This vein of thinking of mine started a long while ago when I was reading, in an article about evolution and emotions and such, a scientist saying something along the lines of, "Evolutionarily, 'liking things' is a very important idea." It's something that we may be aware of, but not necessarily think about: liking things has deep roots in giving organisms an evolutionary advantage. For example, we as people have evolved to find the taste of most poisonous plants to be very unpleasant, while we love the taste of, say, bacon, because meat and fat were the most nutritionally effective comestibles when early humans needed sustenance and food was rare. Similarly, emotions are generally rooted firmly in giving an organism an evolutionary advantage as well; love (or lust) has its origins in finding the mate with the best features with whom to propagate your lineage, happiness is rooted in having done something which is beneficial to your survival or lifestyle, anger is a product of the aggressive lifestyle which was crucial to early humans' survival, etc. Of course, a lot of the situations which engendered or necessitated these emotions initially have changed or disappeared as humans' ability to influence their environment has increased, but they are still relevant and often crucial to our survival.
Now, give me some credit, I know what you're thinking: "Yeah, yeah, I know that emotions are evolutionarily rooted, but I think I could probably figure out all of those things through reason at this point, especially given the structure of our society and stuff. Also, not only are most of those situations gone now, but the emotions they leave behind are like vestigial organs that can actually affect us negatively, counter to their original evolutionary purpose." I hear what you're saying, random argumentative reader, but my contention is that, first of all, these negative effects are caused by metathought (which I'll explain in a moment) and that emotions are important tools in decision-making and lateral thinking, even with the negative effects.
So, metathought. "Meta-" is a prefix meaning "self"; metathought is thinking about thinking. I would argue that almost all of the negative effects that emotions have that aren't at least beneficial in the long run are caused by people's thinking about thinking, meaning, thinking about their emotions until they convince themselves of something that wasn't true before that, or thinking about life at a level which pulls people out of it. I like to call emotions caused by metathought "second-tier emotions." I would agree that these types of emotion are indeed detrimental, but they're at least as much caused by rational thinking as they are emotions (showing that, once again, the more you think, the more miserable you are). Emotions which are normal responses to situations are really pretty necessary, even the negative ones, and this really speaks to the second part of my contention. I don't mean that in a cheesy "You can't know happiness without sadness" sort of way, either, because that's obviously false; I mean, rather, that positive and negative emotions in response to a variety of situations really establish a balance of what action to take in any given situation, how much risk any given choice in a decision is worth, etc. "Should I ask out this girl I really really like? Well, she might say yes, and when that happened last time with Joanna it made me incredibly happy and I had a good time. Of course, she might say no, which made me miserable for weeks the last time THAT happened. Or, maybe worse, she might say yes, and we might become a couple, and be happy for a while, and then she might break my heart and leave me for Fabio because he has a six-pack and dreamy eyes, like Joanna did. Hmm... I DO really like her, though... Meh, I'll take a shot." Emotions can be viewed as an innate way for your mind to perform cost-benefit analysis constantly based on your prior experiences.
Emotions also allow your mind to form connections between different experiences which may not have any direct connection, to empathize with people in different situations than you in a way that purely rational thinking does not, and to predict the future to an extent through that aforementioned lateral thinking and empathy that reason and linear thinking don't allow. "Oh, gosh, those poor people in North Korea, I can only imagine what the living conditions are like there... I imagine that the people there won't be able to stand it much longer; it'll probably all boil over one way or the other soon if the people have any control over the situation."
All in all, emotions really are a powerful tool when used to your advantage.
|Petronius's Paradox: "Moderation in all things, including moderation." |
In a nutshell, that's what emotions are good for (which would explain why they're so paradoxical and confusing).