rational vs. emotional

The following is a collection of excerpts from Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, pages 294 to 296.

The rational mind usually does not decide what emotions we “should” have. Instead, our fellings typcially come to us as a fait accompli. What the raiontal mind can ordinarily control is the course of those reactions. A few exceptions aside, we do not decide when to be made, sad, and so on.

A Symbolic, Childlike Reality

The logic of the emotional mind is associative; it takes elements that symbolize a reality, or trigger a memory of it, to be the same as that reality. That is why similes, metaphors, and images speak directly to the emotional mind, as do the arts.

If the emotional mind follows this logic and its rules, with one element standing for another, things need not necessarily be defined by their objective identity: what matters is how they are perceived; things are as they seem. What something reminds us of can be far more important than what it “is.” Indeed, in emotional life, identities can be like a hologram in the sense that a single part evokes a whole. As Seymour Epstein points out, while the rational mind makes logical connections between causes and effects, the emotional mind is indiscriminate, connecting things that merely have similar striking features.

There are many ways in which the emotional mind is childlike the more so the stronger the emotion grows. One way is categorical thinking, where everything is in black and white, with no shades of grey.

This childlike mode is self-confirming, suppressing or ignoring memories or facts that would undermine its beliefs and seizing on those that support it. The beliefs of the rational mind are tentative; new evidence can disconfirm one belief and replace it with a new one – it reasons by objective evidence. The emotional mind, however, takes its beliefs to be absolutely true, and so discounts any evidence to the contrary. That is why it is so hard to reason with someone who is emotionally upset: no matter the soundness of your argument from a logical point of view, it carries no weight if it is out of keeping with the emotional conviction of the moment. Feelings are self-justifying, with a set of perceptions and “proofs” all their own.

The Past Imposed on the Present

When some feature of an event seems similar to an emotionally charged memory from the past, the emotional mind responds by triggering the feelings that went with the remembered event. The emotional mind reacts to the present as though it were the past. The trouble is that, especially when the appraisal is fast and automatic [which is inherently the process of the emotional mind], we may not realize that what was once the case is no longer so.

If the feelings are strong, then the reaction that is triggered is obvious. But if the feelings are vague or subtle, we may no quite realize the emotional reaction we are having, even though it is subtly colouring how we react to the moment. Thoughts and reactions at this moment will take on the coloration of thoughts and reactions then, even though it may seem that the reaction is due solely to the circumstance of the moment. Our emotional mind will harness the rational mind to its purposes, so we end up with explanations for our feelings and reactions – rationalizations – justifying them in terms of the present moment, without realizing the influence of the emotional memory. In that sense, we can have no idea of what is actually going on, though we may have the conviction or certainty that we know exactly what is happening. At such moments the emotional mind has entrained the rational mind, putting it to its own uses.

State-specific Reality

The working of the emotional mind is to a large degree state specific, dictated by the particular feeling ascendant at a given moment. How we think and act when we are feeling romantic is entirely different from how we behave when enraged or dejected; in the mechanics of emotion, each feeling has its own distance repertoire of thought, reaction, even memories. These state-specific repertoires become most predominant in moments of intense emotion.

One sign that such a repertoire is active is selective memory. Part of the mind’s response to an emotional situation is to reshuffle memory and options for action so that those most relevant are at the top of the hierarchy and so more readily enacted.

2 Responses to “rational vs. emotional”

  1. dl Says:

    Visit dl

    interpretation ( perception/focus) of the information matters more than the information. Transformation comes not from the information, but from the interpretation of the information and the effort of application.

    thought you might appreciate the humor and beauty in the simplicity of brevity- from a lecture slide!

  2. Elizabeth King Says:

    Visit Elizabeth King

    I am reading this book right now. Glad to know a fellow Kwantlen student has also tackled the subject.

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