Ethan: I believe that emotions are contagious. But let's be clear. I wouldn't hold this opinion so dearly, unless I believed it to be profound. After all is said and done, I am a Profundist philosopher at heart, and I cannot--nay, must not--turn away from that. Here's what makes this theory different:
- This is not a normal contagion. When you "catch" an emotion, you actually take it away from the other person. In other words, it's a zero-sum game.
- It works with all emotions, happy, sad, and everything in between. It works like the transfer of heat from one body to another. Eventually, they settle out, becoming the same. Here and elsewhere in my philosophy, we can draw a parallel to the Laws of Thermodynamics.
- Diagnoses can actually be transferred from one person to another. If I am depressed and you are manic, then we can actually pass the diagnosis on to the other person. The end result will appear to be a diagnosis switch, even if it is just a leveling out of the two people.
- The transfer of emotional energy can actually lead to a disruption of a person's normal functioning. It is not enough to think it simply a transfer of energy. The acceleration from one state to another can lead to the channeling of some other force, causing for example, a psychotic break.
- It is possible to erect walls around oneself to protect from the onslaught of emotional energy that is flying around amongst us. This is what mental healthcare professionals are tasked with doing.
How do I defend this?
- Personal experience-After experiencing the symptoms of bipolar disorder, I eventually recovered from them. First with the help of medication and therapy, and then on my own. But as I transitioned from traditional curative approaches to more natural ones, I noticed a close friend of mine developing the very same symptoms I was experiencing only months before.
- Collective experience-We can all relate to a the emotional energy that is exchanged in social situations. How a sad person can bring down a whole room, and vice versa with a happy person. We can also probably all relate to the idea of emotions being finite. Happiness can run out after all. Most people would attribute this to more familiar psychological canon: facial expressions, social cues, memory activation, etc. But these explanations will fail to account for all transferences. For example, how two ends of a room can experience the same emotion without actually interacting. There is an awesome exploration of this in the Invisibilia episode called "Fearless." Here the hosts discuss what makes snakes move so quickly, with one offering the explanation that fear pheromones from the humans close by lead to a jolt of energy in the snake.
- Tying it to something greater-Like a collective consciousness. Or a spirit. If we're to make any headway in this vast and unwieldy field of mental health, then we have to open our minds to the possibility of something incomprehensible and indescribable that is nevertheless influencing our every thought. There are mysteries that transcend space and time. How, for example, does a woman know I am looking at her without even looking back? It's the eternal current that is flowing through both of us. The connection is instantaneous.
If you plan on asking for my motive here, it is this: we need a new way of thinking about these things. The old guard of science, rationality, logic, etc. has failed to protect us from the tumult that is mental illness. I am not sure if my theory is "true," but I am sure it is a step in the right direction. By succumbing to the mysteriousness of the universe, and allowing for a reality that is unfamiliar to us, we stand a chance of crafting a better society. One that can handle sticky scenarios like mental illness. But as tempting as it may be, we must not fall into the trap of trying to measure this. To be sure, we can, and probably will place this under the scrutinizing microscope of clinical research. But my suggestion is merely to change the discourse around emotions and mental illness. Beginning with classrooms, moving to therapy couches, and finally settling into everyday conversation. We can begin to unwind the stranglehold of science, finally look an insane person in the eye, and tell him with the fullest honesty: Everything is okay.
Zach: Summary: I think your thesis will be best supported by 3 prepared stories (personal or no) for which you have no other explanation than your theory.
There's a big difference between a theory being different and it being profound. But neither can hold a candle to a theory that is TRUE, regardless of how different or profound it is. Just a point.
Said "emotions" come in the form of thoughts too - words, images, music.
Animal groups - a pack of dogs, e.g. have this same phenomenon. I also think these "contagions" have a natural lifetime of their own. Like most emotional states, they tend to diminish with time.
There are two ways of passing a contagion - keeping it (a normal contagious disease), and passing it on (zero-sum contagion). There are also the typical internet memes.
I've also noticed that information that comes from outside "the Matrix", i.e. profound stuff that is true, but nonetheless hidden from the average person, can cause long term emotional effects. These are the Archetypes (of Jung's collective unconscious) invading human consciousness. What possessed the Nazis, if not some Archetype which was invading their consciousness?
