The place of emotion and intuition in a rational mind

45733137[1]Have you ever noticed the correlation between “funny” and “interesting”? Humor appears to me to be a positive evolutionary tool to encourage learning: much of what we find funny involves the connection of disparate ideas, unexpected knowledge which gives us a “Eureka!” moment and makes us feel good, encouraging more such behavior. Emotions are primarily your hindbrain’s way of communicating with your forebrain, giving you strong intuitive reactions for emergency situations. If you have good emotional discipline, able to listen to their advice without letting them control your actions, they can be a valuable tool for self-awareness and intuitive thought.

Intuition is the special something which separates the organic brain from a binary machine. By allowing for “maybe” and using complex interconnections of ideas to form conclusions, your brain can come up with likely answers to problems which can’t be solved through formal logic alone. It’s essentially a background process which spits out answers without telling you how it arrived at a given conclusion (though with enough self-awareness it is often possible to trace the intuition back to its source).

In short, formal logic (thought out step by step, forebrain thinking),  intuition (answers out of nowhere, “hunches”), and emotions (primitive intuition, hindbrain thinking) are all necessary tools for a human to develop the most effective (powerful, flexible) mind possible.

Wisdom (to my mind) is the ability to solve problems gained through experience, knowledge, and training. Raw knowledge is useless without a mind to conceive of practical applications for it, and our minds don’t do a very good job on their own. Thinking through the implications of a given piece of knowledge helps us to connect it to other pieces. (Our brains don’t work like hard drives.*) More and deeper connections between ideas (i.e. connections between pieces of those ideas and more understanding of the implications of combined knowledge) helps us by making such original thought easier, creating a self-reinforcing positive reaction. This pattern of automatic positive reinforcement encourages us to continue learning and questioning constantly, helping us to become better problem solvers overall.

*See here for an excellent article explaining how traditional rote schooling has it backwards.

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