Starting the day with an argument isn’t fun. Maybe some people enjoy a rip-roaring argument in the morning (sets the tone for a rip-roaring day!), but most people don’t. A bad argument can feel like you are “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”
Arguments can feel threatening. Threats can activate the fight or flight response, like the song: “The foot bone is connected to the leg bone. The leg bone is connected to the knee bone…” except it isn’t bones connecting; it’s brain chemicals and physical effects.
When we argue, we sing the “Fight or Flight Song” (set to the tune of the Delta Rhythm Boys’ “Dry Bones”): “The amygdala is connected to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is connected to the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is connected to the adrenal medulla…” and then it’s: “Release the hounds!”
Or rather, “Release the hormones!” First adrenaline then cortisol causing: “increased heart rate, bladder relaxation, tunnel vision, shaking, dilated pupils, flushed face, dry mouth, slow digestion and hearing loss” (source).
Great for running from killer air-planes when you need bladder relaxation, but not when arguing about money, underpants, the existence of God or the Big Bang Theory.
We can try to stick to facts, but emotions get in. A rock and roll philosopher can be left feeling somewhere between the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black”: “No colour anymore!” (see also orchestral version) and Annie Lennox’s “Why”: “This boat is sinking.“
Academics, Mercier and Sperber, argue in the “Argumentative Theory” that arguments aren’t about getting at the truth. They’re about winning!
Dr. Jonathan Haidt said of the theory, “Reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments” (source).
Bias and lack of logic are social adaptations.
They enable one group to defeat another or, as George Carlin put it, “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubt, while the stupid people are full of confidence.” Or, as Patricia Cohen from the New York Times put it, “Certitude works, however sharply it may depart from the truth” (source).
Arguments can become loops of back-and-forth like Monty Python’s “Argument Clinic”. Reason is argumentative and people become skilled arguers, but skilled arguers are not after the truth: they want a better argument to support their views!
Reason is responsible for some fantastic achievements, but as Mercier and Sperber point out, we should be cautious with these accomplishments since “failures are often less visible” (source).
Some people blame emotion.
Researchers at University College London say that rational individuals “can override their emotional responses” (source).
The implication being that rational individuals are unemotional and therefore better able to make rational decisions, but (and here’s the kicker) people left without emotion from a brain injury are unable to make decisions (source) because reasoning is full of emotion (source).
Thoughts are representations of reality. Thoughts accepted as true become beliefs. Once a belief is accepted, it is established as a fact that is rarely questioned.
What separates a reasonable person from an emotional person isn’t feeling or not feeling. It’s the quality of those thoughts tied to those emotions (source). The more we believe we know something, the more we ignore contrary information and look for information to confirm our beliefs (confirmation bias).
What we believe is like our personal operating system or window through which we evaluate everything we see.
Phenomena comes in two types. One type can be verified (ice is cold). The other type can’t be verified (do good and good things happen). Verified things are scientific. Unverified things are philosophical and religious.
Of things that can’t be verified, if it is accepted as self-evidently true, it is religion.
Beliefs carve grooves in our brains. Some beliefs start as theories developed from assumptions, observation and deduction. Some beliefs grow from emotional viewpoints that feel logical.
In the “Logical Song” Roger Hodgson sings of being taught to be logical: “When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful, a miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical. And all the birds in the trees, they’d be singing so happily, oh joyfully, oh playfully watching me. But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible, logical, oh, responsible, practical…clinical, intellectual, cynical” (Supertramp, 1979).
In the song Hodgson wonders who he is and therein is the key. What happens when you notice yourself and what you see?
Poetical philosopher Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) said that he not only knew himself as “the scene of thoughts and affections,” but he knew a “doubleness” to being where he could, “stand remote from myself as from another” (Walden and Other Writings, 1950, p. 122). It is from this “doubleness” that we too step back to see how beliefs pull strings.
Some beliefs shaped from childhood experiences can block one’s ability to be happy and free, but as Jiminy Cricket advised, “Always let your conscience be your guide!”
That’s especially true when it comes to enjoyment.
In adolescence we start believing in unhappy thinking and consider self-interest as the primary motivator of human behaviour but in so doing the carefree passion that was once natural and easy in childhood gets squashed by social expectations, subtle shame and criticism.
As comedian George Carlin (1937-2008) observed, “Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.” Mix one part disillusion with two parts pessimism and you get cynicism, but as Nana Grizol sang it, “Cynicism isn’t wisdom, it’s a lazy way to say that you’ve been burned” (“Cynicism”).
Profound enjoyment combines two awarenesses: an awareness of yourself: “This is me! I’m incredulous! I AM ALIVE! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?” and an awareness of your immediate surroundings wide-eyed in wonder accepting everything as mysterious and better than imagined.
This is when your face goes slack and you see from the sides. It’s when you feel an incomprehensibly beautiful feeling inside.
If this philosophy is to ring true for you, it will depend upon your preexisting beliefs and ability to lighten up.
The light simply won’t get in if you block the way.
Enjoyment is balancing in a tree. It is imagining yourself as the tree seeing itself feeling the existence of being and the sky above.
The Men Without Hats advised everybody to look at their hands (“Safety Dance”), so you do, and there, like the poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892) who also looked at his hands and saw a hair on the back that was, “just as curious as any revelation,” so too do you.
And on. And on.
Now Enjoy yourself. That’s an order.
What have you got to lose?