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An irrational rationality

Maybe Spocks repressed emotions are the reason Kirk is Captain?

We are all guilty of pondering for more than is reasonable over a restaurant menu, only to pick the same dish as we did last time; along with the occasional lapse in rationality, when faced with the line of shots in Coalition on a Monday.

It would seem sensible decision-making and reason have been recklessly abandoned, left at home with poise and dignity. However the line between rational and irrational decisions is finer than first believed. Ignorance is bliss until faced with the prospect of the library or a night in Life.

We want more information to make decisions easier but in turn this increases the difficulty of making that decision. This is where emotions lend their impulsive hand. Many people associate poor decisions due to the over involvement of personal emotion, little solid information or a lack of logic.

This common misconception has been disputed through a series of studies in to the link between emotion and decisions. These were carried out by Antonio Damasio, head of the department of neurology at the University of Iowa. He observed 12 patients each with damage to the orbitofrontal cortex.

The OFC is involved in producing emotions and the pre-frontal cortex is known to be involved in decision-making. It was witnessed that those with damage to the OFC found it near impossible to make any decision no matter how small or insignificant. Further experiments were carried out to measure physical responses to certain emotional stimuli such as sexual, violent and pleasant images. In general, these images would elicit physical responses to any emotions felt.

Increased heart rate, raised temperature or change in blood pressure were all absent from these patients, essentially they had been left emotionless.

Without some kind of emotional background, simple tasks like choosing where to sit in an empty room become a logistical nightmare. This interplay between emotion and decisions relays itself everyday without our conscious knowledge. We have been conditioned to believe that decision making improves with expertise and separating personal emotion from subjective utility. Why then when emotion is lacking in individuals, is there a complete incapacity to make any decisions?

Clearly it is emotional experience that enhances decision making skills. We instead use the memory of a past emotion to make a rational choice based on the emotional consequences of that previous experience. 

This may come as an unwelcome surprise for those among us striving to be the next generation of city boys and girls. The idea that one must be empty of emotion with coal instead of a heart, to succeed in such career choices is largely a false one. Success in these fields is tightly intertwined with the ability to use your emotion to make snap decisions. In other words blank, void, drones need not apply. 

I myself am guilty of excruciating indecisiveness over various trivialities. Tea or coffee, shorts or skirt, blue or red, tequila or vomit. This indecisiveness could be born from a lack of emotional attachment to the task at hand, social and moral conflicts or a lack of experience. How then, you ask, do we distinguish between a good and bad decision if emotions are our rulers? Our brain is set up in a series of reward systems, so a decision based on past emotion that made us feel good will be reinforced next time when a similar decision comes along. 

The current economic crisis could be appointed to the bad decisions of a few gluttonous people. Still, the main driving emotion being greed and the prospect of power. Therefore it is undeniable that emotion does not drive rationality alone but without the presence of emotion, no decisions can be reached at all. Rationality is in itself an aspect of decision-making and ultimately this is dependant on emotion. Like Wilde said ‘we’re all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.’

Rational or irrational aside the more we trust our emotions, dreams and aspirations the more likely we are to be able to make a solid decision and possibly make dreams a reality.

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