Articles & Tools

Recommendation: ‘Rational Emotions’ by Eyal Winter

Author: Alex Shillman
Dvir Publishing, 652 pages.

Paulo Coelho summarized the prevailing view of emotions, “emotions,” he said, “are like wild horses, it takes wisdom to control them,” and indeed for over two thousand years the main perception has been that emotions are an explosive force that does not necessarily advance us toward the desired goal, in contrast to the mind that is perceived as allowing careful planning and serving as the main tool for advancing towards goals and achievements.

In the late 91st century, Robert L. Stevenson distilled this concept and even gave it an unforgettable metaphor in the form of the intelligent and polite Dr. Jekyll and the uninhibited instinctive Mr. Hyde who live together in the depths of the same psyche and wage a bitter struggle for control of behavior.

Prof. Eyal Winter took upon himself the task of showing that, contrary to this view, findings from the past twenty years show that emotions play an important, and sometimes even exclusive, role in shaping “right” behavior. To this end, he adopts the evolutionary definition of what rational behavior is, that is, if the behavior serves human survival it is probably the rational action to take in the given situation. Based on this assumption, he embarks on a comprehensive review of dozens of examples in which emotion pushes us to act in the best way possible for our survival, whether in situations of negotiation and partnership or in captivity and battle.

I don’t usually like books in which economists write about behavior while clearly wearing the economist’s glasses, the description always comes out somewhat mechanistic, all human behavior is reduced to some kind of benefit and described by a sequence of reinforcements and rewards. But this book actually benefits from the economic approach, because of the tension between the economic dictionary and the colorful and rich world of emotions, it is easier to discern the unique role of emotion and the benefits we derive from being sensitive and excited beings.

In general, behavioral economics sits on the seam between economics and psychology. Prof. Eyal Winter is an economist and for five years he led the Center for the Study of Rationality at the Hebrew University, a center that is symbolically located in Givat Ram, home to mathematics and the exact sciences, and not on the Mount Scopus campus, which is the home of the human sciences. Therefore, the tone of the book is also more economic and revolves around game theory, benefits and resource distribution.

Despite the bad PR that emotions received in the field of wise home economics, it turns out that in the right place and in the right dose, emotions can be an effective and frugal engine for proper behavior. From now on, impulsive buying, breaking savings or failing to meet family priorities are just one side of the emotional coin that, when used correctly, turns out to be very valuable.

Happy reading!

To an interview with the author of the book Eyal Winter


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