Saturday, September 19, 2015

Dialogue: The Love Button

Ethan: I submit that every emotion can be controlled by the wielder to a certain extent. The one area where I will throw up my arms in defeat is a true chemical denaturing of the mind. But in every other situation, I believe that an emotion can be swayed. On the one hand, you can take the advice of most modern psychotherapists who dabble in cognitive and dialectical behavior therapy. Be proactive. When you feel sad and lethargic, move around. When something makes you angry, avoid it. That sort of thing.
But I wish to go deeper with this one. 

I believe that emotions are far more within our control than we believe. Take this simple analysis of emotions in relationships. One person's emotions are determined in very large part by the way the other person is behaving. And anyone can, in a way, shroud or let out her emotions. She can talk about them outright. She can express them through physical and facial movement. She can change the volume and timbre of her voice. So I think we can all agree that we have power over how we express our emotions, ... in most cases. I think we can also agree that emotions can spread from one person to the other in a close relationship. 

And yet I don't think most people would agree with me yet that they have essentially full power over their emotions, once they move beyond the chemical nature of emotions. And should it need explicit mention, I do not believe that chemicals play as high a role in emotions as most people do. Let me be clear, I don't think anyone possesses a superpower. I just think that the means within our grasp of making ourselves feel a certain way go under-appreciated. And when it comes to the more complex manifestations of emotion, like love, depression, mania, humor, etc. the implications of this theory are pretty profound. You yourself have suggested that depression is not an illness, so I wonder if this theory of mine speaks to you, at least with regard to that. 

But it is with love that I am caught up today. And I mean a love beyond friendship. Love, with a capital "L." That thing that everyone is talking about. The thing that involves spending every possible moment together, of laughing and playing and eating and f***ing together in a way that you do with no one else, of doing everything in your power to make her happy in the moment, while helping her to grow in to the future. Many people would disagree that this sort of love can be turned on or off. And indeed, maybe my own choice of words is screwing me here. It's not like a light switch. But I guarantee you that, over time, two people who are not in love, but choose to try, will fall in love and be happy. And, most importantly, experience Love that is just as sacred and precious as those that we fall into. If they so choose.

Much of my theory is tied up in the fact that emotions and actions are more closely tied together than is generally thought. There is a divisional paradigm in psychoanalysis: thought, emotion, action. This triad can be pictured as a triangle with double-sided arrows pointing one to the other in an infinite two-way loop. This implies that thoughts affect actions affect emotions affect thoughts and vice versa. It's actually quite a useful model.

But my problem with this model is the same as my problem with every model that uses categories to make its point. I've said before on this blog that dichotomies (i.e. two opposed categories) are useful, but that they become dangerous when you begin to line them up with each other. At the time, I used the example of man vs. woman and strong vs. weak leading us mistakenly to the conclusion that men are strong and women are weak. The first two categories are fine, the second is not.

This same thing happens with the trichotomy of thought, action, and emotion. Because upon these imaginary categories, we project very real things. Love is an emotion. Finding a woman beautiful is a thought. And kissing her is an action. But love is just as much a thought as finding beauty is an emotion. And kissing involves a conglomeration of forces that cannot be rent free of thought and emotion. On top of this, you have the idea that actions are most under your control, followed by thoughts, and that emotions are barely under your control, if at all.

But what if I told you that love can be an action? And I'm not talking about "making love." I mean love, the thing that everyone assumes is an emotion, the thing that you fall into, the thing that sweeps you off your feet. What if I told you that you're not falling, but rather jumping into love? What if I told you that it's not sweeping you off your feet, but rather that you're sweeping yourself off your feet.  

I think people are afraid of this idea because of the bad romantic love discussed by Robert A. Johnson. In other words, to most people, love is really just romance, which is really just a connection to the spiritual world via a body other than oneself. This concept of love is dependent upon a certain lack of control. So for me to come along and say that it is much more, if not entirely, within your control to love someone, this would be threatening to the ideal of romantic love. And yet, it is much more practical. It is much more grounded, much more tied up with Johnson's ideal of human love. The spirit world is fully contained within you, and your connection with a lover is an earthly grounding of passion, a partnership based on practical gains, mutual support, and combined beneficence. To most people, the idea of a love button turns us all into robots, removing all the pleasure from life because robots feel nothing at all. But not only am I arguing that this love button exists, I am arguing that it is a far better paradigm of thought than the one we collectively hold at the moment. For it returns power to the proper wielder: the living thing, the self-contained universe, the free spirit. As opposed to the way many see it now, with power resting primarily in the hands of the environment (instead of the living thing), the universe as a whole (instead of the self-contained universe), and the collective spirit (instead of the free spirit). 

Zach: Your argument is leveled at someone besides me, for the most part. In a certain way, therefore, it's unfortunate that you're doing the podcast with me, because we will have to target this hypothetical audience with TWO differing attitudes towards the "common" one. I believe you're setting yourself up in opposition to an attitude which I can neither confirm nor deny that it is the dominant one. But I can presume that it is at least widespread enough that you find it worth your time to oppose it.

However, it's hard to for me to either approve or disapprove of your standpoint, since it's set up against a position I don't think I take to begin with. You mention the triangle: emotion-thought-action. I can see it being easy to conflate emotion and thought here, unless they are defined precisely. Socrates is famous in Plato's dialogues for demanding that his opponents define their terms. He is always getting them to realize that they don't quite know what they mean, when they use terms like "thought," "emotion," etc. So for starters I would do a Socratic dialogue with anyone using these terms, demanding they say exactly what they mean. In common usage, the terms will have a good degree of overlap. One metric of "overlap" is the number of uses of one word which could be switched out for the other without a substantial loss of meaning.

