Emotion and awe

Two things I’m tired of: the Spock fallacy and the goshwow argument.

What follows is a pissy and angry post, so a divider goes here. Go below to read on.

The Spock fallacy is the accusation that some nasty science-people try to be all cool and unemotional and absolutely rational and cut off this emotional part of us, and as that can’t be done, bow down and worship the Pope. (Or at least give the man enormous respect, man.)

The problem with that is that though no-one is indeed without emotion (I, for example, am brimming with rage while I write this), I think (almost) no-one even wants us to be. Certainly not the science types accused of this. Scientists love and fear and desire like everyone else, and would — for the most part — just like us to use them rational parts for making decisions and finding out about things, and not the emotional parts like Hate of the Other, Fear of the Big, Gullibility about the Complex, and such. Emotions might get us started, but they won’t guide us to any finishing line.

We shouldn’t be and can’t be Spocks, but we should try to be Spocks about the things we need to be Spocks about.

I apologize for over-spocking the previous paragraph.

And yes, trying to be rational can lead you to doing terrible things, but at least rational views evolve. Emotional and religious justifications will have you doing the same pogrom over… and over… and over again.

And the goshwow argument? Well, it goes something like this (quote unfair and simulated):

“I’m not for the big bad institutionalized religion, man, or for the literal readings. That’s just silly. Religion is this huge individual interior life awe-thing. It’s like, this ‘sacred’ thing, religious impulse, interior connection mythology kazoo, being like totally gosh-wow at how awesome something is. That’s religion, and you science bastards can’t live without it; now bow down and worship the Pope!

What, religion is just a sense of wonder?

To that I would like to comment that apparently Neon Genesis Evangelion, Bleach, House, and the novels of Stephen King are my religion. They and other works of fiction give me lots of awe and wonder; not just excitement but deep, stirring moments of near-ecstasy, and they’re the product of a long tradition and dialogue about… reality versus giant robots and stuff. Has been going on since the first bard and the first cave painting.

I suspect this supposedly awesome new nondogmatic personal religion isn’t anything more either: just heavily glorified stirring fiction.

Now, if only a scientist had written a book about how the thrill of finding out can be just as good as the awe some fiction gives you, and actually is much nobler and truer since you’re learning about real things instead of amusing yourself with the fictions of Anno, King, Muhammad or Benedict…

Oh, of course. Dawkins wrote Unweaving the Rainbow; but if you clearly admit that there’s awe in that view of the world and awe in art and fiction, there wouldn’t be a special place for religious fictions, right? (Sorry; religious traditions and perspectives. Because this new religion’s supposed to be this awe we all have.)

Really: if your definition of religion is broad enough to admit “Wow! Ichigo Kurosaki has an effing huge sword!” — well, I submit you’re not talking about religion anymore. You’re talking about the sense of wonder, which is an entirely different and uncontroversial thing. To say that this goshwow argument, this semantic trick, is somehow parsing together religion and science seems to me, well, expletive deleted disingenious.

And now I’m off to reconcile Christianity and Islam by redefining the former as a piece of lettuce and then patiently nagging at the latter until it admits there ain’t nothing wrong with vegetables. No reason why this trick shouldn’t work elsewhere.

(The reason for this tirade? Well, my third-favorite podcast had a guest that seemed to Spock and goshwow and generally made me yowl with furious disagreement. I might have misread his words, but so it seemed to me.)

(Also, since in contexts like this someone sooner or later says “it’s better to be in the middle than in the extreme ends, you Dawkins fanboy!” — well, I wouldn’t be a middle-grounder on misogyny or slavery. I won’t be a middle-grounder in the unpleasantness between the various lies called religion and the honest search for truth called science either. There are some things where the middle position is not wisdom, but simple indecision.)

(Ah well, religions — whether explicit and wrong or vague and meaningless — are as eternal and always with us as… say, smallpox.)

One Response to “Emotion and awe”

  1. Drew Says:

    Sort of off-topic, but the NPR show Radiolab did a great segment on the Spock fallacy when they covered a man who, medically, actually didn’t have the ability to experience emotion: that part of his brain was damaged.

    The stereotype of course, would be that he would be perfectly rational and calm about everything. But the reality is that he was almost completely paralyzed and unable to live: he was incapable of making even the tiniest of decisions, like what color pen to use to sign something. That’s because your emotions play a vital role in just pushing you to make a final call, to move, to act, to value certain qualities and things over others instead of deliberating forever.

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