Reflections on Emotion and Reason, part I

I was reading a transcript of Arindam Chakrabarti’s excellent lecture on the phenomenology of fun and boredom, in which he talks, briefly, about the truth and falsehood of emotions. Suppose you are really, really bored, in fact so bored that the entire world seems without colour. There are two possibilities:

(1) The world is actually boring. You could be stuck in a Delhi Public School classroom (as I was for many years) with oppressive teachers who have no conception of learning and who accuse their students of being overimaginative.

(2) The world is not boring, but you feel it to be so. You could be watching a really good movie, say Sholay, but all you can do is pick it apart for its various faults. Normally, this feeling is what we term depression, where nothing can ever be good enough for us.

So how is this feeling of boredom connected to notions of reason and truth? The connecting factor is that of evaluative judgement: In both cases of boredom, we evaluate the world to be a certain way, and if you believed in Nyaya epistemology, the evaluation would be true if it matches the actual state of the world. In this cognitive approach to truth (cognitive because each case of true knowledge consists of a cognition that either matches or does not match the object being cognized), which, by the way, is a hallmark of the Nyaya epistemology, boredom 1 is true and boredom 2 is false.

Now that one thinks about it, how is any judgement of boredom different, in principle, from the classical example in Indian philosophy, of a rope being seen as a rope (true) or a rope being seen as a snake (false). I am not a Nyaya scholar by any means, but it would seem to me that according to the Nyaya point of view, where epistemology rests on true and false cognitions, an affective judgment is as likely to be knowledge as a rational judgement. So why make this false dichotomy between emotion and reason? Furthermore, according to the way I read the Naiyayika’s, truth or falsehood is related to action. Therefore, the traditional western conception of truth being an abstract relation between propositions and states of the world is also called into question.

It seems to me that Nyaya philosophy, which is about two thousand years old, and supposedly from a mystical, non rational culture, has insights into the relationship between emotion and reason that are compatible with the latest developments in cognitive science, i.e., embodied cognitive science. Strange isn’t it? Not really.

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