There is a trick that sometimes helps to make a decision. When we have thought about two options for a long time and mulled over many different aspects of each and have no decision. When we have even taken a pencil and paper and organized the pros and cons and get still no decision. The options are perfectly balanced. Then we flip a coin to decide. In the instant that the result of the coin toss is known, there is a feeling of contentment and relief or there is a feeling of disappointment and dissatisfaction. We really did have a preference even if we were not aware of it. So we follow our feeling rather than the result of the coin toss. Of course, we only do this because we have established that the options are almost equal in attractiveness.
I was reminded of the way this feeling is so immediate and strong, yet fleeting – very different to a slowly growing feeling – when I read a blog by Neurosceptic (here).
Schopenhauer’s trick relies on the fact that emotion is faster than thought. A letter takes you by surprise: even if you’re expecting to hear from someone, you don’t know exactly when it will arrive. It arrives: in that first second your emotions have a chance to show through, before your thoughts have got into gear. It works with emails and phone calls as well, of course, but not with any encounter which is planned out in advance.
What is happening here? Why would an unsuspected emotional reaction be triggered so fast and strong? The feeling had never risen to consciousness before and so it probably had not risen to a bodily emotion before either. Some part of the situation had been dealt with but had never needed the use of working memory and so was hidden from awareness. Maybe – on the other hand –