Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Heart and Ego

Walking out some internal stuff. Friend Steve Barnes put something up on FB:
"If your philosophy of life, politics, or humanity depends upon the average person being inferior to you, or other groups defined by race, religion, or sexual orientation being inferior to yours, it is safe to assume you are addressing reality through your ego rather than your heart."

I glitched on this hard. Not about the idea that there is something wrong with you if you look down on others. There is. The universe is pretty big and you are pretty small and if you need to look down on anyone, it is to stave off the fear that 50% of the universe, at least, is looking down on you.

The part I glitched on was the artificial duality of "ego" and "heart". And the implication that one was good-- heart-- and the other, ego, was bad. The monkey brain in ConCom is a functional definition of the colloquial term ego, so I agree that ego is not a good decision-making base. But also in the book, I point out that when you feel anything-- hate, anger or even surety-- you are physically incapable of making a good decision. There is a reason why doctors are not supposed to operate on their own children. Emotional, passionate people make mistakes. They are frequently wrong. And the power of emotion makes them deny it, even when things go horribly wrong. Then they double-down on the stupid.

Heart or ego? What about reason? Heart and ego are both aspects of the monkey brain. Can we get our human brain into the equation?

"If your philosophy of life, politics, or humanity depends upon the average person being inferior to you, or other groups defined by race, religion, or sexual orientation being inferior to yours, it is safe to assume you are addressing reality through your ego rather than your heart.

Here's the deal. Feeling superior to others makes you feel good. That's the reward for the operant conditioning. BUT feeling good, following your heart... is the exact same thing. Both center on feelings. At first glance, one appears more self-centered than the other but really, not so much. Either option is pure monkey brain, manipulating feelings or tribal dynamics.

A lot of the glitch is in how I see the world acting today. In my mind, heart is "feelings." And I have a very bad reaction when feelings trump facts. Peace protesters who set fires and loot. Freedom activists who block access to speakers they disagree with. It is physically impossible to be for free speech and anti the right of anyone else to speak. It is physically impossible to be for cultural equality and anti genital mutilation.

A philosophy of life, politics and humanity dependent on heart with no leavening of reason? This is where it goes: At the mob level, flipping cars and burning buildings is "free speech".  And simply pointing out the damage they do is to their own communities or that their acts are unlawful is "oppression." At the higher level (and this is Steve's heart + ego) this is Stalin's 30 million or more killed for an ideal. For the common good.

Steve mentioned that pure reason was a trap. I agree. Socialism, communism, fascicsm were all great thought experiments, largely  conducted by the extremely privileged who had no idea how economics or human nature actually worked (hmmm. Maybe not true. The demagogues understood human nature enough to get people to buy in, but either didn't understand or were ignorant of the  Freeloader Problem. Or they simply didn't care as long as they were in charge of defining the "common good.")

But reason, as I define it, is the ability to use your skills to look at the world, to create hypotheses. To test them.

What, instituting socialism didn't create an immediate paradise? Let's kill a million people, that should get things back on track... (Stalin's Great Purge. Look it up.) Whoah and it still failed? Let's try it here. My heart says the ideals should work...

Heart and pure reason are both traps, because they are entirely internal. Until and unless your feelings  and theories are tested in the real world, they're pretty much bullshit. Masturbation for your ego. And right there we tie all three together-- heart, ego and pure reason. As long as they stay internal, they are all traps.

Here is where I like reason more. Of course, it has to be honest reason, not ego. Heart has a tendency to ignore the world when the world contradicts feelings. 30 million killed for an ideal is heart. There's no logic in that. Mob action is all heart (it's easy to lose your sense of individuality--ego-- in a riot.)

Reason can look at a protest and say, "Shit, we just alienated everybody." Heart says, "That felt so powerful, we must have changed some minds."

If heart goes external, fine. It has to have skills in data gathering and assessment, (and, kudos to Steve, he's taken some positions, set the criteria-- like infant mortality rates-- and when the criteria changed in the wrong way he was willing to change his position*) but if your highest priority is compassion and you can look at the world and see that your ideals increased suffering and you change, then heart is a compass. It will show the way. If you can't see the suffering or refuse to acknowledge it or explain it away to preserve your feelings, if feeling right is more important than other people's pain or hunger... that's not compassion. That's just narcissistic heart. What Sherlock would call "mere sentimentality."

Strangely, if ego goes external, it also works. I ran across a really old (I think Italian) essay years back that explained why pride was one of the seven deadly sins, but vanity was a virtue. The two had always been synonymous to me. The essay said that pride was a sin because people who already thought they were all that and a bag of chips (paraphrasing, obviously) didn't care what other people thought, whereas vanity was all about what other people thought, so it was a great motivator to display the virtues valued by your group.

Same with ego. Narcissistic personalities think that everybody reveres them, and so treat others contemptuously. But people obsessed with earning that reverence have to work for it, and usually have to work for it in socially-approved ways. So, it's rare, but even ego outwardly directed and with feedback from the world, can be a compass.

*One of the reasons I can talk to Steve about anything. He can disagree honorably. It's a rare trait.


Tony said...

Some complementary thoughts: 1. Chapter 14 of "Co-Dependent No More" by Meloday Beattie is on Feelings. Have the feeling, identify it, accept it, deal with it by examining the thoughts that go with it. Then apply your moral code and decide "what, if anything, we want to do about the feeling and the accompanying thought." Whole book is worth reading.

2. For more on the effects of Communism: "Confucius Never Said" by Helen Raleigh, which is a first hand account of the Cultural Revolution in China and how 60 million people died (mostly from starvation) from 1959-1961. You can look it up.

