Emotional Intelligence (book)

Recently, someone I know recommended a book to me called Emotional Intelligence and written by Daniel Goleman. I didn’t know it was something of a prototype among the many books about emotional intelligence that have been published. When my mom saw me reading the book, she had a double take because she thought I was reading one of the books from her bookshelf. It turned out that the book she thought I was reading was called Emotionally Intelligent Parenting. I haven’t read that book, but I think I understand why this book wasn’t on my mother’s bookshelf. It feels like a book written for the unemotional intelligent who want to understand emotional intelligence.

Emotions are things that happen in our brain 

The author makes it pretty clear from the outset that his approach to emotions is going to be based on how the brain works. In other words, the book is a scientific and evolutionary approach to our emotional responses based on recent breakthroughs in science. As he writes in his introduction, “I have had to wait till now before the scientific harvest was full enough to write this book” (xi). As I’ve gotten into the book, I’ve seen how much Goleman is not only a student of science but also of the popular idea that our brain has developed to the point that it is at today.

Watch out that you don’t go into caveman mode!

With headings in his chapter such as “Out-of-Date Neural Alarms,” Goleman implicitly or not so implicitly is saying that when are emotions are “fast and sloppy” and when we do things we later regret, chances are that we’ve more or less given into a kind of primordial mechanism in our brain. So, yes, watch out for your inner caveman! That being said, I do find several ideas very useful for day to day life. The first is that we have an emotional and a rational mind. While this idea might not sound like a brainwave, the way in which Goleman is able to spell it out in science with various examples is illuminating and got me thinking. The second idea is that our emotions often want to overwhelm our reasoning.  His explanation that we needed quick emotional reactions to survive in antiquity seems plausible.

Man or Robot

Descartes came to the conclusion more or less that we are a ghost in a machine. Largely, he came to this by separating mind from matter in order I think to prove that we are more than our sensations. Goleman is going on a similarly mind matter splitting romp by describing the brain as a complex device formed and fashioned through time. What I’d like him to discuss is  how we as humans can be conscious of this machine while being so much a part of it. We are not a wound clock because a wound clock does not know it’s wound. Like Descartes perhaps, Goleman is dividing us into parts without really showing us how these parts fit together.

I say this realizing that Goleman may not believe we have a soul. He may think that we are nothing more than our brains. If so, I’d like to know where our freedom to respond or not to respond to neural stimulus comes from. I’d like to see where freewill resides in the brain. I’d also like to know where the distinctness of personalities comes from, a distinctness which is often attributed to the soul. Every person and every body is distinctly its own.

Chance or design

In a section about how the brain grew, he says something interesting about the neurocortex: “The homo sapiens neocortex, so much larger than in any other species, has added all that is distinctly human. The neocortex is the seat of thought; it contains the centers that put together and comprehend what the senses perceive. It adds to a feeling what we thing about it–and allows us to have feelings about ideas, art, symbols, imaginings” (11).  As a result of our neocortexes, we are able to create symphonies, poems, write and think about ideas and feelings, and do all the many things humans do. I wonder if this development is based on chance or is the result of God’s careful planning.

Goleman’s realization that our brains have something in them that allows them to think about thoughts is important. It hints at our ability to be ethical beings. At the very least, I value his insights into who we are.

The Bottom line

Science often seems to express the truth with no charm. It explains things dryly that should amaze us and lead us to appreciate our world all the more. I am trying to read this book both as a way to help me live as a human being and as a way to gain more appreciation for what I have.

I recommend checking it out on amazon. The book has 803 reviews. It may not fit in with the books on my mom’s bookshelf. It is far too scientific and impersonal I think. It’s also a little atheistic to say the least! Still, I recommend reading it because it will help you think more about who you are. If you are already emotionally intelligent, you may be learning why you are. If you think you aren’t, then you may learn how you could be.