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Emotions are not tools of cognition


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#1 Nate Smith

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Posted 21 January 2011 - 12:11 PM

I'm still working through some psychological/philosophic issues in my life, and it's been very complicated untangling all my thoughts, values and emotions. I hope those here can help me with a question that I've been stuck on.

I recently read a passage from Branden's Psychology of Self-Esteem that resonated with me. From the section on anxiety and depression (p167):

When a man doubts the efficacy of his mind, his tendency is to surrender to the guidance of his emotions--since they appear to possess a certainty and authority that his intellect lacks. This is the form in which a man experiences the process of subordinating the objective to the subjective. His emotions are not a substitute for rational cognition at any time, but they are never a less reliable guide than in the midst of an anxiety state.

I have often run into a paralyzing emotion when I consider pursuing some values. I find my self thinking "I wish I wanted that." For example, if I have some free time, I think to myself that I really wish I wanted to read a new book I have. Or I really wish I was motivated to start some new project with my son. Intellectually I want it, but emotionally I don't (not fully at least).

I'm really confused with what to do with my emotions in these instances. I'm really worried about ignoring these emotions and acting solely on my conscious convictions, for two reasons:
1) I'm worried about repressing important elements of my psyche, and
2) I believe that just like central planners aren't capable of micro-managing a full economy, an individual is not capable of micro-managing his consciousness. The integrative function of the mind is invaluable, and one's emotions are part of that. I feel like it would be dangerous to ignore what my emotions are telling me, that they are useful guides in some what (in what way I don't know). So I'm worried that I might be relying on them as tools of cognition.

I know ultimately I need to identify all of my values and these emotions, but in the mean time, do I just ignore these emotions when it comes to my actions? Do I push the emotions to the side and just act on my conscious convictions? This is really scary when the value is significant.
"Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid." - Gilbert K. Chesterton

#2 Capitalism Forever

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Posted 21 January 2011 - 01:33 PM

If you know what the right thing to do is, you should always try your best to do it. Conflicting emotions may make it difficult or (in extreme cases) impossible, but I would say you should always at least try.

There is no way to derive an ought a shalst from an is.


#3 RayK

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Posted 21 January 2011 - 01:35 PM

If you are having a contradiction then you need to think it/them out so that you can redefine exactly what you consciously mean or want and then discard the contradiction. A rational man does not desire the irrational. But one also has to have long-term goals to know whether or not the desire is rational or not. For example; if a person constantly states and gets excited everytime they think about what could have been if they would have chosen the other field/route then they will have contradictory emotional responses when they choose to take on new goals in their present field/route.

I can give other examples if needed, personal one's, but I do not have the time this morning.

#4 RickWilmes

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Posted 21 January 2011 - 02:08 PM

You might want to take a look at David Allen's books, particularly Getting Things Done.  Here is a review of the book,

http://www.theobject...david-allen.asp.

Here is his website,

http://www.davidco.com/.
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#5 bborg

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Posted 21 January 2011 - 02:39 PM

I’ve struggled with the same issues. Don’t make the opposite mistake of whim worshipers by assuming that just because a choice you’ve made is based on a process of logic, that it is the correct one and should be followed even if it leads to personal suffering. If you think you “should” want something but don’t, give yourself the benefit of the doubt and honestly examine the reasons why the goal is not appealing to you. Some reasons may have merit, while others may be based on incomplete knowledge or require creative incentives to overcome. Work through each and either you will find your resolve to pursue the goal, or you’ll abandon it without guilt.

The choice is not: surrender to your emotions or ignore them. Enjoy them when pleasurable, and when painful you can examine and work through them. Emotional pleasure is the most fulfilling reward of pursuing and achieving values, but to get it often takes a lot of introspection.

#6 Nate Smith

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Posted 21 January 2011 - 05:06 PM

If you know what the right thing to do is, you should always try your best to do it. Conflicting emotions may make it difficult or (in extreme cases) impossible, but I would say you should always at least try.

So how do you process the emotions? How do you regard them? Do you think to yourself, "these are irrelevant, I know what's right. I should act on my beliefs"? I sometimes find myself doubting myself because of my emotions, wondering if they're telling me something I'm consciously not aware of. That's why I wonder if I'm using them as tools of cognition, and if that's wrong.

I find it useful to make myself as fully aware of them as I can (including what I think their origin is). This seems to help them pass or to integrate them. But when I can't do that, I am sometimes very conflicted.

