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War of the Genders

A confrontational soapbox for rants and politically incorrect manifestos regarding feminism, chauvinism, dating and gender issues.

Name:
Location: Jerusalem, Israel

This isn't a dating site. If you wish to propose marriage or to beat me up, leave me a note.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Music of the Soul

Overture

Emotions are approached in a variety of ways in modern society, but chiefly amongst them is the growing trend to worship these intense personal engines in one way or another. In a meaningless, materialistic, cold, scientific, atheistic and brutally objective world, emotions provide the sole source of meaning and warmth, and feelings then become goals as opposed to tools or indicators.

Happiness justifies the means, passion determines the artist, and blind trust defines faith. Emotions provide a potential escape from the horrors of chemical determinism and are therefore given the job of representing humanity as more than just a bundle of atoms. Some may even ascribe spirituality and mysticism to emotions. It is no surprise, then, that religious experience has been reduced to an inner personal emotion, and as such, is merely a relative truth offering meaning only to the bearer.

Feelings are also seen as an expression of individuality, humanity, life, and even a wellspring for moral sense and imperative. Philosophers such as Kant and Hume defined a type of morality based on sentiment, or goodhearted impulses (although Kant saw this type as lacking true principle). Emotions are often popularly perceived as 'authentic' and spontaneous, and as such, provide an instinctual moral compass as well as valid evidence for judgement. She's crying? That jerk must have been mean to her. She's furious at his lack of support? He must be a good-for-nothing deadbeat father! He's a sensitive, broken-hearted father? What kind of stupid woman divorces such a wonderful man?

Emotions are even used to justify crimes. In courts, if a man kills out of an overwhelming emotion rather than cold-blooded deliberation, he is given more latitude. There are legal terms to cover such cases such as 'diminished capacity', 'irresistible-impulse', 'fit of passion' and 'insanity' (although temporary insanity seems to be slightly more popular in movies than in courts). Technically, these defenses are only valid if a mental deficiency is proven, but they are used in a variety of cases based on ambiguous psychological guess-work and 'expert' testimonies. For example, the notorious Lorena Bobbitt was found not guilty after cutting off her husband's penis due to irresistible-impulse. Regarding this case, the expert David Reardon said: "It takes no leap of imagination to see how a woman, such as Lorena who, on an unconscious level felt that she had been sexually mutilated by her abortion, would, in a moment of bitter passion, attempt to 'castrate' her husband." There are dozens of studies that prove women are consistently given very reduced sentences compared to men (some articles: 1 2 3) and it takes no leap of imagination to see how women, perceived as gentle and caring, would also be perceived as compelled by justified emotions in order to commit such crimes.

Interestingly, the contradiction between emotions used as a moral compass and emotions used to drive criminal behaviour seems to be overlooked. Then again, the criminal behaviour is, in effect, being justified. Even Bobbitt has her share of followers.

In Hollywood, love gets priority over all. If a character in a movie is so attached to his friend that he decides to stay in a burning house and die with him, this is touching bravery, and to call it stupid tragedy would be sacrilege.

If asked directly, many people would deny giving emotions such a prominent place in their Weltanschauung, since, after all, there are plenty of leftovers from the patriarchal society that sees emotions as weak and secondary. But their behaviour tells a different story. It doesn't take a genius to see right through the rationalizations of most people's decisions and trace them to their emotional roots. The existence of reason does not exclude emotion as a guiding source and logic is easily edited or twisted to serve as justification for emotional needs. This mechanism is seen at work in propaganda, political campaigns and marketing, as well as in personal spheres of bias and relationships in a myriad of manifestations.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have some scientists, logicians, religions and philosophers that see emotions as mere side-effects or even think of them as opposing reason. Some religions think emotions are to be subdued. Who needs the hassle? Emotions are distracting, wild and often painful; They interfere with consistency, work, concentration and productivity; They cause nonsensical, irrational behaviour, get in the way of constructive partnerships, cause people to behave whimsically and leave their faith and loyalty behind, etc.

