Instinct and emotion again

I just can’t stop feeling.

Apart from the late night stupiphanies, I’ve been doing too much thinking about the old reason vs. emotion thing. This keeps leading me back to Kant, not as a trigger, but as perhaps the progenitor of the cognitive approach to emotions, and the questioning of the subject/object nature of feelings.

A review I read a while ago, To Feel and Feel Not by Simon Blackburn, addresses a point of view that seems quite Kantian. Without emotion, our decision making processes are at a standstill, so it seems that any theory of judgment or reason must embrace the emotions as a cognitive faculty. This can be done without “emotional sogginess” of the therapy industry, as Blackburn so succinctly puts it. Feelings do impact on an instinctual “fight or flight” level, but most important to me is consideration of what overrides that basic form of emotional cognition: our perception of the sublime and the beautiful.

*Warning— I feel an R-word festival coming on*

It occurs to me that there is a difference between reflexive feelings, and recursive ones. Some feelings fold back upon themselves, constantly rethinking themselves, reevaluating themselves, reprocessing, reordering, refiguring, etc. Roland Barthe’s A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments is a perfect example of that. Some feelings, like love, are just so self-reflective that they seem to develop a life of their own, outside the stimulus that provoked the emotional arousal. Lust, on the other hand, seems to be more purely reflexive, a response to a stimulus that fades fairly quickly once the stimulus is removed. I was also thinking about the way that my brain processed situations when I was photographing them.

Instinct, in the flavor that I embraced, was not a static thing. It was a constant revaluation of the scene, emotionally, not logically, which constructed sets of probabilities regarding the best place to stand, and the best time to press the button. It went far beyond simple stimulus-response behaviour. It wasn’t just a matter of an instant, but a sort of stepping into the flow of a situation, recursively revaluating it each instant, not for logical possibilities, but for emotional ones. Shit happens. Be prepared, be there, before it happens. There is a nearly imperceptible delay between when you press the shutter and the image is seized; you have to anticipate, and it becomes a sort of mind-reading activity. I used to think of it as reflexive, but I’m reconsidering this. I’m beginning to think that it’s recursive. Decisions based on a continuing response, not a momentary one, to emotional arousal.

Love reinvents itself; lust does not. Left with no object to react to, love turns away to other things, into life itself, sustaining itself without the need for external stimuli, or governance. That is of course unless you’re a pathetic romantic suicide like Werther: to think that love is dependent on anyone’s reaction to it, is the tragic mistake. As Shelley said in Prometheus Unbound “all things are subject, but eternal Love.” Maybe it’s the recursion. Yeah, that’s the ticket.