Posted by: aboutalbion | July 12, 2012

Heart over mind

I return to Alain de Botton, and his small book which is introducing me to Arthur Schopenhauer.

At the age of seventeen, Schopenhauer inherited a large sum of money, large enough to excuse him from the daily round of paid employment for the rest of his life.  I read that this prospect did not bring him any consolation.  He later wrote: “In my seventeenth year, without any learned school education, I was gripped by the misery of life as Buddha was in his youth when he saw sickness, old age, pain and death”.  [(1988) Manuscript Remains Vol 4. 2.36]

de Botton relates that Schopenhauer was baffled by the lack of interest shown by philosophers towards the subject of the trials and tribulations of love.  “We should be surprised that a matter that generally plays such an important part in the life of man has hitherto been almost entirely disregarded by philosophers, and lies before us as raw and untreated material.” [(1966) The World as Will and Representation Vol 2. p532]

Schopenhauer constructed his philosophical work on the foundation that the emotional life was dominant, and the rational life of the mind was sub-dominant.  I am beginning to appreciate Schopenhauer for his grasping of the nettle of this inconvenient truth.  “Love … interrupts at every hour the most serious occupations, and sometimes perplexes for a while even the greatest minds.  It does not hesitate … to interfere with the negotiations of statesmen and the investigations of the learned.”  [(1966) The World as Will and Representation Vol 2. p533]

And heart over mind was the topic of a television documentary on a UK terrestrial channel last Tuesday night.  The filmmaker traced the history of the heart as the poetic centre of the emotions to the modern view that the heart is just a first-rate peerless pump.  He then visited several cardiologists researching the neuronal connections between the heart and the brain to suggest that science is moving towards an understanding that the heart might have a closer relationship to the brain than was previously thought to be the case.

I think Arthur Schopenhauer would approve …

[de Botton, Alain (2000) The Consolations of Philosophy.  London: Penguin.]

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