Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gut Feelings, Snap Judgments, and Rational Thinking

I was briefly looking at an online article from Scientific American called “Why We Should Choose Science over Beliefs.” Someone had commented on the article, beginning with the claim: “Sometimes gut feelings are at odds with scientific experts.” The commenter went on to talk about the necessity of faith even in accepting scientific claims, but my issue is with neither the comment nor the article, both of which I barely looked at. It is with the initial sentiment expressed by the commenter. Too often, I think we see this type of thing. “You can’t go by emotions. Emotions get it wrong. Reason is what’s reliable.” I’m glad that some books have challenged this view, at least to a modest degree. I’m thinking of books on intuition and the importance thereof, such as Educating Intuition by Robin M. Hogarth, Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer, and the popular Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. Of course, these books also point out the many shortcomings of intuition and the ways in which snap judgments, fueled by gut feelings as they often are, can lead one astray. But herein lies an important distinction that I feel is way too often overlooked. Snap judgments are not the same as gut feelings. Insofar as we are referring to something visceral and/or emotional, gut feelings can never be wrong. That’s because they aren’t the kinds of things that can be wrong. They are feelings! They do not have truth-values. A feeling of dread cannot be true or false. A feeling of euphoria cannot be true or false. A feeling of confusion cannot be true or false. Only the interpretations thereof can be true or false. If I feel dread and think “I am not in a safe place,” I can be wrong in my judgment but not wrong in my emotional reaction to my surroundings. True, in ideal situations, my emotional responses will be reliable guides to reality. I won’t feel unsafe if I’m not. But the point is, my feelings and impressions, before I translate them into something expressible in language, are not right or wrong in the sense of being true or false. They just are.

This is a topic I have been quite intrigued by over the last few years. I have come to believe we are largely emotional beings, and that even rationality is a more emotional endeavor than we suppose it to be. (Perhaps I’ll post on that in the future.) Our experience of the world is largely interpretive, and in almost every case, what is being interpreted is something qualitative. Thus, I scoff at the notion that rationality is superior to emotion. To say such a thing is to suggest that the two are independent of each other. I don’t think there is such a thing as rationality without emotion.

Anyway, I’m getting off on a tangent. The simple point I wanted to make in this post is that gut feelings are not snap judgments, and it is snap judgments that can go wrong. A snap judgment is a misapplication of reason, not the antithesis of reason. It is hasty rational thinking, not irrational thinking. And I for one am skeptical of discounting emotion. I think the better solution is to learn how better to assess our emotions. Assessment is where the errors of snap judgments creep in. Paying attention to our emotions is not the problem. The problem is that we sometimes incorrectly identify the cause of our emotions, the implications of those emotions, etc. I suspect that, in many, many instances, even poor snap judgments are underwritten by something I would call intelligent emotion. That is, I think the emotions that underlie even mistaken snap judgments are, more often than not, “appropriate.” I may incorrectly judge the used car I am looking at to be a good value, but my positive feelings may be tied to something that is genuinely good—the friendliness of the used car salesman, the pleasant smell of the car, and/or the fact that the car is reminiscent of the car driven by my wife when I first met her (which I may not even consciously recall). It may be quite appropriate for me to experience good vibes when looking at the car under these circumstances.  If I then mistakenly decide that the car is worth purchasing, it does not follow that my gut feelings were wrong. Only my snap judgment was wrong. It is my opinion that recognizing this distinction is vital to being a rational thinker, not because gut feelings are incompatible with logic, but because they are so indispensable to it.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Exploring Has Begun

A couple of months ago, I announced that I would be blogging for a new website called Exploring Sainthood. The website offers both podcasts and blog entries, all of which aim to serve the site’s mission of “model[ing] individualized pathways of belief, religious practice, and relationship with God that are meaningful for all Latter-day Saints.” I have now written two articles that have been published to the site. Here are links for those who are interested:

Even if we exclude my posts, I can honestly say that everything I’ve read and/or listened to that is available on the Exploring Sainthood site has been absolutely top-notch. I haven’t read everything, but I’ve read some and listened to all of the available podcasts. It’s a high-quality site, and I’m pleased to contribute to it. You should check it out, even if you don’t want to read my articles in particular.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Potpourri No. 38

Getting to know me in brief, but not in briefs…

The semester is going very well. I have 41 students in my logic course. It’s funny, but I think I prefer either small or super big classes. I struggle to feel a rapport with classes of this moderate size. Smaller classes feel more intimate and casual, and that creates a nice vibe. Extremely large classes, such as those with over 100 students, make you feel like you’re putting on a performance, but in a good way. Then again, the only large classes I’ve taught have been ones where there is a lot of classroom discussion. Logic doesn’t really lend itself to classroom discussions, so it’s almost pure lecture. That makes it harder on me as the instructor. I feel boring and tedious sometimes, but it is getting better as time goes on. I’m staying on top of things really well, and that makes me feel both productive and relatively stress-free, which is a beautiful rarity.