If you are having a contradiction then you need to think it/them out so that you can redefine exactly what you consciously mean or want and then discard the contradiction. A rational man does not desire the irrational. But one also has to have long-term goals to know whether or not the desire is rational or not. For example; if a person constantly states and gets excited everytime they think about what could have been if they would have chosen the other field/route then they will have contradictory emotional responses when they choose to take on new goals in their present field/route.

I can give other examples if needed, personal one's, but I do not have the time this morning.

Your advice might be applicable to my situation, but I'm not making the connection yet. Examples may be useful, if you have the time. Thanks.

If you think you “should” want something but don’t, give yourself the benefit of the doubt and honestly examine the reasons why the goal is not appealing to you. Some reasons may have merit, while others may be based on incomplete knowledge or require creative incentives to overcome. Work through each and either you will find your resolve to pursue the goal, or you’ll abandon it without guilt.

Interesting point, thanks.

-----

Does anyone see repression as a potential problem in this situation? What is the balance between keeping un-integrated emotions in check and repression?
"Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid." - Gilbert K. Chesterton

#7 Nate Smith

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Posted 21 January 2011 - 05:07 PM

You might want to take a look at David Allen's books, particularly Getting Things Done.  Here is a review of the book,

http://www.theobject...david-allen.asp.

Here is his website,

http://www.davidco.com/.

Just curious, have you read this yourself, or are you recommending it based on this article?
"Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid." - Gilbert K. Chesterton

#8 RickWilmes

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Posted 21 January 2011 - 07:19 PM

You might want to take a look at David Allen's books, particularly Getting Things Done.  Here is a review of the book,

http://www.theobject...david-allen.asp.

Here is his website,

http://www.davidco.com/.

Just curious, have you read this yourself, or are you recommending it based on this article?


I have read all three of his books, get his monthly e-mail, bought one of his wallets with a notepad and pen.

The book review is what motivated me to read GTD.  Your original post reminded me of this from the review.

"The book is a logically structured presentation of an approach to time and life management that is grounded in good epistemology and designed to facilitate productivity in light of certain features and limitations of the human mind. The problem, Allen says, is that all the commitments you have made are “on your mind,” which overwhelms you to the point that you cannot think clearly and be productive. The question becomes, why are all these things on your mind? “[T]he reason something is ‘on your mind,’” Allen writes, “is that you want it to be different than it currently is” (p. 15). Allen’s formulation is deliberate. Many people have not really thought about the commitments they have made, and therefore have neither “clarified exactly what the intended outcome is” nor “decided what the very next physical action step is” (p. 15). And yet, inherent in allowing a commitment into one’s life, Allen says, is a further commitment: a “commitment to . . . define and clarify its meaning” (p. 17).

Allen explains that, in order for your mind to let go of this corollary commitment so it can be clear and ready to focus on the task at hand, you must envision the outcome you desire and decide what is the very next physical action you must take in order to move the current state of affairs toward that outcome. Thus arises one of two main prongs of the GTD approach, “disciplining yourself to make front-end decisions about all the ‘inputs’ you let into your life so that you will always have a plan for ‘next actions’ that you can implement or renegotiate at any moment” (pp. 3–4)."
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#9 Betsy Speicher

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Posted 21 January 2011 - 07:58 PM

So how do you process the emotions? How do you regard them?

You introspect.

Do you think to yourself, "these are irrelevant, I know what's right. I should act on my beliefs"?

NO!! That would be evaluating your emotions before you even know what caused them and then condemning yourself unjustly as a result. It is the the same mistake Rearden made when he condemned himself for his desiring Dagny.

I sometimes find myself doubting myself because of my emotions, wondering if they're telling me something I'm consciously not aware of. That's why I wonder if I'm using them as tools of cognition, and if that's wrong.

Emotions are not tools of cognition but they are necessary for the enjoyment of life and a crucial alarm system giving you warnings that you ignore at your own peril.

An emotion is triggered by the values you currently have in response to the context you are currently in as your emotional mechanism automatically connects it to past similar contexts.

I once got a ticket when I went through a particular intersection that had a very hard to see stop sign. Now when I approach that intersection, my emotions alert me to slow down and look for the stop sign. I also had a strong negative reaction to Ayn Rand the first time I saw her on TV. The reason was that she had the same accent and looked somewhat like my Russian Jewish immigrant aunts who were misery-worshipping, envious, boring people. The minute I introspected and realized why I felt that way, the negative emotion vanished.

