Adding to an inspiring conversation (thanks, Judith 😉 ) at a party yesterday, here are some thoughts on the adequate role of emotions.
Human emotionality is the image of God’s. In this sense, we cannot determine if there is any innate “meaning” in emotionality: the eternal God could’ve found himself to have emotionality, and could have created human emotionality for that reason alone. However, we can also assume that God is what he wants to be, and as he is good, he uses his emotionality in a good way. So, instead of asking for the meaning, we can at least ask: How can we use our human emotionality in a good way?
I’m now making a basic assumption here that would need another article to detail it out: good use of human emotionality is to:
- Use it as the way to experience the outer world. In the broadest sense of emotionality as “inner experience”, without it we would experience no “qualia” and thus lead a boring, mechanical life, even consciously unaware of our own existence. Emotionality, therefore, makes life interesting, intensive and (hopefully) beautiful.
- Use it as the driving force in life. Without being enthusiastic about something, human beings don’t strife hard to reach something. Other motivating emotions are anger (hopefully justified), hope, faith etc..
- Use it to connect to other people. Emotions are a means of communication and social bonds.
So emotions have at least these three aspects: experiential, motivational and social. In all aspects, our emotionality, and with it, our human existence, is “unlogical”. In the sense that there’s no way of logically deriving an emotion from the circumstances in the outer world alone. For example, there’s no compelling reason why I am enthusiastic about the things I am, as they could be exchanged at least by similar items. (Now some naturalists will argue that they can be derived from the combined circumstances of the outer and inner world (i.e. outer world and brain content), while free will proponents, like me currently, would argue that this is not possible either. I won’t go into that here.)
Now, in spite of being illogical, emotions can still be justified, in the sense of being an adequate experience of the outer world, an adequate motivation how to affect the outer world, or an adequate act of communication. To abbreviate, I will call those emotions to be “true”.
For an emotion to be true, it is however not needed that it arises without conscious contributions. If there is a reason to have joy, our joy is still true if we ignite or amplify it by activities like celebrating, music, or having a meal, maybe with alcohol. Remember e.g. the commands for religious feasting in old testament times. But note also that “true” emotion also relates to the degree, not just the quality.
Now, here comes another assumption that needs detailing in its own article: emotions should be true. Because our inner experience is a secondary world, using information to represent the outer world, and to maintain false information willfully is lying, i.e. a moral problem.
And here is where the practical questions start. For example, I’d say that substance-induced emotions (the inner experience mediated by drugs) are untrue if they don’t conform to the condition of the outer world. People might use drugs to feel relaxed, or uninhibited, or to forget their problems. But these feelings don’t change the external world: their stressful condition, inhibitions and problems are still there, they even grow bigger because they are not being dealt with.
So I’m opposing here any kind of drug addiction (even addiction in general) as “untrue use of emotions”. I also oppose use of external, stimulating measures to cause emotions that can not be caused without them in healthy people: these are “unnatural” emotions and thus not true to reality. Among these are psychedelic drug trips, the inner experience of being in a drunken stupor, and the like. I do not oppose the use of drugs that affect the central nervous system in medicine: they cause untrue emotions, but just as a bye-effect that must e accepted to reach a higher goal like palliative treatment.
Also, the frequent use of stimulating means to cause (true) emotions can indicate a kind of emotional inability, which will need treatment and training. For example, I myself need to learn relaxing based on facts like enjoyable, good social relationships, that is, independent of sensual stimulants in the current situation.