In psychology, there is no attempt to moralize and pretend the human is anything but a machine, and emotions are mere mechanisms and chemicals judged according to social norms. If a man is angry at his parents (which is common), the goal is to bring this emotion out into the open, to get in touch with it, and then either cure it or learn to live with it depending on what the patient wants. However, if a man is abnormally misanthropic and hates the world, he is given pills to kill this unacceptable form of anger. Given the statistical basis for such moral judgements, the abnormality of today may become tomorrow's healthy individual expression.

As usual, these two approaches represent two extremes and neither are correct, yet both contain some truths. On the one hand, emotions are problematic. But the existence of emotions must be explained. Scientists may search for evolutionary and survival benefits, but religions that believe in an omnipresent, omnipotent God must find their purpose in the grander scheme of things. To worship emotions is silly since it's obvious that emotions lead us astray all the time to commit the worst possible acts, but to sweep emotions under the table is not useful, nor is it psychologically viable.

Most people would profess to have their emotions under control and espouse a philosophy that balances emotions with everything else. Disregarding the question of whether this is actually the case in reality, the more interesting question is, what is control? Where does the balance lie exactly and how does it work?

Curiously, emotions are rarely tackled and analyzed and most people simply accept them as part of their life without questioning their place, origins, structure and purpose. Obviously, they are often analyzed in a psychological sense, but I am referring to their ontological aspects. Some research and thought have been invested regarding emotions, but different theories merely postulate different sequences of events and relationships between the emotion, the reaction, the action and the event. Some bring cognitive faculties into play, some take an evolutionary or a purely chemical approach, etc.

These studies and approaches should confuse us even more, but, being the faithful worshippers that we are, we fail to absorb the ramifications of such reports and pray to our gods of passion instead. Attributing emotions to chemicals doesn't seem to derail most people that use emotions as one of the primary factors in decision-making and moral judgement, nor does the contradiction bother them when emotions and art are also described as evidence of humanity's transcendence. And when asked to explain or explore the mechanisms of love, many prefer to leave it in a cloud of mystery.

Taking this confused mixture, which most people seem to have, of scientific fact and existentialist moral imperative to its ridiculous conclusion, the basis of popular moral judgement is often reduced to the pills one takes, and happiness or the meaning of life is just a healthy diet.

In this essay, I will attempt to build an ontological and practical profile of emotions using a Jewish approach.


Notation

First, some important clarifications:

An emotion at its purest and simplest level is a spiritual force, a movement in the soul that both reacts and drives. An emotion is a valence.

The latin root of the word comes from 'ex-motio' or 'outward motion' but, as we shall see, this is only one side of the coin.

An emotion is experienced internally as a mental state but can express itself at the physical level in many colors, variations, combinations, physiological changes, facial expressions, etc. The increased heart-beat and chemical/hormonal changes are not the emotions themselves although they may represent the emotions working at the lowest level.

In the BBC documentary Brain Story, a group of people were given amphetamines, and some were told that they were given a placebo while others were told about the stimulant. The former experienced discomfort and thought it to be a negative experience, but the people who were expecting the increased bubbly energy and a positive reaction used it to feel good and have fun. I.e. emotions are not chemicals and there is a definite distinction between our inner experience of a feeling and its physical manifestation. They are also obviously linked to our consciousness and its interpretations, perhaps even our free will.

The same goes for sensations: Sensations include physical data such as touch, pain and arousal but these can be interpreted and experienced in different ways. Arousal may be an expression of love, lust, compassion, pity or selfishness, it may be twisted into disgust and fear due to a trauma, or it may be a chemical reaction to Viagra. In other words, different emotions can be attached to the same sensation.

We must differentiate between the Platonic forms, the archetypes or the abstract and core spiritual faculties of emotions, and their external representations or variations. In Judaism, there are seven primary archetypes of emotions/forces which manifest themselves through various outlets, resulting in several expressions and combinations. In this essay, I shall be referring to these archetypes and spiritual forces whenever I mention emotions. The same applies to the mind which is not a logical processing unit in the brain, but the intellect of the soul linked to God.

The fact that emotions appear in the brain doesn't mean that they originate there. A similar issue concerns the mind vs. brain and obviously this leads us to the age-old debate regarding materialism vs. idealism vs. dualism and the mind-body problem. As far as this essay is concerned, the brain as we see it is a mere representation of emotional movements and mental activity and it remains unexplained by science how our different inner experiences of emotions, sensation, logic, vision, sound, etc. all arise from homogeneous physical matter and activity.

