The Heart Has Its Reasons

In the past several blogs, we have determined that human experience and logic are not always reliable guides to knowing what is true.  Another faculty available to us is what we call our heart or emotions.  However, we have conflicting ideas about the role the heart should take in deciding what is true.  Some tell us we should not act on our emotions alone; we should have reasons for taking a particular path or point of view. [1]  We are told that propaganda is a form of persuasion that appeals to our emotions rather than our reason [2] and propaganda is such a negative term.  Some say that emotions are irrational [3] and stupid [4]; that emotions happen to us and we do not control our emotions. [5]  But others say that emotions have intelligence and involve responsibility, [6] give our lives meaning, address the concerns we have with the world, and are how we engage the world. [7]  To sort through this conflicting advice, we must first understand what the heart or emotions are.

What Is Our Heart?

Webster’s defines the heart as “the center of the total personality, especially with reference to intuition, feeling, or emotion”.  So when we talk about the heart, we are actually talking about several different aspects of human existence, not just one.  If we are to understand the role our heart plays in determining what is true, we must determine the nature of our feelings, emotions, and intuition.

Our problem is that we talk much about our heart and we base many of our decisions upon our emotions but we seem to have little idea what it is that has such an influence upon our lives.  It is like we know something exists but we find it difficult to verbalize what it is.  Well, psychology has told us for a long time that a large part of our lives involve our subconscious.  What is our subconscious?  Webster’s define it as what is beyond our conscious which really does not provide much help.  Science does provide us with help.  First, scientists tell us that we humans sense many things unconsciously. [8]  Our physical world offers us a flood of information.  If our mind did not filter out some of the data, it would be so overloaded we would not be able to function.  Our subconscious consists of information we were not even consciously aware we were receiving.  Second, doctors and scientists tell us that the brain remembers all our senses have ever experienced.  Brain surgery has shown that when certain areas of the brain are stimulated, sensations long forgotten are remembered.  It is obvious our brain is limited in the amount of material it can process consciously so all this other information resides beyond our consciousness.   We cannot remember all that happened to us as children but these experiences do impact our current lives.

While our conscious mind deals with what we are currently aware and remember our subconscious consists of the totality of our life’s experiences.  It would be to our benefit to be able to utilize the totality of our life’s experiences in making decisions rather than to just depend upon the information available to our conscious mind.  Our heart is the way we accomplish this; it brings the entirety of our life’s experiences to bear on the question on which we are working.  Our emotions are a method of summarizing our entire life’s experiences so they can be communicated quickly.  Love is just a shorthand way of acknowledging all the connections that exist between two people.  Anger is a quick way of expressing displeasure of all the slights, frustrations, or humiliations a particular situation has brought us.

Problem with Relying on Our Heart

Relying on the heart to determine what is true, like experience and logic, has its problems.  If our heart is the sum total of our life experiences, our heart is like a flywheel; it keeps us on a steady course.  That is why change is so difficult; we are going against our past and we must ignore our feelings and emotions.  Our heart could mislead us if our previous experiences are at variance with reality and, in these situations, we will need to use our rational abilities to override our heart.  If the heart is just the unconscious sensory data we have personally experienced but filter out, then, as we have previously noted, we face the problem of depending solely upon our experiences.  Our heart or emotions can also be exploited by others.  Thomas Sowell states:  “Many of the unprecedented mass horrors of the 20th century were the work of charismatic political leaders who knew how to manipulate people’s emotions.” [9]

The fact is the heart is not the sole answer to the problem of determining what is true.  For example, if we depend upon our heart to prove Christianity, then Christianity has no validity over any other religion.  Someone else’s heart might tell them to become a Muslim or a Buddhist.  How could a Christian counter such an argument?  A Christian cannot use their heart as an argument and deny its use to others.  If my feelings are justification for a particular belief and your feelings lead you to a different belief, we have no way to resolve the issue.  The actual reasons for our beliefs are hidden in our subconscious and only revealed through our feelings, emotions or intuition.  There is no way within a few minutes or hours we can discuss the totality of our life’s experiences and how our experiences lead us to a particular belief.  Conflicting beliefs will always remain in conflict and the truth remains forever hidden.


[1]   Robert J. Gula, Nonsense (Mount Jackson, VA:  Axios Press, 2002), p. 14.

[2]   Gula, p. 15.

[3]   Robert C. Solomon, The Passions:  Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions, Part I (Chantilly, VA:  The Teaching Company, 2006), p. 1.

[4]   Robert C. Solomon, The Passions:  Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions, Part II (Chantilly, VA:  The Teaching Company, 2006), p. 11.

[5]   Robert C. Solomon, The Passions:  Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions, Part I (Chantilly, VA:  The Teaching Company, 2006), p. 1.

[6]   Ibid., p. 157.

[7]   Ibid., p. 12.

[8]   B. Bower, “Minds May Track Danger Unconsciously,” Science News, Vol. 156 (December 11, 1999), 372.

[9]   Thomas Sowell, “Our Emotional Orgies”, (July 23, 1999).

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