My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own

Sometimes, even time cannot heal a wounded heart

Posted January 15, 2012

"The heart has its reasons which reason does not understand." Blaise Pascal"I told this heart of mine our love could never beBut then I hear your voice and something stirs inside of meSomehow I can"t resist the memory of your kissGuess my heart has a mind of its own." Connie Francis

"You know what, there is a place you can touch a woman that will drive her crazy ... her heart." Melanie Griffith

Emotional reasoning, which prevails in matters of the heart, is different from intellectual reasoning. Are these two types of reasoning condemned to fight each other, or can they be integrated? Should we follow our heart entirely in romantic matters, and are we able to resist it even if we want to? Intellectual reasoning is broader than emotional reasoning: it refers to a broader scope of circumstances and has more freedom in the perspectives that it can adopt in its analysis. The principles underlying emotional and intellectual reasonings are principles of information processing that determine the meaning of events around us. Two examples of the emotional system"s principles are:

1. Changes are more significant than stability;

2. A personal event is more significant than a non-personal event.

You are watching: My heart has a mind of its own

Correlated principles of the intellectual system are:

1. Changes are not more significant than stability; on the contrary, we should assume that there are stable regularities in the world;

2. A personal event is not necessarily more meaningful than a non-personal event.

What is the relationship between the systems?Commenting on La Rochefoucauld"s maxim that "The head is always fooled by the heart," Jon Elster asks why the heart should bother to fool the head. Why can"t the heart just get on with whatever it wants to do? The answer he suggests is that it is an important part of our self-image that we believe ourselves to be swayed by reason rather than by passion. Elster terms this tendency "addiction to reason" and rightly claims that it makes those who are so addicted irrational rather than rational. A rational person knows that under certain conditions it is better to follow emotional tendencies than to use more elaborate intellectual processes.

Sometimes the opposite tendency is evident as well: People present their calculated actions as if they were contrary to intellectual reasoning and in accordance with the moral commands of their hearts, because they wish to seem passionate. Politicians, who often behave in a calculated and immoral manner, typically use this tactic.

The evaluative systems underlying emotional and intellectual reasoning can be discerned by their mechanisms and contents. Whereas the emotional system typically uses a spontaneous mechanism and its content is narrow (and partial), the intellectual system is typically deliberative and has a broader perspective. The psychological model that might explain intuitive emotional knowledge is that which refers to expert knowledge. Like emotional knowledge, expert knowledge is intuitive in the sense that it is not based on a careful intellectual analysis of the given data, but rather on activating certain (acquired and innate) cognitive structures. The famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright argued that "an expert is one who does not have to think; he knows." Like expert knowledge, emotional knowledge that comes from the heart is a kind of sensitivity to certain types of higher-level stimuli.

In a similar manner, Daniel Kahneman has suggested differentiating between two systems of processing, calling them intuition and reasoning respectively. Intuition (system 1), is based upon emotional reasoning; reasoning (system 2) is based upon intellectual reasoning. The two types of logic are not entirely contradictory and have certain common principles.

Integrating the two reasoning systems is difficult to achieve, but it is valuable. This integration, which is termed by psychologists "Emotional Intelligence," is described by the famous "scholar" from Chicago, Al Capone, who said, "You can get more with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone."

In terms of the loving heart, can and should we integrate our intellectual considerations when making romantic decisions, or should we merely follow our heart?

The issue is complex as although love is perceived to be irrational, the idea of finding the "right" person implies a rational choice. The dictate "to follow your heart and not your head" is in fact opposed to the rationality required in choosing the beloved, which must be based on the objective values we observe in the beloved. The conflict between the two is articulated in myriad ways in our daily life. Thus, the following claim by a woman in love is typical of lovers" expressions: "Crazy love... That"s what it is... Nothing rational about it... Just crazy love." And in the TV series Ally McBeal, Renee tells Ally: "Emotionally, you"re an idiot." Lovers typically prefer their heart over their intellectual mind and consider acting in accordance with their heart as the greatest expression of freedom and honesty. Thus, married people who have a forbidden romantic relationship might say that love is more significant than outdated conventions, and letting their heart have the freedom to choose is more genuine than being loyal to such conventions. In other cases, such a forbidden relationship enables people to escape a bad marriage and in the name of love to create a safe oasis outside the home so as to make home life more tolerable.

For many people, preventing yourself from following your heart is no less of a sin than preventing your official partner from knowing about all your actions. A woman who had an online affair notes: "I fell in love with this man online. I felt like I was cheating on my fiancé, but I thought that my online lover actually loved me more than the man I had in my arms." Eva, a married woman who is involved in a loving relationship with a married man, said, "When I am with him, I feel as light as a feather, and whatever we do together feels so natural and right." Eva"s use of the expression "natural and right" might seem odd, as her behavior appears to violate what other people may consider as natural and right-being faithful to your formal partner. But Eva is referring not to superficial circumstances but to the profound attitudes and values that underlie her intense love. Similarly, Bernard, who has been married for 15 years, says he considers the time his married lover spends with her husband as an exile from her genuine home where her heart really wants to be. In fact, she constantly asks him to help her survive "in the desert."

Most people cherish the presence of passionate love in their relationship and are "romantic" in the sense that they say that they would not marry a person who possessed every quality they admire, but with whom they are not in love. The situation is more complex when people are required to divorce in order to follow their hearts. Here, the loss is evident and the gain is yet to be seen. The increase in the percentage of divorces indicates that more and more people are giving now greater weight to their heart in such decisions.

Following our heart, however, may not always involve acting according to our character or moral norms. Our heart might express a more limited aspect of our character and morality. Moreover, how can we identify what the genuine expressions of our heart are? Surely, not all emotional states are genuine expressions of our deep loving attitudes-some of them are tentative expressions of superficial circumstances that we would not want to endure in the long term. As Yehuda Ben-Ze"ev put it, "When is the yearning heart"s cry real? And when will we be greeted by the true, and honest, echo of love"s call? When does the response resonate falsely, and when does our call fall on deaf stone cliffs?" Our inability to distinguish between the two can jeopardize those romantic decisions that rely solely on our heart.

To sum up: Our heart indeed has a mind of its own; we should listen to it, as it often expresses our profound attitudes, but we should not always follow it without regard for rational considerations, because the intellectual mind is equally important. If we can learn to integrate the two systems, we will have the best of both worlds.

See more: Who Is A Good Man Is Hard To Find Protagonist In "A Good Man Is Hard To Find"?

The above considerations can be encapsulated in the following statement that a lover might express: "Darling, I know that following your heart is difficult for you, as you cannot dismiss intellectual considerations. But remember that we only live once, and ignoring love can permanently damage your heart. Sometimes, even time cannot heal a wounded heart."


Aaron Ben-Zeév, Ph.D., former President of the University of Haifa, is a professor of philosophy. His books include The Arc of Love: How Our Romantic Lives Change Over Time.