Being back in our Tallahassee apartment after living in a full-size Utah home for a month, it can feel a bit stifling. It doesn’t help that it’s incredibly hot and humid here. The heat adds to the tension. But the primary problem is space. We’re too big of a family now to be living in an apartment. We really are. There just isn’t room for us. Everybody’s always stuck within the same couple of rooms, and thus it is constantly hectic. And you can’t move from one side of the room to the other without exercising some impressive feats of contortion, maneuvering your way around various pieces of furniture, toys, and even other human beings. Something as simple as getting yourself a bowl of cereal in the morning can feel like a logic puzzle. There’s about enough room on the counter at any given moment for one bowl, so how do you get out a cereal bowl and the milk and the box of cereal itself? I sometimes find myself looking around for a place to set down something like a water bottle and feeling genuinely perplexed. Do I try to balance it on my head so I can get something out of the fridge? More than once, I have literally set a plate of food on the floor because there wasn’t really a spot to place it on any kitchen counter. I can then get my drink out of the fridge or whatever. I’m sure I’ll look back on all of this and laugh. Laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh, maniacally from the confines of the mental institution to which this way of life eventually sends me.

As of last Sunday, Melanie and I are no longer in charge of the younger nursery at our local church. We have no official church responsibilities at this point, and I have to say, I feel reborn. Every time I think of the fact that, when I attend church tomorrow, I won’t have to prepare anything or even worry about anyone other than my own family, I giggle with delight. When Melanie and I took over the nursery, I tried to be very positive about it, and there were times when it wasn’t that bad. But there were also plenty of times when it made me want to scream, when it quite literally gave Melanie and me massive headaches, and when it left me wanting nothing more than to break the Mormon taboo of quitting one’s “calling,” or the volunteer work that one has been asked to do. Truth be told, that’s what happened. We quit. Or, in Mormon parlance, we “asked to be released.” (Or, to employ yet another Mormon phrase that means much the same thing: “we decided to give someone else the opportunity to serve.”) For the record, Melanie and I had been the nursery leaders for approximately ten months. Official church policy suggests that nursery leaders serve for a period of six months to a year. We did that. There’s no shame in the length of time that we served. Not knowing we had requested it, many of our fellow churchgoers offered a sincere congratulations upon our release. It’s an open secret in Mormon circles that being called to serve in the nursery is equivalent to receiving a social and emotional death sentence. Everyone is always happy to see you come out of it alive and (relatively) well. I feel some guilt when I think of the married couple that took our place. It’s sort of like when you come out of a dirty, filthy, stinky, and otherwise awful, single-person gas station restroom and someone else starts walking in. You pass each other. You know the person is in for something terrible. The person knows it as well. But all you can do is smile awkwardly at each other, pretending (however unconvincingly) that these are much more pleasant circumstances than they really are. Empathy stares into the eyes of resignation. You feel compassion, and yet you thrill at the reversal of fortune. It is, in one paradoxical moment, humanity at its best and worst. It is everything you would expect from a nursery calling.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Utah 2013: Part VII

For previous installments in this series, please see Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart V and/or Part VI.

Our trip to Utah came to an end just a few days ago.  Though there are perks to being back in one’s own home, there are things about Utah that I do and will miss.  Here in Tally, normal life has resumed; a new semester is upon us, and I taught my first class today.  The boys are doing school.  It is hot and humid.  Things could be worse, but things could be better.  Utah is a reminder of that.  And so, here it is that I present the goings-on of our final five days in the Beehive State.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 27th
I spent the morning hours once again at an LDS temple.  On my way back to Melanie’s parents’, Melanie texted me with instructions to pick up Beyond Glaze doughnuts.  On our first visit to Beyond Glaze, it was just Melanie, Creegan, and I.  This time around, I brought enough coconut cream donuts home for everyone to have some.  But Melanie’s family was shy about eating them or something, because they just sat around for quite a while.  I ended up eating a second one the next day.  No complaints.

