The Desire to be Rational is an Insecurity

Last night I stumbled upon a conversation about consciousness and the conundrum of living forever if we can “upload” our mind. And then I was stuck wondering what it means once we’re uploaded. What happens to the bodies that we occupy? Are we the same person? Will the be a sense of continuity?

Part of this conversation touched upon the science of consciousness. And for that, I immediately turned to the book How do you feel? by A.D. (Bud) Craig

Specifically, my recollection leapt to a pivotal finding presented in the book–that consciousness is feelings not reason. Sometimes when I present this idea I’m met with resistance. For example, a week ago I was speaking about behavior and I mentioned that feelings dictate behavior and someone in the audience–to my pleasant surprise–disagreed and insisted that behavior is driven by reason. That behavior can and should be rational.

If you will, a moral assertion that behavior should be rational.

A similar line of thinking produced the truism “I think therefore I am”.

However, when you look under the hood, it’s not thinking that drives our thoughts. It’s feeling. And this isn’t a bad thing, nor is it good. It’s morally neutral. It’s just an observation.

Yet, I’m willing to go further and suggest that it is a good thing that behavior is dictated by feelings. Because otherwise we wouldn’t be capable of making snap decisions. We couldn’t jump out of the way when a car whizzes by. We couldn’t run when someone pulls a knife. We couldn’t catch someone when they fall. The list goes on… Basically everything that makes us human requires snap decision making.

A time frame that doesn’t afford the space to be rational.

Just imagine taking the time to ask the question “Am I falling?” Before you’re done uttering a meager three words you’ll be strewn about on the floor, in agony.

Of course, it’s not just perilous situations that require feelings to navigate. Enjoying music does. Likewise, becoming one with a compelling character in a movie. Or, enjoying food. Appreciating art. Love. Hope. Fortitude…

And it is for these reasons that Craig makes a slight modification of the age old truism and comes up with “I feel therefore I am”

And the best part is he isn’t just merely speculating. Rather, this is his life’s work. He has the data to back it up. It’s jaw dropping what he has discovered and he is only scratching the surface of helping us understand consciousness. It’s truly much more fascinating than any of us imagines before we dive into the science.

We are amazing creatures. And what makes us amazing is our ability to feel. Think too but feel matters most. The reason why I felt shivers consume my body when I saw Kim Jong Un cross the border into South Korea followed by grabbing the hand of Moon Jae-in and taking him in turn across the border to North Korea. This level of comraderie is truly moving because deep down my human mind knows what cooperation means. Even coming from people that have done truly horrible things, it doesn’t matter, my mind knows deep down that holding hands may mean a level of peace in the Korean peninsula, and world, that nobody alive today has probably experienced.

And simultaneously I feel conflicted because I know that this could all fall apart. And I wonder then if my earlier feelings were naive. No they weren’t, they’re just tempered by an ever present anxiety that seeks to avert disaster in the future. Anxiety is an emotion that helps us predict the future. It’s wrong all the time. Which is why we have so many potential disorders to deal with as humans. But none the less anxiety is how we feel the future!

So, do you still think that you act based on reason and clear thinking? Or, do you now see how feelings form the essence of who you are?

Still don’t believe me? Try this exercise…

  • over the next week when you feel compelled to do this, stop and think about what you were thinking about
  • Write down a few of your thoughts.
  • Look at the motivation for thinking about those things.
  • Write down what you think produced said thoughts.
  • Most of the time you’ll find one of the following explanations:
    • The thoughts were random, drifting like a conversation with friends that stumbles from topic to topic.
    • Or, external stimuli triggered a thought. For example, if you see a sign protesting a political ideology you may find yourself hours later having spent hours thinking about, tweeting, facebooking, etc about your convictions. And yet, did you plan to do that? Did you wake up and decide “I will spend 3 hours engulfed in the politics of _______  in order to accomplish _________ “
    • Or, you will find that you intentionally chose to think about a subject, but if you ask why a few more times to peel the layers of the onion you will find the impetus for that subject was one of the two previous points. In other words once motivated we are all capable of focus and connecting the dots. At least until the next distraction.


After positing “I feel therefore I am” Craig further revises this to “I feel I am” which I take as a reminder that consciousness is the coalescing of a myriad of bodily feelings.

I feel I exist.

I feel I am.

You feel you are.

Why discuss this?

It’s not to oppugn the human intellect.

If you’re still upset about the fact that you’re driven by irrational feelings then you need to reflect on that insecurity. Because once you realize there’s nothing inherently bad about feelings then you can start to ask a new set of questions to better understand your own motives and the motives of those around you.

Otherwise, if you can’t handle the idea that you’re driven by emotion then just crawl back under the rock and tell yourself you’re rational. Ironically, dissonance is another emotion that leads us to often lie to ourselves in order to get through the day!

For the rest of you that embrace your irrationality:

  • What do you now understand?
  • What new perspectives does this afford?
  • What can you now do that you couldn’t do before?