Experience Vs. Evidence

My partner and I have many, many discussions about faith and reason. Faith in our own experiences and reasoning behind the decisions we make. We like to think we are rational people. We discuss the same ideas everyone discusses. However, we’ve found that when it comes to major issues in our lives; those we love, the faith we follow, reason has little to do with how we act when decisions are made. When it comes to ethereal emotions such as love, faith, anger, sorrow, joy… well, reason does not even come close to touching our reactions in the midst of such emotions. Realizing this makes us question whether we can even trust ourselves to come to sensible conclusions if we are such creatures of spleens, hormones, brain patterns, emotions, or any other thing that seems to sway reason to a good extent.  But that’s assuming there is such a thing as pure reason. If everything comes from the brain as some scientists now think, whence comes the bifurcation. And, not only that… which is a better tool for discerning decisions or is that question the wrong question to ask?

As a society we are both told again and again by our peer groups and our families that our experiences count for very little. We are told that we should be “reasonable” creatures and not base our lives on those pesky emotions we are all born with. We are told that we cannot trust ourselves to make important decisions because emotions “get in the way.” Wait.. HUH? Of course emotions get in the way. That’s what they are designed to do! Everyone knows that right? The go on… reason demands laws to be observed; laws of nature and laws of man (begging the argument “which man?”). Breaking them, we are told, will rip the fabric of the universe and cause chaos to reign! You don’t want to bring about chaos do you? And yet… chaos already reigns, from the very folks sometimes who claim we should not listen to ourselves! There are clearly over-thinkers and over-emotionalists. Why can’t the two halves meet?

Yet, they tell us there can be no deviating from these so-called laws and once adhered to, they must always be adhered to. Take for example the marriage debate going on now about who can marry whom. Forgive me if I find these arguments fatuous and perhaps a little childish and self-serving. People break rules and make up their own all the time.  What was true 100 years ago is not true today and what we now know about science would be laughed at in the past. The institutional church changes its mind. Scientists by their very nature change their theories (they have to in order to adjust). Even, atheists, who claim reason at all costs, show that they too are subject to emotions like the rest of us.

No, what cannot be agreed upon, and what will never be agreed upon, is that everyone relies on their emotions to make decisions. Why people want to resist this notion and force everyone to conform to some standard that cannot be standardized is beyond me. Everyone knows the rules, but when push comes to shove, we use faith, love, and even hate to make decisions about the courses our lives will take. You can reason until you are blue in the face about a said rule, but if your experience (i.e. emotional life) proves otherwise, experience seems to take precedent.

This is why I’ve had my fill of those who try to convert “unbelievers” and atheists and of those who try to debunk Christianity. You cannot ever do either without the cooperation of said person’s emotional will. You can preach to people that they are not allowed to fall in love with particular people because God “said” this or that. You can tell them they will go to hell if they step across this or that line. You can tell them they are believing in imaginary figures or strange entities that do not exist all you like. But just experience it and all that changes, reason be damned. So-called rationality goes out the window when emotions come to call. That does not mean believers are wrong to base their beliefs on their emotional brain any more than it’s wrong for atheists to base their beliefs on their thinking brain.

The brain’s a funny thing. It may or may not be proved that minds are the result of brain activity or that emotions come from the brain. For me, it doesn’t matter where our thoughts or our emotions come from or whether we have souls or spirits of if these are created or non-existent. The fact is that we do have that something that scientists, philosophers and religious describe. But it’s not whether or how we have these thoughts, spirits, emotions, etc, but what we do with our thoughts, emotions, and spiritual challenges, even without guidebooks built into our paws at birth It’s an argument really, about which “brain” makes our decisions and remaining comfortable with that; the Emotional brain or the Thinking brain and some people clearly operate from one or the other. Some even operate from both, which is the ideal in my opinion. Clearly we need both.

Emotions inform our experiences and experiences inform our reason and new information informs both through media and voila! We have principles.  Think of it as algebra:

Experience ÷ (information + reason) = principles

I put experience first because we are born knowing nothing but what is genetically coded (knowledge is a posteriori as Sartre puts it). Experience ALWAYS comes first. What we add to it through reason and information.   When others start telling us that our own experiences are invalid in forming life principles, that’s when the trouble starts. We can choose what information informs us, say we call them our guidebooks in life, but most of us did not get to choose our experiences, our parents, our cultures, or our heritage.  It’s only natural we form our concepts and ideas from the  experiences we did have.  Trouble ensues when others tell us what to believe and disbelieve based on their own life experiences! They presume to know what we should or should not do.  Relatively few laws are really worth keeping, but foremost agreed upon is the  freedom to stay alive, work for our living, and enjoy our life without encroachment by others.

So, back to the conundrum, which is a more “rational” way of viewing the world?  It depends on who you ask. (smile) 🙂


4 thoughts on “Experience Vs. Evidence

  1. That’s as clear an exposition of the confusion at the heart of the matter as I’ve read. Torn between the impact of emotion, and that of experience, processed by what we hope is our reason, we can’t even be relied on to know one from the other. How often have we heard someone inveighing against something from what they claim to be an evidence based perspective – some holy book or just “The University Of Life”. But we, as outsiders to this rant can clearly hear the emotional hysteria that drives it, while the ranter thinks she/he is being completely reasonable.

    “Why people want to resist this notion and force everyone to conform to some standard that cannot be standardized is beyond me.”
    I can only suggest that this impulse comes from what you say about genetic coding. We are social animals. Group solidarity is enhanced by a warm feeling of righteous agreement within the group, and we can move ourselves up the pecking order if we can persuade others to join. They will then be junior members, and we will fill the role of mentor. This is a key difference between those who like to discuss ideas, and those who promote “isms”, with which I share your “fed up”ness. Ideology is for demagogues and systematisers.

    If we can’t sort out this inherent confusion between reason and emotion, we should, as you say, at least be aware of it. Integration of these approaches, between and within people, is a good aim, but it requires a good understanding of the bits to be integrated; and that’s the hard part.

    Personally, I’m drawn to the mysterious, because I can more easily understand that endless pointless introspection may not bring me clarity. In that sense, love which demands no particular allegiances, and is less prone to analysis is, paradoxically, a safer place for me. Some things simply are because I feel that they are.

    • Reg,
      You wrote, “Personally, I’m drawn to the mysterious, because I can more easily understand that endless pointless introspection may not bring me clarity.”

      I like this. I think this sums it up for me too. The endless introspection is just that; endless. Sure there are facts, but there are also “theories” that some posit as absolute “fact” in the theological and metaphysical world. The mysterious can come in and settle what two sides of an argument cannot because first and foremost, it implies humility in the face of the unexplainable. There are things that cannot be known and there are things that can. Those of us without degrees in science where the adherents have their own language and method will never be able to enter the conversation as the writer of this entry points out. But there comes a time when we all have to choose what we believe to be true in the less concrete sciences such at philosophy, theology, and metaphysics. And, as you say love demands no allegiance outside of man-made rules. That I can live with as well.

  2. Finally got around reading this!
    Very interesting. I can only add another 🙂 or two 🙂 🙂 to your closing sentence.
    Stay groovy.

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