In the late afternoon, I took to the more downtown area of Salt Lake City to meet up with my friend Matt.  This is the same bloke who bought me a steak two weeks earlier.  I figured I’d take my chances on him a second time, just in case he wanted to buy me dinner again.  (Kidding!)  We met up at the Century Theatres that we used to frequent as teenagers.  The two domed, semi-dilapidated buildings of which we reminisce have long been replaced by a single, mammoth-sized modern megaplex, but the Century still seems (as Matt put it) like “our old stomping grounds.”  We watched The World’s End, which started off very strong but became more and more mediocre as it progressed.  After the movie, I followed Matt to Red Iguana 2, the second location for one of SLC’s most famous restaurants, the Red Iguana.  Red Iguana has been featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, has been patronized by numerous celebrities, etc.  I’ve always preferred the rival Blue Iguana, which boasts its own impressive accolades, but I wanted to see Red Iguana’s new place and was happy to go there.  We were seated outside, which was quite pleasant until it started raining.  They moved us inside, where it was a lot harder to hear each other over the crowd.  (Red Iguana is always crowded, that’s just all there is to it.  Red Iguana 2 follows suit.)  For my dinner, I had a mole (the Mexican word for “sauce”) made from pine nuts, almonds, peanuts, sesame seeds, Mexican chocolate, and various chiles.  The mole was served atop a grilled pork loin, with warm tortillas on the side.  Fancy and tasty.  For our dinnertime conversation, Matt and I hit on all of the good stuff—religion, sex, mental illness, etc.  We didn’t talk politics.  Politics bore me, I’ll be honest.  It was a good evening.

Melanie, meanwhile, took the kids and her brother Tom to some nearby wetlands.  Kaleb and Kaya stumbled upon them and a good time was had by all.  They then went to Arctic Circle and got milkshakes.  I can’t say much about it because I wasn’t involved.  Melanie took some pictures, but I figure I’ll let her post them when and if she gets the chance.

Fun fact: This day was my older sister JoAnna’s birthday.  Wasn’t it nice of me to go out with Matt to celebrate?

Wednesday, August 28th
Wednesday was a calmer day in the morning hours.  I don’t remember at this point what I did, but it wasn’t anything exciting.  In the evening, Melanie had plans with her old high school buddies.  They went to Kneaders and hung out for multiple hours.  I took my boys to my parents’ home.  We ended up having food from Woody’s again.  Woody’s never figured into my to-do list for Utah, but I quite enjoyed them both times around.  The one bad part is that I ordered a pralines and caramel milkshake, and when they finally gave it to me, it had already gotten to the soupy stage.  For the record, Woody’s milkshakes are not supposed to be the kind that you can eat with a straw.  This was, and that was a bummer, but I took it and ate it anyway.  That’ll show them.  When I left my parents’ home a few hours later, they gave me a loaf of cinnamon bread from—coincidentally enough—Kneaders.  When Melanie later saw it sitting on her parents’ kitchen counter, she got all paranoid that her parents had visited the Kneaders she was at with her friends and might have witnessed her cussing up a storm, smoking cigarettes, and spray painting her name on the wall.  She was greatly relieved to learn they had not.

Thursday, August 29th
Another low-key day.   In the afternoon, Melanie and I took Peter and Creegan to Chick-fil-A to play on the slides, etc.  Edison came to Utah with a list of places he wanted to visit—which was basically anything he could remember doing and liking last year.  Peter wanted to get in on the action, so he came up with his own must-visit destination, which was Chick-fil-A.  Eddie was more interested in Minecraft and so decided not to go with us.  Peter and Creegan had a good time, though.

On Thursday evening, Melanie’s parents drove Melanie’s brothers Tom and Kaleb and Kaleb’s girlfriend Kaya to the airport.  They were flying to Seattle to meet up with another of Melanie’s brothers, Brent, so they could all attend a gaming expo taking place that weekend.  Melanie and I originally thought we would take our boys somewhere fun while Melanie’s parents were playing taxicab, but having the house entirely to ourselves was so wonderfully peaceful that we decided to stay put.  It had been weeks since we’d been that calm.  We relished it.

