The brain: An emotional engine

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The brain: An emotional engine

The mind. Its an emotional thing. Reason is not its natural environment. Emotions are its stock and trade. Reason and rational thought are latter day adaptions we have struggled and learned to appreciate.

The things we believe and accept are predicated on our emotional experience regarding them. Fire hot burn ow! We learned something and now have come to believe something about fire. Because it has an emotional impact our brain associates that emotion with the ideas. When we think of fire that emotion is right there with our memory of it.

But its not just fire and things that our mind catalogs emotionally. Ideas and more complex issues carry emotional relevance with them as well. Religious beliefs are based in such a method. For many religious ideas are initiated at an early stage by parents. Emotional significance is gained by repeated exposure to the ideas. Each iteration builds up the neural network connecting things to the ideas contained within the religous rhetoric. And to the mind that build up of connectivity is emotions.

Reason is a tool. It is a specific tool. Reason functions to help us force an opinion on a matter one way or the other. It is a method by which we can come to understand some measure of truth when our emotional stance is stymied.

And that last bit is the kicker. Reason is not turned to unless there is doubt in the mind. And doubt is the result of balance or near balance of emotionally conflicting ideas within the mind.

See as we learn things and form ever increasing networks of emotional convictions we come across conflicting ideas. Typically one side or the other carries more emotional relevance than the other. Thus people tend to reject ideas as true based on this gut reaction. But ideas tend to clump together and support each other. And over time with the inclusion of new experience and understanding the mind can come to a balance. And the mind does not want to be in balance. It causes stress and indecision.

So with the introduction of stress concerning the indescision the mind begins grasping around for things to shift the balance one way or the other. Over time our species and individuals have invented all sorts of tools to shift this balance. Supersticion, signs of portent, peer pressure, and of course our own prefered method reason are just such tools that we all develop as metaphorical thumbs on the scales of our emotional minds.

The fun thing about this is that as we skeptics learn to rely on reason more and more we develop an emotional reliance in it as well. It carries increasing relevance for us. We turn to it more often and sooner and sooner in the process of coming to a descision. Its a good thing its effective. There could be worse methods to become dependent on to guide our descision making process.