"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Monday, February 22, 2021

Only Connect!


 “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.”


― E.M. Forster, Howards End




Irene said something wonderful in our morning chat today: "The purpose of emotion is to guide behaviour."

This formulation triggered a number of interesting thoughts.

My first response was to consider the connection of planning to behaviour.

Of course those of us who are educated as intellectuals intellectuals we are led to believe that planning SHOULD guide behaviour.

Irene pointed out first of all that emotions (animal) are more deeply rooted than intellect (purely human). Older, more established in our evolutionary structure. We are more animal than human.

We have, as individuals, limited reservoirs of will power that we can draw upon to override our emotional structure. Some of us seem to be better at it than others.

Consider taking up a musical instrument. It's immensely frustrating at first. Many people WANT to play an instrument, but fewer of us can muster the self-discipline to tolerate the squawking, especially of our first instrument.

We can override the frustration with will-power. We can over-ride it with externally imposed discipline. When I was a child I was subjected to piano lessons not through my own interest but through my mother's. (I rebelled after passing level 3 at the conservatory and quit.)

I'm not a person with strong self-discipline. The reason I can play the piano now is because in my university years I discovered the black-note-blues. (a 12 bar blues pattern in e-flat requires only the black notes on the piano! It's super easy to improvise a solo.)

David Bloom (bloomschoolofjazz) helped immensely by saying that you should find a way to ENJOY playing scales.

If you play scales out of will power, you'll do it a lot less than if you LISTEN to the beauty of the scales as you play them.

Irene said her psychology/coaching practice was almost entirely based on this principle; to align emotional motivations with planning; to set up an environment where what you SHOULD do is what you WANT to do.

So we diverted a bit into "why art", "why music"?

We agreed that humans love art and music because they are ways of communicating emotion.

And communicating ties back into planning. And planning ties into our collective sustainability quandary.

We started talking about how visual art emerged in cave wall drawings. I noted that the earliest drawings represented game animals. I speculated that they began as instructional videos. "You should aim your spear HERE to take out the animal."

But then, suddenly "Wow! That's so cool. It really looks like a little bit like buffalo! I don't just want to kill a buffalo. I also want to be able to represent a buffalo. To give people that feeling of wow that I just had!"

When we became a hunting species, we had to learn to cooperate. To cooperate, we needed to learn to communicate. So a love of complex communication became adaptive, evolutionary favoured.

(And as a huge side benefit, it makes art and music possible.)

But where does this leave us today, as we endeavour to organize ourselves in complex societies (hard enough) or as an entire world (harder still, and suddenly necessary)?

Here's the "deficit model" fallacy, a problem which I think supposed experts in science communication have grossly misunderstood, but which is a real problem. Convincing someone of a fact is INSUFFICIENT to motivate a change in behaviour. On the other hand, I think it's beyond stupid to imagine a world where convincing someone of a fact is useless. (An implication that many seem to draw from the insufficiency of understanding to motivate change!)

The issue is to connect. To connect to our animal motivations. Only connect!

Propagandists and advertisers understand this perfectly. They are trying to motivate behaviour not primarily by convincing us of the superiority of their product or strategy, but by appealing to visceral emotional structures of fear, anger, pleasure. Animal emotions.

How do we resist this manipulation? It can only be by connecting our emotions and our reason, as our distant cave-dwelling ancestors did when the first capacity to plan in groups emerged. If we survive this, it will be by taking visceral pleasure in reason.

Only connect.

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