I must admit- some days I feel a lot like Spock.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s the abnormally large ears.
Physical features aside, however, there’s a deeper quality with which I sometimes identify. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Star Trek series, Spock is a character defined primarily by the fact that he’s only half human. Spock’s father is a Vulcan, an ‘alien’ species similar to humans in appearance but quite different in nearly all other ways.
More than anything, what defines a Vulcan is their reliance on reason and logic, which are seemingly possessed by their species in exchange for emotion.
At the beginning of The Voyage Home, Spock is seen being tested by some sort of highly advanced computer. The computer poses question after question in rapid fashion. Spock consistently responds correctly, never pausing once to search for his reply. The questions are the kind you’d find on the SAT- questions about geometry, chemistry, physics, and so on.
But then, right in the midst of this dizzying medley of intellectual challenges, the computer throws him a curve ball:
Vulcan Computer: How do you feel?
Spock: I do not understand the question.
Amanda: What is it, Spock?
Spock: I do not understand the question, Mother.
Amanda: But you’re half human. The computer knows that.
Spock: The question is irrelevant.
Amanda: Spock, the retraining of your mind has been in the Vulcan way, so you may not understand feelings, but as my son, you have them. They will surface.
Spock: As you wish, since you deem them of value, but I cannot wait here to find them.
* * *
As it is with Spock, so it is with even the least emotional of people we encounter. Everyone’s at least part-human.
For me, it’s like there are these two hats that can be worn at any given time: the Logic Hat and the Emotion Hat. The thing that often perplexes me, though, is how the hats seem (at least in most cases) to be mutually exclusive.
The two hats are almost like two distinct languages. At any given time you must choose to converse using one or the other. To do otherwise- to mix or alternate between them within a single conversation or a single moment- will often produce dangerous results.
A couple of weeks ago, as I was hastily preparing for the launch of this site, I experienced such a conversation:
It was pretty late at night, though there was still much to be done before I could go to bed. Ashley came in to say goodnight. Seeing that I’d been working for a while, she asked me how I was feeling about the launch. A kind, and entirely sincere, question.
I remember the way the room went quiet the moment she asked it.
The silence continued as I searched for a response. At the very same time, I sensed something like frustration building inside me. What was the source of this frustration? I couldn’t say. Here at the intersection of logic and emotion, with no agreed-upon vocabulary nor any clear rules of grammar to follow, all explanations fall short.
She’d caught me in a moment when logic was running the show. How did I feel? What kind of a question was that? A stupid question, of course! What difference did it make how I felt? What did it even mean for me to feel something about anything in the first place? There was some thing to be accomplished, requiring a series of tasks to be completed, none of which could care less how I felt about them and all of which were now being interrupted by this nonsensical question.
It’s a good thing, if you ask me, that we’re all at least part-human.
* * *
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how rarely anyone really lets themselves be vulnerable on the internet. For that matter, we might as well say how rarely anyone really lets themselves be vulnerable anywhere at all.
So often, I find myself saying that other people should do something, only to realize I’m pretty terrible at it myself.
I think I like to say that I put myself in a position of vulnerability around other people. And, seemingly, I do. But mostly it’s just the kind of thing where I talk about my own weaknesses in the past tense- about how I messed up, but not about how I’m messing up.
Accordingly, my natural inclination was to tell some story about how ‘several years ago’ I had this problem with understanding, and using, the two hats of logic and emotion.
It would be a true story. But it would be a severely incomplete one.
Why do we need this thing called emotion at all?
What makes it so often seem incompatible with logic?
And how do we know when to use one instead of the other?
The complete story- the real story- is that I don’t understand the answers to these questions. I don’t understand them even today. So, I guess, here’s to hoping that, five days from now, I’ll be a little less confused and a little less lost than I am today.