Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mind Over Mush

House, "Parents":
A teenage patient who idolizes the father he believes to be dead is admitted. It turns out the boy's illness is a result of a terrible trauma that occurred in his childhood at the hands of his still-living father; he simply didn't remember. When asked by the patient how he got his disease, Dr. Taub couldn't bring himself to tell him.

House: Your heart said he needed to know; your brain knew he's better off without it. Following your heart is easy. Following your brain is tough.

Esther Wein once had a shiur on this. I listened to it more than once, but it still succeeds in blowing my mind. I can't seem to locate it online, but the shiur discussed the various levels of the brain. Her conclusion was that the emotions stem from what is known as the mammalian brain, meaning many four-legged creatures are capable of emotions, such as love, anger, even remorse. 

But only humans have a rational brain, containing intellect and deep thought, and that brain should always keep the mammalian one in check. Emotions must not be allowed to get the upper hand; otherwise, we are no different than animals.

Sure, sometimes our heart "tells" us to do something, like being honest. But what is at stake for that honesty? The Torah does not say it is a mitzvah to hurt someone for the sake of honesty; one, simply, should not hurt others. 

What would this child gain if told the truth? Nothing good. 

I try to quantify the difference between the mammalian and the rational—why do I think it would be best to go with that option? Why do I think I should say that? Sometimes my racing thoughts don't have enough time allotted, and the mammals get me. 

It is a Yiddish expression to call someone who is badly behaved a "chaya" or a "beheima," the only difference being a wild animal of the jungle or a domesticated cow. It's still the same insult: Giving in to one's emotions, ergo one's immediate desires, ergo the yetzer hara.
Moo cow moo.  

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