Douglas Bass, formerly of Belief Seeking Understanding, has a new blog, Apprehension (which I still need to add to my blogroll). A recent post invites my response. He refers to a thesis that can be abbreviated "we feel the way we think", which simply means "the thoughts that people dwell on, meditate on, rehearse, cherish and fondle the most, are the thoughts that are expressed in feelings and behavior."
He refers to the last time I took up a post of his, and I don't want him to think this will be like that. I've spent much time contemplating God's relation to time and how that affects prayer, and I'm willing to class myself a specialist in philosophy of time. I've even got a publication to show for it, even if it's just a book review (though one that makes several substantive points I've never seen anyone make in print before). I will try to say something in response, though, but much of this is just one person's reflections rather than the view of a scholar, as the last one was.
I'll just say right now that this is going to be a very weird post, moving from my own thoughts about my own mental and emotional integration (or lack thereof) to complete speculation about theological matters. It's thus a fitting post for the landmarkish number of #1150, since I like my round-numbered posts to be unusual and momentous things or so mundane that they stand out. You can decide which this is. It's not the usual sort of thing I do, anyway.
I'm probably not the best person to reflect on how this goes normally, because I'm abnormal with respect to how my emotions are integrated with the rest of me. In tests for autism and related disorders I test about halfway between normal male results and Asperger's Syndrome results. The effect of this is that I'm not very in touch with how I'm feeling. I don't have a broad vocabulary for describing my internal states, and I hardly ever consciously think about what I'm feeling, enough that I have really no answer sometimes if I'm asked how something has affected me.
I think I can be in a really good mood when thinking about very dark things. I'm just not emotionally affected by thinking about the problem of evil and trying to figure out whether an explanation offered to defend against the charge that God is cruel is successful. I'm simply thinking about the issue. I can often read about theological truths and not be grasping emotionally what they mean for me. It often takes a moving speaker to bring that out from the depths of my soul/spirit/heart (let's not get into that one now; Douglas and I have a history on that question). What it really takes is for my mind to engage my emotions. If the emotive power of the speaker engages my mind to think about the emotional impact, then it will bring up the emotional response.
I can move back and forth between very different things quite easily. I can be doing mathematical calculations or keeping my kids in line in church in between pondering the prayer taking place or the song being sung. I can't do both at once, and it's harder to grasp all that's going on while I've got distractions, but when I'm focusing on one or the other I'm there even if I just wasn't a few seconds earlier. In this case it's what I'm actually thinking about that affects how I'm feeling. I sang a song at my brother's funeral in 1997, and it was a song he'd written that I'd rewritten to be about him. As I was singing the song, I was enjoying singing his song. At times I was focused on what it meant, and I was sad and glad for his life and what his death means for him now (which is what it's about), and at times I was focusing on the mechanics of getting the song out, which meant not thinking at all about what it's about. The same back and forth pull happens when I lead worship, and it happened as I was singing to my wife from the Song of Solomon at our wedding, though then it was harder not to think about the content. I was glad for a piano backup when I wasn't able to concentrate as much on what my hands were doing with my guitar. When I'm dwelling on something, I can allow it to affect me emotionally, but when I'm not thinking about it it's just not there.
Even with more mundane things, unless they affect me very deeply, it's easy for me to move among very different things that usually bring different emotional states. I can get upset at my kid for dumping stuff on the floor, clean it up, and keep working without even being affected by it, as long as I don't have to spend so much time that I'm dwelling on it. I can criticize something someone is doing and expect to be joking with the person in the next breath. These sorts of things don't affect me all that deeply most of the time, so I don't have trouble moving right along and not dwelling on it. What's going on here is what I'm thinking is affecting how I'm feeling, and I'm not thinking about the other thing anymore.
This is somewhat harder when I haven't eaten enough recently or have had too much sugar, since I've got blood sugar issues that amplify the extent to which something sets me emotionally off when my blood sugar is off. If Sam gets upset at me near bedtime, I don't sleep. If I've got a sugar low from eating cookies or ice cream or haven't had breakfast yet, and someone says some baseless and deeply hurtful things about me in a comment on my blog, I'm going to take it much more personally than I might otherwise. This is a case of other things affecting how I feel besides simply what I'm thinking. I imagine chemical and neurological issues will have some effect on everyone. This is just the way it's most pronounced with me.
So what do I think of "you feel what you think"? I think it's true in one respect, at least for me. When I'm really dwelling on some truth, and I'm thinking about exactly how that should affect me, it does affect me in that way. Sometimes that takes conscious effort beyond just thinking about the content. Sometimes it takes someone else drawing it out of me. But I do think it's the content that brings about the feeling, with these other things as merely the agent or means of its doing so. For some reason I can be aware of the content without dwelling on what it really means. So does thinking always lead to feeling? I'm not sure we simply grasp the significance all the time of some of the things we believe. Do I say that my not consciously expecting and looking forward to the return of Christ means I'm not really believing it at the time, or does it simply mean I'm not grasping its significance? I don't know how best to think about that.
Now we can come to Douglas' main question. What about non-humans? Can an animal be said to be like us in this respect? I don't think so. Animals don't think about their emotional states, as far as we can tell. They certainly experience emotions, but they don't seem to think about them the way we do. They simply respond. We do have our simple emotional responses too in addition to ones brought out by things with cognitive content (and my sugar issues would be one of them), but I don't think they have the cognitive reflection on their emotional states that we can have, and I don't think all people have it equally well. Autistic people have it less than I do, I have it less than the average man, the average man has it less than the average woman, and people with Williams Syndrome might even have it more than the average woman.
So I don't think it's true that animals' thoughts bring about their feelings. I would assume angels would be more like us, because they do seem to be rational in the Bible, and they do seem to have emotions. I don't see why the capacity to be excited by something that's true that one appreciates being the case or being upset by something one wishes were not the case is going to be totally a result of things related to the fall. Unfallen creatures would have them too (and irreversibly fallen creatures as well). Maybe the process doesn't work in entirely the same way, but I don't see why it would be thoroughly dissimilar.
The same would be true of God. It's interesting to think about this with respect to the Trinity. Jesus seemed to be experiencing an emotion at Gethsemane that we wouldn't say the Father experienced in the same way. He was looking toward the separation from his Father that would come, and he was dreading it yet was willing to surrender to the Father's will because his higher priorities outweighed his desire not to go through with it. The Father apparently wasn't go through the same thing, perhaps because he is atemporal (as I believe) and is interacting with all creation across time at once, experiencing the separation from the Son at that point simultaneous with the complete restoration of the universe, and the Son had to experience it at a time.
Even if God is in time, I can see thinking of the Father's response as different from the Son's, simply because each would be approaching it from a different perspective. No one things the sameness of God element of the Trinity makes the Father and Son have exactly the same perspective. Yet what the Father and Son were thinking about was exactly the same proposition, each approaching it from a different perspective. That suggests that there's more than simply thinking about the proposition. It's how it applies to you that affects how you respond emotionally, and I think at least some degree of that is true for God. If there are supposed to be well-functioning properties of our emotional and intellectual integration that don't work right, and work even less right in me, then surely God has perfect integration in ways we don't, though it might be that those wouldn't have worked perfectly in Jesus the same way his immune system might not have worked perfectly. (Maybe it did, but I wouldn't assume that.)
As I said, I'm just sort of stumbling around here, offering various considerations as a break in between various stages of grading, but this is what came out of that stumbling, and maybe it helps get at some of the things Douglas was wondering.