Tuesday, June 20, 2006

If you're happy and you know it.

One of the worst arguments for anything is based on one’s emotions. For instance: “I know that God is real because he makes me happy. If you felt what I felt you would know he was real.”

One could, if they wished, simply assume that a person is lying. And in some cases they would be lying. But often they are not. But that still doesn’t prove anything and let me illustrate why with this story.

Some time in the past I’ve lived in some rather dangerous places. I remember having to open bags going into shopping malls as security was attempting to make sure you didn’t bring a bomb in. I’ve lived places where such things were not entirely uncommon at all and where your chances of being shot were relatively high. Now one took precautions.

That meant bars inside the windows of the house. And another set on the outside. That mean fences, security cameras, security gates on the doors. And in spite of such measures people were still attacked and killed. I personally went through two such attacks and was shot at on one occasion. So these were things you worried about.

Now one night I might be on side of the house and thought I heard a noise. Nothing more. What is my primary emotional response to it? Fear. And we all react with fear in some pretty typical ways. Our hearts beat rapidly, our body is flooded with hormones (an old evolutionary response to prepare us to fight or flee), we may tremble, etc. That fear is very real.

I’ve been through it numerous times. Noise followed by fear. Most of the time it was nothing. That is I felt the fear whether there was someone there or not. My emotions are based on what I believe to be real and not what is real.

In fact on the two occasions when I actually went through such attacks I did not feel any fear leading up to them. That was because I didn’t believe an attack was eminent. Suddenly there are men and I’m being shot at. They then flee and I’m getting the police for help. The level of fear in that experience was actually very low because I had no anticipation of the event, the attempt to kill me was itself over in a few seconds with the gunmen fleeing and relatively soon the police were there. My emotions told me nothing. They are terribly unreliable.

Emotions are entirely based on what we believe and our beliefs need not be accurate to elicit an emotional response. I hear the noise and think there could be someone ready to attack. I feel fear but inaccurately. Other times I feel safe and happy and I’m suddenly attacked. In both cases the emotions I experienced were based on false beliefs that I held at the time, or at the very least entertained at the time.

Now the emotional religionists might argue that the reason I felt fear is that sometimes there is a threat. I knew that people were killed by gunmen. I knew I had been attacked once and could be attacked again. So when I heard the noise my emotional response, while inaccurate, was based on prior actual experience. The problem with that is that the same thing happens even when there is no actual experience on which to base it.

In fact we can have an emotional response to something which we know is false. If I watch the film It’s My Party I can’t get through it without crying. I’ve tried. I can’t do it. I know it is pretend. But I respond to it emotionally.

Again the emotionalist might argue: “But in that case while you know that specific case is false you know of similar cases that are true or can be true. So your emotional response is still an accurate means of finding truth."

But then I think of a television show I watched one night. It was late. I was home alone and caught this old film in the middle of the tale. It intrigued me and I watched it. It was about the supernatural and about things which I most assuredly do not believe. It encompassed a combination of time travel and ghosts, neither of which I’m inclined to accept. The first I think impossible and the second unlikely.

But the plot put goose bumps on my arm and my heart raced with fear any way. I absolutely knew this was fiction. I also had no prior or similar experience which could bring about this emotional reaction. I also never heard of one legitimate case where this happened to someone else. It was, and still is, by all my assumptions entirely fictional without any chance of being true. And yet I still reacted to it emotionally. My emotionally response to the situation was not consistent with the facts. That happens all the times.

It is for this reason that people can testify in court as to what they saw but not what they felt? “Oh, your honor, I feel the person is guilty though I have no direct evidence,” would be considered highly inappropriate.

In fact the religionists who resort to the feel good theory of proving it/he/him/she exists constantly dismiss this sort of thing all the time. Scientologists are crazy people, perhaps literally. But they can tell you how much better they now feel that are following the nonsense of L. Ron Hubbard. The born again fanatic immediately dismisses that emotional response as false, a lie, invalid, etc. Chances are the response was just as real as that felt by the born again Christian and for the same reason.

What you believe can have a powerful impact on your emotions. So what do your emotions prove? Well, only that you held beliefs which you believed to be good. They say nothing about whether the beliefs are true. Give a room full of people a sugar pill and tell them it is a new wonder drug that improves one's energy and some of them will report they felt much better shortly after taking it. Does that mean the wonder pill exists?

Not at all. Tell me what you feel and I may learn some things about what you believe or how you think. But I don’t know anything about the truth.

By the way, you see the people in the picture. Look happy? Look excited? Come across to you as happy clappies praising Jesus? They sure do. But apparently they are just celebrating the Solstice.


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