René Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician and scientist. He is considered the father of analytical geometry, the father of Western philosophy and was generally a bad ass dude.
His influence in the realm of science and mathematics can still be seen today and his work is studied in many universities. He is most famous for saying:
“I think, therefore I am.”
Descartes also thought that the mind and the body were completely separate, that the mind operated through conscious reasoning, unaffected by any outside influences, such as emotion.
Antonio Damasio is a neuroscientist and university professor. He is the David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience, Psychology and Philosophy at USC and a whole bunch of other sciency things. In his book Descartes’ Error, he lays out the somatic marker hypothesis which states that our emotions and thinking are always linked and in many cases our thinking is actually driven by our emotions.
Third on our list of bad asses is Jonathan Haidt, he is a social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at NYU’s Stern School of Business. Haidt argues that in many cases emotions precede thought and that thought is often a rationalization of the emotional state. To illustrate this he came up with the elephant and rider metaphor.
In this metaphor, Haidt states that the human mind is like a rider sitting on top of an elephant. The rider represents the rational mind; it is analytical, strategizes, thinks long term and carefully plans. The elephant is our emotional mind; it is fast, responsive, passionate, reckless and motivated. Sometimes they work in accordance, but often, the elephant is stampeding out of control while the rider tries its best to steer it away from causing damage. You may have experienced this when you say things you later regret in an argument, have a second piece of cake when you know you shouldn’t, put off a project until tomorrow or give someone the finger in traffic.
These behaviors can cause turmoil in the modern world but historically the elephant isn’t all bad. Our elephant is the reason we are here; it’s our elephant that keeps us away from snakes and things that go bump in the night. Our elephant is where we also get feelings like loyalty, respect, passion and maybe even love. In this metaphor, the elephant and rider…thinking and feeling…are always linked and often, it is the elephant that drives the bus.
So with all that said it is important to recognize how ingrained Descartes’ Error is into Western culture. That a cool, calm and collected person behaves “rationally” and acting irrational or emotional somehow has a negative and, dare I say it, feminine connotation are ideas that wrongly resonate in our society. The reality is, most of the time, all of our behavior is rooted in our emotions. In Mixed Mental Arts, we like to call them our feeeeeelings…and the more e’s you see, the stronger they are.
Rene Descartes was a bad ass dude; there is no arguing his impact on humanity. However, Damasio and Haidt have presented evidence that shows us that thinking and feeling are always linked. Descartes will always have his significant contributions—he gave us one of the most important and famous quotes in modern Western thought. However, Damasio and Haidt have taught us what an important philosopher Morris Albert was as well.
This is the Orange Belt of Mixed Mental Arts.
- Can you see that thinking and feelings are always linked?
- Are you ready to discover the instances during which you are rationalizing your feelings with your thinking?
- Do you want to learn and understand both your elephant and your rider?
If you answered yes to these questions then you are ready to put it on and explore how your feeeeeeelings affect your thinking.
Wear it in good health.