To make an imprecise but revealing simile: If we were to study the computer by inspecting its memory chips and the patterns formed by the 1s and 0s, all we would see is a specific representation and level of the inner workings of a computer and we would still have no clue how the program is actually run, what the interface actually looks like, where the program originates, etc. We may make careful studies that show that data, user interface and algorithms each form different patterns in different places in the RAM, but this would still only represent the mere storage of such varied computer functionality. We could even poke around in the computer memory and interfere with the way the program behaves in various ways, but that doesn't make it the source nor the equivalent of the program itself.


Theme

In Judaism, emotions are positioned higher than primal instincts and behaviour, but lower than intellect and perception, all of which are lower than the higher consciousness that links us to God. This conforms with the triune brain theory by Paul D. MacLean postulating three levels in the brain, the emotions being in the second, or mammalian cortex.

Many say that emotions must be under control of the mind, but although emotions are positioned under the intellect, this is not necessarily precise. Zeno of Citium from the Stoic school held that emotions are movements caused by our judgements, but what about the other direction?

In Judaism, emotions are often said to be an effect or result, in the sense that it is a child of a choice made in the higher consciousness. But in another sense they are also said to 'clothe' the intellect. In other words, the valence actually works in both directions:

In one direction, our grasp of concepts and truth should propagate down to choice and down to our emotions, which in turn drive and guide our behaviour. Without emotions, our intellect cannot drive our behaviour; They provide the link through which our intellects control our deeds in this world.

But the opposite direction is also just as critical if we plan to live and interact with this world: Our actions, instincts and experience of the external world propagate upwards through the emotive faculties and enable us to link our physical being and independent will back to God by giving us empirical feedback. By attaching emotive meaning to this information we are receiving from the external world, we get to understand and respond to this world; We can recognize good vs. bad, and use this to rectify the world around us and our own souls, raising everything to higher levels. Intellect alone can't do this. In this sense, emotions are using the intellect to affect a decision based on the interpretation of physical data.

In other words, emotions attach meaning to the external world both during input and output. An emotion can both drive the intellect as well as actualize its choices. Affective neuroscience research now shows that emotions are an essential part of the decision-making process in the brain. See, for example, António Damásio's work.

In terms of hierarchy, superiority and control, mind and emotions are relative. Ideally, the mind should essentially control the emotions, but the emotions should also guide the mind in its decision, both working together in a yin/yang of bi-directional flow.

There is also a sense in which the pure emotive faculties of the soul can take over the mind for an uplifting experience by raising physical activity to the spiritual plane using emotion. Many Jewish holidays and the Hasidic movement represent this experience.

In the physical world and in terms of spiritual rectification of materialism, emotions are king. They are the driving force and the power by which matter is connected to and uplifted. But ultimately, it's the mind that is the source and highest state that is closest to God.

In conclusion, although emotions are important tools in religious life, they are not the end-all of religious experience. And although the mind is higher, emotions are not necessarily inferior obstacles to be quelled or ignored.


Development

This duet, this bi-directional work and flow is actually combined by a third entity: Da'at. When the two forces are married, what emerges is a link between lower and higher consciousness, the ability to understand, link with and absorb an entity at the deepest level, and the ability to love someone. The first time sex is mentioned in the bible, Da'at is used to denote a connection at the highest level.

At a different level, this power appears as faith. Faith in Judaism is the ability to behave consistently with what you intellectually know, and to know, understand and choose what you feel is true no matter what happens. Used together, the result is faith.

In Judaism, the female represents the aforementioned upwards vector and the male, the downwards vector. The female represents the practical actualization of choice in this world and the pushing of flawed physical entities upwards by separating the bad from the good, whereas the male represents abstraction and breadth of potentials, pulling the good upwards by separating it from the bad.

This difference between the genders will be explored further below and in other essays, but for now it is important to note that this is not describing the spiritual hierarchy and position of men vs. women, nor is it saying anything about inherent spiritual capabilities and limitations, but it is describing vectors: Directions with which the genders work; Opposing but complementary forces; A yin/yang of powers, both of which have the same goals and core capabilities but each of which work in different directions, like the plus and minus of an electrical current.

