Friday, February 6, 2009

Dr. Strangelove and Emotions

What might these two things have in common?  Dr. Strangelove was an enjoyable cold war satire involving Doomsday Machines and nuclear strategy.  For example, if we recieve news of an attack on us first, should we retaliate and push the button?  Policy has been to do so as a deterrent. But on the other hand, the damage has been done.  Pushing the button will not bring back the American lives lost. But then this is exactly the kind of thinking that encouraged them to attack in the first place.  And so forth..... This is where the Doomsday Machines come in.  If a vast network of explosives are wired to explode on attack, there is no reasoning involved.  No one bothers attacking because it will definitely destroy everything including them.  So this acts as the ultimate deterrent against enemy attackers. 

Our emotions may act in a similar way.  Imagine you are haggling with a used car dealer.  He is asking an outrageous price.  This enrages you as he is clearly trying to rip you off.  Why?  Your frustration is valuable in this transaction because it shows the car dealer that you cannot just be persuaded into taking the offer.  Your anger is like a mini-doomsday machine in that it clearly shows you will not budge.  It is a very effective bargaining strategy.  Emotions can help in any situation where it can be valuable to show that you have no choice.  For example, being helplessly in love shows that you cannot possibly be enticed by a more attractive partner and gives your current partner a sense of security.  Emotions are tough to fake as we are very sensitive to people not being genuine with us.  This adds to the credibility of emotions.  These are just a few examples, but you can probably think of many others.  

I wanted to share the above thoughts from "How the Mind Works" by Steven Pinker.  It seemed to be a very compelling idea about the evolutionary value of emotions.  Let me know your thoughts.

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