Saturday, July 11, 2015

Thinking, Feeling and Generations

The Enlightenment philosophy of 18th century stated that divine truths are obtainable through rational inquiry. The Romantic philosophy that followed stated that divine truths are obtainable through great feelings, romantic love and artistic inspiration.

According to orthodox Christianity and Islam, both are wrong. According to these creeds, the divine truths are only made available in the Bible and the Quran. However both enlightenment and romanticism have done a lot for the Western civilization. The first created science, democracy, and ultimately technology and prosperity. And the second created beautiful art and poetry and greatly enriched and enhanced man-woman relationships.

The first stresses thinking, and the second stresses feeling. Both are inextricable from human makeup, and both are capable of both rightfulness and error. Enlightenment thinking results in everything from Man on the Moon to the lobotomy man. Romantic thinking results in everything from Lord Byron to banal pop songs.

When I asked a very wise baby boomer lady why her generation was so different from the generation that followed, she said that her generation had been taught to feel while Generation X had been taught to think. It is obvious that in both cases we see education being done half-right. Both thinking and feeling are capable of being both right and wrong. And when the two coexist in the same person, he gets to greater wisdom than he would if he had just one or the other.

This carries implications for all sorts of uses. While feeling allows one to experience one's own condition - and empathy the next person's condition - thinking allows one to see the external effects of both. Pure feeling fails to compute the external effects, and pure thinking fails to compute the internal experience. This creates a potential for error in both methodologies: For feeling, the error of self-absorption, and for thinking, the error of coldness, cruelty and out-of-touch ineffectuality.

Of course we see the evidence for this all the time, including in generations. The baby boomers were taught only to feel – and they are regarded as a self-absorbed generation. Generation X were taught only to think – and they tend to be quite cold. But when people can both think and feel, they get an integrative picture, where they understand people and social phenomena more completely: By seeing both the internal experience and the external effects.

Whether or not divine truths are made obtainable through either Enlightenment thinking or Romantic thinking is debateable; however both philosophies have proven highly valuable for the world. The first gave the world science and democracy, and ultmately the technology and prosperity that comes from such things; and the second has given the world beautiful artwork and vastly enriched the relationships between men and women. Both thinking and feeling should be cultivated. The result will be more full and more integrated human beings who have at their disposal two fundamental modalities, allowing them to get a more complete understanding of themselves and of others and get to wisdom faster than through either thinking or feeling acting alone.


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