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Way of Knowing Essay

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Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) once said that “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing”, meaning that emotion is irrational and unreasonable. Emotional expression provides powerful communication between people, especially in the early childhood stage of our lives, before language even develops. A baby’s glowing smile invites love and care in its surrounding; the pounding cry of an infant can send one running instantly to attend to its needs. After this, voice, posture and facial expressions and gestures occur, developing our ability to control our emotions, which does not always happen.

Emotion affects our thought-process, and in the heat of the moment, emotion often makes us do and/or say things that we don’t necessarily mean, and makes us more vulnerable to temptations, without thinking of the outcome/consequence.

They can cloud our judgment, leading to irrational external behavior, however, emotion is not all bad, and is what drives us to do so many things, like making scientific discoveries, perseverance to lose weight, no matter how tired you feel.

Emotions consist of passions, moods, perceptions and senses which create internal feelings that are sometimes expressed externally. Reason is part of formal logic, and pure reason is unbiased, taking all variables into account. Emotion and the resulting behavior of emotion vary in intensity, and is one of the ways of knowing. To a great extent, emotions can affect other ways of knowing, especially reason.

The James-Lange theory states that emotion is purely physical in nature, meaning if you get rid of the external/physical outcomes, the emotion ceases to exist, but in fact, emotion has both a physical and mental dimension. If emotions were purely physical, then when a person smiles, they automatically feel happy or joyful, but people sometimes hide their emotions, that is, not necessarily show it externally, for all one knows, that person smiling could be filled with sadness inside. For example, British comedian/actor Peter Sellers was said to be “the greatest comic genius this country has produced since Charles Chaplin.”

By Filmmakers the Boulting brothers, and Turner Classic Movies called Sellers “One of the most accomplished comic actors of the late 20th century.”, so this surely would mean that he must have been a real great guy to hang around if he made so many people laugh, but internally, that is, off camera, Peter was a very troubled man. He often behaved erratically and compulsively, and had a huge problem with drugs and women, but that wasn’t seen on screen. Sellers would smile, be funny in his movies, but that didn’t automatically make him happy when he would smile or laugh, inside he was severely depressed, and though many would say he accomplished many things, he felt like he had no identity, therefore emotion is not just a physical, but largely a mental state as well. Reason is unbiased, rational thinking, were all the variables are taken into consideration before stating a claim or making a decision, and our emotion often interferes with our rational thinking.

Formal logic is described as “reasoning from known premises or premises’ presumed to be true to a certain conclusion.”, either deductive or inductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning is where reasoning moves from a general claim to a particular claim, for example, all teachers are human, Mrs. Smith is a teacher, therefore Mrs. Smith is human. Inductive reasoning is the opposite, it moves from a particular claim to a generalized one, for example, I’ve met two racist Japanese, therefore I assume all Japanese are racist.” Emotion can cloud our reasoning process in the sense that our opinions on a certain situation are or become biased. For example, Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus is known as the “Father of Taxonomy” in classification of different organisms, and one study he did was on how to divide Homo sapiens, us.

Native Americans were classified as copper colored, happy, yet angered easily and stubborn. Asians were classified as an unhealthy yellow color, greedy, easily distracted, and Africans as black, crafty and negligent, just some of the characteristics he used to classify these different “groups”. However, Europeans were classified as white, gentle, innovative beings, which is odd because Carl came from Sweden in Northern Europe, coincidence? Not likely, it’s obvious Carl was biased when classifying the different “racial groups”, as with Africans, Asians and Native Americans, all the traits listed were negative, while those placed upon Europeans were not only positive, but slightly filled with praise as well. It’s clear that Carl’s perception, part of emotion, favored where he fit in, thus clouding his judgment and giving a very biased classification result. Sometimes our beliefs and emotions affect each other in such a way that reasoning takes over from emotion.

A change in our belief can correspond to a change in emotion, where reasoning can take over again, for example, if you see a mysterious shadow in your room, you feel immediate fear, but when you turn on the light and realize it was your fan blowing your curtains around, that feeling of fear leaves you’re your belief has changed, and logic has taken over your though process. However, our beliefs can be so intense that they may enhance our emotions as well, even if we know that there is nothing to feel so intense about, our reaction can still be irrational, for example, I have a fear of spiders, and if a see one, I feel immediate discomfort and fear. I was watching a horror film with giant black widow spiders, and though I knew It was just a movie, I put my feet up on the couch and watched the room for any spiders, because even though I knew no giant spider would come and take me away, the intensity of my fear clouded that reasoning, and consumed all my rationality. Although emotion can consume our reasoning, it can also drive it to success.

Emotion is linked to intuition, where sometimes we just have a gut feeling that we are on the verge of something great. Intuition combined with social emotions such as ambition and gratitude, can actually help us succeed. In the fields like biology, physics, math, and logic, uneducated intuition is dangerous and will often lead us towards the wrong direction, so to be educated is very important. Being taught how to reason things out instead of just making random guesses, or claims that one can’t back-up because the argument isn’t valid, this is where reasoning comes in, and is how we make scientific, mathematical, and many different conclusions. Still, so many scientific and mathematical breakthroughs would never have occurred without passion.

To have the ambition to do something comes from passion and without it, reasoning alone would deny us of so much knowledge that we have acquired. For example, Nobel-prize winner Sir Peter Medawar was a Brazilian/British biologist, who discovered in 1951, that skin graft rejection was the result of an acquired immune tolerance, this was fundamental in order to practice tissue and organ transplants. Peter estimated that about “four-fifths of his time was wasted, adding glumly that ‘nearly all scientific research leads nowhere’”. But with Peter, it did, it may have taken him a long time, but if he didn’t have passion and ambition to find out why skin grafts were being rejected, much of today’s modern skin grafting would arguably be less effective. Some think emotion clouds our judgment, some think it helps drive us to what is great or perhaps right, but instead of thinking of them playing against each other, why not see how they work together?

Emotional outbursts are common and part of human nature, and whether we label them or not, we sometimes have internal feelings that we may over express, and in some cases, under express externally, like for example, someone gave you strawberry cheesecake instead of blueberry, and all of a sudden you shout at the waiter and call him an idiot for getting the order wrong, losing your self-control. Aristotle said, “Anyone can be angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not easy.” This sounds reasonable, as emotion is part of being human, and funny enough, deductive reasoning to this claim does not sound rationale, for example, Ella is my friend, I am angry at my friend, therefore I am angry with Ella, which could be true, you may be angry with a friend, but is that friend Ella? Are you angry with her for the right reasons? Was you reaction appropriate? Deductive reasoning helps us make decisions and come to conclusions, but without emotions, what is driving us to do so?

Emotion can affect reason in both good and bad ways, enhancing and undermining it, but without emotion, although it does make us become biased and irrational sometimes, we would not have passion to do anything, or ambition to spend as long as it takes to achieve what you have been working for. Emotion can be hard to control for some, and slightly easier for others, and maybe life would be easier if we had an off switch for emotion, but it would be boring. Emotion will always be there, it’s part of our lives, and what makes life exciting and worthwhile, and working with reason, humanity has accomplished so much. Although it can block reasoning, emotion can also enhance it, and as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel once said, “Nothing great is accomplished in the world without passion.”

Bibliography
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Medawar#Early_research
http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/linnaeus.html
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Sellers
http://www.markedbyteachers.com
“Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma” by Richard van de Lagemaat Oxford Biology Course Companion by Andrew Allot and David Mindorff Essay Word Count (Excluding title, name and bibliography): 1,586 By Nasim Tekie

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