In light of recent events regarding the COVID-19 outbreak here in the U.S., I think this is a relevant question. A couple weeks back, Jim asked a similar question regarding feelings and empirical data. I gave a short answer there, but I think I want to expand on it here.
Some people use feelings as facts.
In nature, all animals can respond to stimuli. On a basic level, survival is the only decision that needs to be made. Run from a perceived predator. Fight a perceived threat. Eat. Sleep. Do this until one cannot do it anymore.
In the context of people, Twitter and Facebook provide good examples of how people use emotion to control their reality. Posts and tweets get fed to people based on how strong a reaction they get, not based on how accurate they are. So, I could write something inflammatory and receive more validation and condemnation than if I write something that’s factually accurate.
But feelings do not make their own facts.
This might seem controversial, given that people are free to shut their minds off when it suits them. But the idea I’m getting at is one of permanence. Facts are things which persist outside of any brain’s ability to perceive, understand, or react to them. How I feel about them will not change their nature one bit.
Indeed, if I have the good fortune to recognize facts as they are, then that information can be useful. It’s how people build houses without worrying the roof will collapse. It’s how people can save seeds and have a steady supply of food from year to year.
This idea of permanency is why facts matter. In the case of COVID-19 here in the U.S., facts are what let people know of danger, of safety, and of best practices to keep others safe. Without them, people only have their own senses. Those senses don’t always conform to reality.
So, do feelings count as facts?
Not always. In many cases, feelings can run to the detriment of the person having them. It can lead to bad decisions and wishful thinking. There are plenty of examples of this right now, in dramatic detail.
Take a look at every country that’s been relying on hard data to govern their responses to the pandemic.
Then, look at every country that’s allowed feelings to govern their actions.