Jung talks about synchronicity, and allows it the wides possible scope of effect, reaching even into the inorganic world with things like astrology. But more commonly it's akin to two people at a distance from each other having the same thoughts and feelings.
Definitely read Jung's essay on Synchronicity, or some derivative explanation of it. Also check out Rupert Sheldrake's ideas:
A banned TEDx talk on the dogmas of modern science:
Ethan: My initial post had two stories: the one about my friend essentially soaking up all the bipolar disorder from me, and the phenomenon of someone knowing I’m watching her from behind. This second story is explained exceptionally well in the episode of Invisibilia called “Entanglement.” It’s funny how we began this discussion just as I started listening to that show, which so clearly lays out the arguments I hold dear to my heart. What a strange synchronous event! Or is it? More on that later…
The third story is of Nietzsche, who famously dropped to the ground after witnessing a horse being beaten in the streets of Turin. Thus was the beginning of the end of his career. He was bed-ridden for the rest of his life, and hardly wrote at all. I believe that Nietzsche entered an eternal state of mind, wholly experiencing the pain of the horse, and becoming swept up by the full force of the spirit that courses through the world.
But let’s be straight. I am not trying to eliminate other explanations. I am simply the musician who orchestrates the dance between science and spirituality. I believe there is a scientific explanation for all of this. I just don’t believe that science is truth. Nor do I believe that spirituality is truth. I believe that truth is merely a manner of speaking. You can talk of what is real, but you cannot do it in a truthful way. The truth is a concept that is wrapped up in circumstantial consensus.
What I do believe is that a new way of thinking is needed. We must not become so invested in truth-seeking. There should be a healthy balance of scientific research and philosophical inquiry. A deeply embedded maxim that, though the truth may be out there, we’ll never reach it. We will only approach it asymptotically. What we have right now is a science of unity. Theory is based on repetition. The same results repeated over and over again. What we need is a science of multiplicity, where theory is based on difference. And difference is repeated over and over again. This is philosophy. Where every time I try to answer a question, it comes out differently. And I give in to the notion that it is originally different. In other words, it’s not that there is a single thing I am trying to express, but I just keep messing it up. There are infinite things I am trying to express. In this sense, an idea being different MAKES itself profound, by promulgating a whole new way of thought.
I think the key here is trying to redefine emotion. It is not something that emanates outward. It is a constant flow of bodies. My emotions are not really mine. They are a combustion between my brain and my heart, between the neurons and the flow of blood, between my body and my environment. And some people would suggest that there are invisible forces that play into this reaction. Invisible forces that do not obey the speed limit of light. Before you get your knickers in a bunch, listen to that Invisibilia episode. They talk about quantum entanglement.
But do not mistake me. I don’t sit back and say, “There, we’ve done it. We have a scientific explanation. It’s been shown in studies to be true, so our work is done.” No, quite the contrary. These ideas swirl around in me, becoming caught up with much crazier, un-scientific ideas. The point of science and philosophy is not to answer questions. The point is to ask them, to keep asking them ad infinitum. As soon as we “answer” one question, there will be another one. The system should be designed to fail. Like an egg that houses a chick. The theories should serve their purpose and then dissolve into dust.
We have to pause on the discussion of archetypes. For they risk forcing us down the rabbit hole of unity once more. The fact is, the archetypes are infinite. It was not only the archetype that invaded the nazis, but the nazis that also invaded the archetype. I do not say this simply to be different, to be profound, or to go against the grain. I say this because I honestly believe the universe works this way. There is both a singularity and a multiplicity inherent in it. But because we are quite notably singular, we wish to see the world this way.
And this is where my argument risks falling apart. No one can deny that a human body comes very close to being a single thing. Why do we feel so singular our whole lives if it is not the case that we are? It’s almost as if Someone is playing a giant trick on us. But here’s how I see it. The illusion of singularity is necessary for us to propagate the species, and other species, a process that instigates difference. We need to feel like we’re one thing in order to create many things. But this is a double-edged sword. Our very insistence on oneness has caused us to go down so many wrong turns throughout history. We actually have to fight against the idea that everything can be explained by science, or by religion, or by archetypes. We have to constantly change these ideas in order to maintain progress moving forward.
Zach: --> My initial post had two stories: the one about my friend essentially soaking up all the bipolar disorder from me;
The story needs more details, and you need to say that you can't explain it with any other theory.
