Saturday, December 9, 2017

Emotions and intuition

Not yet done with my layman journey into thought processing and intuition, my model is as follows: Thinking intuitively, you first acquire experience, probably mostly through trial-and-success/error, then let yourself pattern-match the situation at hand against this experience.

Now the funny thing is that, at least for me, when I need to evaluate several options, the way this pattern matching gets communicated up through the system is in many cases through emotions.

What I think is the right path makes me more calm and happy, whereas a path which I for some reason have had a bad experience with or expect to have will make me more anxious. Which actually makes sense. But it can come out in an incoherent way.


For instance, our course teacher at university in software management, an experienced and well-honed practitioner and pragmatic thinker once told us a story about a project which he ended it with a tired expression and the remark: "Just thinking about how to work with that is just almost unbearable."

I think what he meant to say was that going along that path would be long-winded and tedious. But what I actually understood from this was much simpler: his intuition had decided this was the wrong path and sent him a bunch of negative emotions instead of an honest, objective assessment. We didn't get facts, we got a tired expression.

Intuition can be right, and I certainly believe it was in his case, but bad at communication so you may end up with the wrong set of arguments for why. Which is not surprising if intuition is a complicated, haphazard pattern-matching process.

Now if the arguments are ideas, you can use logic to examine them and quickly discard those that are bogus, but it's much harder to work with emotions.

Emotional decision-making

While I believe that intuition is really powerful, much more powerful than logic when it comes to coming up with ideas and making decisions, emotions are certainly not something you want to be in control of decision making.

Emotions tend to make us, well, emotional.

There is a purpose to emotions. Hunger makes us look for food, excitement makes us focus and endure hardship, indifference or lazyness makes us conserve energy, fear makes us careful, affection makes us bond and mate, and hate and anger makes us defend ourselves and punish destructive antisocial behaviour.

But these are primitive mechanisms. You can see a house cat take a liking to the occupants of the house or a dog get angry at someone passing by too close to the territory. A person following only emotions is like an animal.

Emotions are simply not sophisticated enough devices. Following them makes for shortsighted decisions, although, ironically, they may serve a long-term goal - love for instance is certainly necessary for the survival of the human species.


So while I'm still a firm believer of the power of intuition, I think it's important to be able to detach from the emotional aspect to get anywhere. So not get emotional, but instead listen to the conclusion and try to figure out if it is guided by experience or if it is simply an artifact of who you are.

This is to me a three-way paradox. Intuition can provide the answers but not explain them, emotions can communicate the answers but at the risk of leading straight into an emotional and uncooperative dead end, logic cannot provide the answers but perhaps offset the emotions and help dig up an explanation from the intuitive depths.

I don't think you can be an effective thinker without emotions, despite emotions being in some sense the antithesis of thinking.

As a side note, I think I should clarify that detaching oneself from an emotion is a tool to use in certain situations. Much of the joy being a human comes from immersing oneself in emotions. It's just that when it comes to making important decisions, it may be better to set aside the immediate joy, or fear for that matter, and look into the future. Even if you hate that person, is it really a good idea to act on it? Or even if you love that person, is it truly best for you to act on it? Maybe your fears are unfounded?

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