Lesson #6: Your Emotions Are Completely Logical

Lesson #6: Your Emotions Are Completely Logical mathematical formulasWe've spent the last three lessons talking about your inner universe/ your subconscious/ that 90% of you that's underneath the water's surface. Not only because it helps you see how you do in fact co-create your reality from within. But also because it all has to do with happiness -- happiness as your inside job. (By the way, I don't like to write a lot about happiness on the blog because too many people want to read one article and then have all the answers. That's too easy and it's certainly dysfunctional. Happiness takes hard work -- working on your relationship with yourself. I like to talk about happiness in this e-class because by making it this far you've already shown that you're committed to doing the actual work, not just getting "instant" rewards.) When you can better access what's going on in your inner universe/ your subconscious/ that 90% of you underneath the water's surface -- you have a much better chance to:
    • Know who you are and what you need to be happy
    • Know what you need to do to take care of yourself, happiness of which is a natural by-product
    • Become aware of any hidden beliefs or attitudes that are getting in the way of your getting to know yourself and what you need to be happy
    • Become aware of any hidden beliefs or attitudes that are getting in the way of your taking care of yourself, happiness of which is a natural by-product
Put another way, we've been covering the same basic topic in the past three lessons because it sets the stage for taking this whole mindfulness thing to the next level. (We've been talking about self-mindfulness this whole time, you know?) Where not only do you understand intellectually how important it is to pay attention to your inner universe. But you can also understand this on an emotional and a more experiential level too. Working with your emotions is pivotal in really co-creating your life as your mindful construct on a conscious, daily basis. And emotions are the perfect tools to help you along your way. Once you realize how powerful your inner technology is, you'll start to view your life and your potential in a completely different way.

Your emotions are logical

On Mindful Construct, we talk a lot about the age-old myth that emotions are illogical. That they're the opposite of reason. The enemy of logic. This myth has been perpetuated for centuries for at least two reasons. The first is that in the past, people didn't have very good instruments to scientifically study emotions -- so they remained a mystery. Introspection was about the only tool, and that's not very scientific. The second is that people didn't want to have to take responsibility for their emotional problems. Much in the way many people are today. So they blamed the emotions for all their problems. Well, the blame game only works when you distance yourself from the "enemy;" the more you study (and thus better get to know) emotion, the more clearly you see how emotions aren't the bad guys -- they're the messengers. You can't wage war on a friend. Today we know, with progress in cognitive-affective science, that emotion is not the opposite of reason. In fact, emotion was in the human brain well before the higher-level reasoning circuits (of the cerebral cortex) evolved. Because of this birth-order, if anything, it's "human reason" that interferes with the more primal emotion circuits in the brain. Today we also know, with progress made in support of appraisal theory, that emotions are entwined with logic.

What's in appraisal theory?

Appraisal theory states that: Emotion = Thought + Meaning (Expressed as Feeling) This means that a person has an emotional reaction when:
    • Some internal or external stimuli...
    • Triggers a cognitive network of thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, and expectations (which includes biological reflexes)
    • (That they already had about a certain person, place, thing, or event)
So if you have a belief that butterflies are dangerous to your health, then when you see a butterfly flying toward you, you'll have an emotional reaction because:
    • You perceived the external stimuli of the oncoming butterfly
    • That stimuli triggered your cognitive network that says, "Butterflies are dangerous"
    • (Which was already in place before you saw the butterfly flying toward you)

How you appraise an event -- based on the guidance of your preexisting cognitive networks -- determines your emotional response to it.

Appraisal theory explains why when it rains, Sally gets excited, and Larry gets depressed...

How Sally and Larry appraise the same situation differently

Sally wanted an excuse to stay at home with her hubby on Saturday. So when his outdoor fundraiser for work got canceled, she jumped with joy. They could play Scrabble with hot chocolate after all. Larry, who works at the same company, was really looking forward to the fundraiser on Saturday -- the only day of the month he'd have been able to go. So he was bummed that he put in hours of preparation, and wouldn't get to be there. Both Sally and Larry encountered the same situation: the fundraiser being cancelled. But because they had different appraisals about that situation, they had different emotional responses too. This is what appraisal theory is all about. It's probably common sense to you. After all, every day you see how different people can have drastically different responses to the same event -- just based on how they think about it.

