Emotional satisfaction

by , under Me, Newest thoughts

“A theory doesn’t have to be emotionally satisfying to be true.”

Scientists I’ve asked invariably and intuitively agree with this statement without thinking about it. But let’s examine what this actually means.

A theory is:

“an idea or set of ideas that is intended to explain facts or events”

So, can you explain something without appealing to emotions? This, to me, is quite like asking “can you use words without meaning?” Which is itself a tautology (true by definition), because the word “word” is defined:

“a sound or combination of sounds that has a meaning and is spoken or written”

When you make sounds without meaning they aren’t words, they’re just gibberish. The meaning is what makes the word a word.

Similarly, an explanation can never entirely lack meaning. Without an emotional charge, or a symbolic representation, a logical statement is meaningless. If you do not see “1” as being a single thing and “2” as being a combination of single things “1+1=2” is just lines printed on paper — it has no explanatory power.

The verb “to see” is highly relevant here, because “to explain” means:

“make (an idea, situation, or problem) clear to someone by describing it in more detail or revealing relevant facts or ideas”

When you make something clear or reveal relevant facts you are altering optical properties. You are changing how those things and facts appear.

This is vital because vision is a metaphor that combines our logic and emotion. Logic provides structure and emotion provides meaning, but vision combines the two to create a scene or a context — a mental space.

And we exist solely within this space and within each other’s spaces. Theories are intended to bring clarity to these spaces: to structure another person’s vision so that they can see a new meaning. Scientists all use this fact to their advantage. By charting, drawing, and graphing out theories, hypotheses, and results they ensure that the logical structure being built contains some meaning; some emotional satisfaction.

I see “a theory doesn’t have to be emotionally satisfying to be true” as:

“a theory doesn’t have to have meaning to be explanatory.”

When stated this way the phrase becomes a contradiction, because without meaning there can be no explanation.

Up to this point I have been talking about scientists and theories, and therefore, science. But if science attempts to be logical to the point of shunning emotional satisfaction, then the opposite is religion.

I personally have never been able to think or discuss religion without confrontation. As stated in my earlier posts, I am logical to a fault. I could not hear an explanation of religious beliefs without immediately jumping to “there is a better explanation for what you’re talking about.”

But I now see how religion takes explanation to its emotional extreme in the same way that science takes explanation to its logical extreme.

If scientific theories don’t have to be emotionally satisfying then religious beliefs don’t have to be logically satisfying. And very structured, logical people like me find that more than unappealing: it is dangerous. But extremes are dangerous no matter what direction they lean. Emotion without logic is aimless passion, but logic without emotion is meaningless explanation. In other words, religion leads to uninformed thought, science leads to uninformed behavior.

Of course both organizational schemas (religion and science) have logical and emotional aspects. Science is attempting to explain everything, or create objectivity from subjectivity. Religion is attempting to feel God, or create subjectivity from objectivity. Both are explanatory and meaningful, but they both lose functional power when they argue with each other.

Science asks: is objective explanation a goal that can be achieved?
Religion asks: is subjective experience a feeling that can be shared?

And both answer:

“…I hope…”

  1. Matthew Waas

    Love it. But allow me to be sandpaper.

    “logic without emotion is meaningless explanation”

    Only in the way you have framed it. Color is a result of differing wavelengths of light. An emotionally unsatisfying explanation for the sensations we feel due to color, though still accurate and far from ‘meaningless’.

    “Science is attempting to explain everything, or create objectivity from subjectivity”

    Any scientist with this attitude lacks a philosophical understanding of the nature of science.

    “science leads to uninformed behavior”

    I appreciate the symmetry you were going for but perhaps ‘dispassioned’ is a more precise word.

    • Me

      Who couldn’t use a good sandpapering…

      Let’s talk about your first point in person, because I could use some clarification.

      As far as your second point, I absolutely agree. But I wrote this post after posing the initial questions to many scientists in my department… and only a few were capable of making it to the ‘philosophical nature’ of science. And even the ones who made it that far still weren’t capable of admitting that it is an unattainable goal. What I think I’m trying to say is that science is currently failing because it is attempting to attain objectivity, which of course, entirely prevents it from being anywhere near objective…

      And your third point is well taken (thinking a bit too hard about the Nazis lol).
      Would you be more comfortable with this:
      “religion leads to uninformed thought, science leads to uninformed feeling.”


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