Applied moderation / by AB Mann

Hot cognition is Psychological concept regarding reasoning where a person's thinking is influenced by their emotional state (1). Hot cognition is cognition colored by emotional arousal and suggests that any emotional involvement prevents a person from being completely rational.

The obvious manifestation of a hot cognition is in the initial reaction to a stimulus. It's that gut reaction we have. A recent example in my own life: Alyska and I were at Barriques last night after work enjoying an impromptu tasting event. As we were settling in, a baby started screaming. My initial response was to cringe and question the person in my head). "Oh look. You brought a baby. To a bar…. (2)" I was filled with outrage at such a selfish choice - why would you take a baby out to a place like this‽

This is angry and extreme. I set down my pen and focused on my breathing. The baby is not out to get me nor is it unreasonable for a parent to want to get out of the house occasionally. And you can argue taking a baby to a coffee shop is hardly a crime against humanity, let alone a personal slight.

  1. Avoid excess in thought and deed.
  2. Do not hold grudges or belief of malign intent.

This is the essence of my edicts for the week, and though I think Franklin was implying political moderation in his definition of moderation, this sort of reactionary close-mindedness is antithetical to living in accord with other human beings.

So… that's a black mark for the day even if hot cognition is difficult to avoid - we react as we react with all the force of emotion we can muster some times. But the key is recognizing it and finding center and expressing these virtues outward.

As my views on these virtues evolve, it's interesting to see how their interpretation changes or solidifies for me. In previous weeks, I didn't really grok (3) moderation as anything but "avoiding excess" but I'm taking a shine to the interactive qualities of it. It, like Sincerity, Justice, and Humility, are virtues in external application, in interaction with a world of other human beings.

I mean, they don't need to exist in an unpopulated space. You, stranded on an island, don't need to be sincere or just. These ideas don't really matter where as virtues like Temperance, Silence, Industry, Tranquility, can all better the person herself irrespective of external effects(4).

When I started the project, I assumed that these virtues were to be directed inward, that any external effects would be secondary or incidental, but I'm starting to understand more of the craftiness that Franklin built into it. Which I should have figured because he was a crafty bastard. Though he was certainly concerned with being an inherently good, moral person, he was also desirous of a high regard and status in society. Franklin believed that these things come from being a person of high character, one who contributed to the world, and treated people with respect.

There is personal virtue in being virtuous to others.

Or: it isn't not about you. It's about other people too.





    1. It's foil - cold cognition - is emotionless thinking. Logic, critical analysis, analytical thinking are generally consider cold cognitive tasks where the outcome is driven by facts rather than emotion. As with most human capability, these ideas processes fall on a spectrum and even the most inconsequential task can include emotional resonance, increasing the "heat" of the decision making process.

    2. This is reference to Sweet Home Alabama which is a delightful Reese Witherspoon movie.

    3. Term coined by Robert Heinlein in A Stranger in a Strange Land which is a marvelous book despite Heinlein being a misogynistic turd. It means "To understand something fully, usually by consuming its essence and adding it to your own. Funny thing - the term had usage before Heinlein in 1860. See Google's Ngram viewer; I wonder if that's just an OCR glitch.

    4. I think there's more to this - intrinsic versus extrinsic virtues - but I can't put my finger on it just yet…