13 Emotions

CHAPTER 13

Emotions

Information received by an individual from Sector 3 through the processes of revelation, intuition, or insight discussed in the previous chapters joins with information communicated to him by other persons or received directly through his own senses, and the entire combination of material is then subjected to that individual’s internal processes. In the next four chapters, we will examine the aspects of these internal processes that are relevant to the general subject matter under consideration.

One of the first reactions may be an emotional response to the incoming information. “All of us know from experience what an emotion is,”214 says one psychology textbook. But that is a very vague kind of knowledge, and as another text admits, the tangible scientific knowledge of emotion “is neither very exact nor very extensive.”215 Furthermore, most of the systematic consideration of the subject has been centered on the physiological changes and behavior patterns that result from the emotions. One theory even contends that the physiological changes constitute the emotion. “My theory,” says William James, “is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion.”216 For our present purposes, the important points to be noted are that the emotion is initiated by incoming information, and that it results in action.

McDougall (1923) was one of the first to stress the close integration of emotion and action (which he believed to be instinctive in origin), pointing out that fear and flight, anger and attack, maternal feeling and protective action, naturally go together as parts of unitary behavior.217 (Krech and Crutchfield)

Let us consider one of the so-called “primary” emotions. Fear is a good example. When a situation arises that produces fear in a man or animal, the first result is physiological. Pulse rate, blood pressure, respiration, and many other body functions are altered to produce a state of physical readiness for action. The next result is action itself. If no deterring factor intervenes, the individual, whether he be man or animal, takes to his heels.

Now let us ask, what benefit does a human being derive from this fear emotion? The answer clearly has to be: Nothing at all. Human intelligence is quite capable of initiating the flight if such action seems to be advisable. In fact, the currently favored theory is that the intelligence must authorize the flight even if fear is present. On that basis, there is no time saved, and in any case the difference in time is not likely to be significant. Nor is fear necessary for the physiological preparation. When a situation that calls for emergency action is perceived, the body gets the shot of adrenaline that facilitates quick action whether or not fear is present. There is no good reason to believe that the further physiological changes induced by fear will improve this situation. On the contrary, experience shows that fear often results in ineffective action, or even prevents taking any action at all. “Paralyzed by fear” is a description commonly applied in such cases. Thus, on balance, fear is definitely detrimental to survival, so far as the human race is concerned. This is not generally recognized in current thought. On the contrary, a representative statement from a current psychology textbook reads as follows:

When Darwin revolutionized scientific theory in biology by classifying man as only one of many species that evolved from other animals, he pointed out that emotion would not exist unless it was adaptive, that is useful for the survival of humans as well as other animals.218

This assertion rests on the premise that all evolutionary developments continue to be useful after the evolution has passed on to a more advanced stage—an untenable proposition. The human race has found it advantageous to get along without the prehensile tail that was so important to its tree-dwelling ancestors. On balance, the case in favor of retention of the fear emotion would seem no better than that in favor of retaining the prehensile tail. But it is true that unless this emotion had a survival value for some species, it could not have been produced in the course of biological evolution, which operates entirely on a survival basis. It follows, therefore, that the emotion of fear, like the prehensile tail, must have had a survival value for the organisms in which it developed. The explanation clearly lies in the inferior mental capacity of the lower forms of life. Their brains are not capable of recognizing the threat, analyzing the situation, and originating flight, if flight is required, within the time that is available. For such organisms, it is advantageous to have a mechanism that initiates flight almost automatically. A threatening situation causes fear, and fear results in flight without further ado.

According to Spinoza, our emotions are the product of a lack of understanding of the situation which confronts us.219 But the difficulty that the primitive type of animal faces is something more fundamental. He does not possess the capability of clear understanding, nor the capability of exercising judgment as to the appropriate action even if he did have a clear understanding. What he needs (and has) is a process that requires only a general recognition of the threat, and on recognition initiates action directly, without the necessity of going through a complex mental process.