This is the core of marriage, a joining of these two forces. To explore this further is beyond the scope of this essay.

A special note regarding love: Conceptually and strictly speaking, as described earlier, in the form of 'true love' it refers to the ability to expand oneself to include another and to link to them via higher consciousness/Da'at and is therefore not an emotion per se. But, obviously, it will evoke and make use of emotions.


Variation

Buddhism sees emotions as states of imbalance, impediments on the road to a higher spiritual life. Past offenses are left behind, as are attachments, the ego and all activities in this world that bring rise to guilt, fear, etc. Emotions are quelled and made unimportant (albeit in a healthy spiritual sense) instead of used. (One possible exception is an emotion which awakens a man to start walking the path, or a correctional emotion that enables a man to fix himself before rising to higher levels and abandoning the lower.)

Buddhists learn to change their Weltanschauung so that emotions don't get in their way of the purely spiritual. Jews learn to identify good vs. bad and to control and make use of their strong emotions at all levels of their development. These are two subtly but crucially different types of control in line with the drastically different goals of a Jew and Buddhist.

A Buddhist seeks enlightenment and to live on a spiritual plane; A Jew seeks to live in, control and rectify the physical world, which will ultimately bring him enlightenment and a spiritual life. A Jew's goal is not to detach from this world, but to fix it. This is why the Eastern approach is seen as not only impractical, but even rebellious. Emotions must be embraced.

Christianity, on the other hand, goes to the other extreme and consciously provokes a constant sense of dread, helplessness and guilt. Since I am not an expert here, I am at a loss to explain how this coincides with traditional Christian thought that holds that emotions must be either eradicated or moderated, via Stoicism (Augustine), catharsis (Aquinas/Aristotle), etc. But it is very telling that Christians believe they are helplessly restrained by Original Sin and human frailties, requiring baptism, grace, Christ or priests (depending on your branch of Christianity) to rectify them rather than having the capability of attaining all spiritual states, grace and salvation on their own. In this sense, Christians believe and probably instigated temporary insanity as a valid defense for sins and crimes.

Additionally and interestingly, although Roman Catholics traditionally believe in faith as an emotion backed by works and deeds as the means to salvation, Protestants detached faith from works and claimed Sola Fide. However, neither of these approaches conform with the Jewish approach of faith being a cooperative force of intellect and emotion in order to perform works!

As you can deduce from all of the above, Judaism sees emotions as faculties that can be trained and changed over time. Not subdued, but used - just like the brain. All thinkers, romantics and scientists that hold that emotions cannot be chosen are mistaken. Although emotions cannot be directly controlled, with work and habit, emotions can be associated with different behaviour via the intellect, and, using the opposite vector, behaviour can associate emotions with different ideas. That's not to say that this is easy, but neither is it impossible.

In other words, although emotions cannot be chosen directly, they can be influenced and gradually changed by free-will. Thus, a defense of temporary insanity is ludicrous by Jewish standards and the real question should be: why did the criminal not work on himself so that, when the time comes, he could resist such impulses and control his wild reactions? A Jew is given ultimate power to change his very nature and Nietzsche understood this, but with such power comes responsibility, not 'irresistible-impulse'

In philosophy, Hume saw the passions as the only valid source for absolute morality despite their irrational nature and held that differing and 'wrong' ethics only arise from twisted natures. Kant held that reason is the only source that can effect a real decision and behaviour based on intention and deliberation, and is therefore the only valid source of true morality. But neither offer an absolute moral imperative and Nietzsche scoffed at both of them, espousing a more existential and personal form of ethics that is beyond good and evil. Judaism agrees with both: The only true moral decision is made in the mind, but the emotions, once they are distilled and purified, can be valid drives for moral behaviour.


Fugue

So are emotions spontaneous? Do they originate in our free-will? Are they always spiritual in nature? What about emotions as human expression?

Obviously, if emotions are chemicals, then chemicals aren't expressing anything except chemicals. This means that the only chance emotions have of fulfilling our existential expectations is when they are connected to, and are expressing, something spiritual. I.e. only when they are beyond determinism can they have any moral imperative, contain meaning or point to anything transcendent.