--> The third story is of Nietzsche, who famously dropped to the ground after witnessing a horse being beaten in the streets of Turin. Thus was the beginning of the end of his career. He was bed-ridden for the rest of his life, and hardly wrote at all. I believe that Nietzsche entered an eternal state of mind, wholly experiencing the pain of the horse, and becoming swept up by the full force of the spirit that courses through the world.
That's a statement of belief, which again has to be distinguished: why do you choose emotional contagion to explain it versus any other possibility?
--> You can talk of what is real, but you cannot do it in a truthful way. The truth is a concept that is wrapped up in circumstantial consensus.
The Truth very often has no value to human life. This is summarized elegantly in the gospel of John 18:38 when Pilate asks Jesus "What is Truth?" However, my own life resembles that of Jesus insofar as I perceive Truth differently from others, and I have yet to find a profitable use for my Truth, other than my mental health, perhaps, and my limited success in the entertainment industry. :-) Yet I still have my own opinion of the Truth, apart from any consensus about it. You seem to have no interest in forming your own opinions when you say Truth is no more than a circumstantial concept. I certainly agree that going along with the herd can be more profitable than stubbornly insisting on something that no one else believes.
--> What I do believe is that a new way of thinking is needed. We must not become so invested in truth-seeking. There should be a healthy balance of scientific research and philosophical inquiry.
And I suppose you nominate yourself as the Doctor of what constitutes a "healthy" balance? We all defer to your absolute judgment regarding what's "healthy", Doctor, because using medical terminology ("Healthy/Sick") is obviously more honest than good old-fashioned logical terminology ("True/False"). This isn't a medical problem, it's a logical problem. Truth is unavoidable.
--> A deeply embedded maxim that, though the truth may be out there, we’ll never reach it. We will only approach it asymptotically. What we have right now is a science of unity. Theory is based on repetition. The same results repeated over and over again.
Science reaches its limit when repetition reaches its limit. It's certainly a grave temptation for scientists to project repetition and ignore difference - it justifies their existence to find new instances of repetition, so they are obviously going to have a bias in favor of it.
What we need is a science of multiplicity, where theory is based on difference.
This is impossible. It's not science if it's based on difference. All you can do is dispense advice on how to deal with difference when it comes - but only in cases where the difference is itself a kind of repetition of other similar differences which have come before. Every time we go to war, for example, the military generals project all the assumptions which were true in the last war onto the new war. And every time, they are surprised when it doesn't play out according to the old rules. This is a principle - indeed, it's a repetition of the way military generals think. The way humans form habits of the mind can itself be a repetition, and can therefore be studied scientifically. But even that repetition will fail from time to time - thus the scientist studying human behavior will suffer from the same temptation to project repetition as the generals going to war.
--> And difference is repeated over and over again. This is philosophy.
If it repeats, it can be studied scientifically. I think you're merely discussing the science of probability. With probability, you can't be certain, but you can know the chances. With true difference, there is no studying even probability, because the differences are so different that they can't even be categorized at all. This is Pure Chaos, and it can't be studied scientifically.
--> Where every time I try to answer a question, it comes out differently. And I give in to the notion that it is originally different.
The problem with Pure Chaos is merely that in my experience it generates terrifying emotions. The Chaos in itself is not bad... but because it generates so much fear and anger, it is bad for people. That's why we struggle so hard to find repetition (i.e. God, Order) wherever we can.
--> In other words, it’s not that there is a single thing I am trying to express, but I just keep messing it up. There are infinite things I am trying to express. In this sense, an idea being different MAKES itself profound, by promulgating a whole new way of thought.
I think you have a completely unjustified bias towards new ways of thought. You make difference sound like a good thing. But difference is to consciousness what nightmares are to dreams. And also, I don't think there is as much difference as you think. There is a point where the same thing happens over and over again, where it's impossible to keep paying attention to a thing, because it's just so BORING. At this point, human beings start paying attention to OTHER things. They assume that the BORING thing is JUST TRUE. You can reexamine the boring thing if you want, if you think you can put a new light on it, but it's going to be a hard sell to me at least that the thing is for any practical purpose different from what it was. I allow that maybe it is different, that maybe I'm fooled, but given what I know, I have to assume for the time being that the truth is just the Truth.
--> I think the key here is trying to redefine emotion. It is not something that emanates outward. It is a constant flow of bodies. My emotions are not really mine. They are a combustion between my brain and my heart, between the neurons and the flow of blood, between my body and my environment.
