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Winning The War Between Logic And Impulse

Throughout most of the day, decision-making is generally so easy that we do not notice we’re doing it. Habits and behaviors, especially in adults, are so deeply ingrained in our psyche that (whether or not our habits are ultimately beneficial to our well-being), we do not feel much internal conflict whilst engaging with the mundane activities of everyday life. That is, the routines that culminate to create our existence are, for the most part, created by default.

The times where we do feel discord, however, are those when our impulses and our sense of higher logic are misaligned. We talk about this in philosophy, particularly in the origins of morality and of conflict, when our impulses seem to rear against some higher moral aiming that we have adapted either as individuals or as a collective. To a degree, there is always a war between what seems logical and what feels impulsive, and a part of the overall process of self-actualization is to step back and observe just how much our impulsive behavior seems to (or to not) align with our beliefs about how human behavior should manifest in reality.

Sometimes, it is our impulsive behavior that is out of line. This certainly seems to be the case in the eyes of much of the Judaeo-Christian world, where morality often is championed to the degree that any misguided or impulsive behavior is branded as wrong (or “sinful”). Other times, however, it is our own logic that is flawed, our own expectations and inability to integrate a higher sense of morality into a real, conflict-latent world. Whatever the case, it would be helpful to understand the symbiotic relationship between morality and impulse, how our own beliefs develop and evolve, and the behaviors we engage (consciously and unconsciously) that are perfect reflections of the beliefs that we really hold onto.

How Heightened Emotion Hijacks Our Ability To Process Information And Communicate

Heightened states of emotions can absolutely become of great benefit to us, that is, when we’ve found the right outlet for them. But heightened emotion that plays out on an inappropriate stage can be, at best, embarrassing, and at worst, downright dangerous. Part of being a child is learning what the boundaries of this “stage” are (i.e. exactly how heightened our emotions can be before the world and adults around us deem them “inappropriate”). Of course no two individuals have the same childhood, thus, no two children express emotions the same way from such a young age and many children grow up to become adults who either over or under-censor themselves. The world has no shortage of people who have trouble expressing anger, sadness, discomfort, or despair appropriately (or if not “appropriately”, at least, in a way that furthers the process of self-actualization).

These kinds of heightened emotions, especially emotions that we know to have long-term negative effects on our health, such as anger, must have a productive and direct outlet where we’ve trained ourselves to channel them as adults. It does not mean that we can ever get to a place where we do not have to experience anger or anguish, but it means that these heightened emotions occur under a protective umbrella of personal growth.

The defining factor of these kinds of emotions is that they hijack our ability to fully engage with our sense of morality or logic, and lead us to a place where we are acting on pure impulse in response to them.

When Being Impulsive Is Beneficial — And Logic Is Deeply Flawed

In a modern discussion about psychology, especially a discussion surrounding mental health and how to get our generation recovered from things such as depression, anxiety, and the various low-grade addictions that engulf both of those, it would seem that impulse is the culprit here. After all, what are addictions if not the culmination of impulsive behaviors that are ultimately costly?

What we often miss in this discussion is the symbiotic relationship between logic and impulse, that they depend on each other and not only that they are interdependent but that our logic surrounding our self-image and our moral standing is usually shaped before our cognitive abilities are even fully formed. That means that impulse is often the creator of logic in the first place, and then vise versa, until we’ve shaped a worldview that leads to the development of habits (and for some, addictions) that are either ultimately beneficial or ultimately harmful. But either way, they are both impulsive and, to the individual at hand, “logical”. To an individual who is deeply depressed or addicted to a behavior, it truly is “logical” that they would be engaging in self-destruction. It is never good enough to damn the impulse or behaviors, especially when, at this individual level, they are markers of an underlying belief system to which they respond in the first place.

How To Create A Brain That Has Healthy Impulses

One of the greatest advantages of managing heightened emotions as an adult is that we have the capacity to witness our own impulses as they play out in the various habits, behaviors, even thought patterns that we carry on every day. And that’s precisely the key — or at least the idea, that these habits and the “louder”, more established thoughts are the physical manifestations of the logic that is already encoded in our psyche, like a sort of DNA. Cognitive behavioral therapy may not be worth the cost for everyone but much of what it aims at is a state of being where behavior is not only carried out by oneself, but also analyzed, understood, and integrated into a process of personal development.

Self-observation may not always change our less healthy behaviors, fix our brains, and orient us in the right (or, at the philosophical level, what would be the moral) direction, but it will give a brutally honest depiction of not only the our thoughts but the relationship between our logical mind and the impulses that respond to the logical mind. The problem, especially with extremely self-aware or extremely morally-conscious individuals, however, is that it can be very difficult to engage in a process of self-observation without compulsively engaging in a kind of self-blame (and further perpetuating the cycle of self-deprecating impulsive behaviors). Therapy might be of use here, if you are the sort of person who can be coerced out of blaming yourself for having “flawed” logic and harmful impulses.

Nonetheless, we are still engaging in an inescapable sort of evolution. Even if we are still compulsively engaging in thoughts and behaviors we know are harmful, there is a higher part of the psyche that is not subject to the time and the space that we are convinced we’ve lost out on by being so self-destructive. A healthy brain certainly looks different for everyone, because of the deeply personal experiences that lead individuals to carve out a personal philosophy and impulses to follow. But, it may be universally suggested, however, that a healthy brain is one that allows itself to make the necessary mistakes for its own growth.



Using the lens of philosophy to foster a civil discourse

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