Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Nature of Love

Love is the Greatest of all Human Emotions.
Love is a Recognition and Deep Regard for the Value of another Person.
Love is not just a strong Feeling; it requires Understanding.
Love must be both a Flame and a Light.
Love must be given Freely by an Unafraid human being.

Consummate love is the experience of great joy in the presence of a loved one, great joy in being close to a loved one, and great joy in our interaction with a loved one. A romantic relationship is a sanctuary, a source of renewed energy and security.

Perfection is an ideal. No person is perfect. We waste our time if we are looking for the perfect partner and relationship. We Grow into Love by Trying to Understand an Imperfect Person Perfectly.

Consummate love is like a campfire that gives steady warmth, with delightful bursts of intense heat from time to time, and it is long lasting because it is carefully tended to. True love is marked by respect and admiration, passion and kindness. Those who love you will remind you of your beauty when you feel ugly and your purpose when you are confused.

Love is not a like campfire that sparks quickly and the kindle throws out a lot of heat – that is just strong attraction – and it burns out quickly. A romantic relationship that can last must be based on trust and loyalty – and you do not get that “at first sight.”

Reason is the Guardian of Love. Without reason, you risk loving someone based on false beliefs or bad reasons. You might get lucky and end up with “the one,” but you risk waste time in an unsatisfying relationship, or worse.

We must learn how to sustain a loving relationship. Love does not automatically teach a person communication skills or how to resolve a conflict. The mere fact that two people love each other does not guarantee they will be able to sustain a romantic partnership.

Love without friendship is like a castle built upon quicksand. When the initial crush fades, it is liking, kindness and passion that will sustain the relationship. A best friend knows the song in your heart, and can sing the lyrics to you when you have forgotten the words.

Reason as the Servant of Desire

Reason must always keep a check on emotions, making sure they are sending correct signals, and correcting their recommendations when they are not. But, without emotions, reason would be dead. For reason is the slave of emotion.

Reason is not a motivator. Reason is a tool. But for that tool to be applied, you must be motivated to apply it, and what you apply it to depends on your goals, which are in turn the result of motives, and motives are the product of desires, and desires are the outcome of emotions.

For example, if you love someone, that love will generate certain desires with regard to that person, such as a desire that they be happy. Then you should apply reason to work out how to satisfy that desire. Thus, reason is the servant of the emotion.

But emotions can be in error. So if you love someone because of false beliefs, reason can correct those beliefs, causing you to stop loving them. Or if you love a person for the wrong reasons, reason can detect this and produce the conclusion that this love is wrong.

Reason is directed. It is employed, for purposes not its own, because reason alone cannot have a purpose. A purpose must be given to it. It must be assigned a goal.

Emotions provide the impulses and desires for certain ends. They are also a form of information, vital for deciding what to do, every moment of every day. So we need to pay attention to our emotions and take them seriously: make sure they have correct information to work on and are working properly.


Carrier, R. (2005). Sense and Goodness without God: A defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. USA: Author House.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Nature of Emotion

Emotions enrich our experiences and give us important information about ourselves. Our experience of emotions is the perception of brain-states by the brain itself. Emotions originally served the function of producing a particular behavior, while simultaneously preparing the body for it. They are typically caused by certain stimuli the brain has learned (or in some cases is born) to associate with the need for a particular behavior. But with the added stimuli of rational cognition, emotions can have very complex causes and content.

Emotions are a form of appraisal, and thus can be mistaken. The emotion your brain generates, in response to a certain stimulus, is an indication of the brain’s “opinion” about what it perceives is going on. This is an “evaluative” response, because this “opinion” relates to what our attitude or response to something should be, and will vary in intensity or degree. Emotions can err in two different ways: (1) if a stimulus is incorrectly perceived or interpreted; and (2) if a stimulus is incorrectly evaluated.

A stimulus can be an event (e.g. loud noise); a circumstance (e.g. being shot at); or a thought (e.g. realizing you are going to die). If we incorrectly interpret a loud noise as being shot at, we may experience fear – the evaluation that a circumstance is dangerous – but fear on this occasion would be a false indicator of danger. All emotions can be mistaken this way. For example, you might love someone because you have false beliefs about them.

Even with entirely correct beliefs and perceptions, an evaluation can be incorrect when our evaluation criteria are incorrect. The brain’s mechanism for evaluating circumstances involves “values.” Fear indicates that something is valued as dangerous, and whether something is dangerous is an objective fact about the world, not our mere opinion of it. We can love someone for all the wrong reasons when our love-evaluator generates the emotion we call ‘love’ in response to real facts that are not worthy of it, while not generating those emotions in response to facts that are indicative of the appropriateness of love.

Initially, our brain’s criteria of evaluation for each emotional response are not based on conscious reasoning. It is partly inborn (reaction to raw stimuli like attractive faces), and partly learned through childhood by imitation, training, and trial and error. Parents play a crucial role in all three methods, hopefully by setting a good example, fairly and consistently distributing punishments and rewards, and exposing children to new and different experiences and challenges, guiding them through safely with attention to their need to learn rather than be told.

Our values are open to conscious molding in adulthood – but it’s not easy. It’s not simply rearranging thoughts or just choosing to have a particular value. To rearrange values requires a long-term effort. It can be accomplished, for example, through extensive contemplation. This is one reason why a self-examined life is important, for only then will your values become really yours, rather than just what you ended up with. This is the only way you can have values that are rational and wise, rather than products of chance, error, naivety or indoctrination. Values that are rationally organized according to trustworthy beliefs will always be superior, more frequently generating more reliable emotions. Since emotions can be incorrect, we need reason and reflection to assess the accuracy of our emotions and to decide whether we should act on them or not.

Since emotions are wired into us before and beneath our reasoning faculties, we cannot simply ‘will them away,’ even when we know they are wrong. Their effect on our cognition and our body will remain until we remove ourselves from the stimulus, or reprogram ourselves to evaluate the same circumstances differently. But our will is normally under rational control. So even under the influence of what we know are false emotions, we can act differently than our emotions suggest, so long as we maintain focused control over our behavior and maintain our attention to reason.


Carrier, R. (2005). Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. USA: AuthorHouse.

Richard Carrier on Early Christian Hostility to Science (1 of 8)