August 23, 2007

Feeling and Thinking

During my first semester of college, we were given a Myers-Briggs personality test. This was my first experience with a personality test of any kind, and I found it quite intriguing. The test measures your personality along four axes: Extroversion/Introversion, Thinking/Feeling, Intuition/Sensing, and Judging/Perceiving. In each of those axes you’re assigned a pair of numbers that sum up to 10. If you’re perfectly balanced along that axis, not preferring one over the other, you’ll be ranked 5/5. The stronger you prefer one over the other, the greater the difference between the two: 7/3 would indicate a marked bend in your personality towards one particular “extreme.” My results for one particular axis surprised me greatly, and continue to surprise most people I share them with.

On the Thinking/Feeling axis, I scored 1/9. That’s very nearly the highest extreme you can get. Not only was I surprised at the extent of the emphasis, but also at its direction! I’m a fairly thoughtful, philosophically minded person. The contents of this blog are reasonable proof of that. The revelation that I prefer feeling more than thinking, and to such a degree, came as something of a shock. Yet the result was and is accurate (though I have some doubts about the extent).

Take this evening for an example. I spent a little less than an hour reading this article, which discusses programming languages and presents scripting languages (e.g. Perl, TCL, Python, Ruby, JavaScript, ...) as the next great evolution in programming languages (as opposed to OO (object-oriented) languages, which the author seems to hold in contempt). He discussed and defended his points in a very rational manner, and I agree with many of them. I’d like to discuss the article in some greater depth some other time (cross your fingers). My reaction to this article interested me: my feelings cried something along the lines of: “but I like C++!” :-D (C++, for those of you who don’t know, is a low-level programming language similar to C with object-oriented elements.) Hardly a rational reaction.

Always it is like that for me. Emotional reactions precede, influence, and shape my rational reactions. Actually, I think that most people feel before they think. Probably all people. But people who place a greater emphasis on thinking over feeling endeavor to put their feelings aside and consider things objectively. I do something similar ... but I don’t put my feelings aside. Instead, I put them on the examination table and attempt to understand them in an objective way. Indeed, I do that first, before really trying to come to grips with the idea itself. Sometimes I never get around to the idea at all. :-) My feelings fascinate me. Other people’s feelings fascinate me, too: but speculating on what other people are feeling is even more risky than speculating on what they are thinking; and carries an enormously grave risk of self-deception. It’s easy to think you understand another person from his or her own eyes. Believing you have succeeded without his or her help is the worst sort of arrogant folly. Most of my thoughtful friends are (*sigh*) on the other side of the T/F axis, and they don’t discuss their feelings. In general, they consider their feelings irrelevant.

It is true that feelings are irrelevant to truth: just because you feel something doesn’t mean it’s true. I would remind you that just because you think something doesn’t mean it’s true, either. For me, feelings are more honest than thoughts. They are more honest because they’re harder to fake. You can think anything you wish quite easily; it is hard to feel anything you wish. With feelings, the danger of self-deception seems less (to me). For me, feelings are a guide to truth. They are not a trustworthy guide, and they will not take you all the way. Nor most of it. But they will point you in an interesting direction. And discovering the reason why you feel the way you do often casts a new and valuable light on the subject. Or so I have found.

And yet ... is the navel-gazing that results from this philosophy and personality of mine really that valuable? Certainly it is dangerous—as I have found. It is dangerous because you become so absorbed in your own feelings. They (and you yourself) are almost always on your mind. They can consume your interest and your time and your thoughts. They can—as they have for me—be a terrible temptation to forget your neighbor. How can I love my neighbor if almost all I think of is myself? I can’t ... and I haven’t. And I’m sorry. And I don’t know what to do. Other than to pray: “Lord, teach me to love my neighbor as myself.”

Posted by Leatherwood at 12:02 AM
This post has been classified as "Musings"
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