Have you ever wondered why Gene Roddenberry made James T. Kirk the captain of the Enterprise and not Mr. Spock? Wouldn’t someone less susceptible to their emotions make better decisions and therefore be a better leader?

Some people, sure think so.

Thanks to a French philosopher named René Descartes and some bros like Plato and Emmanuel Kant, roughly 400 years of science has poo pooed the role of emotions in a person’s true being. These rationalists believe that to obtain optimal results, you gotta kill the feelings.

Turns out nothing could be wronger.


“I zink, zerefore I am!” –René Descartes


Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist who literally wrote the book on #DescartesError, calls the belief that the best decision-making process is unencumbered by emotion, “high-reason view.” He also says it’s hooey, though in more scientific terms.

Damasio’s evidence can be summarized by the story of “Elliot,” a patient whose life went to hell in a hand basket because a tumor ate away the part of his brain that creates emotions.



Elliot should have been rationalists’ shining example. The removal of his frontal lobe had turned him into a real life Vulcan, intelligent but free from emotional interference. Instead, Elliot went from being a solid, salt-of-the-earth guy to suddenly incapable of making decisions. Even small ones. He could thoroughly list the pros and cons for each choice, but he couldn’t figure out which of the criteria were more important to him. He didn’t know if he felt more like eating pizza or burgers. He also couldn’t finish work projects, maintain a marriage, or realize he was being duped by a con-man.


“I actually can’t decide if you should live long OR prosper.” –Mr. Spock


So unless you’ve had your frontal lobe removed like Elliot, you can’t separate your feelings from thoughts no matter how much you worship science and reason.

It was a nice idea, but like haircuts that try to separate the business from the party it just don’t work.



Having our emotions connected to our thoughts helps us make important decisions, like who to marry, but it’s also why facts don’t change our minds. To offset this we must learn to think slow.

Knowing about #DescartesError is integral in understanding how your brain works because it can help you become wise. The Ancient Greeks weren’t wrong about everything.



Forget stuffing your emotions, pretending they don’t exist. (I’m looking at you, Mr. Spock!) If you want to command the Enterprise and lead us to a better society you’re going to need all of your humanity. This is step one.


Want to read more about your feeelings? Try this:



  1. Shaun Thomas Reply

    I don’t know who gave chemical weapons to Syria. I did something very uncomfortable and watched the vice doc. and recent videos. I can’t image my world with this evil. I don’t know how I would truly respond but I hope that it would be with poise and sober thought.

  2. Joseph Smoley Reply

    Here is a copy of Descartes Error in PDF format. https://bdgrdemocracy.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/descartes-error_antonio-damasio.pdf

    Also in my opinion if you are interested in “Descartes Error” you will need to read the whole book. Just as Cate states “Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist who literally wrote the book on #DescartesError” I believe the whole book ties everything together, so that you have a solid understanding of the Error 🙂 There is a small section at the end of the book that tries to explain the Error. And if you jumped ahead and just read that section you would have missed all the excellent context which leads you up to that point.

    Here is a link to an LSU student that wrote notes on the book. http://www.protevi.com/john/Morality/Descartes_Error.pdf

    The notes helped me clarify some of the concepts used throughout the book. And just in general they seemed worth reading.

    Also Cate i like the plug for DK’s “System 2” thinking 🙂 If anyone has his books (thinking fast & slow or Judment under uncertainty) in pdf I would love to get a copy.


    1. Cate Fogarty Post author Reply

      Thanks, Joseph! I will definitely check that out! I love when people build on each other’s ideas. Keep up the great work!

  3. Joseph Smoley Reply

    Cate I just listened to your MMA podcast, I didn’t realize this was a knowledge bomb. It is an awesome knowledge bomb and compacts a lot knowledge into a small explosive 🙂 If anyone reads my opinion above, please know I was not making a suggestion that the reading the whole book is required to understand Cate’s bomb and or Descrates Error. If you have spare time I recommend reading the book along with Cate’s bomb. If you are hard pressed for time enjoy Cate’s awesome bomb.


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