Knowledge Without Emotion

34098dgsThis is a very old text that I wrote in secondary school. I was received quite well then and is a bit nostalgic for me as it is probably my first attempt at writing in philosophy. Its content is not to be taken too seriously, but I still think it’s an interesting subject. The big question of the text is: “Can there be knowledge without emotion?”

Emotions can be seen as the internal, mental condition of one’s mind in response to external, physical happenings: Here an outside impulse triggers a feeling, which often results in a reaction as well. Seeing a bus on the street dangerously come near me, is such an external circumstance, on which I respond by feeling afraid. This post will deal with these emotions as condition and consider a possibility of their impact on the acquisition of knowledge: ‘Does the joy of the reunion with a long lost friend, the anger as my nose is beaten or motivation, enthusiasm or compassion help me gather knowledge?’, is what I want to discuss in this post.

My perception on the quotation’s vision is that data alone cannot produce knowledge. If I look on my watch I see three watch-hands with a common place of attachment in the middle. This can be regarded as data. To possess knowledge about my watch I would have to understand the meaning of its components, that it indicates time in units of hours and minutes et cetera. As well as cognition of a clock, the understanding of a decision or a circumstance is knowledge. According to the quotation emotions must be required along that process of acquiring data and understanding it. In this essay I want to consider three ways in which this requisite could appear: First: There is an emotional response to a circumstance, which triggers the wish to collect data in the first place, then understood without emotions. For instance looking at the watch triggers curiosity, leading to investigation. Second: After data has been collected there is some sort of emotional response to it, which helps in the process of understanding. Third: Data is collected through emotions as way of knowing.

Microeconomics is a possible example of the first thesis where decisions are to be understood. There we often speak of motivation. Supposing I have the emotional desire to buy a Mac-Laptop. There is a will to buy, a feeling that demands the potential consumer to decide in favour of the Computer. Out from this emotion I might start searching for arguments in favour of buying, which I might not have found without motivation to search: A fancy Computer symbolises wealth and may in the long run lead to a higher status for me with my friends. However, there is also fear of not being able to pay for it or having to sacrifice other goods in order to pay for it. This emotional condition will trigger the process of seeing costs as well, thus in the end making a considerate decision and acquiring knowledge about the Mac.

There could be a relationship between the knower and knowledge even more radical: Without motivation one may not see the need for acquiring data at all. This way of how learning might function as with “Pavlov’s Dog” is often referred to in today’s education. Pedagogues around the world quote Professor Gerald Hüther, neurobiologist at the University of Göttingen: “Learning must go under the kid’s skin.”(Prof Gerald Hüther: Focus-Schule Nr 6 (2005) “Gebt den Kindern ihre Freiräume!”) I much experienced in primary school that only if I was exited about what I was to know, I would know it in the end. And what is not remembered is obviously not gained as knowledge.

This biological perspective could also be used as example of the second thesis, which was that after data has been collected, emotions help to understand it, thus make it knowledge: Without an emotional response to new information, the brain cannot associate with it. It then seems highly unlikely our cortex would chose to assimilate into our memory a particular information form the mass of data available to our senses. An example to explain this possibility could be me in a museum. There are dozens of exhibits in it and far more knowledge than can be acquired quickly. Those exhibits I find funny, scary or strange are going to be remembered, which is an indicator that emotions may help pick things to understand from the mass of data – making some information mine as stated in the question. Still, it is questionable whether or not this relationship is imperative.

All the knowledge spoken of until now was knowledge that wants to be certain. This means that the aim of its acquisition is to widen the pool of what is known like in the natural science or mathematics. Although the emotions which led to the acquisition of “c2 = a2 – b2” may change over time, the knowledge/formula itself remains the same. Also it will evidently be constant even if we are to later change our feelings about it. Yet, there is also the knowledge that changes with emotion, which is to be discussed in the third thesis: knowledge acquired through emotions as a way of knowing.

Today’s ethics for example rely on compassion for one another, resulting in the need of finding acceptable parameters for decisions made in a society, which hurt the least members. There logic is often no good substitute for emotions: Many wars, for instance, were absolutely “reasonable” and meant to bring economic and politic advantages to a certain ethnic or political formation. But in spite of the logic behind it, the slaughter of thousands is wrong from a humanistic or enlightened perspective – a truth only visible through the eyes of compassion and companionship. Albert Schweitzer, Blessed Theresa of Calcutta and many others throughout history helped reveal that truth and set ethical standards. Nevertheless, this knowledge does change with humanity’s perception of what is right and wrong.

Also the decision whether I should be allowed going to a disco-night at the age of 17 needs, as well as logical argumentation, the intuition and trust of my parents in me. Because of the dangers it might be illogical to allow it, however, it may also be essential for the my development through self-made experiences. Emotions may represent the force of the knowledge here. Like in the example of the Mac, whilst weighting costs and benefits against another, emotional motivations help decide. However, looking at what felt like the right solution may only partly help understand a decision, which is my requirement for it to be knowledge as said in the second paragraph.

Nevertheless, as well as the understanding of decisions emotions may reveal greater truths about ourselves as well as the environment we live in explain other areas of knowledge as in uncovering mood, suppressed wishes or dreams which are usually considered ungraspable by reason, because of their lack of predictability and accountability. Emotions may give clues about truths greater then or outside logic. Simply because there might be something like that, Dr Faustus is selling his soul to the devil. Reason enough not to consider emotions as equal or opposite to logic.

Yet, it appears emotions sometimes also challenge knowledge normally acquired through reasoning, for example while we try to make decisions through emotions: An example could be the settlement of an IB student not to attend the ToK class early in the morning. If he is not ill, logic dictates him to go: Not only is it an IB requirement, meaning that if he does not go his standard of living will be significantly lower in the long run; but also active participation will result in better thinking and communication skills. Despite those facts, the fatigue and listlessness won. Also it can be observed that the opinion within a couple about the partner, immediately changes when braking up. In both cases, blind trust in emotions as way of knowing might not bring the justification imperatively needed to produce valid knowledge of whether it is right to stay in bed, or the partner’s personality.

All theses, however, seem unlikely: Supposing knowledge is true, justifiable belief, there are examples where there is no need for emotions. A mathematician for instance, although perhaps emotionally attached to his subject, does not directly require emotions in the process of enhancing mathematic assumptions to knowledge. Merely logic is sufficient to do that. Best example is the CRAY T90, a computer designed to solve extraordinary tasks such as retrieving new prime numbers. Those undoubtedly contribute to mathematical knowledge, although CRAY T90 certainly does not feel the force of that knowledge.

In Conclusion I believe to be able to say that there is no knowledge without emotions. Although CRAY T90 appears to prove otherwise there is a flaw in the logic of his example: The knowledge a machine acquires is not yet “ours” and a scientist would still need to form an association with the data on the screen. Aside from the thoughts expressed in this essay there are many other implications to the quotation. However, I conclude that there must be an imperative relationship between emotion and knowledge while using my definitions of these two terms.

Knowledge and Emotion (pdf)