The logic of emotion

We tend to think of emotion as inherently irrational, and thinking as holding the scope for logic and reason. However, emotion is basically body chemistry. It is a series of chemical events in response to whatever’s going on and if we knew all the details, we could no doubt express emotion as chemical equations.

Many things impact on our emotions – our blood sugar, circadian rhythms, exposure to sunlight, our physical health, events we experience etc and of course what we think about those experiences. There’s a straightforwardness to this. A person who has gone too long without food, a person who is too cold and wet, will feel lousy.

However, rather than taking our emotions at face value, and dealing with them, we tend to get our minds involved. Often, the impulse is to blame someone else and take out negative feelings on them. The low blood sugar becomes ‘you never listen to me’ or somesuch. Good experiences can leave us with all kinds of crazy stories about worth, meaning, and entitlement.

Unlike our emotions, our minds are capable of incredible, creative irrationality. We can imagine and wonder. We look for explanations, patterns, causes, and we can be persuaded that correlation is causality. We can be persuaded of all kinds of illogical, unreasonable, unsubstantiated things. By way of evidence for this, I offer you social media, fake news, and rather a large percentage of religious activity. We think our minds are rational, but we’re persuaded by emotive fact bending, by blame and shame, hate and anger, the desire to get one back against some imagined infringement. We don’t think logically.

Emotions are like weather systems – not always good, or useful, but a physical reality caused by complex influences. There is a logic to them. We have the means to change our internal weather, and the choice of what meaning to apply to it. If we treat our emotions like weather, we can take them seriously (sun hat or wellies today?) while recognising that none of them are permanent. They are the truth of our body existing in the world, they are not inclined to lie to us, although we can develop weird feedback loops if the mind gets too involved.

Treat the mind as something with the potential for irrationality, and things change. The assumption that an apparent line of logic proves something, becomes a good deal less convincing. The interplay between mind and emotion becomes more visible. If we ignore what our emotions are trying to tell us and let our minds make up explanatory stories, we can end up in all kinds of muddles.

Sometimes, it’s just indigestion. Sometimes it’s just that there hasn’t been enough sun lately.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “The logic of emotion

  • Fny

    For me it has been important to realize that I can not trust my emotions at all when having a depressive episode. All this talk about following ones emotions just does not work right then, which I think many would do good to realize.

    • Nimue Brown

      Yes, at some point I want to get into the way anxiety and depression happen, and then we try to attach meaning to them to make them make sense because that’s a whole heap of trouble, and so easily done. Still working on the mechanics. If I treat those emotions like I would a cold, or the flu, I can respect them and take them seriously while having them be something that is happening to me, not something I am, if that makes sense?

      • Fny

        It does, and that is a very important distinction. My preferred method is to wait out the storm rather than try to figure it out right then – because right then I know that any conclusions I reach wont be trustworthy. First climb out of the hole, then I can start checking if I read the map right – down the hole there isn’t enough light to see what it actually says.

  • Nimue Brown

    Yes indeed, and the importance of being able to identify the hole as a hole, rather than any other kind of thing, like failure, or genuinely having no options… It’s a hole, and that is the extent of its meaning.

  • The Secret Poetess

    Thought provoking article, thank you. Look forward to more!

  • Bookworm

    Thanks for this article, makes so much sense to me. I find as well the more stressed I am the more physical pain I feel, especially from my back ( old injuries) which then causes more stress and then more pain.
    The one positive I’ve learnt is that I now recognize when I’m heading for this downward spiral and I then need to reconnect with my inner self by conscious relaxation etc.

    • Nimue Brown

      stress causes tension which causes and/or increases pain – there is no separation between emotion and body… as a culture we just don’t take stress seriously enough. it has ghastly consequences.

  • rowansong

    I love the perspective you have presented here, beautifully expressed. I have always felt emotions very deeply and over time have come to recognise that those emotions while often transitory, can also be very much entwined with my intuition when dealing with situations or people…what I think of as ‘body wisdom’…the ‘gut feeling’, the sudden headache that might come with feelings of sadness or anxiety, or an opening of the heart that comes with a sense of upliftment, positive optimism, joy …as you said, our emotions are so connected to our bodies.

    My mind likes to try and rationalise those sensations away but every time I have ignored it, without fail, I have found that the ‘irrational’ emotion was spot on, sensing something that my mind could not perceive in a logical way and so dismissed as not being there at all. With an awareness that sometimes my buttons may be getting pressed or other factors may be involved that might lead me to project, I have come to trust my emotions when assessing situations and prospects even if I have no way to ‘rationally’ justify it.

    To many people that makes me ‘irrational’, as if a permission is needed to validate emotion whereas a thought is often seen as something that is inherently more acceptable. I think this is possibly why toxic ideologies manage to get footholds in society…they sell hatred, fear, rage but because those projected emotions are presented as logical thinking (however distorted) they become an ‘ideology’ or ‘political movement’ and are validated. Someone in the street expressing those exact same emotions in a raw way, owning them and releasing them through their body, will probably attract the attention of law enforcement and mental health professionals. Within this one society, such emotions can be viewed as either a valid route to power or as a disease…no wonder our population has such a confused relationship with this aspect of self.

    Anyway, before I ramble on all day, thank you for this article. It has given me a lot to think about 🙂

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