Reason and emotion: continuing a line of inquiry (Taney Roniger)

In a comment to a recent post by Jon Sakata, Deborah Barlow suggested the following as something the group might like to pursue. Jon’s question was: "Who was it that posited that the opposition between reason and feeling is illusory? Rather, that reason is a special form of feeling. In other words, feeling is a continuum inclusive of reason."

Below is the content from that comment thread. Would anyone care to chime in? I do agree that this seems particularly relevant.

Deborah Barlow: More on this please, from anyone.

Taney Roniger: Jon and Deborah, Do you mean that someone from the past -- one of the Enlightenment figures, perhaps -- posited that the reason/feeling opposition is illusory? If so, I'd love to hear more on this. Of course, if you're referring to a contemporary figure that's another story altogether -- and one on which I'd have much to say!

Jon Sakata: Hume-Deleuze?

Taney Roniger: It could well be that Hume and Deleuze made this claim - very interesting. What I had in mind were people like Antonio Damasio, George Lakoff, and Mark Johnson, all of whom have written extensively on this in recent times. What was revelatory for me when I first read Lakoff was the idea that (and he has studied this empirically -- it's not just conjecture) the entire human conceptual apparatus arises from our embodied, sensual contact with the world, and as such consists mostly, if not entirely, of metaphors involving bodily actions. (Jon is of course talking about *feeling,* or emotion, but we seem to have no problem allowing that emotions arise from our embodied being in the world. And if reason is a function of emotion, and emotion is a function of our embodiment, then what I'm saying is similar.) But then when you think about it, how could it be otherwise? Old claims to the contrary notwithstanding, it's not like reason just descended on us from some mysterious celestial source; it had to have been born of the earth, just like everything else about us. And on emotion specifically, Antonio Damasio's claim (again, proven empirically) is that not only are reason and emotion fundamentally connected, but reason is entirely *dependent* upon emotion. To think that all this time we've gotten this so wrong. Another facet of human hubris, I suppose: to assume that things we *wish* were the case are in fact the case. I love what was said earlier about affect being so much more difficult than reason -- so much more difficult to inhabit -- and that rather than owning this difficulty, we ("we") divorced ourselves from it and cast it on to women!

Deborah Barlow: Taney, this is compelling and full of rich veins to explore. Thank you for taking this on. I am also hoping Sarah Robinson will weigh as well. (She did a symposium and subsequent publication on Mind in Architecture: Neuroscience, Embodiment, and the Future of Design.)

Taney Roniger: Rich indeed! I can make this a separate thread so others will be sure to see it. I do think it calls for some in-depth attention.

Jon Sakata: That sounds like great idea, Taney! Great to finally meet you and really enjoyed today's talk with Christine!



arthur said...

Sorry for being so slow to jump in here. As a prolouge to saying something in more depth about how the whole "embodied cognition" school in cognitive science has influenced my thinking about contemporary (visual) art and my practice as a journalistic art critic, I'd like to offer praises for Mark Johnson's perhaps somewhat neglected 2007 book, The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of the Human Body. As well as coming along at an advantageous time for me personally (I started doing newspaper reviews in 2006) I found the book to be a magisterial but accessible synthesis of phenomenology and traditional aesthetics with a broad range of findings from the neuro- and cognitive sciences. I recommend the book and all of Johnson's work tremendously.

I am delving into Sarah Robinson's edited volume mentioned by Deborah (and reposted by Taney) above. I understand that she is drawing off of that work and that of other thinkers from the neurophenomenlogical, embodied and "4E" camps. Let me just say here that I find all of this incredibly bracing and of great promise for moving beyond stale debates between a conservative, reductively formalist modernism and what Taney is calling a "deconstructive" postmodernism.

Taney Roniger said...

Arthur, thank you for drawing our attention to the Mark Johnson book. I will add that to the reading list! And I didn't realize Sarah's compilation was available online (or am I mistaken?). I'll certainly add that to the list as well.