I heard a very interesting statement the other day, from a class colleague. It was the Induction Day for the Mad Studies module at Queen Margaret University, which forms a core element of the MSc Mad Studies programme. I’m attending as an associate student, which means that I‘m not undertaking the entire MSc, just this particular module. (As it happens, I am thinking about pursuing a PhD… but haven’t yet decided. This module is my taster session into the subject.)
Here’s the statement which was shared: “Feelings are facts.” It was offered as a quote by a colleague who had been told this by a fellow choreographer – so perhaps in the context of the work that is performed through dance. A dancer uses their emotions as material for their expressive artwork. Actually, all artists use their emotions as material for expression. Actually, all people use their emotions as material for expression.
Feelings are information, they are what Nora Bateson refers to as ‘warm data.’ And what is a fact? Let’s see: the Oxford Concise Dictionary says that a fact is “a thing that is known to have occurred, to exist, or to be true.” So yes, when we pay attention to our feelings – whether these feelings are positive (contentment, joy, exhileration) or negative (sadness, anger, distress) – we are gathering facts.
The concept of a fact, of the factual, has been usurped by the Enlightenment and subsequent centuries of rationalism in our Western culture. Facts are deemed to be dry and stolid, unwavering, like bricks in a wall. On one side of the wall is the rational, the explainable, the predictable; on the other side is the irrational, the nonsensical, the dismissable. Yet when we think of facts as warm data, the terrain becomes softer and less polarised. Irrationality has its own value: playfulness, ambiguity, nuance. Irrationality has a bad reputation which needs redeeming, and the mad movement is one step in that direction.
But back to feelings as facts, emotion as information. This is information that provides context for our thoughts and decisions. We do not, cannot set aside our feelings from our thinking experience. We are complex and multi-faceted and messy, muddy creatures. Our feelings are integrated and entwined with our thoughts, they are part of our actual physicality. (When I am thinking about pursuing a PhD, I am also feeling excitement, trepidation, downright fear, as well as courage and hope. This is all contributing to my decision-making process.)
And here I’d like to bring in the idea of particles and waves. “Wave–particle duality is the concept in quantum mechanics that every particle or quantum entity may be described as either a particle or a wave.” 1 If we think of rationality and irrationality as particles, then they have a substance to them and can be positioned as opposites. But if we think of them as waves, then they are on a spectrum that flows from one extreme to the other, without a boundary line to separate them.
This is especially relevant when we consider the idea of madness. Is madness a state we reach when we tip over a line, into the realm of the irrational? Or is it a state that we reach by degrees, like a temperature rising until it reaches boiling point? It seems to me that the relevance arises because when we think of madness in the particle-sense, as a line that we cross, then this maintains an us-versus-them separation to what is actually a very common human experience. But when we think of madness in the wave-sense, as a place along an existing spectrum, then it becomes something for which we all carry potential. And we do all carry the potential for irrationality, whether it is as trivial as liking Marmite or as monumental as conversing with angels. (Do you see what I just did there? Personal bias can never be shed.)
I’m currently reading The Art of Losing Control by Jules Evans, and this particle/wave image has persisted for me throughout the text so far (I’m about halfway through it, so it may well be addressed at some point.) For Evans, he seems to be exploring the idea of losing control whilst under control, that is, finding ‘safe’ ways to lose control – for example in religious ritual, or through abandoned lifestyles (an entire chapter devoted to rock and roll culture) or via psychedelic experimentation. He seems to hover around the edge of the cliff, entranced by vertigo, yet never stepping over into the open void. I made a similar critique of Jay Griffith’s book Tristimania. 2 What exactly do we mean by losing control, and why is it such a fearfully stigmatised form of experience?
Anyway, I shall stop here with the fact that I am feeling tired of looking at a screen, and ready to end this post. Feelings are real, and true, and worthy of being considered valid information. More on that surely to follow!