Saturday, January 15, 2011

Logic vs. Emotion-Why Both Are Necessary

I recently read Logicomix, a comic book about the famous philosopher, atheist, and logician Bertrand Russell. First of all, I have to say that it's an awesome book, even for those who have no idea who Russell is or hate math. It's a comic book. About logic. So fucking awesome. Anyway, one of the main themes (if not the main) is the struggle between logic and emotion, or rather, the rational part of the human brain vs. the not so rational and impulsive part. The book details Russell's life and how his goal in life was to know the truth. He became a logician and his whole life was dedicated to his career, in such a manner that if you look at his personal life, you can see how he kinda failed at personal relationships (his first wife left him, he couldn't deal with his polyamorous second wife, and then he married a third time). The book also deals with other logicians in Russell's time and their obsession with logic, truth, and knowledge (to the extent that their personal lives crumbled). I was amazed to find out that many of the men described in the book died tragically: Georg Cantor died in the mental asylum in which he had been forcefully interned; Gottlob Frege became increasingly paranoid in his old age and started writing treatises that were anti-Jewish, even suggesting "final solutions" to the "Jewish problem"; Kurt Godel died of starvation in the hospital because he became paranoid the staff was trying to poison him; David Hilbert ostracized his son when it was discovered he was schizophrenic and refused to visit him in the hospital until he died; and Alan Turing killed himself (but that was mostly because he was depressed since he was forcefully put on estrogens because he was a homosexual).

Why did all of these incredible mathematicians, men who were geniuses and who were supposed to be quite sound in intellectuality have such unsuccessful personal lives?

I have a feeling it's because they were so obsessed with their pursuit of logic, a way to completely deny the animalistic and emotional aspects of human life that when they were faced with it, they crumbled under the pressure. Because in reality, we are human. We are not machines. We have emotions and we are irrational sometimes. We have the ability to think and to be rational but we are, in essence, irrational beings. And that's totally okay.

There are some people who try to deny emotion. I'm one of those people. For the longest of times, I believed that emotion was a weakness, that if you showed you what you felt, that if you let down the walls and let people in, that if you cried, you were a failure and you weren't strong enough. I'm still struggling with letting people in, with not snubbing my nose at those who cry. I'm still struggling to learn empathy for those who are not as strange as me and I'm learning to actually be human. The thing is, emotion is good. Logic is also good. There are situations in which if you only listen to your heart, you're going to come out of the situation badly. You have to use your head sometimes and keep your heart at bay. There are some situations in which logic has no place in your decision and it's purely an emotional matter. But most situations deal with both the rational and irrational sides of you. You have to weigh the results and see which one is better, but at the same time you have to see which one will be better for you emotionally.

To be successful in life, one must be successful in all parts, not only in one's career. If you're a brilliant mathematician, that doesn't mean you are also brilliant with people or that you have a high self-esteem. If you're kind and help others and are the most intuitive, altruistic person in the world, it doesn't mean that you're intelligent. Everyone has the ability to be both, really. It's quite rare to be the latter, I've found, but there are so many who are brilliant intellectually and have this phobia of emotion. It's really not that bad. Having a good personal life, being able to interact with others, acting out sometimes, being able to handle a situation with maturity and with care are what makes us beautiful and truly human. Completely ignoring that other side of us doesn't make us stronger, it only makes us incomplete and weak.

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