Now neuroscientists define emotion somewhat rigorously. In this case, they are much more animal, and less cerebral, which I can roll with.

You're not the first person to say Love can be an action. In other words, it's an active verb, it's something one *does* rather than someone one merely feels. This is great. It's another semantic distinction which many people find useful.

While you divide up the triangle "thought-emotion-action," it is for me a straw man, since I don't even use that triangle myself to begin with. I *do* use certain structures, which I have evolved into over time precisely because of their reliability over what I think are weaker structures, such as thought-emotion-action. The most important structure for me is conscious-unconscious. There is also freewill vs. destiny. And these things happen at different levels, where something which is freewill at one level is determinism or destiny at another. Another very important distinction of is consciousness *of* consciousness. I avoid the problem of infinite recursion (i.e. consciousness of consciousness of consciousness of consciousness...) by saying that consciousness, and the consciousness that is aware of it, are never the same consciousness. In other words, thinking about a thing, and thinking about that thought are always different thoughts.

So when one analyzes emotions, one has to assess what kind of consciousness one is bringing to it. At first it is merely consciousness of the thing. Eventually, it is consciousness of one's consciousness about the thing. As the different levels settle in, more control over events enters into the agent of consciousness. It seems like emotions are the same way. The more consciousness one has of them, the more control one has over them. 

Actions are by no means entirely conscious. Consciousness over one's actions can range from zero to very high.

Also, one can have different centers of consciousness in one's own psyche. Each can be relatively good at its own area, without having a high awareness of other areas. Because of the need to generate a persona in the world, people will want to present themselves as a single person, though they are quite divided inside. Thus there is an incentive to think of oneself as one, though one is many. It's because of people's expectation of others - that *they* present themselves as one to *me*, rather than my own original desire to be one for my own sake.

Ethan: I realize that this particular theory of mine is tied to other theories I have been toying with lately. I'll state them plainly and then go on to tie them all up together.

In data analytics, there is a predominant sentiment that the content of the numbers is enough, and that any effort to pretty them up with colorful graphics is unnecessary. Very early on in my career, I found myself opposed to this belief. On the one hand, the audience may appreciate and therefore understand the content of the numbers if they are expressed in an aesthetically pleasing way. "Sure," my detractors say. "But displaying things clearly is not the same as prettying them up." And here is where I found myself seeking a new way of thought. I could go the route of merging content and expression into a single thing. Or, as I prefer, I could say that the quality of the numbers rests not only in the numbers themselves, but also in the experience of them. Under this regime of thought, if I pretty up the data, there is good reason for it, because the audience will enjoy it more. I push it further still. I believe that if the audience especially appreciates it, even at the expense of understanding it, it is still preferable to understanding it at the expense of appreciating it. And by appreciation, I do not mean appreciation of what the data is saying. I am not venturing into the realm of the data's significance. I am merely dancing in the realm of reading the data. And let me state my theory plainly and finally: The quality of data visualization depends just a much on aesthetics as it does on accuracy and clarity. 

Explanation of the second theory: I had a realization years ago that my role in an organization is based just as much on making people happy as it is on the work I do. Again, not a popular belief. It is much more common to believe that a great worker will produce great work even if it hurts his co-workers. But I would argue that his great work is actually reduced a notch because it hurts his co-workers. 

What I am driving at is a new conception of quality or of greatness. Greatness is not measured by innate attributes of the individual, but rather by the way he affects others. And get this: The way you are affected by greatness is up to you. You can choose to see greatness or you can choose to ignore it. In anything. Which is why I fully support prettying up data, even at the expense of clarity. Why I fully support making people happy, even at the expense of getting work done. Because the quality of data and work is not found in the product itself, but rather in the experience of it. And because people will be more likely to like something if it makes them feel good. 

This theory is troubling because it attacks objective truth. The same can be said of my theory of love. It is troubling because it attacks the purity of love. If you can control how much you love someone, then do you even love her at all? Similarly, if you can control how much you like a movie or a TV show, then is it really all that good in the first place? Can you even ever know it is good? And if not, then how can you know if something is good at all? How can you know that YOU are good? It is precisely because we use value judgements to navigate the world that we are troubled by this. But I am a philosopher of the future, and I envision a world where we no longer do this. Where we have moved beyond the puerile notions of the objective good and pure love. And instead have embraced a goodness that is dynamic and fully within our grasp. A fate that we make. A love that we create. 

Zach: As if this soup doesn't have enough ingredients already, I want to throw in one of my concepts of the Good. One more factor which always seems present in an analysis of the Good is the tribal size. This idea should be at least somewhat familiar. But even within a person, there are different valuing instincts/organs. So a glass of wine might be good for one part of a person but bad for another. Outside of a person, a thing might be good for oneself but bad for one's family, co-workers, etc. Some things are good for the entire human species - to the extent we can clearly understand what that is, anyhow. So it's not just a matter of deciding how good a given action is, but also of knowing specifically which factions it is good for, both within a person and within any one of a larger circle of people. There are so many groups and tribal affinities, that it's not just a matter of a series of concentric circles, since many groups overlap. IF something is Good for the CEOs of large corporations, and Bad for black people, then it's both good and bad for black CEOs. This is complicated, but I think it's the key towards an effective ethics.

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