“The Emotional Mind: The affective roots of culture and cognition
STEPHEN T. ASMA AND RAMI GABRIEL
FEBRUARY 16, 2020
In our new book The Emotional Mind: The Affective Roots of Culture and Cognition (Harvard University Press, 2019), we argue that emotional systems are central to understanding the evolution of the human mind (as well as those of our primate cousins). Following the pioneering affective science of researchers like Jaak Panksepp, Antonio Damasio, and Fran de Waal, we bring together insights and data from philosophy, biology and psychology to shape a new research program –an alternative approach to the algorithmic assumptions of cognitive science and the post hoc stories of some evolutionary psychology.
A sufficient account of the evolution of mind needs to go deeper than our power of propositional thinking –our rarefied ability to manipulate linguistic representations in a lingua mentis. We will have to understand a much older capacity – the power to feel and respond appropriately. We need to think about consciousness itself as an archaeologist thinks about layers of sedimentary strata.
Affective science can demonstrate the surprising relevance of feelings to perception, movement, decision-making, and social behavior. The mind is saturated with feelings. Almost every perception and thought is valenced, or emotionally weighted with some attraction or repulsion quality. Moreover, those feelings, sculpted in the encounter between neuroplasticity and ecological setting, provide the true semantic contours of mind. Meaning is foundationally a product of embodiment, our relation to the immediate environment, and the emotional cues of social interaction, not abstract correspondence between sign and referent. The challenge then is to unpack this embodiment. How do emotions like care, rage, lust, and even playfulness enable the social world of mammals, an information-rich niche for human learning, and a motivational system for higher-level ideational salience?
The biological and psychological sciences have historically isolated or focused on one layer of mind to the exclusion of others, and thereby presented partial and sometimes conflicting pictures of mind and behavior. Many computationally oriented cognitive scientists tend to focus on tertiary-level processing, while behaviorists focus on secondary-level processing.
We think the lowest layers of mind permeate, infiltrate, and animate the higher layers. The evolution of mind is the developmental story of how these layers emerged and acted as feedback loops on each other. Such feedback, however, is not strictly a brain process, but an embodied, enactive, embedded, and socio-cultural process.”
The Emotional Mind – The Affective Roots of Culture and Cognition
Stephen T. Asma, Rami Gabriel
Tracing the leading role of emotions in the evolution of the mind, a philosopher and a psychologist pair up to reveal how thought and culture owe less to our faculty for reason than to our capacity to feel.
Many accounts of the human mind concentrate on the brain’s computational power. Yet, in evolutionary terms, rational cognition emerged only the day before yesterday. For nearly 200 million years before humans developed a capacity to reason, the emotional centers of the brain were hard at work. If we want to properly understand the evolution of the mind, we must explore this more primal capability that we share with other animals: the power to feel.
Emotions saturate every thought and perception with the weight of feelings. The Emotional Mind reveals that many of the distinctive behaviors and social structures of our species are best discerned through the lens of emotions. Even the roots of so much that makes us uniquely human―art, mythology, religion―can be traced to feelings of caring, longing, fear, loneliness, awe, rage, lust, playfulness, and more.
From prehistoric cave art to the songs of Hank Williams, Stephen T. Asma and Rami Gabriel explore how the evolution of the emotional mind stimulated our species’ cultural expression in all its rich variety. Bringing together insights and data from philosophy, biology, anthropology, neuroscience, and psychology, The Emotional Mind offers a new paradigm for understanding what it is that makes us so unique.”