Feelings: Achilles heel of the Ratio?

Logic is highly appraised in the western cultureWestern culture very much centers around the concepts Rationalism & Determinism. While these concepts certainly have proven their value, for many people they seem to have reached a status equaling a religious belief, and questioning the validity of Logic & Ratio more or less equals cursing in church 

Let’s briefly elaborate on some often mentioned philosophical concepts, then we’ll get to how feeling may act as the achilles heel of the ratio

Rationalism, simply speaking, considers the thought as the proof for human existence. It assumes the possibility of pure reasoning & logic, and uses these to gather knowledge and solve problems

Determinism assumes cause and effect. Everything in existence is assumed to follow mechanical cause and effect paths, and mapping out these paths is the way to gather knowledge and solve problems

Reductionism is closely related to determinism. It proposes that a phenomenon or thing is best understood by understanding individual parts that make up the phenomenon/ thing. Reductionism is often opposed to Holism, which proposes that the whole can be much more then the sum of its parts

As we can see, ratio & logic are the common denominators of all above concepts

I’m sure this all sounds quite familiar to the reader, and may even feel like a good, solid approach to gathering knowledge and solving problems .. which it is 🙂

Question remains if this is the best approach to all issues, and the current post-factual age suggests other approaches may be needed. Let’s first see how we got to where we are now

History

History helps to find out how the west arrived to its Ratio-centered approach.

Around 16301, an ongoing debate between feelings & ratio was going on, and it ended that time in a classic battle between two famous philosphers, Descartes & Spinoza. They each defended their version of the well-known existence quote

Descartes promoted the separation between body and mind

Descartes: I think therefore I am

Spinoza promoted complete integration of body and mindSpinoza: I feel therefore I am

With his version, Spinoza attacked the corner stone of Rationalism: The reliability of pure reasoning

Spinoza disagreed with Descartes, because in philosophical debates he repeatedly observed the phenomenon of emotional bias, where a persons reasoning gets distorted by emotional predisposition (= bias)

Spinoza noticed how easy an outsider could feel something was off in someone else’s biased logic, but also noticed it could still be difficult to put your finger on what exactly the flaw was, and hopeless to point out this flaw to the biased person. All to often, biased persons categorically denied any emotional bias and were therefore not susceptible to criticism from the audience

Needles to say these debates were never-ending, as we can also observe in todays internet discussions

Spinoza concluded that the ability of emotion to distort logic in such a subliminal way, proved that emotion was more powerful then thought. The logical conclusion followed that pure reasoning cannot be be trusted

To cut it short, these two engaged in a public philosophical battle, and Spinoza lost. From that moment on, Descartes rationalistic view grew rapidly in popularity and that, together with the enormous success of the application of the ratio in technological and scientific field, is how we in the West ended up celebrating the ratio as we do


Looking at today’s world

Simply observing today’s world makes it hard to keep up the idea that humans are a primarily logical species. Modern society shows plenty of examples where logic seems completely abandoned, in favor of emotional rhetoric every appeal to logic is thrown aside using a “you are just one of THEM” or similar conspiracy-style accusations..

The rationalists also see this of course, but aim to keep their view point alive by adding strength to the equation:

Rationalists: Instead of ‘giving in’ to emotion, one should step back, observe and question its validity .. and yes, this requires some ‘strength’

By attaching strength, the rationalists turn the relation between thought & feeling into a battle, where emotion is supposed to be ‘conquered’ by logic. If you can make logic prevail you are considered a ‘strong person’. (.. and if not you are ..)

Personally: I’m really surprised how often I see the battle-perspective being propagated as the thing to get into

To see how deeply this is ingrained in our culture, note that wishing someone ‘strength’ is THE standard heads-up we give to someone experiencing difficult times. Also many holistic-oriented guru’s advocate mental strength. The advocate that in order to change your feelings, you should re-evaluate the thoughts that create them. (i.e. thought creates feeling) I don’t say the above is incorrect, or that this approach never works, but I do like to note that the possibilities do not end here and that feeling might just as well be able to create thought 🙂

Spinoza noted that not strength, but awareness was key:

Note: Emotional bias is not so easily self observed, and therefore often escapes the awareness

There are several reasons emotional bias is not easily self-observed.
1. Your internal observer is under the influence of the same emotions it is trying to observe. Therefore its view is clouded and its judgement hampered.
2. In our ratio-oriented society, the basic attitude towards feelings is that they are irrelevant nuisances, especially those feelings that conflict with the opinions of the conscious mind. Therefore they’re not given enough significance to even begin specifically addressing them.
3.
 Core-feelings, which are usually the ones causing the most persistent emotional bias, are always present, and that hampers feeling them. We can feel differences very well, but when something is always there you don’t feel it anymore, like a fish will not easily understand what ‘water’ is. This makes your own core feelings quite subtle to perceive, and that makes it even easier to discard them as irrelevant

Mystic leaders about the mind

Mystic leaders have a mixed attitude towards the mind. Some (Daila Lama) promote understanding as the basis of respect where I personally think true respect should not require understanding. Some leaders also warn about attributing too much significance to the mind: I’d like to mention two of them

Sadhguru: What can you think, really? Just the nonsense that you have gathered and recycled. Can you think something other than what has been fed into your head? All you are doing is recycling old data. This recycling has become so important that people even dare to say “I think, therefore I am.” And that has become the world’s way of life. 4

mind-oshoOsho (1931-1990) even dedicated a whole a book urging to exercise caution with putting the the mind first

The mind cannot lead, because a mind on its own forgets it is thinking from within a certain context, a context which subliminally steers the thinking patterns along lines that are already predetermined by this context. This context (the well-known ‘Box’) includes the personal belief systems but also especially includes the emotional bias of the current moment

Focusing on the Mind leads to control

Todays ideas about responsible decision making move more and more towards a mind-oriented perspective, which tends to lead to a control based approach. Todays science and technology provide more options to cope with the huge number of variables associated with this control based approach.

