Feelings vs Intellect

xkcd #1901There’s really only one web comic I read anymore: xkcd. Randall Munroe continues to turn out thoughtful gems, and I really appreciate the ad-free nature of the site. I also find his What-If? series delightful; the first episode is one of my favorite interweb jewels!

But it’s his insight to the human condition and ability to nail a point with such brilliant brevity that I most relish. I value some of his comics as highly as I value favorite quotes; both are pithy petards against our myths and illusions.

And sometimes he even hoists my petard a bit!

Such as in the comic, Logical, that appeared sometime last year (he doesn’t post dates, but the image has an October 11 date). It made me think twice about a key belief I have concerning feelings versus intellect.

My belief didn’t change, but the comic illuminated a point which, given how often I hammer on intellect over feelings here, perhaps I should make more clear. To myself as much as anyone.

I see Intellect and Feeling as Yin and Yang pairs.

[True pairs; one is not the absence of the other. They do act in opposition, however; one can overwhelm or preclude the other.]

A whole person has command of intellect and is in touch with feelings. Each has a place in our thinking. Wisdom lies in trying to embrace (or at least lean into) the best one for the situation.

When someone is hurting, we feel for them, we don’t offer thoughtful solutions to their pain. Not in the moment, anyway.

Later, when the time comes to try to solve the hurt, or to solve the source of the hurt, then intellect steps up to the plate. Solving requires analysis.

Yet, our feelings can be informed by our intellect just as our analysis can be informed by our feelings. Integration of the two poles makes for a more whole approach to life. (That’s true in general. Balance is all.)

My mantra: The Heart Pushes, but the Head Steers.

Crucially, I do not wish to give the impression feelings have no place in our thinking when those thoughts regard people. (Feelings have much less to do with math or quantum physics.)

But here’s the thing: We don’t lack for feelings.

We’re humans, we feel. A lot. All the time. Having feelings just isn’t a problem. All our stories tend to be about feelings. All our heroes tend to be highly emotive. (And frequently not so intellectual.)

And, of course, our politics has gone pretty entirely emotional.

What we do lack for — especially these days — is intellect.

There was a time when intellect and knowledge were revered. We saw them as what made us different from the animals, as what raised us out of the darkness, as what made us human.

This is why I hammer on the importance and need for intellect here. Feelings don’t need support or defense. These days, it seems intellect does.

And after nearly 50 years of hammering, I finally have a giant tangerine-colored proof of what happens when feelings overwhelm intellect. All that anger, all those false feelings, lead directly to Tangerine Tony and his band of evil sycophants.

These strong emotions lead to tribalism. The fear, anger, or hate, felt towards those outside the tribe, and the thoughtless embrace of all within the tribe, create nearly impenetrable, unbridgeable social division.

I suppose an interesting question for discussion is why, at least politically, we don’t embrace compassion or love more. It’s been a long time since the last [JR]FK or MLK (let alone a JC or Gandhi). Seems lately all we have is the politics of hate.

We need to return to revering knowledge, education, and truth.

We need to be more thoughtful in our politics.

As Thomas J. Watson said to IBM:

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

2 responses to “Feelings vs Intellect

  • lisa

    So true, I was in a training that talked how 60% of people in The country make decisions based on emotion. What I fail to understand is why the Democrats seem forget this. Bill Clinton did a good job at emotional connections, Barack Obama did a good job, but many candidates seem to fall flat in articulation of hope. A line from a book that sticks with me about public service was something about they would not stoop to pick up a reward at their feet (an unearned privledge) but would run down the street for a chance to serve. This feeling of wanting to be part of something bigger (Kennedy’s what can you do for your country) is a potential that is not be tapped in political discourse in an effective manner, but I believe could be tapped-Bernie was making good strides, now we need more voices added.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Agree to that all!

      I’ve been wondering a lot in the last few years if, certain professional sectors aside, we aren’t getting more incompetent about life. Or maybe we’ve decided that getting it right isn’t as important anymore, I’m not sure. It’s just that I seem to spot a lot more errors in places than I used to (consider the LA LA Land Best Picture fuckup, for example).

      It’s like we’ve gotten sloppy and half-assed as a culture. The “it’s all good” ethic (which is such utter bullshit) seems to have pervaded everything we do.

      So, yeah, I’m a bit concerned about the ability of the Democrats to run effective campaigns or candidates for this November.

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