KATHMANDU, APRIL 18
The separation of reason from passion, thinking from feeling, and cognition from emotion for the wise Greeks was a compelling proposition.
Plato thought of emotions as wild horses reined in by the intellect.
The idea of what the mind is has changed innumerable times, down the ages. If Descartes redefined the mind to include only what we are aware of, Freud formalised the (un) conscious as the 'home' of primitive instincts and emotions.
It isn't surprising that a field is expanding rapidly to studying rationality, or cognition, independent of emotions. You know its identity: cognitive science, or the 'new science of the mind'.
In reality, however, cognitive science is a science of only a part of the mind - one that is related to thinking, reasoning and intellect. It leaves emotions out.
Maybe, you wouldn't acquiesce to such a supposition. Because, minds without emotions are not really minds. They are, as Joseph LeDoux, a distinguished American neuroscientist, calls, "souls on ice - cold, lifeless creatures devoid of any desires, fears, sorrows, pains or pleasures." Hence, his riposte: "Why would anyone want to conceive of minds without emotions?"
Recent research- on what emotions are, how they operate in the brain, and why they have important influences on our lives, which LeDoux calls the first level -reconnoitres the crux of appropriate analysis of psychological functions in the brain. The second that streams through it is related to the fact that brain systems generate emotional behaviours that are highly conserved through numerous levels of emotional history.
So, when such systems - the third dimension of the idea - function in a living being, it 'ups' the capacity for conscious awareness. LeDoux's fourth level follows from the third - the conscious feelings we know, love, or hate. The fifth outlines emotional feelings, and responses, as effects caused by the activity of a common underlying system that is open to objectively measurable emotional responses. While the sixth level is related to conscious feelings, the seventh looks at emotions as things that happen to us, rather than things we 'will' to occur.
Human consciousness, says LeDoux, is the way it is because of the way our brain is. He adds, "Emotional feelings result when we become consciously aware that an emotional system of the brain is active. (So) any organism that has consciousness also has feelings." His bottom line: "The brain states and bodily responses are the fundamental facts of (our) emotions and the conscious feelings are the frills that have added icing on (our) emotional cake."
A version of this article appears in the print on April 19, 2022, of The Himalayan Times