When faced with an emotional conflict, what you need to do is (1) identify without judging, which values are a stake and (2) consciously evaluate if and how they actually apply to the current context.

Observe Rearden dressing for Lillian's anniversary party:

He wondered why no effort had ever seemed beyond his capacity, yet now he could not scrape up the strength to stick a few black pearl studs into his starched white shirt front.

Rearden forced himself to dress and go to the party, but he should have introspected and asked himself: Why is this so hard? Is it because I really don't want to go to the party? Why don't I want to go to the party? I hate Lillian's parties. Why? Is it Lillian or parties? It's Lillian. Why do I hate Lillian? ... Etc.

Learning to identify emotions and the values behind them without prematurely evaluating them or unjustly judging oneself is a problem for most people and often the help of a psychological professional is required. But everyone should learn the art of introspection because the answer to emotional conflicts is neither ignoring nor giving in to emotions. It is introspecting.
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#10 RayK

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Posted 21 January 2011 - 10:17 PM

Nate, I really do not like writing these types of things and usually keep these type of emotions to myself. With that stated I hope you find the information helpful.

When I was medically discharged from the Marine Corps it was not because I wanted to leave. By the time I had sworn in for my second enlistment I knew that I was going to make the Marine Corps my career choice and almost everything I did revolved around that choice. I still had fun in my off time and enjoyed time spent with my wife and children but they all knew that if the phone rang I had to go. While other Marines were not concerned as much with learning and advancing I was always trying to accomplish more, learn more, lead better and things of that such. As a matter of fact the average Marine takes and passes one Marine Corps Institute course per year, in my last year I took and passed 15. What I am trying to point out with this build-up is that my life had a path and hence very little contradiction, if any at all.

Once I was discharged I was not certain what I was going to do, up to that point exercise and nutrition had been a very passionate hobby but not my career of choice. For quite sometime after my discharge I would wake up and wonder what would have happened if I never broke my neck. I would think to myself something like; I could still be in the Marine Corps, I could still be doing what I was really passionate about. This of course would cause emotional pain as I wanted something that I consciously knew I could never have again. I had to get to the point where I would not long for that life and instead enjoy what I had already gotten from it. I knew that I had to change or I was going to drive myself crazy with unobtainable desires. I had to redefine what I wanted out of my life and how I was going to go about obtaining those goals. It was that redefining of my goals and the path I intended on taking that allowed me not to feel the emotional contradictions/pain I was feeling before. This is not to say that one cannot change their life's goals as they see fit, but one cannot chase down two primaries at the same time. If I ever get to the point where I have grown bored with what I now do and think their is another path which will bring greater happiness while enhancing my life then I will once again reset a new path.

One more example which does not deal with work but relationships. I think most on this forum know about the relationship I had with my uncle, so I will not go over it in full detail again, instead I will try to limit my response to just what is needed. I spent time with my uncle alomst everyday from May of 1980 until August of 1987. We rode horses together, cleaned stalls together, he came to my sport practices and gave me rides home, we watched movies together and so much more. As a matter of fact I viewed almost every John Wayne movie that was released on VHS for the first time with my uncle. In August of 2002 my uncle unexpectantly died which was very painful to me. For quite sometime after his death I could not watch a John Wayne movie without extreme emotional pain as they would always remind me of him and that I was never going to be able to create new memories with him. After sometime I thought that I had to change my thinking because I valued John Wayne movies and the memories of my uncle. My children were also asking why we were no longer watching John Wayne movies and I would tell them we will do it soon. What worked for me while watching John Wayne movies was to remind myself of all the wonderful things we did, in other words all the good. Now when I watch John Wayne movies I remember all of the wonderful things we usually did during and after the movies, so that when the movie ends there is a smile on my face and not tears in my eyes. Another benefit is that my kids have learned to value John Wayne and my uncle as they always ask me to tell them stories about my adventures with my uncle and that always brings wonderful emotions.


If this is not what you were asking for, then I apologize for wasting your time.

#11 Nate Smith

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Posted 22 January 2011 - 03:33 PM

An emotion is triggered by the values you currently have in response to the context you are currently in as your emotional mechanism automatically connects it to past similar contexts.
...
When faced with an emotional conflict, what you need to do is (1) identify without judging, which values are a stake and (2) consciously evaluate if and how they actually apply to the current context.

