In a prior post (“Is The President’s Reason For Taxing The Wealthy Moral?”) we saw how differing assumptions can lead to very different conclusions. Which conclusion is correct? It depends on which assumption is correct. Assumptions are in essence just low-level assertions that can often be proved or disproved by test and/or analysis. This process, however, is often thwarted by the inability to overcome emotional blockages.
Reason Versus Passion
One of the most popular characters on the original Star Trek series, the sixties-era TV show that chronicled the adventures of the starship USS Enterprise, was the pointy-eared half-human half-Vulcan character named Mr. Spock. As memorialized by Leonard Nimoy, Spock was beloved by viewers because of his devotion to logic and his disdain for emotion. You could always count on Spock to keep his cool during any tense situation. Surprisingly, this trait was not fully appreciated by his human crewmates, who liked to point out the perceived shortcomings of Spock’s heritage. (Political correctness in the twenty-third century apparently did not extend to the sensitivities of a half-alien.)
Ironically, the emotionally-overloaded Captain James T. Kirk (unforgettably portrayed by William Shatner) employed a passionate approach to problem-solving that makes the word brash seem like a down pillow. Kirk’s grand save-the-universe-with-passion methodology, although perhaps a good lesson in using emotion for motivational purposes, was not a good example of the virtues of critical thinking.
Emotions can be positive and rational (exhilaration after getting a promotion at work) or negative and irrational (anger at the rug you just tripped over). In either case, emotions tend to bypass the thought processes that are essential for good decision-making. When solving important problems, engineers get Spockian and put on their emotional armor. They want to make objective decisions, because the consequences of decisions based on feelings, rather than on sound science, can be catastrophic.
For Better Decisions
Act More Like Spock And Less Like Kirk
Overcoming emotional blockages may be tough to do in a world that is becoming more and more like a Jerry Springer episode. We are — unfortunately — becoming accustomed to making critical decisions based on flashy ads, celebrity endorsements, and the pleadings of white-smocked actors pretending to be doctors. Although advertising can be informational, companies that sell products and services know that the quickest way to your wallet is to bypass the brain, by appealing to glitz and glamour (cars, cosmetics, perfumes, clothes, travel), fear (prescription drugs, home alarm systems), too-good-to-be-true hype (super glue, auto scratch remover), and envy (political candidates).
The tactics are relentless and effective. By lavishly employing whatever it takes to pack an emotional wallop — sparkling vistas, dramatic enactments, advanced animation, gorgeous celebrities — mega-dollars of dubious goods are shipped annually to those who have no emotional armor in place. Similarly, short catchy slogans that tout “fairness” (at your fellow citizens expense) elect numerous charismatic but questionable candidates to public office.
Those who have read various inspirational books over the years — the ones that include exhortations to “go with your gut,” “trust your instincts,” or “rely on your intuition” — may say, “Wait a minute! Those are all Kirkian traits. Then why should I be a cool Spock rather than a hot Kirk?”
We’ll answer that in the next post:
Why Not Go With The Gut?