The hard truth is that free-will is extremely rare. The controversial findings of Benjamin Libet that subconscious brain activity always comes before what we perceive as a choice comes as no surprise because most choices are deterministic even as far as Judaism is concerned. (The experiment involved test subjects determining the exact time when they make a choice while brain scans revealed subconscious activity long before this choice actually occurred, proving that choice is an effect not a cause.) The only thing Libet proved is that most choices are actually based on chemicals, but that doesn't exclude the rare occurrence of indeterministic, spiritual work.

Some claim that the power to veto a choice made by the subconscious is what expresses our free-will and this is partially correct, but this is a slippery slope because vetoes can and usually do arise from physical stimuli and chemicals as well.

So how can we tell when our emotions are based on our consciousness and free-will rather than on environment and diet? We obviously have to find a non-deterministic spiritual force, or God if you will, and find a way to link to it, usually by combining study and behaviour, as befits our bi-directional powers. Thankfully, if you believe in a religion like Judaism, you have already received a manual on how to achieve this and have to simply follow the rules.

It is important to note however, that there is such a concept as chemicals doing spiritual work. Based on the methods we described above, behaviour and emotions may be modified or trained, and thereafter they may work on 'auto-pilot', not requiring free-will yet still remaining linked to our souls. In this sense, our rectified emotions and chemicals are aligned with our souls and therefore have meaning.

But, yells modern society, how can emotions express anything when they are restrained, controlled, bridled by reason? How can you tell me to follow rules and still tell me I am expressing my individualism? Don't rules, frameworks and training all contradict the popular notion of freedom? How can I be spontaneous by following a manual?

But this is a common mistake. If you are free to follow your chemicals then how does that constitute freedom? What is the qualitative difference between following a master's orders and following your upbringing and social environment? Following orders may feel like slavery because they conflict with your passions and desires and therefore make you feel oppressed, but why is your own mechanical desire necessarily any more free or spontaneous? What if your desire or moral choice originates in your parents' conditioning?

As should be obvious by now, the only truly free action is one that is linked to an indeterministic source. Which means that, in a way, action based on an 'external' imperative is free and action that is based on an internal one isn't. And yet, despite a framework, there is always room for individual expression.

Music is a perfect example: Classical music is defined by its rigid structure, rules, discipline, strict adherence to form, etc. And yet it is within classical music that adherents seek the highest amount of varying interpretations. The exact same sheet music with the same rules, tempos and structure, re-interpreted a thousand times, each with its rich nuances and emotive content.

Within structure emerges intense passion. Like a laser, no structure means the dissipation of power and therefore a lack of freedom, not the opposite.


Counterpoint

Popular opinion is that women are more emotional than men. Rich Zubaty replies sarcastically: "Women have emotions; men have deeper feelings".

Anyone with eyesight should admit that men are full of emotions and passions. They just differ in the way they handle their emotions, as well as in their focus and behaviour.

Jung held that the male archetype is driven by rational, cognitive functions related to truth, and the female is driven by rational sentiments related to people, the man thus sometimes being affected by irrational sentiments, and the woman by irrational opinions. This is interesting, but needs more digging.

Of course, the problem with all such sweeping gender-related statements is that we haven't defined what it means to be 'more emotional'. Obviously it doesn't mean that women are capable of more types of emotions since women have never displayed any monopolies in this regard. It also can't be pointing out that women are more intensely emotional. Not only would this be impossible to measure, experience shows that men are capable of equally wild outbursts as well. Perhaps women simply don't show as much restraint?

Of course there are also the hormones that women experience during their various biological cycles that affect their emotions, but these are purely physical differences at the lowest level and aren't necessarily pointing out any core gender differences. In addition, men have extra testosterone which obviously affects their emotions as well, so at the purely chemical level, I don't think we can say that women are more emotional than men.

The accepted and most popular definition is that women are much more influenced by their emotions and are less able to separate emotions from reason. This is verified by science: With the exception of language, male brains tend to specialize and use specific areas of the brain for specific purposes, whereas the woman uses both sides of the brain and more diffuse areas to handle the same task or information. The detailed implications of this is better left for another article, but in the case of emotions this means that whereas men can use and apply reason, spatial abilities, and analyze visual data without being affected by emotional information, most women don't and can't.

