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Logic and Emotion



Something that's irritated me for a while is when people try to draw an imaginary dichotomy between 'logical' or 'rational' decision-making and 'emotional' decision-making. Often accompanied by the implication that one is rational while the other is irrational. Or that people are more or less emotional than others, or somehow irrational.

Some breaking news, folks, no person is irrational. Barring physical defects or physiological differences that result in clinical insanity or mental impairment, every human being is a very precise calculator of deciding what is best for them (or their in-group to gradational degrees outwards). Sometimes the weights people place on the values that guide their decision making are less adaptive than others, or were maladaptive by exceptional formative experiences unlikely to happen again. But they're still logical. Some people are impulsive, and haven't learned how to allow a strong emotional state to fade in intensity before making a decision. But, everybody is both ruled by logic and also ruled by emotions. And I don't mean that in a figurative way, I mean that in a very literal way. To make any decision, you must have an emotional value attached to it. These two things, colloquially 'logic' and emotion, which are often paired as opposites, are actually reliant upon each other in making decisions.

For being ruled by emotions, a good example of how that works is this situation: when you are staring at two items on a menu at a restaurant, and both are almost exactly the same in level of appeal. Your body is not craving anything in particular. Ever have that happen? When neither, or none, (if there are multiple items) are more appealing than the other- what happens? You can't decide. The clock is ticking. The waiter is waiting. The friend is not-so-discreetly checking his watch. Remember that feeling? You are literally mentally paralyzed because you do not have enough differential emotional value attached to those items. Happens all the time. If you work in a restaurant, you see people stumped for some time while they weigh their options. Behavioral economists have known for years that too many options hampers the decision making ability by overloading the amount of different values a person can juggle in their mind. Finally people pick the item by some sort of other metric, like opposite of which one they had last, or flip a coin, alphabetical, or have their friend pick for them, or some such. This is not a stand-alone experience, every decision you make is ruled by the emotional attachments you have to the various outcomes. If you had no emotions, you could not make a decision.

And people are inherently and inflexibly logical. To prove that, consider this: no decision you have ever made has ever been against your interests as you knew them to be at the time of making the decision. Now, some decisions are what may appear to be sacrificial in nature, but are actually exchanges, time or money or what may have you, in exchange for upholding a certain sociological or philosophical ideal. It is paying maintenance on keeping that ideal in circulation because that ideal is beneficial.

Some decisions are short sighted and against long term interests, perhaps, but not against immediate ones. I ate that piece of cake because satisfying that desire had more drive than the abstaining from such for a long term goal. Satisfying immediate desires often takes priority over abstract ones.

But for a moment, think of any decision you made earlier in the day. Why did you make the choices in that chain that you did? Now, without changing anything else about the situation, could you have made a different decision? Really? If so, why didn't you make that decision instead? More than likely, ever action you did was in some way better than all other actions conceived of in that space of time allocated in the decision making process. Even in an attempt at proving this thought experiment wrong, if you did something inherently against yourself or random, like smashing your head against a wall or doing a silly dance, you have still elevated the desire of asserting your own agency higher than accepting the belief that you in fact have no agency at all, mainly because it is a comforting concept, and the satisfaction of emotional demands comes at any cost, even that of truth. But we will all make the same decision over and over again if placed in the same circumstances and armed with exact same level of knowledge as previously before.

Most of your decisions are made before they even, if they ever, reach your upper consciousness. Almost all of your decisions are made for you. And a good thing, too, otherwise you probably would go insane with all the minute details you would have to attend to instead of it seeming much like an automatic process that it is. All of those decisions, especially of the sort like navigating through traffic are trusted implicitly as being the best for you, allowing you to daydream about what you want to do after work or what ever else occupies your mind.

Thankfully, we live real-time and have the ability to alter our course of action by updating our knowledge base from previous experiences. But one thing remains the same, it is that people will inherently make *what they believe to be in their heart of hearts* the best decision every time because it gets them what they want- regardless of the other costs (which, incidentally, indicates the level of importance that event, relationship, object, ect., has to them).

When people do things that seem crazy or "emotional", just realize that one, we're all emotional, and two, they are operating from a different table of values that you are. And remember that the satisfaction of emotional and immediate desires almost always take precedence over abstract ones. If you're really inquisitive, try to ascertain what the weight of those particular values are.

So, in short, stop making those false opposite statements and I'll stop writing long winded paragraphs.


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