Appraisal theory says emotions are logical

Taking appraisal theory a bit further... it ultimately says that all emotions are logical. (The rest of this section is adapted from the article: "Connect to Your Emotions to Build a Brighter Future") When someone says that a particular emotion is illogical, what they really mean is that the cognitive networks that underpin that emotion are illogical. The cognitive networks are a collection of what was mentioned before: thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, and expectations (which includes raw biological reflexes) that you have about a particular person, place, thing, or event. Because emotions follow this natural flow, they can never not make sense.

Emotions are logical because they always elaborate on your cognitive networks.

If it appears that your emotions don't make sense, it's because the cognitive networks don't make sense. Emotions reflect your cognitions through their signals, and they embody them through the body-based response. And you believe your cognitive networks are always right, even if just at a subconscious level. Otherwise, you wouldn't have them! (You'd ditch them for more accurate cognitive networks.) According to you, your cognitive networks are always logical. But what does logic exactly mean?

What logic is

Logic is the process of inference based on a certain body of knowledge. It's making the “best” or “correct” choice. This usually equates to the most statistically favored choice — given what is already known about some person, place, thing, or event. You know from experience that all the people you have encountered are mortal. When you meet a new person, it's logical for you to assume that they are also mortal. It's logical because:
    • They're a person
    • Statistically speaking all people (you have encountered) are mortal
    • The statistically favored choice (based on what you know) is the "logical" one

What logic isn't

Interpretations of statistics can only tell you what is the probable the answer to your question, given what's happened before. It's about probability and guessing, not certainty. You can never be 100% certain that you're "right" because you're always working from an "incomplete" data set -- or what's happened before. A complete data set would be everything. That's not possible because you can't know everything that ever will happen -- it hasn't even happened yet! People love to make "logical" decisions in their lives. They love to feel smart, logical, and right. But they make their decisions based on an incomplete body of evidence every single time. It's possible that they're missing a vital piece of information that would show that their logical decision is actually not smart at all.

How to be more logical

Any time you talk about logic in regards to life decisions, there is always room for improvement, to make a more logical decision in the future. You do this by expanding your data set/knowledge base, gaining more life experience and applying what you've learned. But there's also a downside. Given the complex nature of consciousness (and subconsciousness), it's very difficult determine what your conscious knowledge base actually is at a given point in time. Because most of the time, it's unconscious to you. A big chunk of your knowledge base was formed before you could even talk -- and articulate those beliefs in words. A big chunk of your knowledge base is subconscious cultural and/or childhood programming. So there are two major things you can do to be more "logical" in life:
    1. Expand your knowledge base by gaining more life experience and applying what you've learned
    2. Be more mindful of the big chunk of your knowledge base that is your subconscious cultural and/or childhood programming
#1 is relatively straightforward. #2 takes a lot more work. And in fact, the more you work on #2, the less likely your subconscious (which yes does include your ego) can sabotage your ability to work on #1.

How to really be more logical

And then there's the counter-intuitive way to be more logical that will make any self-proclaimed left-brainer gasp. There's really no difference between logic and emotion. We've artificially divided the two with our scientific language, but we still don't know what the heck a "thought" is. I suspect that research into the future will take on a more holistic approach. But since all of humanity's used to separating emotion and thought/logic/reason, it makes sense to speak in that language. Back to that formula of appraisal theory from above.

Emotion just elaborates on the meaning of information. Information alone is useless to you. To work with that information in a logical manner, you have to know what that information means. Your emotions tell you what information means to you.

“All great achievements of science must start from intuitive knowledge.” -- Albert Einstein
Emotion is your intuitive knowledge. And researchers like Antonio Damasio have explored how without that basic intuitive knowledge, you can't function in the world. So all those people that would rather make logical decisions instead of emotional ones? They don't really understand what logic is. They don't understand how valuable their emotions are. And they most certainly don't understand the symbiotic relationship between the two. So don't pay attention to them, and continue on your way.

Recap

Your emotions are logical because they elaborate upon your internal cognitive networks (which are logical to you, otherwise you wouldn't have them). It then follows that it's completely logical for you to work with your emotions because they help you access your subconscious cultural and/or childhood programming (a big hunk of your knowledge base), so that you can get really mindful about what exactly your knowledge base contains at a given point in time. Which is really important because improving your logic means expanding upon and refining your knowledge base -- because your knowledge base determines the statistically favored or most logical choice in any given situation. Yes, that was a mouthful. And you're awesome for coming this far! Next lesson won't be as much of a mouthful, I promise. In the meantime, if you want to read more detailed description of appraisal theory (since the formula I use is pretty basic), check out "Thinking makes it so: A social cognitive neuroscience approach to emotion regulation," by Kevin N. Ochsner and James J. Gross. All the best, signed, Melissa P.S. This article contained an Amazon Affiliate link. Did you get here from a link from a friend? This lesson is part 6 of a 10-part free e-class that shows you how your life is your construct. Learn more about it and sign up here.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Lexi June 24, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Melissa, thanks for the article. The “appraisal” is so “logical”, it’s crazy that it is so hard to understand the logic of our emotions!!!

