It was a banal video chat. I was asking them about what they had made for lunch, and suddenly, my sister Yolanda grabbed the iPad, went to the living room, and began to tell me about something she had heard on the radio. While she spoke, I was doing a couple of other things. It’s not that I was not paying attention to Yolanda, but I speak with my sisters every day, and sometimes I simply go about my business while we chat. The fact is that I don’t know how Yolanda and I went from talking about how delicious were the stewed ribs that our brother-in-law had cooked to her question, “Why do I feel the way I feel when I feel this way?” Almost always I have an answer for her, but not this time.
And then I decided to return to the writer who opened the door to the fascinating connection between neuroscience and philosophy fifteen years ago, Antonio Damasio. With his 1994 book, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, he revolutionized the critical theory between emotions and reason. I took my notes about his books, and I decided to find the answer to my sister’s question. To the neuroscientist Damasio, emotion is not only not the enemy of reason, but he defines the relationship between the two as complementary: existing to think, rather than thinking to exist…I got hooked again in his books and, of course, forgot my purpose.
In turbulent times, I must have my mind busy so that fear cannot paralyze me. The science, culture and philosophy magazine Nautilus gets me to disconnect completely from my darkest emotions and, by coincidence, in this week’s issue I found an answer to my sister’s question. According to Damasio, “The importance of feeling is that it makes you critically aware of what you are doing in moral terms.”