Space, the Final Front– whoops, thought this was something else, apologies!

Logic vs Emotion… that is one of the age-old questions of humanity, isn’t it? Which one rules all? Clearly logic, as that is what came first in the title, right?

Well… no, it’s not that simple. Societal behaviors are never that simple, ever. As a matter of fact, this post will walk you through how that process works for me (I can’t speak for everyone here).

Ah, so where to start - like I said, it’s no simple matter. Have you ever seen Star Trek? If so, you probably know where I’m about to go - but if not, let me explain. In the Star Trek Universe, there is a species who are known as Vulcans. Vulcans abide by (science and thus by extension…) logic, and to them, logic trumps all. Logic governs their whole society, and they’re raised from the start of their lives to embrace it.

Now depending on who you ask, Vulcans are “capable” of emotions, or rather, they can feel them if they were to unravel a lifetime of conditioning that taught them to suppress emotions. So take that as you will, and you’ll be able to answer the “capability” question yourself - would you be able to overcome a lifetime of conditioning on $TOPIC_OR_SUBJECT when it completely goes against what you were taught?

They’re quite an advanced civilization! However, despite their greatness, there have been multiple times where Vulcans learnt that emotions could prevail, and be the “winner”. Of course, they still don’t embrace emotions, which is understandable (considering the whole “indoctrinated - which may not be the word I’m looking for here - from childhood” thing). Conversely, there were also cases where the opposite occurred, in which humans learnt to look at things a bit more from a logical perspective.

Now I’ve always had an interest in the logical side of things. In my last post, I briefly covered (I think!) that my love for science and technology stems from the principal of certain things being absolute. In the world of computer science, we tend to use a term, “truthy” (or “truthiness”) to evaluate whether a condition is positively true or not. Or in another way to put it, computers almost always do what they’re told. Unexpected behavior != the computer being “wrong” - it was just instructed wrong. In science and math, we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that some component of the universe behaves a certain way (and it usually allows us to answer the question of why it does, at the same time!).

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if humans were the same way? Eh, I’ll let you be the judge of that - either way, they’re not. You could say something to someone that is completely logical, and still invoke a bad reaction from them - then you could replicate the exact same scenario, just with another person, and not inadvertently start the next Cold War.

Of course, I’ve spent a long time (along with plenty of others) trying to learn when to approach a situation with logic vs emotion, and honestly for me it usually comes down to a mix of both. But even with that, there are cases where it’s really difficult finding that balance - or god forbid, you have to pick one or the other.

[Content Warning begins here, if you’re not interested in reading what is a morbid situation, skip to the end of this content warning!]

I’ll provide an example of this, and while it’s an extreme situation, it is both a realistic one (that I hope you and I are never forced to encounter!) and is also a scenario that is often brought up in the world of ethics.

Have you ever heard of “The Trolley Problem”? - if not, I’ll break it down for you (though the link will probably do a better and more thorough explanation than the one you get from me):

Consider that there is a trolley, that has spiraled out of control and is on a direct (and fatal) collision course towards a group of stranded people (the link specifies five people, in case you like to be exact). You’re in an interesting position however, because you happen to be next to a lever. This lever will adjust the course of the trolley, and send it down another track - however that track still has one person trapped on it. You’re left with two choices (and just two - there is no third, fourth, fifth, etc):

  • Take no action, which will result in the trolley killing the five stranded people on the main track.
  • Take action and pull the lever, which will result in the trolley killing one person on the alternate track.

No matter what option you choose, it will result in the death of at least one person. That’s an incredibly difficult decision to make, and one you’d have to make quickly. Now you could try to take a logical approach and take option #2 as it ends in only one person being killed, but how many of us could say that we’d be able to sleep at night? I certainly wouldn’t be able to. To make the scenario “emotionally” difficult, you could extend it to say that the person on the alternate track is a close friend/relative.

Referring back to the Star Trek Universe, this is actually a fairly recurring theme that comes up, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. And even then, it’s still doesn’t come down to a black-and-white choice.

[End of Content Warning]

If you didn’t read the above, it most likely shouldn’t be too difficult to find an example in your life where a situation didn’t present a 100% clear example of whether you should approach it with an emotional mindset over a logical mindset (and vice-versa).

Which of course circles us back to the question - which one should you choose? Well, unfortunately I can’t answer that for you, it is very much a “path” (so to speak) you need to choose for yourself. In my experience, no matter which one you choose, someone is going to be unhappy with it.

While I try (and from what I’ve been told by others, am quite good at) making my tone just about crystal clear regardless of an interaction being face-to-face, or over a distance (like the internet). There’s actually a lot of logic that goes behind that - such as my choice of words, and avoiding explicit punctuation in some cases to make a conversation appear “casual” (but otherwise staying gramatically correct, hopefully!) but that also takes a lot of emotional insight in order to try to predict how that will translate to the other person/people in the conversation…

I’d say, there’s more emotion to that process, and yet at the same time most of what I try to say has more logic behind it (unless otherwise inappropriate in that context). A better way to picture this would be, I work in a helpdesk/customer support position as part of my job. Sometimes, I have to tell the people that I’m supporting that they’re wrong, but I have to do it tactfully. If I press too hard on the logical side then it just sounds combative. Yet, if I am too lackadaisical about it, then the approach is a bit too soft (for lack of a better term), and doesn’t demonstrate to them what actually needs to be done - and of course, that does neither of us any favors, nor is it professional.

How I came about to this quasi-dual usage of wielding both sides? That’s a story for another day, and quite a long one at that. So I leave you with the following questions as a parting gift: Which of the two do you choose? Do you have one absolute that trumps all? Or do you try to fall somewhere in-between? Do you have a reason why? Did you make that choice consciously, or was it “made for you” as part of your upbringing?

If you’d like to, you can reach out to me via any of the contact options on my front-page, whether you’d like to discuss the topic, or even just vent about the problems you’ve faced with this in the past (or present). Or, it can also be a rhetorical question. Bonus points if this inspires you to write about it yourself!

After all, some self-introspection (usually) never hurt anyone!