Can Emotion Save Us?

 See how natural science, history, language, reason and EMPATHY are involved in saving the planet.

Are emotions universal? Can/should we control our emotions? Are emotions the enemy of, or necessary for, good reasoning? Are emotions always linked to belief?

By the end of this section, you will have encountered the following:

  • emotions provide us with energy in our search for knowledge, and sometimes act to justify our beliefs
  • six primary emotions – happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust – are found in all cultures
  • The James-Lange theory states that emotions are physical in nature, but may be influenced by our beliefs
  • emotions can be an obstacle to knowledge – strong emotion can colour perception, distort logic and inflame language
  • studies suggest that without emotion we can become ‘rational fools’
  • reason and emotion are perhaps not opposites: our emotions can be rational
  • intuitions are immediate insights into things – we can distinguish core intuitions, subject-specific intuitions and social intuitions
  • whilst we often feel that all knowledge is based on intuition, people’s intuitions can be conflicting
  • our intuitive beliefs about things might be very unreliable, and one definition of education would be the debugging of human intuition
  • many intellectual breakthroughs are the result of intuitive flashes – after serious hard work in respective fields

TERMS: apathy, debugging intuition, emotional colouring, emotive language, empathy, intuition, James-Lange theory, primary emotions, rational fool, romanticism, social emotion, stoicism

Play with this link. How important do you ‘feel’?

This very simple video introduces some of the main themes we shall be looking at:

There are  six primary emotions:
• happiness
• sadness
• fear
• anger
• surprise
• disgust

Do you agree? Can you think of any feeling you might have which is not a finer, more specific version of one of these?

The James–Lange Theory

1 Emotions are physical: bodily changes come first and cause emotional changes.

More on this:

Other noteworthy theories of emotion:

Choose two and write about how they compare or contrast to the James-Lange Theory:

Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion

Two-Factor Theory of Emotion

Cognitive Appraisal Theories of Emotion

Social emotions

We have social emotions in the context of our social relationships with others, e.g.:
• contempt
• pride
• embarrassment
• envy
• gratitude
• guilt
• jealousy
• shame
• sympathy.
They are affected by our beliefs.

Emotions regarding the future

We also anticipate beyond the present so have emotions now about the future, e.g.:
• worry
• ambition
• determination
• drive
• passion for a goal (the emotional energy and drive to do things and to create ideas).


Emotions as an obstacle to knowledge

Strong emotion can distort other ways of knowing, e.g.:
• Language → slanted, emotional language
• Reason → passionate belief can lead to distorted reasoning/lack of open-mindedness
• Perception → may be ‘blind’ to certain aspects, e.g. faults


Strong emotion may result in biased perception/generalisations based on limited experience and/or
emotive language. This may lead to the rationalisation of prejudices or invention of bad reasons to
justify actions/opinions.


To avoid irrational actions, Stoics advocated apathy (without passion) so that decisions could be
taken without the interference of emotion.

A study of a patient who suffered damage to the emotional area of his brain showed no drop in IQ, but he had lost the ability to make decisions. See Phineas Gage and Elliot. Psychologist Antonio Damasio said that emotion helps narrow down options so we have a manageable number of choices.

The importance of being emotional, an article in The New Scientist, explores the interaction between emotion and reason.


In this clip, Antonio Damasio discusses the role of emotion based on his own extensive research:


Emotions are necessary to make sense of the world. Many fundamental beliefs are based on intuition.
• Different people have conflicting intuition: whose is ‘better’?
• Intuition may be based on prejudice.

Subject-specific intuitions: linked to an area of knowledge

• Intuition based on inadequate knowledge is often flawed.
• Perhaps intuition evolved for a Stone Age environment where fast decisions were needed.
• Education may be necessary to adjust such intuition to the modern world.

Some subject-specific intuition is not obvious, e.g.:


• Newton’s first law: every object continues in a state of uniform motion unless acted upon by a
force. When did you last see an object continuing endlessly in uniform motion?
• A desk seems solid, but physicists suggest it is mostly empty space.


• 100 years ago it was ‘obvious’ that one species could not become another. Now biologists
argue for evolution.


• Ethics may change over time.
• Ethics can be different in different societies.
Social intuitions
Most people think they are good judges of character and can tell when people lie. This is not the case.

Natural and educated intuitions

Educated experts are more likely to have intuition, but intuition may not be just the result of long
periods of intellectual effort. It can come later, at unexpected moments.

Go to this link and choose two of the KI questions to reflect on in your journal.

Emotion knowledge issues and links with other WOKs and AOKs


Now watch this TED talk from Dean Kamen:

The emotion behind invention

In your journal:

  • What motivates Dean Kamen?
  • How important does this suggest emotion is in helping to create a better society?
  • Can you think of examples from your own life when you have been motivated in a similar way?

This video shows some techniques for detecting lies/establishing truth. To  what extent do you think they work and /or are effective? What links can you make with ethics and science here?

And finally, The Onion presents new research showing just how to control anxiety:

Study: Anxiety Resolved By Thinking About It Real Hard

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