On this basis, the primary emotions are precursors of intelligence. They enable non-intelligent animals, or animals of very limited intelligence, to react to certain classes of situations in a quasi-intelligent manner. But now that evolutionary development has produced a greater degree of intelligence, that intelligence arrives at better results in the great majority of cases because it not only takes into consideration the unique characteristics of each individual situation rather than evoking a standardized response in each situation of a broad general class, but is also capable of initiating a wider variety of responses. It would therefore be beneficial to man, and perhaps to the higher animals as well, if the fear emotion could be suppressed.

The principal reason why the emotions have not been entirely superseded by thought in human activity is that these are separate processes that have evidently evolved independently. Where one physiological feature evolves from another, as in the evolution of eyes from light-sensitive skin areas, the change is gradual, and at each stage the new replaces the old. But although emotion and thinking serve essentially the same purposes, within the more limited range of the emotions, they operate on entirely different principles. In thinking, a given situation is perceived as a combination of a number of factors, possible means of manipulating or responding to these factors are envisioned, and a decision, or judgment, is reached as to the most desirable course of action. In the emotional process, the situation in its entirety is perceived as being one of a certain class. The action appropriate to that class of situation then follows automatically.

As this description indicates, emotion is a very simple process, so far as its essential elements are concerned. It is therefore easy to see how emotions could have originated at a relatively early evolutionary stage. Indeed, such behavior as that of plants which respond to light by turning toward the source is not fundamentally different from resorting to flight as a response to a threatening situation. Just how, and at what stage of evolutionary development, thinking first made its appearance is not yet known, but it clearly plays no significant role in any biological species other than the higher animals. Thus, emotion was already highly developed before thinking had any real impact, and the thinking apparatus originated from a separate line of development. As a result, the human brain is not a single organ, but a complex structure, in which the evidence of a new mechanism superimposed on an older brain is clear enough, in spite of some integration of functions that has resulted from further evolution after the original combination, to give rise to designations such as the “old” or “reptilian” brain, and the “new” or “mammalian” brain (which is itself a double structure). Arthur Koestler has this to say:

If the evidence had not taught us the contrary, we would expect an evolutionary development which gradually transformed the primitive old brain into a more sophisticated instrument—as it transformed claw into hand, gill into lung. Instead, evolution superimposed a new superior structure on an old one, with partly overlapping functions, and without providing the new with a clear-cut, hierarchic control over the old, thus inviting confusion and conflict.220

The availability of a more efficient and versatile apparatus can be expected to lead to a gradual decrease in the utilization of the emotional mechanism; perhaps to its eventual disappearance. This process is already under way, but the clear superiority of the thinking process over the emotional mechanism was achieved only a relatively short time ago, on the evolutionary scale, and not enough time has elapsed to accomplish a major evolutionary change. Furthermore, the availability of a simple process that can handle some routine situations lightens the load on the thinking apparatus, and this useful function that the emotional mechanism is able to perform no doubt tends to make the phasing out of the emotions still slower.

This is not likely to change the ultimate result. Because of the major role that the availability of accurate information plays in determining the validity of the conclusions reached through the reasoning process, the position of reason vis-à-vis emotion continually improves as the amount of information at the disposal of the individual increases. The new and better mechanism will no doubt take over the entire job, or at least assume full control, sooner or later. In the meantime, however, both intelligence and emotion are endeavoring to control the response to perceived situations, and as Koestler pointed out, conflicts are inevitable. This has long been recognized by students of human behavior.

Men have often believed themselves victims of the force of their feelings… [They] have been led to think of their psyche as divided into two conflicting parts—reason on one side and emotion on the other… to believe that reason and emotion are locked in continuous warfare, with self as host and victim.221 (Evelyn Shirk)

There is a general recognition, says this author, that emotion is the undesirable and dangerous force. “Our culture has long harbored a deeply rooted conviction that the part of the psyche most likely to cause mischief and least worthy of trust is the capacity for feeling and emotion.” There is an element of truth in this view of the situation, to be sure, but it is overdramatized. Emotion is not some mysterious, inimical “force” by which we are victimized. It is simply an automatic reaction of man’s primitive brain; a reaction that cannot be prevented as long as that brain continues to be operative, but can be overruled by intelligence. The substantial degree of progress that has already been achieved toward suppression of the emotional reactions is illustrated in the human response to the emotion of anger.

