Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Emotion, Rationality and Creativity

When we are first presented with a situation our initial reaction will be subconscious, communicated to our conscious mind a black box; this we call a "visceral reaction" or "emotion".  Emotions are the communication mechanism of the unconscious mind. Our minds, while we are otherwise consciously occupied, processes inputs and makes associations based upon pathways that have already been established.

The establishment of conceptual pathways is what we call “learning.” Learning is a process by which we seek to establish categorical and causal associations between things so that we can act to achieve specific outcomes.  (i.e. “What type of thing is this with respect to other things, what are its causes, what will result from it, and what should I do about it?”).

Rational associations (i.e. those which accurately model those found in reality) provide our minds with the best possible chance of arriving at efficacious courses of action.  But, of course, not all learning results in rational associations.  Irrational associations are what we call “superstitions”; rational associations we call “reasons”.

Emotions are unavoidable; they are hardwired into our brains for some very good reasons. Emptions are necessary in order for us to make quick decisions where conscious rational analysis would be impractical. In nature the ability to make quick unaudited decisions (i.e. to have emotional reactions) is a distinct competitive advantage.  We see this principle at play in every animal equipped with the faculty of hearing when they perceive a loud sound. The immediate and unavoidable reaction will be some degree of fear ranging from a mild shift in awareness to a full-fledged flight or fight response. If a gazelles were not immediately startled (cause to feel afraid) by the sight of predators but rather had to analyses the situation rationally before deciding to run, there would be no gazelles to speak of today.

Our minds simultaneously process a lot of information using various subsystems (This is why we can walk and chew gum at the same time, though apparently some people lack this ability) but it is difficult to be consciously aware of our mental processes without setting up some sort of signaling mechanisms and attention sharing. We can pay attention to only one thing at a time, especially if the same specialized systems of our mind are required for processing. (This is why most people will find it hard to read and understand a book while listening to and understanding someone who is speaking to them.)

The intensity and type of emotion one experiences varies from person to person and situation to situation but one’s first reaction to every situation is always an emotional one; this much is unavoidable. Since emotional responses are rich with information we shouldn't seek to avoid them; if we do we'll be ignoring a very important signaling mechanism which could potentially be alerting us to otherwise unforeseen and often complex relationships.  In the workplace emotional responses are most commonly presented in the form “I don't LIKE this” or “I don't think that people will LIKE that”; reasons are not offered and often not explored; the reaction is an emotional one. In such cases the word “LIKE” is a dead giveaway.

The trick is remembering that emotions are the result of both rational and superstitious learning and that learning can be directed by our conscious minds. An emotional response, when time allows it, should be a cue for us to ask the question, “why?” and to open up the black-box in order to discover how we arrived at our conclusions. By engaging in this sort of rational deliberation we train our minds to make produce more rational responses and emotional signals while opening the door for unexpected associations to arise. This we call “creativity” and in its purest form “genius”.  The creative man is one who has trained his mind to consistently and efficiently make quick, unsupervised, rational, and complex associations by a deliberate process of introspection.

The lesson: the path to rationality and creativity are the same: paying attention to our emotions and demanding explanations of them—preferably good ones.


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