I just came across a ‘Follow your heart’ tweet. Seems we can’t have enough of those.
Why do we find so attractive the idea of following our heart and, in contrast, we find that following our brain is so uninspiring? We associate the idea of following our heart with freedom, bravery. The heart is always right. The heart ‘knows’ (my personal favourite). Following logic is just boring, possibly wrong and definitely cowardly. Even as I write these lines, my own mind insists: ‘Of course following one’s heart is brave, everyone knows this’. Well, first of all, sometimes more courage is needed not to follow one’s heart than to do so, but even if this weren’t the case, why do we find the possibility of acting without logic so liberating? Is logic a tyrant? Will breaking our logical chains liberate us, make us happy… at last? Would we rather not have logic? If it’s so uninspiring…
What ‘our heart’ wishes for is decided outside our logical ego consciousness, that is unconsciously. It is based on the expectation of an emotion, either to experience a positive emotion like joy (what we often call happiness) or to avoid a negative emotion like fear, shame or guilt. The idea that by following our heart we are somehow expressing our freedom is, well, illogical. That’s the beauty of it, probably. The goals set by our heart are not decided by our ego, they seem external to it, and therefore they have this varnish of idealisation that makes them so appealing. They are ‘pure’, not perverted by reason. Following an emotion has this champagne scent that compares to no other.
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittensMy Favourite Things, Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favourite things
Cream coloured ponies and crisp apple strudels
Door bells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favourite things
Yes. Like that. Who can compete with this… Aims set by the logical brain have no shine, they taste like metal.
Actually… can the ego set an aim, a wish, that is based only on logic? If I really wanted to set an aim for myself using just pure reason, would I be able to? This sounds strange, but it feels somehow impossible. A purely logical aim feels more like a mathematical consequence. An aim implies a certain degree of uncertainty, as it depends on future events. If it is 100% logical, then it is almost unavoidable and it can be hardly be called a wish, an aim.
Whatever aim we set ourselves, it will involve an emotion, even if the aim is to avoid negative emotions or to avoid all emotions. Even if it is to avoid any decisions, any change, it still involves an emotion (fear, for instance).
If we make a choice not to make a radical change in our lives out of fear, for example, how are we not following our heart? Our logical brain does not feel emotions, the heart does. The heart sets an aim and logic devises a way to reach it. It’s perfect. Why do we associate the decisions based on fear or lack of courage with logic? They are just as emotional and ‘hearty’ as the shiny daring paths.
I believe that we always follow our hearts, like it or not. I believe that ‘follow your heart’ is not a recommendation, but an unavoidable trait of human beings. I guess the emphasis should be placed on “your”, rather than on “heart”, but that’s a different story.
Our heart sets aims, wishes, for us to feed the reward system. Let’s assume we follow our heart and we fulfil our wishes. What then? We may soon realise that even if the heart ‘knew’, what we found so appealing starts losing its golden shine. Happiness is transitory because of how our reward centre is built, maybe we don’t have an alternative. Our heart compels us to chase the carrot or to run from the stick. It just doesn’t let us be. Maybe a more useful recommendation would be ‘look into your heart’.
It would be interesting to ask a computer to follow its heart… Would it feel liberated, I wonder? It doesn’t have a heart, of course, like the Tinman in Oz. And yet, the Tinman followed his heart to Oz to get one… a poetic feedback loop.