Mind leads to control, partially because it simply is the nature of the beast. Seeing all those details just makes you want to control them doesn’t it? However, things take much less organisation/ effort if everyone is on the same page, because this mobilises the potential of people. You don’t mobilise people by giving them information, you mobilise people by creating a vibrational wave. Just observe the current populist politicians for the details 😉 , although underbelly poking is hopefully not the only way to create a wave. Once the wave is there, simply riding it will get things get done, but if will be difficult to predict exactly how and when. The controlling mind obviously doesn’t like these characteristics.

Needles to say that the concept of control clashes with the concept of freedom

Modern research

Modern research on logic & emotion by Dr. Damasio1 actually completely disproves the separation between logic and emotion

Damasio: Our science1 shows that logic & emotion are highly integrated, and most likely unable to function independently

In particular, Dr. Damasio argues in his new book, ”Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain”, Spinoza anticipated one of brain science’s most important recent discoveries: the critical role of the emotions in ensuring our survival and allowing us to think.

From a neurological point of view, feeling is not the enemy of reason but an indispensable accomplice2

Note the perspective: from a neurological point of view. Emotion may very well be a physiological requirement to be able to think, but from a consciousness perspective: When you’re not aware of it your thinking can easily drift astray: Plenty of examples for that out in the field.

What matters is: Awareness remains key regardless the physiology


The personal perspective

Seen from the personal perspective, it matters less which one (thought or emotion) ultimately comes first, because from the personal perspective the main goal is to find alignment between thought & emotion

From the personal perspective the important question becomes: How and where to place you attention in order to find alignment

There are many places to put your attention, but lets limit ourselves to two now: the thought level, and the feeling level. I’ll briefly describe the two options:

Studying the thought level is already mentioned. When you encounter negative feelings in relation to a certain topic, you search for underlying thoughts, assuming that these thoughts create the feelings. When you have found one (e.g. I am not worthy of attention) you may question the validity of this thought (eg by bringing up many examples you are worthy, or hearing it from others). The idea is that this approach will ultimately diffuse the thought and also the feeling, because thought is supposed to create the feeling

Studying the feeling level is different. Here no searching is required, you simply feel what you feel, in relation to a certain topic. By using specific feeling techniques (see intro course) you learn to really touch this feeling. As a result, the feelings will unwind. A few rounds of “sensing into release” may be required, but then the feeling will no longer blur your relation to that particular topic and you are ready to have a fresh experience with it

Below I provide the summary of my experience with studying both these levels

Studying thought

1. Thinking strives for understanding, but feelings often just need acknowledgement #mismatch
2. Thinking tends to get complex quite quickly, and things are already so complex nowadays #overload
3. Thinking has a tendency to accelerate into reactive chains of thought & emotion #overload
4. Thinking tends to bring you out of the moment, into past or future #mismatch

Studying thought requires thinking contrary to how you feel, therefore a battling attitude tends to work best

Studying feeling

1. Understanding is not required to initiate change
2.
A strict focus on sensing greatly simplifies things
3. A strict focus on sensing diffuses reactive chaining of thought & emotion
4. A strict focus on sensing tends to bring you into the moment

Approaching the Feeling itself requires no actions contrary to how you feel, an acknowledging attitude works best

Bottom line: try it out and experiment before you choose. This is what the free course is for 🙂

more information on the intro course

Revisit our starting point

It is an interesting exercise to relate the FeelingFirst approach to the mentioned pillars of western logical thinking: Rationalism, Determinism and Reductionism, so lets do that 🙂

Rationalistic: Well that is clear, Feelings First is not rationalistic at all, because it fully acknowledges the power of feeling to distort thinking is such a deeply engrained way, that you cannot think yourself out of that pit anymore. All thinking lines will inevitably gravitate into the context created by the underlying emotional bias

Deterministic: Well, sort of, as we do acknowledge cause and effect, but we don’t bother to map out these paths in great detail. We simple work with the feelings that are right in front of us and trust that unwinding those will lead us towards an opening. However, the unwinding process often reveals many details of what was actually the problem, so it does provide a great deal of  knowledge about our personal inner makeup. This knowledge is however not acquired but given, as it simply comes to you during/after the unwinding process

Reductionistic: Not really. When working with our feelings, trying to understand them only distracts from feeling them. At Feelings First we simply sense, and ride the releasing flows until completion. Questioning feelings only distracts from this sensory experience

Finalizing

surfer-walk-in-waves-cc

On this website I promote sensory tools that simplify the complexity of modern life, while providing wonderful health balancing effects at the same time. Exploring the art of sensing can lead to great personal awareness as well. In my experience, real wisdom doesn’t come from thinking a lot

I heartily recommend taking the free email course as a first experience of this sensing work. Seeing it as an experiment may allow to just enjoy, play with & hopefully learn from it

References

1. NY Times: I Feel therefore I am

2. Guardian Book review: Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain

3. Thinking and Feeling, exploring the differences

4. Sadhguru: Stop Thinking Yourself Out of Life

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Comments

  1. Not a bad article but it seems to me you confuse the words feel (be aware through touching, experience an emotion or sensation, believe) and sense (perceive by senses, detect), feeling (an impression) and emotion (an expression).

    • Arjan van Muyen says:

      Thanks, yes I use feeling & emotion and feeling(act)& sensing interchangeably because it seems the meaning of these words varies between people. I actually prefer feeling as it covers much more then emotion, where there are only 5 of. But feeling a feeling quickly becomes confusing in the wording. Now that I think about it, I could also use the word sensation there 😉

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