All of your comments were helpful, thank you. While emotions are not tools of cognition of the external world, could it be said that they are with regards to your mental state?
"Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid." - Gilbert K. Chesterton

#12 Nate Smith

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Posted 22 January 2011 - 03:34 PM

Nate, I really do not like writing these types of things and usually keep these type of emotions to myself. With that stated I hope you find the information helpful.
...
If this is not what you were asking for, then I apologize for wasting your time.

Ray, I appreciate you taking the time to write about those experiences. I am honored that you shared those. I didn't realize it at first, but the contradiction you speak of is exactly what I need to deal with. The procedure you described I think will turn out to be very useful. Thank you.
"Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid." - Gilbert K. Chesterton

#13 Betsy Speicher

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Posted 22 January 2011 - 05:53 PM

An emotion is triggered by the values you currently have in response to the context you are currently in as your emotional mechanism automatically connects it to past similar contexts.
...
When faced with an emotional conflict, what you need to do is (1) identify without judging, which values are a stake and (2) consciously evaluate if and how they actually apply to the current context.

All of your comments were helpful, thank you. While emotions are not tools of cognition of the external world, could it be said that they are with regards to your mental state?

Emotions, in addition to their role in motivation, are the ONLY source of data regarding what your real values are. By this I mean the values that actually motivate you rather than your conscious values or the values you want to have. Before you can evaluate your values, you first have identify what those values are. The only way to do that is to introspect and identify your emotions and the values that caused them.
Betsy Speicher


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Betsy's Law #2 - In the long run you get the kind of friends -- and the kind of enemies -- you deserve.

#14 Nate Smith

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Posted 22 January 2011 - 06:17 PM

Emotions, in addition to their role in motivation, are the ONLY source of data regarding what your real values are. By this I mean the values that actually motivate you rather than your conscious values or the values you want to have. Before you can evaluate your values, you first have identify what those values are. The only way to do that is to introspect and identify your emotions and the values that caused them.

I understand that. My question is more one of semantics. Would you go so far as to say that: "Emotions are tools of cognition with regard to one's inner state or one's values" (or something close to that)?

I don't think you would. I think you are distinguishing between the data (in this case the emotions) and cognition itself (which is solely takes place in the mind). Does cognition solely refer to a rational process? As an analogy, if I stub my toe, the pain is data but I must identify stubbing my toe as bad. The cognitive process is the identification and the pain is not part of that. Agreed?
"Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid." - Gilbert K. Chesterton

#15 Nate Smith

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Posted 22 January 2011 - 07:24 PM

By this I mean the values that actually motivate you rather than your conscious values or the values you want to have.

I'm curious what would cause one to have values that don't motivate actions. I can think of two reasons:
1) The value falls low enough on one's hierarchy that one ends up pursuing other values first. Maybe the supposed value is never pursued.
2) The value is obtained second-hand. An individual doesn't really desire the value but believes consciously that he should.

Are there any other causes?
"Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid." - Gilbert K. Chesterton

#16 Betsy Speicher

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Posted 23 January 2011 - 01:53 AM

Emotions, in addition to their role in motivation, are the ONLY source of data regarding what your real values are. By this I mean the values that actually motivate you rather than your conscious values or the values you want to have. Before you can evaluate your values, you first have identify what those values are. The only way to do that is to introspect and identify your emotions and the values that caused them.

I understand that. My question is more one of semantics. Would you go so far as to say that: "Emotions are tools of cognition with regard to one's inner state or one's values" (or something close to that)?

I don't think you would. I think you are distinguishing between the data (in this case the emotions) and cognition itself (which is solely takes place in the mind). Does cognition solely refer to a rational process? As an analogy, if I stub my toe, the pain is data but I must identify stubbing my toe as bad. The cognitive process is the identification and the pain is not part of that. Agreed?

Agreed. Emotions are data for analysis by a conscious process of introspection.
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Betsy's Law #2 - In the long run you get the kind of friends -- and the kind of enemies -- you deserve.

#17 Betsy Speicher

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Posted 23 January 2011 - 01:56 AM

By this I mean the values that actually motivate you rather than your conscious values or the values you want to have.

I'm curious what would cause one to have values that don't motivate actions. I can think of two reasons:
1) The value falls low enough on one's hierarchy that one ends up pursuing other values first. Maybe the supposed value is never pursued.
2) The value is obtained second-hand. An individual doesn't really desire the value but believes consciously that he should.

Are there any other causes?

One can also make an honest error and choose the wrong values by mistake.
Betsy Speicher


Betsy's Law #1 - Reality is the winning side.

Betsy's Law #2 - In the long run you get the kind of friends -- and the kind of enemies -- you deserve.




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