Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Thoughts and feelings and House.

Was watching an episode of 'House' where House is accused of trying to biopsy a patient's spinal cord for his own benefit and not that of the patient. The whole premise of the House series is that House is constantly required to be completely objective despite his own life and that of his colleagues being in tatters.

It got me thinking about the nature of objectivity and human motivation. I remember John Macmurray's definition of objectivity being to act in terms of the thing or person one is considering. For example to act according to what someone needs, not in terms of one's own desires. An objective but tired parent will get out of bed at 3am to feed a crying baby even though every nerve and fibre wants to return to sleep. I also remember Macmurray pointing out in the light of Freud's discoveries about the unconscious, how impossible it is to know one's own motives. Aside from the simple fact that everything we do and think is the result of a whole spectrum of motivations, Macmurray pointed out that the motive(s) we are aware at any time are only the surface and almost certainly will not be the primary motivations. And I remember Macmurray's conclusion that to be a person is to be aware that every positive motivation contains within it it's own negative.

Hence the interesting House episode where we are never sure what House's motive is for seeking the biopsy. And in the end even House is not sure. But he still acts objectively. (I used to wonder why it is so hard to depict good people in drama but there obviously is no such thing as a 'good person', only people with more or less positive motivations. I'm sure there is some would-be PhD mapping out his/her thesis on 'The Christ-image in House M.D.' or whatever.)

What also triggered these thoughts was that yesterday afternoon I was walking home and a young couple passed by, hand in hand. How lovely! I thought. Then I overheard their conversation and realised both were mentally retarded or delayed learners or subnormal intelligence or whatever euphemism or politically correct term is used these days. And I then thought how difficult their lives together would be simply because of lack of understanding of how the world functions and their part in it. How would they/did they discover sex? Would anyone tell them or would they watch some awful X-rated video and get totally misled about what it's all about (speaking from experience here folks!). How would they manage a household budget?

Then I got to thinking, reminding myself that people do not need high intelligence to live well if their motivations are life seeking, not destructive. And how do people acquire life seeking motivations? The same way we acquire logical thoughts: we learn to do it. But we live in a society that is only just starting to discover that life affirming emotions are learnable and desirable. We actually live in an emotionally retarded society, intellectual giants but emotional retards.

And how do we learn life affirming emotions/motivations? Well to be honest I'm not sure. ('Emotional retards' includes me.) I do know that learning to trust one's own feelings is absolutely critical (just as being able to trust one's own thoughts is necessary for mature thinking). I also know that educating the senses is important. Seeking new experiences, discovering new tastes, hearing new sounds, seeing new colours and shapes. And so is feeling new feelings, meeting new people, loving intensely, crying in sadness and crying for joy, trusting even though frightened.

The aim of such education is to become aligned with one's life-affirming motivations and to learn to moderate one's destructive motivations. If one learns to habitually act affirmatively then we don't need to spend as much brain power trying to think our way out of dangerous, awkward, messy, unhappy situations and get on with enjoying the wonders of life on this beautiful planet. And we can still love life even if we don't think as fast or as clearly as we used to. Ultimately we can learn to feel objectively just as well as we can think objectively.

My conclusion though seems as wimpy as a wedding sermon. It just becomes more and more obvious to me that love is the only life-affirming motivation worth the effort of learning and teaching. All our other motivations are in the end self-seeking, albeit dressed up in the nicest terms. Only love acts in the interests of that which is not ourselves. Only love is truly objective.

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