Inasmuch as the survival of an individual in the animal world not only requires quick retreat from danger but also promptness in seizing opportunities to gain, or to preserve, an advantage over the other animals with which it competes for food and other necessities, evolution has produced an emotion analogous to fear that initiates attack rather than retreat. This emotion, anger, is, in a sense, the direct opposite of fear. In the lower animals, the response to anger is purely situation-oriented. An intruder is attacked simply because he intrudes. In the more intelligent species, particularly man, an objectionable situation is not, in itself, sufficient to produce an angry reaction. Human anger is aroused mainly where the affected individual objects to the reasons, or what he believes to be the reasons, for the situation. An injury resulting from the actions of another person will usually be accepted unemotionally if it is judged to be unavoidable, or, in most cases, even if it is merely unintentional. But if the injury results from carelessness, the victim is likely to become angry, and if it is intentional, some degree of anger is inevitable. Furthermore, that which is judged to be intentional may produce anger even if the injury is trivial, or is actually avoided. As the psychologists point out, anger is typically correlated with the impulse to attack, and in the lower animals, attack is essentially automatic. But in man, it is the exception rather than the rule. Ordinarily the attack response to anger is vetoed by reason, either on the ground that it would be counterproductive, in that it would provoke the antagonist to inflict still further injury, or on the ground that retaliation under the existing circumstances would be contrary to accepted standards of conduct and would impair the individual’s standing in the community.

This overruling of the emotional response by intelligent thought is not always accomplished easily, and often generates internal conflicts of a disturbing nature. In human beings, where the rational response is the normal one, the conflicts are more frequent and more violent in the case of those individuals who are in the habit of giving relatively free rein to their emotions. Thus the type of difficulty known as “emotional disturbance” is correlated with the relative strength of the emotions. On the other hand, in animals, where emotion predominates, a higher degree of intelligence, and the resultant greater ability to recognize deviations from the standard pattern to which the emotional response is geared, means more occasion for conflict and consequently more emotional disturbance. “An animal’s susceptibility to emotional disturbance is directly related to the level of its intelligence”222 reports Hebb. According to this author, such a disturbance may be regarded as a breakdown of equipment. Our findings indicate, however, that it is merely a natural result of the presence of two different mechanisms developed by evolution to handle the same kind of situations. In many cases, the two will act in parallel, but since they operate on different principles, some conflicts are inevitable.

The great increase in intelligence in the evolutionary step from ape to man has not been paralleled by a corresponding increase in emotional disturbances. As Hebb goes on to say, “The great apes show their kinship with him [man] more clearly in their emotional characteristics than in their capacity for learning and solving problems.” This is entirely in line with what can be expected on the basis of a clash between a primitive brain and a new one of a continually improving character. The emotional disturbances were caused initially by the development of intelligence, the operating process of the new brain, and the resulting introduction of conflicts with emotion. As intelligence continued to increase, the number of points of conflict also increased. In the meantime, reason has achieved complete domination over an increasing number of situations, thus eliminating conflicts in these respects. Eventually, as intelligence continued to improve in the course of evolution, the effect of the increasing dominance of reason exceeded the effect of the generation of new points of conflict, and the total amount of conflict began to decrease. Thus, while the emotional level of the great apes is somewhat near that of man, the apes are still on the ascending branch of the curve of emotional disturbances, while the human race is on the descending branch.

Thus far, we have been considering only the primary emotions, the “crude” emotions, as William James called them, more specifically fear and anger. In dealing with the emotions of the lower animals, this is as far as we can go. There is no reliable indication that these creatures are subject to any other emotions. They are subject to internal disturbances due to inability to achieve strongly desired objectives, and the resulting state of frustration is frequently called an emotion. Unlike fear and anger, however, frustration is a consequence of the existing situation rather than a mechanism for initiating the proper response to that situation. It is therefore something of a different basic nature. But in the higher animals there are signs of certain other physiological states that have enough resemblance to the states induced by fear and anger to justify considering them as related to the primary emotions, and in human individuals, these physiological states of a more complex character and more recent evolutionary origin are many and varied.

