April 30, 2007
Thinking and Feeling
The Boston Globe’s Ideas section rocks out with a great piece on emotional reasoning — with quite a bit of history of cognitive science thrown in:
Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist at USC, has played a pivotal role in challenging the old assumptions and establishing emotions as an important scientific subject. When Damasio first published his results in the early 1990s, most cognitive scientists assumed that emotions interfered with rational thought. A person without any emotions should be a better thinker, since their cortical computer could process information without any distractions.
But Damasio sought out patients who had suffered brain injuries that prevented them from perceiving their own feelings, and put this idea to the test. The lives of these patients quickly fell apart, he found, because they could not make effective decisions. Some made terrible investments and ended up bankrupt; most just spent hours deliberating over irrelevant details, such as where to eat lunch. These results suggest that proper thinking requires feeling. Pure reason is a disease.
Somewhat similarly, I’ve heard claims that our embodiment — the fact that we have fingers and toes and torsos and a defined, physical ‘self’ — is crucial to our intelligence, and that the whole notion of an ephemeral intelligence (like, some Google A.I.) is untenable because of that. Hmm.