What I Learned from Blogging--Part DCCCCLXXV

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I was stunned to learn something today, that had I taken a moment to ask any one around me probably would not have come as any sort of shock at all. In fact, if I had bothered to look back on my life at all, it would be immediately evident.

I do not make my choices solely, or even predominantly by reason. I use reason to inform my choices and my decisions, but ultimately I trust more how I feel about something than how I think about it. This is life experience. In every case how I feel about something has been far more trustworthy than how I thought about it. Thinking about it makes me like a lawyer, I can find a million ways to shape my thought and reason to justify anything I want to do. But the reality is, how I feel about it is what I should be trusting. Without revealing too much personal information I can tell you that I was once in a situation when I knew in my heart that one choice I could make was a poor, perhaps even a sinful choice. When I considered the matter "reasonably" I considered all of the factors, God's law, family solidarity, possible outcomes, potential meaning, and all the information I could pour into the decision. I made a choice to go ahead and to this thing about which I had grave misgivings. It ended disastrously, with a fragmentation of unity and hard feelings all around. This was the ending my heart saw, not the one I could come to in my thinking.

Reason is a pretty bauble. It makes lovely designs and constructs elegant constructs. The problem is that reason is based on a whole series of underlying propositions you must accept if you are to enter the argument. Once you have accepted them, then you must discover what they are. As you expose more and more of them, you find principles that you question from the very start. For example Aquinas postulates that reason itself is a positive good. On what evidence? It is, in fact, a postulate. I could equally well postulate that reason is a gift--certainly good, but that the good is not complete--that it is the use to which reason is put that confirms its goodness or its ill. I might be wrong in the proposition, but for every thing "proven" by Aquinas, there are several dozen hanging questions about the underlying principles of the argument.

I like well constructed arguments. I love chains of reasoning. But I love them in the same way I love mathematical constructs, for the essential beauty of them not for what they say or do.

But through my life I have been persuaded more by my heart than by my head. I'm told by those around me that this is unreasonable. (In fact it is not--it is merely nonreasonable.) But is nonreasonable necessarily bad? For those who depend on reason to reach their decision its is. But I suggest rather that there are many ways to come to truth. Reason may be more certain, but "Blessed are the pure in heart." The heart will get us to the same end. Obviously we cannot reject reason where reason is clear. But where there is doubt, where there is uncertainty, where there are many possible ways to travel, the heart is as good a guide (for me) as reason is.

Why does this come as such a surprise. Well let me list the pros and cons--I am a trained scientist and an amateur mathematician. Reason is highly prized in both. I am able to reason well, and when I understand all the terms comprehend and accept an argument constructed by reason. However, as a scientist, I was always miles ahead of the facts. My chief way of working was to leap ahead and then backtrack to find the chain of reason that led to my conclusion or that broke down when I tried to connect my conclusion to the known information. I rarely traced a set of data to a conclusion, rather I developed six or seven different models that would fit with the known data and worked backward from the one that "seemed" most probable to the data. When I got there, I was able to understand the arguments that led there.

I am a poet. Poets certainly can be reasonable, but poets tend to rely on intuition and on perceptions of things beneath the surface.

And every major decision I have reached I have always reached by moving beyond the logic to what "felt" right.

Sorry folks, but there it is. My modality is emotional. Anyway, I discovered this in another conversation and also discovered that there are many different modes of knowing and that reason is often a bully--using name-calling and imputations of other people's guilt and sinfulness to force one to accept its ends. Of course emotion is as much a bully saying that such people are hard-hearted and ignorant of the way of being human. We must avoid both such. Those who are led by the head should certainly follow the lead. But those led by the heart should not feel inferior or diminished in comparison.

Some people have claimed that as Catholics you have to check your mind at the door, I find much more often we are asked to check our heart at the door. Reason devoid of passion is the law, and the law kills, just as the spirit enlivens. But the heart without reason is a tyrant, a tenderness that leads to euthanasia and genocide. Every person is a balance of these tendencies. In most one dominates. Be true to it--it is what God has given you to get by on. It is your gift for you and for those around you. I will no longer be ashamed when I make a decision based on how I feel about something. It is as valid as any amount of thinking about it. For another it may not be. We are not all made from a cookie press, so accept who you are and how you come to terms with the world around you. Most of all don't let anyone convince you--head or heart, that it is somehow deficient. And also avoid criticizing those who choose different rule of engagement--even though you will be denigrated by them as one who is anti-intellectual or anti-reason. It simply isn't so--you are simply pro-emotion. Remember, that even as the Church needs its Aquinas's, so too does it need its Bernadettes and its John Vianneys and its Thérèses.

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Blogworthies LXVI from The Blog from the Core on May 14, 2005 7:03 AM

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But where there is doubt, where there is uncertainty, where there are many possible ways to travel, the heart is as good a guide (for me) as reason is.

I hate to tell you, but you reasoned your way to this conclusion. Which conclusion, by the way, I find entirely reasonable.

Dear Tom,

No, that's a good thing. As we know, reason is a good thing and should be used as a good thing. But for some of us there a comes a point when reason fails. My only point here is that one should not be ashamed of that. We use the tools we have until they can help us no more. No one should take as their first step utter abandonment of reason.

But thank you--you are correct as usual and it is nice to have the support of someone whose ability to reason I so admire.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on May 5, 2005 6:48 PM.

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