Some of these are merely modifications or extensions of fear and anger. Hate, for example, is a less acute form of anger that is maintained over a long period of time. Jealousy is another emotion of similar nature that may be only a very mild reaction, or may have an intensity anywhere up to a murderous rage. There are, however, a number of other states usually classified as emotions which have quite different characteristics. The members of one pair, joy and sadness, are so easily recognizable and so widely experienced that they are often included among the primary emotions.

But the difference between joy and sadness on the one hand, and fear and anger on the other, are differences in kind rather than merely differences in details. Fear and anger initiate action; that is, they are related to what will happen. Joy and sadness are related to what has happened. They do not call for action of any kind, and apparently involve nothing more than a physiological reaction to events that have occurred. Looking at the situation from another direction, fear and anger, like intelligence, for which they are very limited substitutes, are tools for attaining human (or animal) objectives. Joy and sadness are reactions of the organism to the achievement, or failure to achieve, those objectives. In reality, they are merely relatively intense forms of pleasure and pain respectively (if pain is taken in the broad sense in which it is the converse of pleasure). For present purposes, we will call these results of actions that have taken place, or are taking place, sensations, to distinguish them from emotions, the reactions to stimuli that determine the actions that the individual will take if not overruled by reason.

Inasmuch as this present work is a scientific investigation of the metaphysical region and the effect of influences from that region on human life, we are concerned with emotions and sensations only insofar as they have some bearing on the relations between man and Sector 3. Fear and anger come within our field of study because they, like intelligence, are tools that can be applied to the furtherance or hindrance of objectives that are in harmony with the principles of Sector 3. Sensations such as joy or sorrow, on the other hand, have no Sector 3 significance. If an individual experiences anything that could be called a sensation just because he does the morally right thing in a given set of circumstances, it is not joy. Joy results from the successful accomplishment of some Sector 2 objective—biological, social, economic, etc. Similarly, sadness, sorrow, or grief, the sensations that are aroused by failure to reach Sector 2 objectives, or loss of some source of enjoyment, are not relevant to the matters now under consideration.

“As the word is commonly used,” says Hall, “emotion refers to a consciously-felt state.”223 Most of the physiological states included under this definition are neither pure emotions, comparable to fear, nor pure sensations, comparable to joy, but combinations of the two, together with various elements of what the psychologists call “drives.” For example, finality, or a close approximation thereto, is a prerequisite for evoking objective-related states such as joy. The prize must be won, or the battle lost. If the outcome is still uncertain, the physiological state will be more complex. Perhaps it will be anxiety, a rather vague form of fear mixed with various sensations.

From the standpoint of the present investigation, the physiological results of taking actions that have moral significance are of particular interest. As already noted, doing the morally right thing does not evoke joy, in the ordinary sense of that term. It may foster some kind of a feeling of being in harmony with the better aspects of human life, and this could be considered a sensation. The results of taking an action that is morally wrong depend on two factors: (1) the ultimate outcome of the action, and (2) whether or not the individual remains convinced that he made a sound decision. That decision was reached because of his belief that it would produce a net total of desirable results. Unless there was some miscalculation, the action should have produced some kind of satisfaction, perhaps even enough to arouse joy. The successful criminal may be quite elated over his accomplishment.

In actual practice, miscalculation is very common, and the person who finds himself in prison or otherwise penalized for his action is likely to be subject to regret. For our purposes, regret will have to be classed with sensations such as joy and sorrow, since it has no Sector 3 implications. But if the individual now realizes, either because a reconsideration of the situation has been forced upon him by the troubles in which he is now enmeshed, or for some other reason, that his decision with respect to taking the action was contrary to his own moral standards, he may experience remorse, which is a strong, often overpowering, emotion that calls for expiatory action.