Is this good or bad? When dealing with specific careers and tasks that demand scientific objectivity and focused, honed technical skills, it's probably bad. Other objectives, such as jobs that deal with people and which often benefit from emotional information, are probably handled better. From the Jewish point of view described above, it's neither good nor bad and depends purely on its usage, the ultimate goal being to merge with its opposite force.

The way I see it, there are several possible explanations why women are claimed to be 'more emotional', and the truth is probably a combination of them all:

1. It's an illusion. Men experience the same emotions but keep them in check and don't exhibit them as often or as explicitly. In which case this only makes woman more of an exhibitionist, so-to-speak, and doesn't point out any special emotive capabilities or mechanisms.

2. Increased aggression in men, plus accepted social norms of masculinity means that men may hide some of their 'gentler' emotions. The proof of this is that men often have no problem expressing their anger openly and passionately.

3. As shown by science, women use emotive information to make decisions, thus appearing to be more emotional by basing their choices on such data.

4. The vector theory: Due to the aforementioned opposite gender vectors and starting points, women use emotions more often and put more emphasis on their emotions since this is their primary form of attaching meaning to their practical concerns and connecting to their inner worlds. Recall that a woman is primarily working upwards through her emotions whereas a man has to work his way downwards and connect with the world in the first place.

5. Dipping slightly into Kabbalah: At the highest level, the Jewish male and female archetypes are represented by wisdom (Hohma) and understanding (Bina) respectively. Hohma represents everything but as potential, Bina represents structure and form but is focused on specifics. This is reflected in the gender's reproductive functions: The man produces millions of sperm cells with endless possibilities, while the woman accepts only one and builds a baby out of it.

When filtered through knowledge (Da'at), the ten spiritual capabilities (Sefirot) of existence are separated into two groups representing the male and female, called the five Hasadim and five Gevurot respectively. The highest male archetype is represented by the letter Yud, which numerically represents all ten forces but in potential (the letter is a dimensionless point), and the female is represented by Hei, which denotes only the five Gevurot, but actualized (Hei has structure and form, building on top of the Yud).

All of this means two things as far as we're concerned:

a) The emotive forces of the male are complete but tend to stay in potential, which is why they may seem less caring or emotional. The issue with men is that they tend to get lost in ideas, impractical abstract pursuits and the drive for pleasure, all to the detriment of a practical, constructive connection with the external world. Their emotions are secondary to these goals and, as science has shown, emotions are detached from such mental activities.

b) The female archetype contains an imbalance (extra Bina) and leans towards specific attributes or emotions: Gevura representing strength (in dealing with people discriminately), fear, restraint, trepidation, etc., and Hod representing submission, concurrency, gratitude, optimism, etc. The issue with women is that some emotions like fear may go unchecked by their opposite emotions or be ungrounded and unbalanced.

6. Also, since women represent expression, speech and actualization, it is conceivable that they will express themselves and their emotions better and more often.


The BBC, while filming 'Secrets of the Sexes', performed a small experiment: They dressed up a child actress, placed her in a street corner with a hidden camera and instructed her to act abandoned. During the time she was there, over 40 women stopped to make sure she was OK, some even coming back to check again, but not men. Some men were asked why they didn't do anything and they all came up with rationales. The most popular was that they didn't want to be mistaken for a pedophile. Others said her new shoes gave her away as a well-off kid who was probably waiting for her parents. While these are good arguments, they are still excuses, and the men could conceivably have found a way to check that she wasn't in any trouble. The conclusion that the BBC reached was that men are not as caring as women.

But they missed a very important point: The men didnt say that they weren't aware of the possible problem or that they didn't sympathize with the child. In fact, they all made it very clear that they were concerned with the kid and noticed her and the potential problem, only they came up with rationales for not doing anything about it! The conclusion that I reached was that men have all the tools they need, including emotions, empathy and caring, but their difficulty lies in actualizing and expressing these.

One final reminder that should be obvious: We are talking mostly about archetypes and dominating functions or trends, and obviously this doesn't denote exclusivity, nor does it preclude exceptions and variations.

In summary, each of the genders has strengths and weaknesses and the goal of marriage is to combine these two contrapuntal forces of nature. The opposite vectors meet and join forces to create something new, each representing the yin and yang of creation, the flip sides of a coin and the basis of all spiritual power in the world we live in. Which, by the way, is why homosexual marriage is relatively a ridiculous farce.


