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« America the Goofy | Main | Policy Break -- Continuum, Redux »

September 06, 2002

The Mind, Part 7,342,941

Friedrich --

Another sensible science column by Sharon Begley in the Wall Street Journal, again, unfortunately, unavailable online. This one's about how research is suggesting that we can know little about why we feel what we feel. Some excerpts:

Introspection about the unconscious can be worse than useless...We don't have meaningful access to the causes of our feelings...If you have a gut feeling about love, work or life, it's probably best not to analyze it to death. The unexamined life has its virtues.

All of which jibes pretty closely with some of Michael Oakeshott's arguments -- that, for instance, we're by and large creatures of habit, taste, and temperament, and that that's ok, it's what it is to be human. And that the determination to pick 'em apart -- to make sense of them -- almost always represents the agenda of the power-and-control-hungry "rationalizer." And beware of them.

You'd think this sort of research would make arts critics question what they do, not that many arts critics follow science, even the more popular expressions of science. After all, isn't much of what critics are up to an attempt to explain why a given work of art or entertainment made them feel the way they did?

After years of befouling the air with too many rationalizations of my own, I've come to think that we like what we like and dislike what we dislike just because we do. Education, discussion, adventure -- all these can open us to experiences and pleasures we might not have encountered otherwise. But our responses remain based nonetheless in temperament.

Lord knows that a big part of the fun of following the arts is letting our tastes and pleasures guide us, musing (in my case ad nauseum) about what we encounter. Lord knows it can be fun to give our responses a poke from time to time just to see how they respond. But fancy explanations for what are basically temperamental preferences are usually just disguises for political or esthetic agendas. And are much to be mistrusted.

Or so I've found. You?

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at September 6, 2002




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