It's one where people only talk emotionally, my stereotypical example being the knitting circle; it's not about thinking or discussing, it's about venting and communicating emotionally. This is, naturally, just as imbalanced, which is why I feel disgust when I see it. The bad thing here is I get cultural feedback telling me I'm right, and so it seems that emotional imbalance is much worse than intellectual imbalance, when in fact both are seriously crippling.

While the point of emotions are not to feel good, serving them is still the highest purpose of every person. No matter what value you serve most highly, that value is subjective. While serving them without intellect is a very poor service, as indeed your emotions will let you know by trying to get you to think more, trying to serve the intellect purely is impossible. You cannot serve yourself this way, only other people. And if everyone in the entire culture is only serving others? There is nobody you can actually serve with integrity. If everyone sacrifices themselves, then everyone is dead, no matter how much we may seem alive.


Anonymous said...

Two questions:
1. Do you hold that the emotions are _consistent_ between individuals, or only for particular individuals? And at all stages of life--that the emotions of a child are consistent with the emotions of an adult? Or are they consistent only by their fitness?
2. What happens when the emotional and rational systems overlap? You imply that reason always trumps feeling--that the phrase "everyone is special" has an appeal to the emotions that can be defeated by even a slight dose of reason. Do you expect the same to always occur? What are the rules for recombination?

Alrenous said...

Only for particular individuals, and really only mostly. It depends on the specifics of brain wiring. As your brain rewires itself your consistency will drift, though I think in many cases it runs into negative feedback and remains stable.

Children fall under 'untrained' and so I wouldn't expect either of their systems to be very good. As they develop both reasoning systems should become inconsistent across time.

That is, they start out wrong and should get better.

You imply that reason always trumps feeling
It's true, I do. But it was a mistake; A similarly emotionally repellent yet factually accurate statement will cause people to cleave to 'irrationality.'

"It's true, but I just don't like it, so I don't think about it."

Half the point of this post is that you should try to make them overlap - find statements that both systems label as good. (Do be careful with my 'should' statements.)

I'm not sure what you mean by rules of recombination, and I suspect I can only guess at them anyway.

Anonymous said...

By "recombination" I meant to ask how the two kinds of logic interact in making a decision. Does each kind of logic produce its own kind of decision, or is there a separate faculty of decision that each kind of logic influences?

Suppose I need to decide "Should I walk the dog?" I have two initial reactions, one rational, one emotional:

[Read () as a subscript; Blogger won't allow the HTML tag.]

L(R): The dog is my responsibility.
Therefore, I will walk the dog.
L(E): It's too cold out to walk the dog.
Therefore, I will not walk the dog.

And I must do one or the other. I may have further reactions:

L'(R): The dog won't do anything in this weather.
Therefore, I will not walk the dog.
L'(E): To neglect the dog because of dislike of cold would be shameful.
Therefore, I will walk the dog.

And so forth. But the decision is finally either an emotional or a rational one.

Or, is each kind of logic a separate input to a decision? Crudely, in this case, L(R) is 80% convincing, L(E) is 20% convincing, therefore D = "I will walk the dog."

D then is not in itself either rational or emotional, though both reason and emotion influence it.

Alrenous said...

Well, damn you blogger. My posts can use subscripts; there's no reason the comments shouldn't be able to.

To me it seems your emotional logics aren't really emotional logics. They're rational logics using emotional facts as input.

It's cold, I don't want to be cold, walking the dog would result in cold, therefore I don't want to walk the dog.
Because I don't want to walk the dog, I'm not going to.

Using the emotional logic system works instead like this:

The dog needs walking. (I feel sorry for the dog, or whatever.)
It's cold outside. (I don't like cold.)
I do not want to shame myself. (It's unpleasant.)

Do I feel like walking the dog?

That is, do my emotions of empathy for the dog and dislike of shame overpower the emotion of wanting to be warm?

This is an emotional problem.
You're instead solving the rational problem of 'is it a good idea to walk the dog;' that is, does it uphold your values.

