EMOTIONS SPEAK, EMOTIONS TEACH, EMOTIONS LEARN
At altitude in the High Sierra Nevada, in the crisp winter night, I was contemplating the dazzling firmament, sparkling with stars, the Andromeda galaxy fully visible. Aldebaran, the twinkling red giant star, spoke to me of my early childhood, when my grandparents and my uncles taught me the night sky, and the cosmos. Aldebaran also spoke of the Saharan sky of my infanthood, its sparkling orange accentuating that of the distant horizon. Who has not seen desert stars at dusk, has not seen the grandest sight.
I felt fully rejuvenated, full of ambitious curiosity, at one with the universe.
More evidence that emotions speak, teach and learn? I considered carefully how small children learn languages. It’s an object of wonder. And mystery. My daughter is bilingual, French, English, and is learning Mandarin. The latter is accomplished by going to a Chinese school, eight hours a day. Native Chinese speakers are impressed by her fluency.
Athena’s best friend also just turned 4 year old, the daughter of a Turkish family. She speaks English and Turkish. I spoke to Athena’s friend in French only. Surprise: the Americano-Turkish toddler understood much of what I say.
How do children understand language? They do it without books, by observing contexts carefully. The exact same mental attitude that is essential to science or philosophy.
I discovered that children feel out the context, including the emotional context, and compute what the meaning has got to be. Then they learn to associate the probable sounds to the probable meaning, memorizing the whole thing ever more precisely as they correct the subtle differences between what they understood or uttered, and what allows achieving better communications.
A child is, among other things, a physicist, learning the basic facts of reality: fall, get hurt, etc. Notice that it’s the emotion that does the learning: fall, get all roughed up, break the precious skin, get distressed, cry a lot. Thereafter “gravity” (a concept Athena associates from falling off trees and holding planets around) is taken really seriously. The more it hurts, the more serious. Gravity would not have been so well understood, so seriously understood, had not as much pain been experienced.
Pain is the ultimate experience.
This shows right there that there is something wrong to avoiding pain at all cost: it would mean avoiding learning at all cost, the essence of humanity. Some will say: “Oh, we are good, and want to live as we please, avoiding pain shall be foremost, whatever it takes.”
Buddhists, of course, promote the notion. Yet, when push came to shove, they had to establish a pretty nasty empire. But not nasty enough. Nasty enough to infuriate the future Genghis Khan, not nasty enough to resist him when he came back with a large army. Yes, you have to live with others, whose pain is, all too often, your pleasure.
(See tourists, polluting with CO2 around the world as they go to far off beaches, searching for pleasure through materialistic extravaganza, insuring that those beaches they claim to love, will be flooded very soon.)
The most important books one reads, and most frequently, are books of emotions, not books of words.
A small sensation can have a huge emotional impact. People can be hated, or humiliated, or spurned, once, and never forget. Remember Hitler, who felt humiliated and alienated by weirdly dressed Jews in the center of Vienna, when he was a beggar. “Is this a Jew?” he wondered. And then Hitler learned to associate his wretched condition of truly destitute German to the alienation he experienced in Vienna, thanks to this vision never experienced before of a black dressed individual with abundant black hair hanging all over.
He was not the only German to feel that way, and it all built up into a giant hatred (helped, of course, by 15 centuries of Christian anti-Jewish emotions and pattern of homicidal abuse).
Thus a small emotion can have huge intellectual, even civilizational, or anti-civilizational, impact.
Emotions are what get people to move. People’s minds to move, that is. And more. Emotions are how minds were built.
Addressing thoughts is one thing. Thoughts are digital. Addressing emotions is addressing what reality is made of. A continuous field, just as those fields we call Quanta. What’s out there is more complicated than Homer. Because words can only clumsily approximate what we feel. Such as individual photons. Themselves, fields.
The emotional universe is where we live. It’s what we are. A civilization is not first about words, but about how it feels about the universe. And, from there, what it teaches, speaks of, and even what it can learn of.
Imprisoned in their brutal view of man, the Greco-Romans did not learn enough to prevent the near collapse of civilization. We won’t have the second chance they got in us. Time to feel right. Enshrine it in the law as needed.
Note: The fancy philosophy above is fully compatible with the most recent neurobiology, and takes flight from it, extending its dendrites where the glia are the most active.