Philosophical Dialogues, Why do we feel?, Hunter and Bain, Jake Jackson

Dialogues | Why Do We Feel?

Hunter and Bain are sitting at their favourite cafe in Greenwich Village , New Manhattan, on the corner of Bleecker Street. Bain rests his coffee, and from afar notices a child trip on her own feet. He sees the mother, or at least what might be an A.I. Carer, pull the little girl upright, ignoring the urgent pleas for sympathy. Bain looks at Hunter whose brooding eyes are disinterested, shuttered from the world around them.

The time does not matter, nor the year.

Bain: So, why do we feel? What’s the point?

Hunter leaves a long silence before grimacing: I’m the wrong person to ask.

Bain: Well, except that you seem not to feel, so you must have wondered what its function is for humanity?

Hunter: Why does it matter to you?

Bain: I don’t know, sometimes I just wonder why humans have any feelings, at all, they’re mostly painful. For me at least. Surely they doesn’t contribute to our survival.

Hunter: Do you mean at a species level?

Bain: I suppose so. I can see that having children, populating the planets and the colonies, contributes to the survival, the growth, of the species, but I don’t see feelings contribute to that.

Hunter: Perhaps the function of feeling is designed to be obscure.

Bain: Oh, that begs so many questions, who designed? why would they bother? And still, what does it contribute.

Hunter: Yes, you’re straying from your path.

Bain: You’re just teasing me. And you haven’t answered my question.

Hunter: It’s not my question to answer, I’m not human, I just have the outward appearance, and most of my interactions are with those who are decidedly not human.

Bain: That’s true, but you see it, and I know you get frustrated when I’m cross and fed-up.

Hunter: Yes, “fed-up”, that doesn’t compute at all, it just gets in the way. Same as the love thing you obsess about.

Bain, laughing: I don’t obsess about that at all.

Hunter: I’ve seen you staring at Shi Xiu.

Bain: That’s not true! I’m far too old, more like an Uncle!

Hunter: Look at you, you’re so easily distracted, “put-out” as you would say.

Bain: Well, that serves my question, why do we feel? Would it be better if we tried to gene splice that part of our genetic code. Surely we could achieve more.

Hunter: I don’t think you’d be human then.

Bain: So feeling is part of being human.

Hunter: Well, you wouldn’t ‘feel’ human, you’d be something else entirely.

Bain: Is that a good thing?

Hunter: It would be what would be, neither good nor bad. If after removing the ability to feel, the species survived and prospered, then perhaps that might be counted a good thing, but it’s impossible to tell.

Bain: You’ve encountered species without feelings.

Hunter: So have you; apparently your human attitude to animals is that they don’t have feelings.

Bain: Ah, but we like to think they do, in relation to ourselves at least.

Hunter: Yes, another question I think, do animals feel?

Bain: I thought we were talking about humans.

Hunter: Well, you mentioned animals. If they survive without feelings, then it’s not necessary for humans, so perhaps you don’t need feelings, in which case they are redundant.

Bain: No, no I don’t think they’re redundant. In any case we don’t know that animals can feel or not, they can’t speak to us.

Hunter: Depends what ‘speaking’ really is. They communicate well enough with each other, and humans, their needs mainly.

Bain: Yes, yes, but feelings are complicated, if they could feel I don’t see how they could communicate that.

Hunter: So are you saying that only humans are sophisticated enough to convey feelings? Perhaps all life has feelings, but only some species can communicate it. Perhaps feelings are the secret sauce of life, the magical motivation, the Will, the impetus to survive.

Bain: Steady now, I just wanted to understand what the point of feelings was. I don’t think it relates to survival, or progress, it just makes life more, er, ‘interesting’.

Hunter: Interesting?! Such ambition!

Bain: Ok, ok, we can’t all travel across time and space hunting demons.

Hunter: No, but that doesn’t invalidate what you’re saying. I am what I am, you are what you are. We are different. For me, feelings are learned, mainly from you, but also from observation.

Bain: Perhaps feelings are a civilising force then, a way of curbing the base instincts, make us more considered, allow us to put the extremes of our humanity to one side.

Hunter: Well it’s true, I’ve seen anger, and love in humans, become all-consuming. Often though it’s rational thought that overcomes this.

Bain: I don’t know about that, trying to influence someone in a rage with rational argument is like fighting a storm with a clever butterfly.

Hunter. Perhaps. Do you think rational thought is irrelevant in such cases?

Bain: Well, the rational approach uses arguments that appeal to the mediating sort of emotions such as compassion perhaps, or empathy. By understanding, even just intellectually how someone else feels, progress can be made.

Hunter: So you’re saying that a murderer can come to an understanding of their actions by considering the effects of their anger on their victims, and this, of itself, validates the presence of feelings?

Bain: Uh, in so much as such civilising effects of feelings allows rational thought to thrive, unencumbered by extremes of feeling.

Hunter: Maybe that’s true. In your human history the great changes have been made when the invention of new technologies has brought mastery of war: the Egyptian chariots, the organised strategies of the Romans, the defeat of the Mayans by the Spanish, the splitting of the atom.

Bain, morosely: We’ve moved into human war, that’s come a long way from feelings.

Hunter: But perhaps it’s not a simple question, and their not unrelated. It raises so many others. It seems to me that so much has been achieved by ignoring, or over-riding these ‘feelings’.

Bain: But feelings bring arousal, love, a sense of purpose in a rally, they bring motivation which makes changes, especially political. But is also brings satisfaction, pleasure.

Hunter: So does this bring you to your answer?

Bain: Perhaps it helps, we feel because we must, perhaps it makes survival as a species bearable, while the motivation for survival at the species level thunders on regardless.

Bain looked out at the receding lines of children and carers, some human, some android, some hybrid, wandering off to the local schools, and knew they would discuss this again.


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