Note that it can uphold your explicit known values without you actually wanting to do it.

Notice also the parallel nature of emotional logic. You simply put in a bunch of facts and out pops an answer. Rational logic is more serial; you have to take each pair of data and combine it and then use the combination in the next pair.

So I can answer the question and that is they do not combine. They can use the same data, and you can translate the output of one and input that into the other, but you can't use both at once.

Eventually your final answer will have come from one or the other. You will either logically conclude that you will, or else decide that you want to.

Though ultimately, at least in me, all decisions must satisfy both systems. If I'm working emotionally I find that I want to and therefore I'm going to, and if I'm working rationally I find that I should and therefore I want to.

If neither case holds, I don't do it.

A second illustration involved solving a different kind of problem.

I've taught myself to be able to sense contradiction. If I'm reading something with a contradiction in it, it feels like there's a contradiction in it. However, I will not be able to rationally analyze and find the contradiction right away; I'll have to translate the statements into something rigorous and analyze it methodically.

So what happens, assuming I'm right, is that my emotional logic system picks out the contradiction and sends me an emotional symbol telling me so. Then, I translate it into rational symbols and analyze it that way to pinpoint the exact location and nature of the problem.

Anonymous said...

If I understand correctly, then, you speak of two "logics" loosely--not two parallel systems with propositions, predicates, &c., but a rational-logical faculty that can use (among others) entities defined by a emotional faculty, which works as a sort of fuzzy function-table that accepts inputs and returns feelings? Emotion, then, is a kind of recognition that reliably and consistently (for a certain context) correlates a perception (It's cold outside) with an emotion (I don't like cold/Dislike of cold).

Two questions, then. First: do emotions always conceal perceptions? In your example (feeling that something is contradictory) I would think that what is happening is that some subconscious mental model of the argument breaks down or starts to look like a fallacy, and the emotional system puts up a flag. But is the way it has to happen? I mean, if you explicitly noticed what was contradictory at the beginning, could you still get a feeling about it? Or does the emotional system only process perceptions that are not (or not yet) part of conscious awareness?

Second: I don't understand how there can be such a thing as a purely emotional decision. To put it as simply as possible: all the examples of emotions that you give are nouns; where do the verbs come in? Just recognizing that being shamed is unpleasant can't be the same as saying "I don't want to be ashamed" or "I don't refrain from doing things when not doing them would shame me." That looks like reasoning, even if it isn't being performed by the rational faculty--there could be certain basic rules built in biologically that interact with the emotional system to produce decisions. But then those decisions aren't purely emotional.

Alrenous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alrenous said...

Blog comment editing hax!

I mean, if you explicitly noticed what was contradictory at the beginning, could you still get a feeling about it?

I do. It probably depends on how you set it up; how you train up the capacity.

Looking at the contradiction explicitly feels pretty well the same as noticing it implicitly. This is how I know when my emotional reasoning system picks up a contradiction; it feels like I'm looking at one. This feeling can overwhelm the flagging.

About emotional decisions; I noticed that problem while answering your last question but I wasn't able to disentangle it.

I don't know how decision making works, exactly. In fact that seems to be part of the hard question; how does the thought of a decision lead to actual action?

All I know is that for my decisions to occur, both systems must agree. (This doesn't mean I don't do things I find emotionally unpleasant.)

Anonymous said...

You cannot define something as harmful or beneficial beyond the effect that it has on one's emotional state of mind. Drugs are generally bad for your *long-term* emotional health, that doesn't negate the idea that pleasure is the only intrinsic good and stress is the only intrinsic bad. Emotions are the only reason why anything matters to us.

Alrenous said...

I'm pretty sure it's deeper than that, though I'm not sure yet.

This argument reads like, "Unpleasantness is unpleasant and fun is fun to have."

Well, yes. But that doesn't imply all that the argument wants it to imply.

For example, how does this reckon with the fact there are multiple kinds of pleasure? What's the difference and why are they different?