There is an overwhelming sense of superficiality in contemporary human relations. So much so that when disaster strikes or triumph prevails, little in conversation or action betrays a level of emotional engagement reflecting our species’ capacity. We are willingly distant, engulfed in mediocre lusts and pains, our language and intent representing little but fickle expressions of the ego that offer not the empathetic rapport that humans are distinctly capable of. The latent restrictions on our emotive response are such that deep compassion for the suffering of a grief-stricken friend translates into concern for one’s own mental stability as misplaced tenderness is channeled into art, text or some tool of inebriation. Why is it that this, the infinite realm within subject to neither time nor space, remains uncharted and unmastered, confined to unyielding frames of the appropriate?
Humanity’s greatest advantage over other beings inhabiting this planet is our aptitude for recognising patterns, whose formation is linearly defined as repeated observations subject to the passing of time. Indeed, our construction of knowledge and resulting perceptions of the external reality are almost exclusively determined by the process of time ploughing forward relentlessly, a vector of unchanging direction which has granted us undeniable success in the realm of material advancement. This talent produces its prodigious children, from astrophysics through experimentation to modern information technology, where ones and zeros fired sequentially produce one of the largest shocks to civilization observed in recorded history. As reliance on this breakthrough increases exponentially, the linear logic applied in its development and use become a modus operandi – if a then b else c, reducing reality to an ever-repeating binary decision. The remarkable progress fostered by this model bonds with a tendency to be influenced in both mind and practice by our direct environment and the stimuli it provides. The linear decision tree grows in importance and begins to influence more than merely the material.
Emotion, representing humanity’s second distinguishing attribute, most closely resembles an ever-evolving multidimensional topography within what some may call the soul. It is amorphous, infinite and volatile. When juxtaposed with the cognitive processes of learning and the execution of logically structured tasks, it becomes evident that the linear frameworks which serve so well in evaluating and controlling the external may prove insufficient in grasping the nebulous formation of infinite dimensionality that lies within. As an incorrectly selected econometric model may point to a non-existing or inverted relationship, analysis of any kind can be misleading when the wrong tools are applied. And yet, our civilisation’s apparent distaste for theorising on emotion – be it through sexist claims to ‘hysterical’ women’s lower capacity or the inappropriateness of such expression in the professional world – opens a vacuum of incapacity in that which distinguishes our intelligence from the computation kind we have created. For the lack of a better, or even an accessible, alternative approach, linear conceptualisations of the external environment are adopted for internal analysis, resulting in a relentless compartmentalisation of acceptable behaviors, bounding emotion to the exile of binary understanding.
Where does this leave us, oh starry-eyed dreamers? Perpetually reaching for the sky, our modern creations prompt existential questions as we no longer claim monopoly over the realm of intelligence. As much of that which we value as progress is better handled by non-human intelligence, how shall we redefine our skills, usefulness and place? It is now, if ever, that our internal capacity should become the focus, as efforts of sustenance become efforts of understanding in an immense population propped up by a debilitated environment. Emotion’s place in civilisation must change as we embrace our own internal complexity and infinite capacity to share each other’s joy and grief. Emotion saves the day.