Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Emotionalism and Jonah Lehrer

Your heart is smarter than you think.

In "The Decisive Moment," Jonah Lehrer discusses the "over-worship of the mind" both in today's culture and throughout history. Going all the way back to Plato, there has been a strong belief that the best decision maker is the most rational. In return, emotions have been seen as the enemy to decision making.
However, Jonah proves that there actually is a science to that gut feeling you experience and shows how it is necessary to have emotion when making decisions.He gives an example of a study where patients had a brain
tumor in their frontal lobes, ruining their ability to experience emotion. According to Plato's theory, these patients should've been philosopher kings and great decision makers. Instead, they became "pathologically indecisive" spending an hour and a half deciding whether to write in blue or black ink, because they were lacking the emotional signal that says "shut up already, just choose a pen."

Therefore Jonah goes on to say,  "Pure reason isn't something to aspire to. Pure reason is actually a disease."
The emotional aspect of decision making involves dopamine. Dopamine is often viewed as the hedonistic chemical...the one that makes you eat too much chocolate cake or makes you plunge into drug addiction. However, Dopamine is actually the chemical that allows humans to predict rewards...to make sense, find patterns in the helter-skelter reality of the world and to maximize rewards in life. Therefore, these "crazy" dopamine neurons are actually deeply empirical, and they are just bein' all scientific sneakily under the surface (in the subconscious realm). So, Jonah says, take emotions seriously!

However, he adds, you cannot only rely on your gut and these dopamine "prediction neurons," because dopamine is also a chemical that utterly ruins lives through addiction. Therefore, he urges to be "meta-cognitive," meaning to think about how we think...to be aware of how our brain is working, because learning about our brain helps us to make better decisions. But no matter what, Jonah says, "a brain scan is not a window of the soul." So emotions do have a scientific purpose! WOOHOOO!

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