Human Nature and emotions

Are we, scientifically, feeling beings who sometimes think or thinking beings who sometimes feeel

Welcome to the forum, Harry, great question.

I’ll answer your question, with a question… well two actually:

Firstly, I would love to know more about what you think. Could you tell us a bit about your thoughts?

Secondly, can we be both? Feeling and thinking beings?


Yes we are both Liam. But in simple terms I have been taught that we are feeling beings who sometimes think. It comes from examining the “survival brain” (deep limbic system) – the seat of our emotions! Be in my work (Christian Counselor) I have many folks believe the opposite. Thanks for replying Liam.

In order to apply scientific principles we would need to objectively quantify feeling and thinking. I would say that science isn’t the proper tool for understanding the subjective attributes of the human experience.

With that said, I don’t see how we can separate thinking and feeling. I think there is a lot of overlap between them.


I believe Science is the right place to understand the role of the amygdala and the deep limbic system and who the brain actually operates. Just my opinion.

I would agree. However, our experience of those brain functions is inherently subjective, and there is a lot of crossover between rational and emotional thought.


I think it is hard to tease those two things apart (as phenomena inside our brains anyway). It seems to me that feelings provide the raw data on which our thoughts can work. If a person somehow was conceived and born without having any sensory stimuli at all (blind, deaf, no tactile or taste, etc.) …could such a being have thoughts? And if so, what could their thought consist of or be about?

As I understand the working of the survival brain – when a circumstance activates the limbic system (simplified) it creates emotions, then associated thoughts - some of those thoughts reach conscious levels – bur, I believe, started with the emotion.
I might be wrong but I am interested, not in the logic, but in the neurology of the brain.

It would be interesting to hear any participants with neurology expertise weigh in!


I SERIOUSLY don’t think that is a universal!!!

Some of us are primarily feeling beings who sometimes think.


Some of us are primarily thinking beings who sometimes feel.

From LM77 we can see it is likely that some (perhaps most) are in between. Some wear different hats at different times in different circumstances and some are just more balanced.

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Welcome to the forum! We have discussed Haidt’s The Righteous Mind here quite a bit, and I think he would put as as being that feel and make decisions on emotions primarily, but who can think and use that rational thought to help direct those emotions and feelings. I tend to agree with him for the most part, but think there is a continuum from feelings to thinking dominating, with some being more emotional, some more rational.
Overall, though, the elephant goes where the elephant wants.


Let me first say my response to your first question is: feeling comes first. Then I would add, if we are wise, any conclusions we arrive at through rational deliberation needs to be returned to feeling to be further contemplated. Logic alone rarely plays a very big role in our ever arriving at wisdom. The best state of affairs is when our best efforts at bringing rationality to bear on problem are constantly subjected to further contemplation to reassess and test the adequacy of the solutions found.

Not sure if you’re familiar with Iain McGilchrist’s work but I’m sure he would argue what we call feeling involves much more than the limbic system. Regarding the role of logic he pushes instead for the old fashioned idea of reason. Here are a few bits I managed to transcribe between the 15:36 mark and just past 19:00 mark in the video linked below taken at the book release several months ago of his new The Matter With Things.

It’s not just practical problems that matter. It’s why those practical problems have grown up that matters.

I think it has to do with the mesmerizing effect of a certain reductionist, materialist view of the world which arose not as a way to help us understand the world but from a way to help us manipulate it.

We need true reason which is not just the following of logical principles but the bringing together of a capacity to think logically with a deep understanding of what human beings are like and of what makes life important and that is something we used to call reason … It seems the way we too often approach the world is lacking that richness.

[his book attempts] a reasoned argument based on neurology and philosophy and supported by findings of physics which suggest there is nothing to push us into a belief that the cosmos is a random heap of fragments which have no meaning or purpose, no complexity, no beauty and order; that we are not the playthings of chance involved in a war of all against all. But rather there is an order there if we could just open our eyes to it, a cosmos that is beautiful, complex, responsive and richer that we’ve been taught to believe.

Emotions come first. Example: A tiger comes at me. It’s my emotion of fear that enables my fight or flight response system. If it determines the ods are with me I’ll fight the tiger. If not we’ll…I’m out of here​:grimacing::stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

Thanks MarkD I will go further with this. I was trying to keep the core concepts simple. I want to continue my education. Thanks from your input.

I think , or maybe i feel, that at a certain point in our evolution the divide, if there even is much of one almost becomes irrelevant. As far as science goes I don’t know which one evolved first. By the time consciousnesses evolved im not sure if chemical reactions similar to emotions was already there or not. Take trees, they don’t think, but when they are being eaten they send out signals for leaves to begin to change their chemical composition in order to be more bitter. I could see something similar having happened with ancient colonial protists where maybe stimulations resulted in some kind of defensive chemical change occurred before conscious existed and by the time conscious came into the picture these chemical reactions were earlier versions of what would later become emotions. So maybe we started off with emotion like reactions and they helped dictate fight or flight. After all emotions have a biological aspect to them before thoughts fantasy ( decision make ) starts.

But ultimately i don’t think it matters and that we are thinking feeling beings. I’ve yet to met a person who has no feelings and just reacts and I’ve not met anyone who feels only emotions and never make choices.

Emotional intelligence and cognitive processing skills are both necessary to function normally, or healthy in social interactions and develop good relationships.

Thanks for your thoughts. I will consider your comments.

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Yes!! In my counseling Nick, I use a simple but thoughtful workbook with my clients called Genesis Process That retrains the subconscious mind. It’s a great tool. I also use some of the research with Brene’ Brown who also believes emotions come first. My wife, who is also a counselor believes thoughts come first. I love the discussion

Experience and reading of some research results suggest that emotion > rational thinking, as many have already mentioned. As I am not an expert, my conclusions may be partly wrong. Anyhow, here are some observations:

Especially in rapid situations, emotion is crucial. Without emotional decisions, people would be stuck in front of shop shelves with too many competing products - a customer has seldom enough of knowledge to make a rational choice between tens of apparently similar products.

If you have a possibility to chose a future spouse, the decision is seldom rational.
When buying a new car, the decision is predominantly emotional but masked with apparently rational reasons.

Rational decisions are most probable in situations when there is plenty of time to make a decision, all or both alternatives seem ok, the decision is big enough that there is motivation to think it, or the decision is not personal, like making a purchase decision at work.


I work with people who have trauma - and they bring old patterns of coping into the present. Helping them to retrain their subconscious mind is a strong part of the healing for them. I think the physical process is important and helping people process life in a different way requires them to challenge their narratives. I am pretty convinced that you must deal with the emotions that often drive our behavioral choices.

No doubt that is true. However, we also see that CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) has great success for many, and it basically is a process that allows the reason and thought to control emotional responses. What is your opinion of that?

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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