Bounded and Unbounded Emotions

Responding to this article of Elliot’s:

Overall I think this article is good.

Aside: I think this is part of what Howard Roark meant about his pain and suffering only going down to a “certain point”. He had them under control, within limits. That doesn’t mean he could limit his pain however he wanted. Maybe his pain got up to 500, and he didn’t know how to keep it lower. But he had enough knowledge, control over his life, reasonableness, etc., that his pain couldn’t go past (let’s say) 1000 in any direction, at any angle. And for what actually happened - the situation and type of pain it was – the limit was 500. And his pain stopped near or at the limit, that’s what the “certain point” was about. (Stopping at an exact number isn’t realistic, so I think Roark’s pain didn’t actually go down to a certain point, it approached a certain point and stopped short, with enough margin for error not to pass that point.)

This I disagree with. Of Rand’s characters, Roark is the last one that I think might say something not meant literally.

The passage from The Fountainhead:

[Roark] “I want you to know. What you’re thinking is much worse than the truth. I don’t believe it
matters to me–that they’re going to destroy it. Maybe it hurts so much that I don’t even know
I’m hurt. But I don’t think so. If you want to carry it for my sake, don’t carry more than I do. I’m
not capable of suffering completely. I never have. It goes only down to a certain point and then
it stops. As long as there is that untouched point, it’s not really pain. You mustn’t look like
[Dominique] “Where does it stop?”
[Roark] “Where I can think of nothing and feel nothing except that I designed that temple. I built it.
Nothing else can seem very important.”

My interpretation of Roark’s words takes him literally. I think it means that there are some deep, core values or ideas he has which he doesn’t think anyone else could ever touch. I would guess it’s part of his egoism, that no matter what the world does to him he knows his actions were right. I think it means the pain never reaches him in a way that it can make him submit to it and change his honesty or integrity.

I don’t think this fits with Elliot’s emotional boundary analogy or counting pain levels well.

Maybe another analogy for setting limits on emotions is there being an excluding boundary. Rather than the fence keeping the cows in an area within a certain degree of tolerance, it keeps the cows out of certain very specific areas.

I don’t think that the fencing analogy is fundamentally wrong though, and think Elliot’s clarification covers it’s flaws and applies to my alternative analogy too:

Fences are an OK analogy, but not perfect. Fencing in an emotion is not like fencing in a cow. You don’t ask a cow about the fence. You just build it and then the cow can’t get out. With your emotions, you need to persuade them.

Going from my understanding of Roark’s “certain point” - maybe that’s another way to look at and create boundaries for emotions. I’m not sure it’s a better way, maybe a different way for different purposes. So it means certain things can be kept protected from emotional excesses, like pain not driving someone to compromise their integrity or anger not driving someone to resort to murder. I think this kind of boundary would involve answering a lot of questions about “why would I do X?” e.g. “Why would I lie to get out of pain?” or “Why would I resort to murder out of anger?”.

It reminds me of another of Elliot’s articles on emotions which I read today:

To a decent approximation, emotion-resistant skills are skills you’re really good at. They’re often things you find so easy you don’t even think of them as a skill. But e.g. walking is a skill. You had to learn to walk and practice for years. It was hard at first and you fell down many times. Walking involves coordinated muscle movements and balance, which you consciously thought about in the past, but now you can do it without conscious thought. It’s become automatic because you have mastery over walking.

I think you could say “not being dishonest because of pain” and “not murdering because of anger” are kinds of skills to develop. Someone can practise hypotheticals where being dishonest or murdering are relevant options and think about how to answer those hypotheticals. If someone does that a lot with a lot of scenarios, it would be like practising the skill so that if a situation with a lot of pain or anger or something else occurs, they have prepared a high level of skill with being in that situation.

More generally, someone practising thinking about possible bad things that they could do as a result of emotions and how to answer that possibility may help avoid them doing such bad things.

From the Bounded and Unbounded Emotions article again:

What’s the point of your anger? Perhaps you don’t want people to walk all over you while you’re passive. Perhaps you want to identify your enemies. Perhaps you want to know when something is hurting you, and react strongly. Perhaps you want to be strong. Perhaps you want attention for your problems, instead of to have your grievances ignored after you’re mistreated. Perhaps you want people to avoid doing something bad to you in the future. All of these concerns are at least partly correct, and are compatible with never being murderously angry. Murderous anger won’t help you effectively accomplish these goals. Once you look at the world from the perspective of the emotion, you can find limits which make sense from its perspective, and which actually help it better achieve its goals. The same kind of analysis can be done with all your bad emotions – they aren’t entirely bad, and getting infinitely out of control won’t actually help them achieve their goals.

Thinking of my post about an emotional response recently.

My anger was I think not wanting to be walked over, and wanting attention for my problems. It was not an appropriate emotional response. I think maybe I’m thinking of forum discussion too much like personal IRL conversation. I have definitely used forums a lot in the past where it was a more personal one-on-one thing, and my emotional response might have been appropriate in that context. So I think I need to clarify my mental context in discussion forums. Or put another way, my emotions and I need to move some fences around.

A discussion forum is more of an open forum where lots of people are saying things and unless there’s a very clear reason to require one person’s attention, no one is expected to pay attention to anyone else. It’s a mistake to see a forum interaction as a one-on-one unless someone agrees to that (e.g. agreeing to debate an issue to conclusion).

Will I get emotional in response to a post again? Possibly. I think I have quite a few little moments like that over time that I think I deal with silently, but it’s very possible that they affect my judgement. Even if they don’t it would still be desirable to re-fence my emotions so that they don’t come up like that at all, as they require energy and thought that could go to something more productive.

To do this I’m going to try to catch these moments and mention them, and connect them with the articles about emotions more when I do. I think this will help find root causes and create solutions. I might fail to catch them sometimes, I think I often deal with them on automatic and don’t always consciously notice.

Interesting side comment, Roark does get murderously angry when he meets Mallory in The Fountainhead.

Stepping back, Roark brushed against a table loaded with junk. Something clattered to the
floor. Mallory jerked forward, trying to reach it first. Roark pushed his arm aside and picked up
the object.
It was a small plaster plaque, the kind sold in cheap gift shops. It represented a baby sprawled
on its stomach, dimpled rear forward, peeking coyly over its shoulder. A few lines, the
structure of a few muscles showed a magnificent talent that could not be hidden, that broke
fiercely through the rest; the rest was a deliberate attempt to be obvious, vulgar and trite, a
clumsy effort, unconvincing and tortured. It was an object that belonged in a chamber of
Mallory saw Roark’s hand begin to shake. Then Roark’s arm went back and up, over his head,
slowly, as if gathering the weight of air in the crook of his elbow; it was only a flash, but it
seemed to last for minutes, the arm stood lifted and still–then it slashed forward, the plaque
shot across the room and burst to pieces against the wall. It was the only time anyone had
ever seen Roark murderously angry.

Angry at the world and/or the people and/or the chain of events that resulted in someone like Mallory doing work like that, perhaps. I’m not sure.