I’m looking forward to the follow-up exercise!

Haider June 26, 2010 at 11:06 am

Excellent lesson, Melissa.

I think it’s important to stress on the fact that “logic” means consistency. Our emotions are “logical” (i.e. consistent) with our beliefs, and not necessarily with reality, or how best to respond to any given situation we face.

So rather than condemn ourselves for feeling angry, for example, we should look for the beliefs or appraisals that made anger seem like the most suitable response in our situation, and deal with them. As you pointed out, our emotions are messengers that reveal what our appraisals are.

WN June 29, 2010 at 11:06 am

Haider, I agree. If you get angry over petty things, then there’s something illogical about your philosophy that needs to be examined. But, doesn’t this just shore up the argument that Emotions Are Logical? Your emotions can tell you what is rational and what is irrational about your appraisals. We cannot start out with a perfectly logical emotional mechanism from the gate. We need to listen to the signals to figure out what makes sense and what doesn’t with the goal of someday hopefully living with a perfect as possible emotional life that mirrors with consistency our philosophy.

Melissa Karnaze June 29, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Lexi, appraisal really is so common sense that I was baffled it wasn’t already mainstream common sense, when first learning about it in college.

One reason why emotions are so hard to understand — even though tracing appraisals is relatively easy — is that people get blocked before they can even get to the appraisal! They block themselves by judging the emotional experience as something bad or, “illogical.”

I had to make a last minute change to the lessons, so Lesson #8 is going to have the follow-up exercise!

Haider, referring to emotions as “logical” instead of just “consistent” gives a person cause to take more response ability for their appraisals. If you say that your anger is consistent with your appraisals, but in fact illogical with respect to reality, it allows room for a block to form — that prevents experiencing and allowing for that anger to exist. Because you can only go through the motions; in the back of your mind, you still judge the anger as an inappropriate with respect to “reality.” This is a subtle yet powerful judgment that counteracts your ability to really embody the emotion, and then figure out what your cognitive networks say about how best to respond to any given situation.

Emotions are logical simply because they reflect cognitive networks. It’s nature’s way of providing breadcrumbs back to that insanely complex thing called consciousness — that you have to get mindful of (via following your emotions) to be logical at all.

“We cannot start out with a perfectly logical emotional mechanism from the gate. We need to listen to the signals to figure out what makes sense and what doesn’t with the goal of someday hopefully living with a perfect as possible emotional life that mirrors with consistency our philosophy.

WN, exactly. Listening to those signals is the only real chance for really being consistent with your philosophy and values. It’s an ongoing process of updating the cognitive networks. Not only because life experience is so dynamic and you have to adapt just to keep up. But also because so much was programmed very early on without your conscious awareness, and some of which was programmed before you could even talk and verbalize those networks!

Sinei David November 15, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Thanks again Melissa,

If I may,

What you mean is emotions tell us what we REALLY think and not what we think we think . So, if we are having an emotion we don’t particularly like instead of dismissing it we should let it guide us to the real problem which is most likely a thought/perception/assumption and root it out.

Nice. It actually works. Thanks

Makes it a lot easier to be honest with oneself.

Melissa Karnaze November 16, 2010 at 7:02 pm

Yes David, that’s the simpler way to put it, thanks!

Elsa May 14, 2011 at 12:49 am

Dear Melissa,
First and foremost, thank you for the time and energy you have been putting into these e-classes. I subscribed to your newsletter a while ago, and have been following it with increased interest.
I have a long-standing passion for healthcare and wellbeing, which include the physical, mental… and more spiritual planes. Your e-lessons gracefully combine the three!
I especially enjoy the way you marry the latter two to scientific findings. I have a background in Biological Engineering and, over the years, I have been linking that knowledge more and more to Psychology, Philosophy and even Theology.
Congratulations on a great work! I look forward to your next email.
Best,
Elsa

Melissa Karnaze May 14, 2011 at 8:55 am

Hi Elsa, I started formally studying science after exploring spirituality and understanding people intuitively, so it’s great to hear that the marrying comes through! It’s amazing how much overlap all the disciplines/philosophies/belief systems have. We’re increasingly finding that health and well-being is a psycho-biological phenomenon. And quantum science (which Lesson #9 will talk a bit about), suggests that matter is entangled with consciousness, which is an ultimate integration. I’m excited to see the direction the field will take!

megan April 12, 2012 at 5:26 am

Hi Melissa,

Thanks for the article, it was very helpful for me, can you help me clarify this:

if it was an emotion, such as fear, and I figure out the dysfunctional belief causing the emotion, will the emotion go away?