A prerequisite for remorse is a feeling of guilt. But the existence of the guilt sensation is not necessarily accompanied by remorse. All that is necessary to arouse the guilt sensation is a recognition that the act is morally wrong. Such a recognition usually exists at the time of the original decision to take the action, and it is one of the factors that entered into that decision. Since the decision was taken in spite of whatever feeling of guilt may have existed, the emotion of remorse follows only if there is a reconsideration of that decision, and if, at the time of the reconsideration, the desire to conform to the moral code is strong enough to outweigh whatever non-moral benefits may have accrued from the action.

The conflicts between some of the conclusions reached in the preceding pages and opinions expressed in current psychological and philosophical literature are due primarily to the fact that we are using the term “emotion” in a limited sense. When it is asserted in the literature that the proper goal “is not to eliminate emotions but to direct them properly,”224 the “emotions” to which this assertion refers are mainly what we have called “sensations.” The “emotion” used as an example in connection with the foregoing quotation was “sorrow.” Such sensations have no relevance to the subject matter of this work, and there is no reason to pass judgment on them here. On the other hand, we are expressly concerned with the physiological states that qualify as emotions on the basis of our definition. These emotions are in active competition with intelligence, and the extent to which any individual is able to overrule them is a criterion of the stage that he has reached in his advance along the evolutionary road leading upward from his animal background. This criterion will be even more significant in application to the next class of emotions that we will consider.

All of the emotions and sensations thus far considered may be classified as personal; that is, they are related to the individual’s own situation. He fears that which may cause harm to him or to his possessions. He experiences joy when something directly or indirectly favorable to him occurs. He knows anxiety when his interests are in jeopardy. He feels remorse when he realizes that he has done wrong. In addition, there are what we may call social emotions, similar states that are related to the situations of others. Inasmuch as an emotion of this kind involves three elements, the individual’s own feelings, his perception of the situations of the other persons involved, and the relations between him and the others, it is a complex phenomenon. Love for example, is practically undefinable. As expressed by Hall, it is “the poet’s delight and the psychologist’s perplexity.”225

For present purposes, the exact nature of these social emotions is immaterial. They are subject to essentially the same considerations as the primary personal emotions. They constitute a biological mechanism whereby an individual’s reaction to a situation involving interpersonal relationships is determined in the same manner as his reaction to a situation that arouses fear or anger; that is, each emotion evokes a standard response. Unlike the personal emotions, they produce little or no observable physiological effects, and for that reason, the psychologists are not inclined to classify them with the personal emotions. “By scientific consensus as well as in popular usage, the words emotion and emotional are reserved for cases in which physiological changes accompany mental activity,”226 says Kagan and Havemann. But this restriction on the usage is far from universal. When a philosopher tells us that “the emotional element has been prominent in religion,”227 he is not talking about anything that can normally be detected physically. Similarly, an action taken out of sympathy for an afflicted person without any rational consideration of the question as to whether the action was justified is ordinarily called an emotional reaction to the situation, although here again, no physiological evidence of the emotion is usually visible. Emotions of this character are social emotions.

The physiological changes accompanying a primary personal emotion are bodily preparations for the action that results from the emotion. Fear, for example, initiates preparations for quick flight. Ordinarily the actions that result from the social emotions (if not prevented by the reasoning process) are not of an urgent nature, nor are they of any great personal concern. No special physiological preparation for such actions is therefore required. Furthermore, the kinds of emotional disturbances that often result when an emotion such as anger is held in check by reason are seldom generated directly by repression of social emotions. They occur only when the individual becomes personally involved in the social situation to the point where emotions such as fear or anger develop.

There is another significant difference between the personal and social emotions that should be noted. Unless some abnormality exists, personal emotions are always intended to serve the interests of the individual. Social emotions, on the other hand, are of two kinds. As in the kind of a situation just mentioned, they may involve sympathy with the person or persons concerned, in which case any actions that they generate will be favorable to those persons. But instead, they may involve some degree of antipathy, in which case the actions, if any, will be unfavorable to those that are affected. Furthermore, unlike the purely personal emotions, which never rank higher than ethically neutral, the social emotions may have positive ethical values. Such values are not inherent in the particular emotions, but depend on the circumstances in each case. Misplaced sympathy, for example, is not ethically commendable.

