Higher Intelligence = No Emotion

Lately I’d been doing a lot of reading on “Theory of Mind” for school, and for whatever reason it got me thinking about a popular trend in science fiction stories. Whenever characters are supposed to be of higher intelligence, it’s suggested that in trade they give up empathy and in extreme examples lack emotion altogether. Take for example, Vulcans in Star Trek, the Observers in Fringe, there was an episode in the last season of Eureka where Jack is given an “intelligence serum” by Kevin, and as his intelligence grew, his emotional capacity shrank until all he cared about was being smart.

The reason I got to thinking about this in conjunction with my Theory of Mind readings is because their storylines are contradictory to everything people actual science, particularly social science, are proposing in regards to cognitive thought. Emotion and being able to empathize with others is considered to be a process of higher thought, not lower. an ability to think about others emotional states and to read others emotions and respond accordingly, to see others as comprehending beings is a sign of heightened intelligence. 

I guess I don’t understand why the opposite is taken as truth in science fiction — aside from Vulcans becoming the standard model for a higher race of intellectual beings.

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  1. I just posted on this. Compassion is a feeling, not a thought. Pity is a thought.

    When you separate your life into thought and emotion, then void out the emotions you are left with the congnition of events. There is your dichotomy: emotion and thought. Emotion does not require conscious ‘thinking’ as such… where thought is all conscious thinking.

    Intelligence does not determine your path in this regard for the intelligent choose which emotions to live in and which to not live it. It will seem confusing to those that know no life outside of emotions.

    • Actually, all emotion has two parts to it: your body’s chemical response to a given stimuli (what I guess you’re referring to as the “emotion”), and your cognitive interpretation of that response (I assume this is your “thought”).
      Chemical response is the “feeling” you get when something happens (ie. Heart racing, quickness of breath) and is caused by the autonomic nervous system (which is connected to the so-called “fight-or-flight response”). Cognitive interpretation of that chemical response is in some ways socialized (how you’re taught to react to that feeling either through observation of conspecifics’ reactions to the same stimuli or through conditioning as to how you should react to a stimuli) and there’s some evidence it might be biological as well (some people may be biologically hardwired to be more compassionate than others – of course, I mean that as biological hardwired for certain cognitive behaviors, and not in regards to the autonomic response). Also, should note there is a significant amount of evidence to suggest that cognition can also influence chemical response. So both are interconnected, and both dependent upon one another, instead of one being independent of the other.
      It’s interesting you mentioned compassion and pity, because both actually require a LOT of higher level thinking – particularly, the ability to identify the object of your compassion as a feeling being as opposed to an inanimate object, to be able to understand the given situation that he/she is in, to interpret that he/she is suffering in some way, and then be able to empathize (feel that other individual’s feelings for yourself) – all of that goes into theory of mind, and finally to have cause to feel and/or express compassion and pity towards that other individual – speaking purely in the context of evolution and reproductive success here, of course, and this gets into altruism and selection theory.
      You can’t separate one from the other, otherwise you just have the autonomic response in which case an organism is responding mechanically to a given stimuli (ie. Descartes’ machine) without any emotional context.
      I guess in that sense emotion *does* require conscious thinking.
      There’s some really good literature out there currently on studies of emotion, altruism, social learning, game theory because this has been applied impressively towards gaining a better understanding of altruism, and theory of mind.

      • I hope that you will follow my blog and comment like this there. My post in this regard was/is not a one-off thing.

        I have trouble finding (coherent to me) papers to help me learn more. I know that the emotional/autonomic response can be all but suppressed so that acting in thought and not ‘thought and emotion’ is possible. It is also possible to act in only the emotion/autonomic level. Both the congnitive and autonomic systems are interconnected on multiple layers. They affect each other in many situations if not all.

        My point was/is that through higher thinking we can and do choose which autonomic responses to use or allow. Cognition overrides autonomic response… or can. In this it is true that we choose where to ‘live’ so to speak.

        One of the layers of interconnection is where the chemical interaction is summarized for the simulation of the world and body we know. This simulation of the world around us is where we solve problems and the emotions or chemical responses ‘taint’ the calculations we use to solve problems. Allowing this ‘tainting’ or weighting lets us choose how we live in thought or emotion.

        I could go on and make this a long reply. I have a post on alruism brewing. It’s not what people generally think it is. There is no altruism in my view and I think I can demonstrate it with thought experiment. Anyway, thank you very much for your considered reply.

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