If you had a free evening and were offered to read either Romeo and Juliet or a scientific research paper about neurochemical processes people refer to as love, which would you choose?
It depends on your mood, I suppose, and on your priorities at that particular moment. But I believe I would prefer to spend my evening with a great literary work that expresses the intensity of being in love rather than with an abstract analysis of what constitutes this set of emotions in our brains. It seems like a better choice for a nice evening. Why? Well, not because I lack interest in or respect for science or any intellectual pursuit, far from it. It is more about the feeling I experience when reading fiction. No matter how intellectually fascinating a research paper is, it is only a good novel (or a movie) that can keep me up until 3 in the morning, unable to let go of the story, eager to experience how it all develops. Experience. That is the crucial word here.
Experience is what fires our imagination. Especially the experience of feelings. How it feels to be young and passionately in love? No amount of abstract thought or reasoning can answer this question. It can give descriptions of the processes involved, sure, and that has its value. But it cannot express the experience of the feeling. That is what all the great writers, poets, painters, sculptors, singers, all artists, and, of course, lovers do. A person in love can be seen as someone who has certain chemical processes going on in their brain rendering them unable to think straight for a certain period. A person in love can be seen as an artist of life, inspired by the muses of all arts, experiencing the state of bliss that comes closest to a paradise on Earth. There are different perspectives and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Abstract analysis, however, is ill-equipped to convey human experiences. The reason for it is quite simple, I think. Abstraction means thinking in general terms and in a detached way. As I am sure you will agree, there is nothing general or detached about how any person experiences their feelings or anything else. This is very, very particular and deeply involved. I believe, it is important not to forget about the reality of experience when devising any new system – be it a system of organising work, studies, country etc. Abstract thought can be remarkably illuminating, especially when it comes to looking at things from an elevated vantage point and recognising the patterns. It helps us to see the forest. However, the trees and their experiences down on (and under) the ground are very real. After all, we often like to hear concrete examples of something to understand the general idea.
We do not experience life in abstraction, in pure reason. However, we need thought to make sense of our experiences, imbue them with meaning. And so, just as there is no statistically average person walking the Earth, there also isn’t a human mind that would be capable of comprehending the entire complexity of life experience without some abstract structure systems. The sweet spot is there in the middle – the most elusive place of all.
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