Here again, the more advanced type of mechanism, reason, that is available to human beings for making personal decisions is also available as an alternate to the social emotions. In the area of personal behavior, where the true nature of the conflicts between reason and emotion is clearly visible, the superiority of reason is not seriously challenged. In the absence of any difference in kind between the decisions to be made in the social areas and those that are made in the personal areas, it necessarily follows that reason is superior in the social areas as well. This, however, is not generally conceded. On the contrary, the decisions in many fields of human activity are routinely made on the basis of emotional reactions rather than as a result of reasoned conclusions.

The reason for this difference in readiness to accept the emotional answers lies in the extent of personal involvement. Where a strictly personal decision is to be made, an individual tends to look at all angles of the problem, including its collateral and long-range aspects. Even though emotion may call for immediate and drastic action, anyone in full possession of his faculties will at least listen to what his reason tells him before he makes his move. On the other hand, if an emotion of sympathy for some person or group calls for some supportive action, the questions that can be answered by reason—whether the action will, in fact, benefit that person or group, whether it has some undesirable secondary or ultimate consequences, and so on—are not of enough personal concern to generate the kind of careful consideration that would be required in order to arrive at a rational evaluation of the situation. Nor is this relatively minor personal involvement any more likely to induce rational thought in those cases where an antagonistic emotion calls for hostile action.

Unfortunately, these social issues which get so little rational consideration are actually much more complex than the personal problems that are so carefully evaluated before action is taken, and the standardized emotional response therefore has a much greater probability of being wrong. An act of “compassion” based on an emotion of sympathy for a criminal may not only be detrimental to that individual in the long run, but may result in serious consequences to other persons, whose interests were given no consideration when the decision was made. A law based on an emotion of sympathy for low-paid workers, and intended to give them higher pay or better working conditions may, in fact, deny them employment. A measure aimed at a corporation against which there is an emotional prejudice may actually accomplish nothing but raise prices for that corporation’s customers. And so on, indefinitely. In these social areas, the best of intentions often lead to the worst of results.

Some of the specific issues involved in the conflicts between reason and emotion in social matters will be discussed at appropriate points in the pages that follow. At this time, however, while we are still examining the general subject of emotions, and before the situation is confused by the introduction of those specific issues, many of which are highly controversial, it should be emphasized that there is nothing creditable or praiseworthy about being emotionally guided. As has been emphasized in the preceding discussion, emotion is merely a tool, a means whereby the response that should be made to a given stimulus is identified. Furthermore, it is the cruder and less reliable of the two mechanisms for this purpose that are at the disposal of a human being. It is evident, therefore, that future progress in the area of social relations will depend very largely on the rate at which the newer and more reliable tool, reason, can be substituted for the more primitive and less efficient tool, emotion, as the instrument for making social decisions.

In the light of present knowledge, the fact that emotional reactions still determine the great majority of social decisions is an indication of the long way that human society has yet to go before it can realize its full potential. The relatively primitive state of the existing social organization is even more clearly brought out by the tendency of those agencies, such as the organized religious bodies, that claim to be working toward improvement of social conditions, to applaud and support emotional responses, while condemning any opposition based on rational grounds. Of course, this is understandable in view of the emotional nature of the present-day approach to religion. But the fact that the antagonism toward the application of reason to social problems is understandable does not make it any more justifiable. An action which is harmful to an individual or group is no less harmful if it is undertaken with the best of intentions and on the basis of a “good” emotional impulse. The prevailing tendency to regard the emotional response, the primitive type of reaction that we share with the higher animals, as “human,” and the application of reason, the distinctive human ability, as “cold-blooded” and “inhuman” is a strange perversion of the truth.

It cannot be denied that reason is often wrong, primarily because the premises on which the reasoning is based are not always correct. But even in the present state of imperfection, reason is far superior to emotion as a means of arriving at the proper course of action. Furthermore, the superiority of reason is continually increasing, as more and more items are added to the existing store of knowledge. One of the primary objectives of the present work is to contribute to that result.