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Think rationally, talk emotionally

Published: 2019-11-20

The current state of my mind was greatly influenced by John Locke (洛克) and Empiricism (經驗主義). In contrast to René Descartes’s (笛卡爾) Rationalism (理性主義) where human have innate ideas, philosopher and physician John Locke believes that knowledge is instead “determined only by experience derived from sense perception.” This is also known as Empiricism. The ideas we learned in the early days would have significant effects on our thoughts.

We praise the human mind of being able to think rationally. We induce, we deduct, and we invent. We believe ourselves rational creatures. Yet we rarely act rationally. We are quick to react to instincts, which is not a bad thing to survive in the stone age. Even in modern days, high profile investors would usually rely on his/her gut feeling to bet on startups more than anything else. Because there are just things that words cannot describe.

Rationally, we must first accept our ignorance, which we define as the state of lacking knowledge.

“Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.” Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

We use words and languages to capture ideas. However, languages themselves are flawed. Languages are abstractions. Like any abstraction, we lost the details of the individuals to achieve a more abstract idea. For example, the word “red” is an abstraction of all the colors approximate the 625 nm - 740 nm range on the visible spectrum, or the hex code near #FF0000.

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” Ludwig Wittgenstein

The benefit of abstraction is to convey ideas at a higher level. Having the concept of colors, we can spend our time talking freely about designs and poetry, at the two assumptions that:

  1. the lost details aren’t necessary, e.g., the exact wavelength or hex code, and,
  2. we both aware of the lost details.

However, during any exchange of conversations, questions and misunderstandings usually lie in the very assumptions. We question the importance of the chosen words, i.e., “why did you say red, not coral?” And we examine the lost details, i.e., “did you mean red #FF0000 or red #ff4136?”

The conversation goes on. We fill in the details and more specifics. Even though we didn’t get lost in the details, frustration still lingered at the end. “Does the other person know why I care so much about the hex code? Why he/she doesn’t seem to care as I did?” “Perhaps he/she will never get it.”

I think words are a lousy medium to carry ideas. Though words are good enough to convey emotions, for all humans share the same: we love, we hate. Sometimes we feel happy and excited, and sometimes we feel anxious and depressed.

We are all empathetic. This is common to all of us.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.