In my post below, 'Philosophy is Dead', I argued against the simplistic idea that our reason is, or should be, entirely the handmaiden of our instincts and passions, which is what David Brooks argued in an NYT op-ed.
I was heartened to find support for my idea from an esteemed neuroscientist, Rita Levi-Montalcini, who is 100 years old this year, and who founded the European Brain Research Institute in Rome, where she is known as 'La Professoressa'. Shewas interviewed in the Times last week.
She remarked during the interview:
The brain has two hemispheres: one ancient or archaic, which governs our emotions and instincts, the other younger, which governs our capacity to reason. Today the archaic brain tends to dominate. It is the cause of all the tragedies that happen like the Shoah (the Holocaust) and it is putting an end to humanity today. It was the part of our brains which got us down from the trees, but it is the cause of all the disasters and the cause of the great danger to our planet today. It is taking the human race toward extinction.
She adds, at the end of the interview, while reflecting on death:
The important thing is to have lived with serenity using the rational left-hand side of one's brain, and not the right side, the instinctive side, which leads to misery and tragedy.
I think she might be being a bit hard on the right side of the brain, and in any case, don't many of our emotions come from the amygdala, in the centre of the brain, rather than on the left and right?
She may be overstating the case, but I do think it is true that we can't be entirely guided by our instincts or gut feelings, for the simple reason that they are very often wrong.
We are unique in our ability to re-programme ourselves, to re-progamme our instinctual and automatic reactions using our capacity for reasoning and self-analysis (or philosophy, in other words).
We shouldn't downgrade this ability, it's one of our finest.