Thursday 27th February 2014
Two students showed to the rest of the group a pair of emoticons: one a smiley face and the other a sad face and both were represented in different colours. The original question, the students explained, was ‘To what extent and why does colour effect our emotions?’
Students began, by expressing the idea that emotions are involuntary – often, you can’t help feeling what you feel about something or someone. On the one hand, these emotions guide us to action of some sort and on the other hand they are protective and keep us from doing dangerous things. All students agreed that emotions are somehow ‘built’ into our bodies and that ultimately, one of the most important emotions is ‘care’ or ‘empathy, which is crucial to shaping our human identity. Without emotions, one student claimed, we’d be mechanical.
This led to clarification of an evolutionary based response: emotions guide us to survival in terms of flight or fright responses to our environment. This led to an interesting digression to distinguish between ‘emotion’, ‘instinct’ and ‘intuition’.
One student explained that ‘instinct’ was primal; it stays the same, whereas emotion changes. Instinct is somehow a pre-programmed reaction – an automatic action – in response to an external or internal stimulus. For example, a baby’s cry is a programmed or innate response to its need for food; honeybees communicate through an instinctively dance in the direction of a food source.
‘Emotion’ is somehow grafted onto instinct; it evolved as a way of helping us to process instinct in fight or flight responses.
This leaves ‘intuition’: a form of quick thinking in pattern recognition which allows us to make connections between random observations and come to snap conclusions about ourselves, others and our environments without the help of reason or logic. We just see the solution.
‘Intuition’ is something learned and grounded in instinct, emotion, memory, imagination and everything that contributes to our experiences of ourselves and our world.
What all three qualities have in common is that they are generally fast and bypass the step by step process through which our rational minds work. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this. An advantage is that sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where we have to judge and decide immediately; think on our feet, so to speak, and swiftly find a solution to a problem (think of job or Oxbridge interview). A disadvantage is that sometimes, you forget that you have time to think a situation through and so fall into hasty choice (“He told me he loves me, so he must be the man of my life.”)
So we have emotions because they form the basis of a psychology which helps us to respond swiftly in crucial situations; because they connect us to others in a mutually cooperative way towards the ultimate aim of survival and because they help (and this is for a later discussion) to reinforce our moral sense of right and wrong…