Tuesday, July 15, 2008


What does it mean ‘to feel right’ or ‘to feel the right emotion’? Can we have an objective judgment on this? What good will it do after all? Will it help us to increase the quality of our lives? Will it help special people as air traffic controllers, nuclear plant or transportation systems operators, large systems engineers in coping with the difficulties of their jobs?

If most of the people watching a movie feel the emotion of sorrow, and you also feel sorrow, that means you feel the right emotion or at least the socially acceptable emotion. This is a great simplification, though. If you are a foreigner, you may not understand the jokes in a movie and you may not laugh when others do… An other example, from the point of precision or repeatability could be; You should feel approximately the same emotions everytime you watch your favorite movie… This is also a great simplification because it does not take into account the time and the accumulation of experience and knowledge(and sometimes boredom).

To feel the right feeling depends not only on the precision but also on the accuracy. What you feel should be ‘appropriate’ to your personality and to the situation that you are in. I may be getting dangerously subjective, I know. What is appropriate may change according to time, society, individual, family, culture, education etc… But still, there is a limit to appropriateness…
The sense of self sets a rough border to what is appropriate and what is not.

‘Is this me who feels this?’ is the golden question to ask. But even then, self is not a constant, undeveloping, non-spontaneous entity. So, I admit, my starting question does not have an objective answer, I deeply doubt it has any either.

Please, let me change my question then… Why can’t we decide we feel right or wrong? Unfortunately for me, the answer of this question has been given well ahead.

Sartre has stated that ‘emotional conciousness is non-reflective at first’. He says ‘The emotional consciousness is primarily the consciousness of the world’. So, when you feel afraid of something you get under its magic effect which causes you to concentrate on it more and more rather than percieving your own self and situation. In his ‘Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions’ (Translated by Philip Mairet – Routledge Classics) Sartre states in fact ‘ The self does not appear at all in ‘ this type of automatic process.

The reason we do not feel whether our feeling is right or wrong is, feeling is not a reflective process. Sartre chooses not to call it an automatic process. He says ‘unreflective conduct is not unconscious conduct’. The unreflective character of feeling can be observed in the situation where you become aware of your feelings. For example, when you become aware that you are very angry, your feeling disappears.

If it is impossible to decide whether our feeling is right or appropriate how come so many people happen to feel the same and mostly the ‘right’ feeling? It may be related to the way we learn our feelings first of all. The first feeling we learn is ‘trust’. We human beings develop the feeling of trust by getting ‘feeded’ regularly by our mamas in the beginning of our lives. It’s no surprise getting regular good food is critically important at large systems, ATC centers etc., where everthing is designed on a single human feeling, namely ‘trust’.

Secondly, our emotions are continuously conditioned by life, by the society we live in or the team we work in etc... The culture that we live in sets the noetic thresholds for our emotions. My Singaporean fiancee once had mentioned ‘Everything in Turkey is hyper! Even the cows in the picture on the milk bottles look hyper!’... The character of a people is set by its culture. Music, in all cultures, teaches and conditions people to what should be expected within a given mood.

Sartre states “In a word, to experience any object as horrible, is to see it against the background of a world which reveals itself as already horrible.” Sartre does not mention mood in his book but I believe what he calls at the very end of his sketch as ‘background of a world’ can also be related to ‘mood’.

If we are conditioned to feel certain emotions under certain conditions or moods, the new question should be “Would it be possible to bring ourselves up to become a better self or a better ourselves?”. And “Would it be possible to better train so that large systems engineers, ATCOs, pilots and other large systems operators feel better while they are doing their jobs, react to emergencies much better and faster so that they be more successful in their professions?” I believe, Sartre’s ‘Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions’ is a precious legacy which must be studied by the aviation community, specially the trainers and teachers and their training institutes.

Sartre’s work helps us to understand ourselves better, consequently, to know.