We’ve sort of circled the issue of emotions, and this is mostly because it’s not clear to me, even after many years of study, what an emotion even is.
Feelings, yes. Those seem fairly straightforward. You feel things all the time. Sometimes those feelings appear to arise in relation to events, not just things that directly affect the body. You feel things in relation to someone else getting punched in the stomach, not just getting punched in the stomach yourself, but that seems to be learned association.
But what is an emotion, exactly? Feelings arise spontaneously, and often in relation to things, but emotions aren’t quite like that. Emotions are about things, and they don’t just appear out of nowhere. They, at least initially, need to be built. We build our emotions out of our responses to things, using our thinking, speech, and action. They’re like machines we put together for specific purposes. But what are those purposes?
At the core of every emotion seems to be either an impulse to approach, or to retreat. In the most simple terms, we categorise the world into move towards, or move away, and we organise our mental life accordingly.
But here’s the problem: Minds don’t move. They change focus, yes. They shift from point to point, yes. But they don’t move.
This is another case of assimilating a misleading metaphor. You can’t ever, really, move your mind towards, or away from, something. How would that even work…?
Think of something you really hate or fear. Something you’ve organised a lot of mental activity around keeping away from you.
There it is. Instantly. Nothing moved, away or towards. You think of it, and it’s there. Minds just are wherever we put them. Movement doesn’t come into it, except insofar as how quickly, and how often, we change what we’re focussing on.
So if that’s right, what is it that emotions are actually doing? They’re meant to keep us away from things, or move us towards things, but that’s clearly nonsense. We can bring anything we want before the mind instantly, and any time we think of something we want to keep from coming before the mind, it’s still right there, instantly.
It seems more like, the point of emotions is not to move the mind in certain ways, but to make ourselves feel as if it is. Whatever you focus on is always right there, but emotions are there to make you feel like there’s also some kind of appropriate motion.
But there isn’t, because minds don’t move. They just fool you into thinking they do.