In this blog post I shall talk about emotions and rationality. I shall explain why the ability to experience emotions can be beneficial and why complexity theory explains some aspects of trust. In this blog post I shall argue as if it were possible to fall in love (or to have, experience certain emotions) on purpose. You can interpret that as "You would choose to fall in love (etc.) in this situation if it were possible to do so". Alternatively you could take a genes perspective and ask why emotions benefit the passing on of your genes.
To act rationally at time X means to act in the way at time X which produces the best outcome over time (according to some notion of value).
The notion of value may take into account the feelings and motivations of others and therefore isn't necessarily what we would ordinarily call "selfish". I have defined the concept of rationality at a time X because it is less than clear how to define it in general (for reasons that should soon become clear).
(1) It is sometimes advantageous in a given circumstance to restrict ones future behaviour. Sometimes this is only effective if it can be done in a way that makes it clear to others that you have done so.
The classic example involves sirens and being tied to a mast.
Consider also this example: Bob runs a nuclear facility and Janet is an anti-nuclear activist. There is a train line that links the facility with its fuel supply. Janet wishes to block this off and Bob wishes to keep it operational.
Day one: Janet lies down on the tracks so that Bob cannot run his train to the docks (If Bob runs the train he will be guilty of murder).
Day two: Bob installs a device to make his train run automatically and informs Janet of this (Janet can lie on the tracks but this would just be suicide).
Day three: Janet ties herself to the tracks and informs Bob of this (If Bob starts the train up he is guilty of murder).
Twice in this exchange of tactics has it been the case that either Bob or Janet achieved an advantage by restricting their future ability to choose.
This is interesting because emotions can be seen as such a type of restriction. The ability to love (and the ability to do so recognisably) can significantly help in forging relationships. A potential partner knows that because you are in love with them you are much less capable of running off with someone else just because they're more attractive or have more gadgets. Someone who can't love (or can't love in a way that is recognisable) is at a disadvantage in finding a partner and may not be able to find one at all. Similar arguments can be made for the value of anger, jealousy, friendship and platonic love.
(2) Not all options that are available to an individual will require the same mental effort to achieve (and some may be beyond the capacity of even the most gifted of actors).
For emotions like love and anger to work to your benefit it must be the case that others around you realise that you experience them or will experience them in certain conditions (having an emotion is like binding yourself so you cannot do certain things or those things are hard for you to do). One might object that all someones needs to do is lie (or act) and they can get away with the benefits of emotions without the disadvantages. This way of arguing assumes that it is as easy (or nearly as easy) to lie convincingly as it is to tell the truth. This simply is not the case. It is hard to pretend you love someone when in fact you don't. It takes only a little effort to act as if you love someone for a couple of hours but to act as if you love someone 24/7 for many months is very hard (although possible). Love makes sense because it is often possible to tell if someone loves you (or have a reasonable idea) and it is hard to convincingly fake.
Essentially to understand how emotions and rationality can coexist one must understand (1) and (2).
(3) Acting rationally at time X may preclude the ability to act entirely rationally at a later time Y.
In the examples above a benefit was obtained by (at least naively speaking) preventing oneself from behaving rationally in the future. This appears to show that a rational being (if capable of modifying its mind) is not a stable entity. This doesn't show that rationality is impossible but it does mean that one must be careful when discussing rationality not to assume that it is always rational to maintain ones rationality.
So let us consider some ways of squaring rationality with emotions (and other acts of future bondage):
(A) We could view the emotions as being external to the self and regard the experience of ones emotions as like a group of friends helping you achieve want it is you want despite yourself (by various social tactics). This is problematic for anyone who believes emotions to be a fundamental part of human (or other) consciousness.
(B) We could view the emotions as being part of your desires and drives and thus see the individual who listens to their emotions (and anticipates future emotions) as entirely rational. As almost any 'irrational' action could be described as an emotion this viewpoint would be too inclusive allowing almost any individual to be considered to behave rationally.
(C) We could acknowledge that rationality isn't necessarily stable but then argue that in practise its rarely a good idea to lose significant portions of your rationality. One could regard rationality like democracy. A democracy can decide to cease to be a democracy but it is still very unwise to do so in most ordinary circumstances. Sometimes democracies give up democratic rights temporarily or put restrictions on them but these actions should only be considered in the direst of circumstances.
A good analogy is the following: People have been found who have died through thirst who never the less had a water bottle about their person. What often occurs here is that the person decides to eek out their water supply a bit at a time. As a result they become very thirsty and start to become delusional. When they've become delusional they forget or disregard the existence of their water bottle and die of thirst. It is almost always better to drink the water if you're thirsty even if this means it runs out sooner. This way you keep you sanity as long as possible.
Returning to democratic organisations, emotions are more like governmental oversight committees. They can be overruled but only at a cost to the government (sometimes a big cost). They inhibit the governments ability to make decisions in the here and now (as principles like liberty, fairness and constitutionality must be taken into account) but it can make sense for a government to form the oversight committees as this allows people to trust the government more than would otherwise be possible.