Currently, my experience is that while it helps to understand the root of my emotions, I still experience the emotion, fully understanding that the belief I have is dysfunctional.

What does it mean to still feel these emotions and know the belief behind it is not valid?

Melissa Karnaze April 26, 2012 at 7:35 am

Hi megan,

Understanding an emotion does not necessarily make it go away. Trying to make emotions “go away” can lead to problems in itself. It’s more constructive to address any problems or misunderstandings that set the pretext for the emotions to be “logical” responses in the first place.

What does it mean to still feel these emotions and know the belief behind it is not valid?

I wish I had a straight answer, but it probably has to do with the complex nature of “believing” in beliefs. If a person consciously wants to stop believing in a belief, because at certain points, it seems rational to stop doing so, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the person will completely stop believing the belief (remember, the subconscious doesn’t simply obey the conscious).

Trying to change the emotion is a grasp for “control” (over the emotions and beliefs).

Trying to learn from emotions is an issue of response ability (and learning from one’s beliefs, to hopefully more successfully transform them in the long-term.)

John April 30, 2012 at 3:25 pm

This is a really new way of looking at this, and there’s a “feel” of it being open to lots of change and growth.

I think you’re right about the pre-verbal floor for emotions. And I think this is the biggest part of all. Integrating that. Consider the study of “Object Relations”, which looks at the social system where the pre-verbal program happens. The people are the “objects”. Imagine the emotional content in this simple three step model:

Instincts-Objectives-Objects.

The baby needs to feed. It’s insinct. The objective is to meet that basic need from it’s mother. Now mix in adult unmet needs and shaming and the whole deal.

The infant splits from his needs…and there is a lot of emotion ( wired into blocked instincts) that happens. The rage over this could be a 15 year process, where the kind of “dialectic” you talk about isn’t possible without much confusion and suffering first.

I know 12 step has some big mistakes, but apart from the important “Higher Power” aspect there is ( to me) the vital narcissistic mirroring that can go on in a “family” that isn’t primally committed to a continued blocked instinct expression.

Allcohol, working, porn ( more for the male), sugar, thinking…all try to manage the unmanageable impact of attempting to control emotions associated with blocked instinct expression. Thus sobriety and mirroring in 12 step. Relationship with self, others and a power greater than self.

For me I see the pre-verbal emotional mess as the core of all of this. The object relation map at that time IS each of our codependent maps of adulthood. I can’t imagine “mindfullness” of any kind for that healing process without total chaos first…which leads to surrender
( powerlessness admitted), humility, community.

DC July 25, 2012 at 7:46 am

It’s cool to be emotional, however logic is necessary in terms of major decisions like “finances” or “money” and even life circumstances. So many people are in unhappy, unfulfilled situations because they react to life based on emotions. Emotions are also very close tied to ego so we must keep an eye on that. Those fluctuating emotions make them shop unnecessarily, get into debt, eat unhealthy foods that causes obesity and illness, so forth and so on. Emotions are great to have in terms of doing what you love however there needs to be a balance where logic needs to override emotions at times when those emotions lead to actions which leads to long-term effects. Logic requires people taking time to educate themselves on matters around them which in turn causes them to be able to have more control of their lives and be able to prevent or adjust to different occurrences.

Peter December 17, 2013 at 7:01 pm

I had fun noticing that appraisal theory is pretty Buddhist.

Emotions – like all things – are assemblages of other things. When you’re a duck, you’re going to have an uncomfortable experience seeing a crocodile, because, well, you have the appropriate constructs in place: the desire to continue living as a duck, innate duck-knowledge that crocodiles are going to be an disastrous obstacle to fulfilling that desire, etc. It’s not hard to see how it snowballs from there.

Pretty soon you’re going to have a pretty jumpy duck, very logical indeed. In fact I wonder if _any_ behavior can be based in anything other than logic (which is basically a twisted way of saying ‘prior causes’).

It’s just a pity consciousness can’t control it directly, or I should probably say luckily, because if I’d be a betting man, I’d bet on evolution on having these kinds of things figured out.

It’s indeed common sense, but it’s cool to be modern about it with ‘cognitive networks’ and such.

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