Integrating Reason and Emotion

1997-11-24

My friend Scott and I have talked repeatedly about the value of spontaneity and such to acting and other forms of performance (although I have no acting experience, I do have performing experience as a musician). In performance, one must be open to experience, to what one's performance partners are doing, in order to perform up to one's capabilities -- one cannot "plan" the entire performance. You have to let go in order to create the greatest value. Yet is not this seemingly anti-rational, since planning is rational and not planning (being spontaneous) seems irrational by comparison?

I think that seeing things in this way involves a false alternative, or a kind of rationalism. It involves identifying one's person with one's mind to the exclusion of one's body, one's native characteristics and traits, one's soul, one's habits, etc. I've never really "planned" any of the songs or poems I've written -- in a way they just come to me, although creating them does involve work (especially preparatory work). But creating things is not really an emotional process. I think it goes deeper than emotion -- it goes to the core of one's being and to the accumulated wisdom and experience that make you who you are. And that accumulation is an accomplishment. One of the things I find disturbing when I reflect on my own experience with Objectivist philosophy is the extent to which I was willing to throw away everything that I was both innately and culturally (nature and nurture) and everything I had made of myself (volition) in pursuit of some ideal that uniquely captured the way I "ought" to be. It took me a long time to regain my equilibrium and realize that what I was had value, and that not all my value derived from my ideas and the degree to which my life and personhood aligned with those ideas, especially not in all of their concrete manifestations (what an old friend of mine calls "Howard Roark Syndrome"). I realized that I am primarily an individual influenced by Rand, not (at the depths) an Objectivist. I think it's unhealthy to identify so fundamentally with a set of ideas. On an intellectual level, yes -- on the level of what makes you you, no.

This is why the topic of friendship (and of art) interests me so, because friendship is based not on ideas (though they can certainly help), but on "what makes you you" -- on the personal, not the explicitly philosophical. Why am I attracted to those who are my friends? What is it that draws me to those who are dear to me? Nietzsche writes somewhere about the experience of meeting someone and knowing immediately that they "smell bad". Similarly, some people "smell good" -- there's a spark of interest, an acknowledgement of some affinity that is worth exploring. It's a subtle thing and not given to easy analysis (although I do think it's important to reflect on it, just not to analyze it to death). It's again not even primarily an emotional thing. I think the emotions here are cues to something deeper. When I meet someone whom I feel has possibilities as a friend, certainly I feel emotions but they're based on those affinities, on the excitement of finding another person who shares your stance and outlook and perceptions to a great degree.

As to the question of reason vs. emotion, I see no conflict between the two. In a way I see both of these as flowing from something deeper: from one's personhood or individuality or core being. I guess I think reason is extremely important for forming one's values and deciding on what is important. And this is an ongoing process -- it's not as if you decide on your values one day (or for a few years) and then you go on autopilot. I think that to some extent you need to do a lot of thinking and training of your mind and outlook, but then you can trust your emotions a great deal, because your emotions and reason both flow from the character and traits you've developed. This doesn't mean it ever becomes less important to be clear-thinking. But you don't have to think about every little thing when you've already thought a lot about what's important to you and when you've lived enough to have integrated your thoughts and values into the very fabric of your being. At that point, at least in my experience, your explicit philosophy (in my case, Objectivism) kind of fades into the background -- it's always there, but it's not always in the forefront of my thinking and experience, because I'm too busy living.

There is a connection here to Eastern philosophy. My friend Scott has found value in those traditions for his acting work, and I have been studying Confucianism and Taoism for a number of years. (For the results so far, see my review of Knowledge Painfully Acquired.) These traditions are atheistic and secular but quite far from Western thought -- in some ways to the good, I think. They put greater value on integration and not on philosophy for its own sake but philosophy for the sake of living (thus the importance of becoming a sage, not a scholar). I think that at their best the Eastern traditions put greater value on emotion and certainly spontaneity than Western traditions. And that kind of spontaneity is just as real and honest as reason.


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