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Ideology, Emotion, and Reason
Posted 9/1/06 (By Travis)
The Political Brain
July Scientific American
"We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning," Westen is quoted as saying in an Emory University press release. "What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts." Interestingly, neural circuits engaged in rewarding selective behaviors were activated. "Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones," Westen said.
First, this study is interesting because it was done by a Libertarian. :) Secondly, if correct, it offers an interesting view on ideology versus reason. Ideology is more based on emotion, but, unlike what the article infers, I don't necessarily consider this to be a negative, but a neutral statement of fact. Emotional ideology is a useful evolutionary concept. Why should I need to painstakingly reason through every angle of a proposed policy? Instead, generally, if it expands government and limits freedom I consider it 'bad' and if it shrinks government and expands freedom I consider it 'good'. This processing can be done fast and, yes, it is quite satisfying :). However, this sort of reasoning is still reasoning; it is macro-level pattern recognition that has been labeled, perhaps correctly, as emotion.
You see, I think emotion is ultimately derived from the same substance as normal cognizant 'objective' reasoning, but is differentiated only by scale, representing a much lower/subtle form of thought/communication. A danger is that this level is often diluted by instinct and harmful desires.
So, despite its usefulness, ideology inherently runs into problems. Knee jerk reactions are not always the best and everything is not uniformly black or white. And, because of its ingrained structure, we observe the stubborn nature of politics and religion. Conclusions/opinions about both are derived through the aggregate weighing/comparisons of vast quantities of variables and experiences over a lengthy period of time. Hence their emotional and controversial nature and why you can never change someone's mind.
I take that back, a person can change their mind, but it will never, or rarely, be you that has changed it. It will be a combination of persons and events, percolating temporally, hammering away at the widespread neural circuitry, until a yawning tipping point is reached and a change begins so slow the person may even be unaware of it.
Thus, it is best not to go into arguments or discussions even attempting to 'change minds', but with a joyous attitude and appreciation of another's company and interest. This attitude will also facilitate your own learning, advancement, and openness, because, notwithstanding its value, emotion can often, as this study showed, erect walls and barriers. If you are consumed with dislike or frustration at another person's argument, or worse, at the person themselves, how will you have energy left to learn from them, or consider your own flaws? It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said:
In every man there is something wherin, I may learn of him and in that I am his pupil.
This approach also yields curtsey, which is, upon occasion, sorely lacking from religious/political discussions.
Additionally, it is both humbling and refreshing to dig deeper into neurological functionings and theories of networking/group processing and realize that, by definition, we cannot be right about every opinion that we have. We all have strengths and weaknesses in our 'objective' reasonings, which manifest even in our personalities. Studies have shown that, in certain instances, the sum of opinions derived from many individuals is more accurate than the guesstimates of even a so-called expert in whatever area the inquiry is in. Granted, if the whole group is denied certain information or experiences, their accuracy precipitately declines, eventually leading to mob mentality and groupthink. Incidentally, this is why Conservatives and Libertarians spend so much time attacking the media. :)
Regardless, it is probably also true that distancing oneself from outcomes, attempting not to place an 'I' in any contemplated equation, will result in a higher accuracy of processing output, correctness, if you will. But, then again, this is just my opinion and I am a self proclaimed ideologue. :)
See also, 'In Pursuit of Happiness'
See also, 'Personal Responsibility, Mental Responsibility Part II'
See also, 'Personal Responsibility, Mental Responsibility Part I'
See also, 'Good Karma, Bad Karma?'
See also, 'A Theory of God'
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