Recapitulation

Hierarchy: Emotions are positioned both under and over other spiritual faculties, depending on the direction one is working in. But the ultimate spiritual state is in the intellect.

Function: An emotion is a spiritual power that bi-directionally links intellect or will to behaviour through its guiding force, and links the external world to the internal world by providing meaning to the world we interact with. Emotions bridge the sensations of the body with the judgmental, cognitive mind, and joins the inner subjective world with the outer objective world.

The Hebrew letters of Regesh (emotion) are the same letters for Gesher (bridge) and Girush (divorce) because they have the power to construct and destruct connections.

Interestingly, in Latin both passion and passive comes from the root patior - to suffer. This is because passions are seen as passive in the sense that they are acted upon rather than acting. Although in traditional philosophy, emotions are seen as drives that create behaviour, they are not necessarily the ultimate source.

The question of whether emotions can be chosen and worked on is the real issue, and, as argued above, Judaism says they can.

Interaction and Context: Emotions can be driven by primal instincts, they can arise in association with physical objects, they can be evoked internally by the intellect or soul, and they can be used by the intellect or make use of the intellect.

When the mind is not involved, emotions can be trouble: A meaningless state of agitation or a wild drive leading to criminal behaviour. But even when the mind is involved, the flow and control is bi-directional. A particular danger appears when twisted and dominating selfish drives from below assume control and make use of the brain or intellect for wayward purposes.

Purpose: Emotions are not willful gods to be worshipped, but tools. Even 'bad' emotions such as anger, hate, repulsion, etc. are tools that can and should be used for constructive purposes. And vice-versa: kindness and compassion can be damaging when applied inappropriately. Turning the other cheek is not necessarily a good quality.

Other examples: In Judaism, the basic faculty of love/kindness (Hesed) is ideally tempered by another basic faculty of strength/restraint (Gevura), together giving rise to truth/balance/mercy/beauty (Tiferet). Fear can incapacitate a man, but it can also bring about a sense of responsibility. A person can be attracted to another person for selfish, ego-driven or sadistic purposes (deterministic emotions), or he can be repulsed by an object because it represents spiritual corruption (indeterministic emotions). Or more subtly: He can be repulsed by an object due to danger to health purely out of physical instinct, or he can decide that bad health is bad for the soul and be repulsed by it due to spiritual considerations. Etc.

There is no such thing as a good emotion that only brings about good, principled or justified behaviour.


Coda

So is analyzing and understanding other people's emotions using our minds possible, or is it a nonsensical attempt much like using a thermometer to measure speed? Given what I described in this article, not only is it possible, but emotions can be immediately understood and empathized with at the deepest level depending on their origins and regardless of gender. I'll leave this open as food for thought.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello!

My question is a bit off topic, but since you commented briefly on the Kabbalah, what is the method used by Jews to achieve connection with God?
To be more direct, I mean to inquire about the techniques used to attain the higher levels of Consciousness (which would be called, in western culture, "altered states of consciousness")in which Union with God, or at least the direct perception of God occurs.
I know that the intellectual study of the Kabbalah by itself doesn´t do the trick. It seems to be more like a study in theory of what is to come in practice.

Thanks in advance!

Henrique

July 24, 2008 12:26 am  
Blogger Baron said...

I think a higher state of consciousness is not a goal in itself but may be a side-effect when a Jew practices Judaism and devotes himself and everything he does as Kodesh. He raises himself by raising his actions, body and consciousness together.

Another answer would be simply: prayer. Prayer is the Jew's meditation.

Kabbalah is a much abused luxury and I curse the day it became a fad. It's about the hidden vs. the Pshat and is basically a bonus for those who have covered everything else and are ready for more.

July 24, 2008 7:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading all of this (and it did take some time reading!), I only have one question. Are you married? Because, honestly, it seems like you're missing the perspective of being inside a marriage. Do correct me if I'm wrong!

October 21, 2009 3:24 pm  
Blogger Baron said...

Wow, is that all you have to say? It would be minimally helpful if you could explain why you think this and explain what you got from my post. My personal life is irrelevant.

October 21, 2009 3:34 pm  

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