Friday, August 30th
Melanie and I took a final trip to the temple.  We stopped at Kneaders for breakfast, kind of as a makeup for missing out on the bakery breakfast we had intended to get as part of our super duper date.  After the temple, we went to a movie.  We saw Austenland, which was rather terrible.  We then stopped by Target so I could buy some shorts to replace an old pair with which I had recently parted ways—mainly because the shorts themselves had parted ways in the crotch when I tried to straddle a chair.  I found some cheap shorts that are quite comfy.  Hurray for the clearance rack.

In the evening, Melanie, the boys, and I met up with Melanie’s parents, her brother Mark, and Mark’s wife Trina at Liberty Park.  Liberty Park is the Central Park of Salt Lake City.  It’s very nice, and if you don’t believe me, watch the episode of last season’s The Bachelorette when Desiree goes on the hometown date with Brooks.  They hang out in Liberty Park.  Would they do that if it weren’t pretty?  Our visit to Liberty Park started off with a picnic dinner from KFC.  We then took the kids to the playground, where it quickly got dark and became very difficult to keep an eye on your children.  This is the first event I’m writing about today for which I have photos, most of which aren’t very good.  Oh well.  Here are some of the better ones:

Saturday, August 31st
The big day.  My little sister’s wedding.  Aside from some morning-hours packing, this was how the day was spent.  I showed up to the wedding destination approximately 30 minutes early so I could be instructed on how to start and stop the music, what songs to play when, etc.  The wedding was scheduled for 2pm but didn’t really start until closer to 3pm.  Getting three boys to wait around in a somewhat stuffy building without making much commotion is kind of a joke.  It didn’t go so well.  When the wedding itself got going, Peter made a big ruckus.  Melanie took Peter and Creegan outside.  Eddie did a good job sitting quietly in his seat, despite his much whining and complaining before things started.  I wasn’t with them because I was doing the music.  Melanie missed the whole ceremony, which was very heartbreaking for us both.  She was going to jump ship before the reception because the kids were more or less being terrible.  But we stewed things over just long enough to decide to let the kids try again.  I’m glad we did, because it ended up being really good after that.  Peter was one of the most enthusiastic dancers at the reception, which was super cute.  I snapped photos aplenty, but yet again, many of them weren’t turning out all that great.  I’ll share a few here anyway.

Although the reception was scheduled to run until 7pm, I bailed somewhere around 5pm.  The kids had done well, but it was getting to be too much.  I posed for the obligatory photos and then took off.  I said goodbye to my family, the mayhem of the festivities making it a less somber farewell than it otherwise would have been.  On the way home, we bought the kids Happy Meals from McDonald’s and then Melanie and I got Crown Burgers.  (We did a lot of repeat food business on this visit to Utah, I know.)  Despite knowing we’d have to get up early the next morning, we didn’t get to bed as quickly as I had hoped.

Sunday, September 1st
Woke up at 4:30am to get ready to fly home to Tallahassee.  For waking up so early, I didn’t feel as awful as I thought I might.  Adding to my surprise, I stayed awake for almost the entirety of both flights.  Our second flight, leaving Atlanta, was delayed about 30 minutes after we were already on the plane due to weather.  It was discouraging and a bit unsettling because you don’t really know how long you’re going to sit there.  The kids complained a bit, but soon they had all fallen asleep.  Because the second flight is so short, a brief nap takes up most of the time.  But the naps didn’t persist as well as they might have, because yes, the weather caused some rougher turbulence than we had had on the other flights.  Still, we landed safely at about 4pm Eastern Time.  We got our luggage, picked up Dinky the hippo (whom we had left behind at the Tallahassee airport on our way out of town), and met our ride.  We spent a few minutes at home and then headed to our good friends’ home.  They had offered to make us dinner that night, which made it easy on us and soothed the transition back to Florida life.  Eddie, Peter, and Creegan especially benefitted from coming home to their friends.  They were quite sad about leaving Utah.

And that’s that.  It’s over.  I’m pleased with all the fun we had in Utah, but as always, I’m also a bit disappointed at the things I didn’t do.  Some things have been on my Utah to-do list for at least a couple of years now and yet somehow I don’t get around to making them happen.  There are places I want to go, people I want to see, and yet I don’t.  This is why I need to move back there.  Will it happen?  We’ll see…