Not only is the logic vs. emotion contention one of the most overplayed themes in Hollywood: logic and emotion aren’t even at odds to begin with.
The original Star Trek series hinges on the logic vs. emotion card, as do most stories centered on conflict between man and machine. Let’s consider I, Robot as an example. The protagonist, Detective Spooner, hates robots because one saved his life in in place of a child’s (only one person could be saved, and Spooner had a greater probability of survival). This was the logical choice within the framework of the Three Laws since the First Law mandates that no robot may allow a human to come to harm through inaction. Spooner finds “doing the math” according to the Three Laws to be cold, heartless, etc., and assigns the word “logical” as a pejorative to describe such computation. However, what he fails to recognize is that his so-called “illogical” or emotional response to the situation also follows the guidelines of a logical framework. His bias is simply against the limitations caused by the Three Laws, not logic itself.
Let’s discuss this notion of a logical framework for emotions a little more, just so it’s clear. The emotions poised in stories as opposites to the rigid nuts and bolts that comprise logic tend to be compassion, hope, love– the goopy, fluffy stuff that we as a species exult even if it doesn’t make sense when examined through a traditionally “logical” lens. Compassionate self-sacrifice is deemed illogical (though commendable). Hope in the face of adverse likelihood, too, is filed under illogical. When a man’s spouse raves that his long nights at the office must be symptoms of some lewd affair despite lack of any evidence, he dubs her frenzied, love-borne behavior illogical. These assessments, however, are the illogical ones in this fray; emotional behaviors possess both evolutionary and physiological logic.
As to evolutionary logic: species acquire adaptations that promote survival. Thus, emotions emerge down the line to help ensure survival. Compassionate self-sacrifice helps ensure the survival of fellow species members, and therefore the group as a whole–not just the individual. On a physiological level, this entails the development of instinctual motivation for compassionate behavior (activation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex while performing altruistic acts is a prominent example). Already, we can glimpse a set of precepts for humans:
1. Natural selection demands adaptation.
2. Emotions are logical adaptations for motivating bonding, which encourages procreation and group survival for social animals.
3. As social animals, it is logical that humans must abide evolutionarily-selected emotional phenotypes varying in expression along a standard normal curve.
4. Emotions are mediated via a combination of neural and endocrine systems which respond to stimuli in a logical, albeit complex, manner.
Within this model, compassion, hope, love, and their less-admired opposites are all perfectly logical. If emotions weren’t logical, they’d manifest randomly and be of no adaptive use whatsoever. This is a core assumption in establishing locus of control in psychotherapy; instead of allowing people to feel governed by tyrannically unpredictable emotional flights, they are encouraged to trace the origins of said emotions to help manage anger and so on. So the next time you watch some Terminator-esque film where the villains are villains because they’re logical and the heroes are heroes because they “think with their hearts”, just remember: the villains are actually villains because they adhere to a logical framework that produces actions audiences disapprove of.
A related sidenote:
Chant the tabloid-reading mouth breathers: “What about serial killers? They’re purely logical, remorseless, cold, machine-like pseudo-people with no emotions at all!” Wrong. Humanity’s collective fascination (be it abhorrent or titillated) with sociopathy stems from our favorable bias towards the cherished emotions mentioned earlier: compassion, hope, love, and so on. Most of us experience these emotions in some measure, but sociopaths strangely lack them. But that’s all it is: statistical strangeness. They exists on one end of the normal curve of emotional phenotypes and possess neural differences from the general public that explain their behavior logically. Sociopaths do experience other feelings–anger, sadness, joy, etc.–and are thus not emotionless, simply empathically deficient.