I'd be interested to see who else has such theories. They don't seem so radical as to never have been thought of before. It is very much akin to what Tarot card readers, astrologers, and psychics already do professionally.
Zach: Ahhh, I was wondering when this written dialogue would devolve into a point-by-point critique. I'm speaking, of course, of the way you repeated what I said and then attacked that point specifically. A classic mistake. Clearly you've missed the broader point I am trying to make. And instead taken each statement and tried to knock it down a peg. In the process, you have offered nothing new. Only disagreements. But anyone can disagree. Hell, some people can even do it better than others! But I do not derive any value from this. I derive value from the flow of ideas and emotions between me and other people who are happy and free. Which is why I shall never sink to the level of a point-by-point critique, and will instead form a coherent whole with my counterpoint.
To start, I’m done trying to defend this point. I’ll repeat it one more time, however. I believe that there are connections between people, not yet captured by science, that allow us to share emotions. I do not hear you disagreeing with this, so I will assume that I have convinced you. If you are not convinced, then please tell me a story (or three) with no other explanation than the fact that I am wrong.
You see, this is a silly game we play, and it rightfully has led to more important topics of discussion. We can spend all day attacking each other’s ideas, saying they’re beliefs and biases, demanding more evidence, etc. But this misses the bigger point. All of this idea generation originates from something far deeper: our core values. I’ll get into what I value in a moment, but let’s talk about you.
And let’s start with truth. But not what it is. Rather, how we value it. If I am reading you correctly, you value your truth, but not the truth as judged by others. This distinction betrays the truth about truth. It is not really a thing. It is a concept. And here’s another concept: the real. We have to be careful not to conflate these things. As soon as I can speak of my truth, then I have separated it from the real. The real cannot be spoken about. It can only be reflected upon, inexactly measured, apparently repeated.
Now, why do I believe this? Because I value others. I have no need to verbally vault myself above everyone else, because that will happen naturally. And in the meantime, I have a lot to gain from them. Here’s a story that will demonstrate this point. Once upon a time, a man believed himself a prophet and strode to the gates of the government to demand he be put in power. His friends warned him not to, but he would not listen. To him, his prophecies were truth. He could see the future, and knew everything would be fine. The government promptly initiated a slow and excruciating torture that eventually resulted in his death. All along the way, he continued believing that he was a prophet, waiting for the moment when the torture would end, and he would ascend to power. But it never happened. And history forgot about him.
Whatever you choose to value, an entire metaphysics results. If you value yourself over others, then you will inevitably end up valuing stasis over movement, repetition over difference, cosmos over chaos. But these amount to a series of beliefs, the truth as you see it. Not the real. The real actually assaults your truth. Oddly enough, the real will assault you no matter what you choose. You are assaulted by the sneaking suspicion that you’re not really Jesus. I am assaulted by the sneaking suspicion that there is an underlying logic to everything. What does this tell us? Probably that we’re both wrong. There is some kind of middle ground here.
Which brings me to my final point. Because I value others, I am not trying to express the truth. I am trying to pull everyone in a different direction. Away from the truth. But toward reality. Is it terrifying? Sure. But that should prompt us to challenge it, not to turn away. I do not wish to discourage scientists or logicians. I do not even wish to discourage you from your claims of superiority. I merely wish to inject some new values into everybody. Value the spiritual over the scientific. Value feeling over understanding. Value others over yourself. Value the unknown over the known. Value what you have not yet valued over what you already have.
My quest is one of balance. I get the sense that humanity is out of balance. I will hold off on demonstrating this point until another episode. But what I am trying to do is to re-balance everything. Even if that means re-balancing everything to a point where it is out of balance once more. Confusing? Ironic? Sure. What if I told you that the universe has no equilibrium state, that people have forgotten, and that I am trying to remind them of this? Convincing them of anything would actually prove me wrong. Weird, right? And though you will undoubtedly scoff at all of this, I believe that is due to an inability to encompass it mentally. An unwillingness to experience my values in their full and joyous complexity. But I have faith in my way of life, in my way of thought, and in what I value. Because it allows me to experience precisely what is different from me. I can put myself in your shoes very easily, see the world from your eyes. Which is how I know that I am better off valuing difference over repetition. At least while I’m alive…