ARE WE REALLY RATIONAL ?
In my previous blog , I had discussed the creative process that shapes the plot of a novel. I had discussed how personification of various emotions can create various characters and drive the story forward. In that blog , I had mentioned that real creativity of a novelist lies in her /his ability to blend different , and sometimes conflicting , emotions to create a more realistic character. Such a character appeals to us because we ourselves are made out of several complex emotions. Thus any character that has emotional depth because of blending of different emotions , would be more like us and therefore would be more appealing.
In this blog , I would discuss how this blending of different emotions in a single character makes such a character a flawed character. Let us say that a character created by blending several emotions has sufficient emotional depth and is more realistic. While , as a novelist , I can tell you that it is more satisfying to create such a character , but the problem is that such a character turns out to be a flawed character. How does one predict behavior of such a flawed character ? For a novelist , this is very crucial because the details of the plot of a novel hinges on how that character would behave in a given situation. This problem is also faced by all of us in real life. There are always individuals in our lives who are emotionally very complex and it is difficult to predict how they would behave. Of course , in real life , one does not have to follow a plot , whereas in a novel, the novelist has to create an interesting plot.
I think the real problem with such fictional characters is that their ability to reason is influenced by their emotional frame of mind. This is true in our case also. Our ability to reason is also influenced by our emotional frame of mind. Unlike computers , we think differently under different emotional framework. In this blog , I want to discuss whether we , as a species , are rational animals or not. Of course , there are large number of books on various aspects of human ability to think but I would sidestep the theoretical perspective. I would write about this as a novelist and as an average ordinary human being.
This aspect came to my notice while writing my second novel. As I have been writing about this novel in my blogs, this novel is about the theme of reincarnation. The story is actually about an average person , who in this novel , is a chartered accountant. He comes across someone in his life who apparently has memories of past births. Now , the protagonist , being an ordinary human being , has no way to confirm whether this reincarnation is true or not. Being a professional, he tries to use his analytical skills to confirm whether the reincarnation is true or not. The trouble is that he is emotionally very close to the person experiencing these past life memories. As the story progresses, the protagonist is increasingly influenced by his emotions and his reasoning starts getting accordingly distorted.
As a novelist , I found it disturbing to realise that what if such a distortion could be happening with all of us. Therefore, I decided to observe how this protagonist changes his reasoning as his relationship with the person experiencing the reincarnation changes. To my surprise , I realized that human rationality is not uniform or standard. It changes with our emotions. We sometimes change our opinions over a period of time. This is actually a result of change in our emotions. While trying to develop the character of the protagonist , I realized that there is more serious problem of how the emotions of the protagonist forced him to start believing in mutually contradictory reasons at the same time. In order to do that , the protagonist started developing ingenious arguments. While psychologists are familiar with this distortion of reasoning because of emotional disturbance , we do not recognise such a distortion in persons around us in real life.
As a novelist , this was a good opportunity for me to try to understand human mind ,but as a human being, I was disturbed. I realized that this could be happening to me as well. What if my own beliefs were also distorted ? More importantly , I realized that situation in real life was far more difficult. In a novel, there is always a novelist who could keep characters in some kind of thematic control. In real life , there is no one who could exercise such a control. Maybe that is why our culture has invented a deity like destiny. By placing our faith in destiny , we we feel comfortable that our distorted reasoning is not of our own making.
I would like to clarify that this view of our reasoning being distorted by our emotions is not necessarily a depressing view of human existence. This is because this very distortion also produces heroic human beings. The point behind writing this novel on reincarnation is that no matter what our emotions are , they would shape our reasoning. It might make someone a hero and it might make another person a psychopath. The process of making both types of individuals is same. Interestingly , sometimes an individual may be both , a hero as well as a psychopath.
I have asked a question in the title of this blog. The answer to this question is that yes , we are rational , but our rationality is fragmented. Our tragedies arise when these fragments of rationality conflict with one another. Maybe the correct answer is that we are rational in parts but not as a whole. I would end this blog a serious comment on the nature of human tragedy. In literature , we are taught that there are two types of tragedies , Greek and Shakespearean. In Greek tragedy , it is the destiny that wrecks the tragedies in human lives. In Shakespearean tragedy , it is the human nature that wrecks tragedies in human lives. While writing this novel on reincarnation , I realized that both the types of tragedies are same if the destiny were to dictate the distortion of human mind . Maybe, destiny makes us think in such a way that our actions , based on this distorted reasoning , bring about tragic consequences.This is the core of Indian tragedy. It transcends Greek and Shakespearean tragedies. You just have to read Ramayana and Mahabharata to see how destiny operates.
In my next blog , I would discuss how our wishful thinking actually tells us what we are. More importantly , I would discuss how even wish fulfillment can have tragic consequences.