Your Mind and How to Use It

Chapter XVII

The Intellectual Emotions

By “the intellectual emotions” is meant that class of emotional feeling resulting from the presence of objects of intellectual interest. This class of emotions depends for its satisfaction upon the exercise of the intellectual faculties, from the most simple to the most complex, and including perception, memory, imagination, reason, judgment, and all the logical faculties. Those who are accustomed to employing the mind through voluntary attention, particularly in the direction of creative ideation or constructive imagination, experience these emotions to a greater or less degree.

The exercise of perception, if we are skilled therein, gives us a pleasurable feeling, and if we succeed in making an interesting or important discovery by reason thereof, we experience a strong degree of emotional satisfaction. Likewise, we experience agreeable feelings when we are able to remember distinctly something which might well have been forgotten, or when we succeed in recalling something which had escaped our memory for the moment. In the same way the exercise of the imagination is a source of great pleasure in many cases in the direction of writing, planning, inventing, or other creative processes, or even in the building of air castles. The exercise of the logical faculties gives great pleasure to those in whom these faculties are well developed.

Halleck well says: “There was probably not a happier moment in Newton’s life than when he had succeeded in demonstrating that the same power which caused the apple to fall held the moon and the planets in their orbits. When Watts discovered that steam might be harnessed like a horse, when an inventor succeeds in perfecting a labor-lightening device, whenever an obscurity is cleared away, the reason for a thing understood, and a baffling instance brought under a general law, intellectual emotion results.”

The pleasurable feelings we experience upon the reading of a good book, or the discovery of real poetry, are forms of intellectual emotion. The same class of emotional feeling is aroused when we witness a good play. Among other instances of this class we mention the perception of clever work of any kind, intricate machinery, ingenious devices, helpful improvements, or other works of man which indicate the existence of thought and inventive ability in the designer or builder. To appreciate mental work of this kind we must bring a mind developed along the same or similar lines. It has well been said that before one can take away anything from a book he must bring something to it. It takes mentality to recognize and appreciate mentality or the work of mentality.

The study of scientific subjects is a source of great pleasure to those who are inclined to such pursuits. To the scientific mind the study of the latest work on the favorite branch gives a joy which nothing else is capable of arousing. To the philosopher the works of other philosophers of the same school give intense satisfaction.

It is claimed that the sense of humor and wit is an intellectual emotion, for it depends upon the detection of the ludicrous features of a happening. Certain psychologists have held that the distinctive element of humor is the feeling attendant upon the perception of incongruity; while that of wit is the feeling of superiority on the part of the witty person, and the corresponding chagrin of the object of his wit. It would seem, however, that the appreciation of wit must depend upon the intellectual perception of cleverness of expression and the pleasure resulting from the discovery thereof, and that the feeling of humor is aroused principally by reason of the incongruous element; the feeling of self-satisfaction as contrasted with the discomfiture of the other person belongs to the more selfish emotions. An authority says: “Humor is a mental faculty which tends to discover incongruous resemblances between things which essentially differ, or essential differences between things put forth as the same, the result being internal mirth or an outburst of laughter. Wit does so likewise, but the two are different. Humor has deep human sympathy, and loves men while raising a laugh against their weaknesses. Wit is deficient in sympathy, and there is often a sting in its ridicule. Somewhat contemptuous of mankind, it has not the patience to study them thoroughly, but must content itself with noting superficial resemblances or differences. Humor is patient and keenly observant, and penetrates beneath the surface; while, therefore, the sallies of wit are often one-sided and unfair, those of humor are, as a rule, just and wise.”

The development and cultivation of the intellectual emotions depend, of course, upon education, training, exercise, and practice. The cultivation of the intellect (which has been referred to, in part, in the previous parts of this book, and which will be again considered in the chapters devoted to the intellect) results in the development and cultivation of the emotions accompanying intellectual effort. In a general way, however, it may be said that the reading of the best works of fiction, science, and philosophy will bring out in time the best form of intellectual enjoyment and feeling. The highest gives the best–that is the rule. The present chapter should be read and studied in connection with those devoted to the intellect.


As we have said at the beginning of our consideration of the subject of the emotions, the majority of emotions are composed of several feelings, and tend to blend and combine emotional elements. For instance, the emotion of sexual love certainly has its origin in the instinctive feelings of the race, and its motive element is that of passion. But passion is far from being all there is in human sexual love. Above the plane of passion is found the social emotion of companionship, protection, and care; the desire for the welfare of the loved one; the mingling of the love of the parent with that of the mate. Human love manifests many of the altruistic emotions during its course. The welfare of the loved one becomes the chief concern of life, often stronger even than self-preservation. The joy of the loved one becomes the greatest joy, far surpassing the more selfish forms of happiness. Then come the ├Žsthetic feelings, which find satisfaction in the two “liking the same things,” sympathy and community of feeling being the connecting link. The several ideals of the two combining, there is produced an idealistic union, which is often called “spiritual harmony.” Finally, there is found the blending of the intellectual emotions, in which harmony there exists one of the highest forms of pleasure satisfaction between two persons of opposite sexes. It is said that the more things that a man and woman “like” in common, the closer will be their “liking” for each other. “I love you because you love the things I love,” is no rare thought and expression.

So it is seen that though born in elemental instinct and passion, human sexual love is something far different in its flowering. And yet without its root it would not be, and cannot be. This is an excellent example of the complex nature of the most common emotions. It may be used as a typical illustration. What is true of it is also true, in a way and in a degree, of every other form of emotion. Therefore in studying a particular emotion, be not too quick to cry, “It is this; it is that!” but rather seek to say, “It is composed of this and that, of this and that!” Few, if any, emotions are simple; the majority are very complex. Hence the difficulty of satisfactory classification, and the danger of dogmatic definition.

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