Think. Act. Do. Feel? : On the relationship between knowledge and emotion
I’ve decided to write on a topic preeminently philosophical, but also psychological, religious, phenomenological, and much else. It has the two-faced caricature, prima facie, of being on the one side either too complex for discussion, or on the other, as some might critically contest, too mundane to warrant discussion. But I will venture into these murky waters nonetheless, and hopefully many informants will mean better navigation. So here it is, with all of its existential significance: How does information, upon being received, affect a person? How do ‘facts’ become internalized, appropriated, given a “home to roost” (as Hannah Arendt puts it) within us, so that they can then be translated in all of their meaningfulness into practice that makes a difference?
I’ve been interested in the idea of character, lately (with much credit due to reading Arendt). The notion that thinking about things creates change internally is simple yet profound. But I want to go deeper than thought. I want to ask about the evocative power of story, of the affect facts and stories have on our hearts (for do we not all have a sense of what we mean when we use the word ‘heart’ instead of ‘mind’?). Let’s provisionally call ‘heart’ that in which our emotions dwell and flow from. I find this discussion particularly intriguing because it is one in which anyone can participate; all one has to do is reflect on their own experience (that is not to say that secondary sources wouldn’t be appreciated here, too, but just to say that personal experience is most important in this case and makes the discussion accessible to all).
Here is an example of my own. When I hear a fact, this is what a process I go through might look like: (1) I stop and think about it; I repeat it to myself, just to let it sink in. (2) I allow it time to move something in me. (3) If I am emotionally moved to “do something about it,” I then think about what I can conceivably accomplish. (4a) I will either feel overwhelmed by the thought of getting involved or discouraged that it won’t amount to much, or (4b) I will feel empowered and become determined to make a conscious and committed change in my life that will at least be “doing my part.” But in almost all of these steps, emotion, or what French phenomenologist Michel Henry calls ‘affectivity’ plays a central role in my move either toward action or resignation.
In this regard, how far can philosophy or a religious message go in participating in the concrete dilemmas of our world if it only appeals to our reason? But the ‘heart’ and the ‘heart’ are never so separate from one another. What for you reaches your affect the most?