Danpt said...

Fiction example: This reminds me of something written about a villain in one of Terry Pratchett's books (Small Gods); "...mind as a steel ball - nothing went in, and nothing came out".

Kai Jones said...

Feelings don't compel action. They are just data, and they are not always based on facts. (We can talk ourselves into believing anything is true because it feels right; that doesn't make it true.) Reason is the useful tool for decisionmaking.

But feelings are not in opposition to ego. Ego is built on feelings-I feel important, I feel ignored, these are both ego positions that externalize emotions.

Ugh, I want to express more here but the cognitive deficit is impeding me.

Maija said...

Oh, this talk will be a good one .. ;-)

Until then, where does the 'gut' sit all this? 'My gut says ..' Would that be feelings, or unarticulated reason?

And I think you are starting the discussion from the wrong place.

Kai Jones said...

Maija, I think "gut" is that ability to assess a situation or person and make a judgement below the level of conscious thought. It might be based on facts or emotions (emotions are a fact, after all, even if they are not based on facts). It might be echoes of past similar situations. In my life it is most often in opposition to what I think I should decide, and so I pay close attention to it.

Rory talks about how good we each are at reading other people-we can tell when the driver ahead of us is going to change lanes without signaling, we can tell when the person walking toward us on the sidewalk will swerve or walk into us. Sometimes it's called intuition.

Rory said...

Likely starting in the wrong place, Maija.
The point I was _trying_ to make was 1) that the ego/heart dichotomy was false, There is also reason and now gut, but also consensus and computer modeling and probably a hundred other ways to create philosophies of life.
and, 2) People using any of the paradigms have hurt others needlessly,

Maija said...

Too long for here, but it seems that saying 'this dichotomy is false' is somewhat meaningless. Labeling to justify behavior (heart good, ego bad) is a different argument, surely, than working from your assertion that decisions based on feelings are not to be trusted, and because both are not to be trusted they are in fact the same thing?

Ego (about self, and based on feelings regarding same in a social context - my definition), and Heart (about [perceived] connection to context and not necessarily about social standing - my definition) may not yield the same response to a situation. Are both based on feelings? Maybe .. Are both good places to make decisions from? Maybe/maybe not.

Your example of the surgeon working on their own children implies they might be at risk of making a wrong judgement due to their connection and feeling for them ... but just as easily may not make a wrong judgement at all, perhaps even making a better decision due the connection and 'feeling' they feel. They might even do a better job if driven by their ego (I can't have people say I let my kid die).
Maybe ..

So, I agree with the rationalization that using language after the fact can justify behavior we can live with by calling it 'heart', but the false dichotomy that you are trying to prove ... no, can't see it.

Maybe a better start place in my mind would be 'was the decision a good one? How would I make a better one'?

Sorry, messy. Better in conversation ...

Neil Bednar said...

There are so many cognitive biases that I'm pretty convinced humans almost never act based on reason. But then that's what makes us who we are. Why try to be something we're not?

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

I nave always found it interesting how repelled people are by people who can behave without significant emotional attachment. Labelling them inhuman... despite acting from a human brain operation.. yet so many of our... human.... behaviours are those that are found in our and come from our primate and older animal ancestors...
Also given that we can't make decisions without some form of emotional involvement.. we are in some ways cursed and will be stuck with degrees of pro and con...

Ben Howden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben Howden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben Howden said...

I think you alluded to a workable version of the duality asserted in the citation in your first paragraph: ego and heart are referring to ways of seeing, or to taking different perspectives.

Or lenses. ("... safe to say you're addressing reality *through*...", emphasis added.)

Ego lens concerns self importance and personal power to effect one's safety, comfort, avoidance of danger and of change.

Heart lens is of unity, togetherness, likeness, collectivity, commonality, humility; also service and contribution to the whole.

Ego here does not seem meant to refer to having a sense of individuality. Like "love", we use ego to mean significantly different things...

These lenses (or perspectives; or states; or modes) are not strictly cognitive versus emotional etc., but have cognitive, emotional and behavioural dimensions.

George Stokoe said...

Is it ok to post links in the comments Rory? (Please delete if not.) This movie review/article seems relevant to your blog, above.
" The Iowa housemates are not liberals, because they do not champion the liberal principle of tolerance, which is content-neutral, but only champion those viewpoints in which the content is broadly liberal/tolerant."
The implication of this article is, it's not about someone's specific social or political views. Social justice activists and conservative social thinkers for example love to bash each other for the other's lack of tolerance. (Especially on social media like Twitter, it seems everyone wants to get their retaliation in first.) But the article implies it's possible to be a bona fide right wing, or left wing, (or even, a traditional, middle-of-the-road) liberal.

Rory said...

George, the only comments I delete are the really crash commercial ones. The is fine. And a nice article. Politically, my main concern is that too many people think the government exists to solve problems and the creeping tendency to believe that includes all problems. It is a belief in direct opposition to classical liberalism (or, really any definition of liberalism).

George Stokoe said...

Thanks Rory!

Josh Kruschke said...


It's not an either or proposition, and I think the problems start when we treat life as if it is. That we must choose once and love with the consequeses ever after.

Our percetion of reality is not reality.

This why one of my life principles that I try to live my life by is "Results Matter," because ultimately how we check to see if our percetion is correct is in how well we can use it to predictive it is.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mr. Miller! Your posts are like taking Morpheus' red pill in "The Matrix." We need a clear mind to deal with reality.