I’ve got an article in the Boston Globe Ideas section today on the cognitive revolution, and recent research demonstrating the relationship between cognition and emotion.
Ever since Plato, scholars have drawn a clear distinction between thinking and feeling. Cognitive psychology tended to reinforce this divide: emotions were seen as interfering with cognition; they were the antagonists of reason. Now, building on more than a decade of mounting work, researchers have discovered that it is impossible to understand how we think without understanding how we feel.
“Because we subscribed to this false ideal of rational, logical thought, we diminished the importance of everything else,” said Marvin Minsky, a professor at MIT and pioneer of artificial intelligence. “Seeing our emotions as distinct from thinking was really quite disastrous.”
This new scientific appreciation of emotion is profoundly altering the field. The top journals are now filled with research on the connections between emotion and cognition. New academic stars have emerged, such as Antonio Damasio of USC, Joseph LeDoux of NYU, and Joshua Greene, a rising scholar at Harvard. At the same time, the influx of neuroscientists into the field, armed with powerful brain-scanning technology, has underscored the thinking-feeling connection.
“When you look at the actual anatomy of the brain you quickly see that everything is connected,” said Elizabeth Phelps, a cognitive neuroscientist at NYU. “The brain is a category buster.”
The field has largely welcomed the new emotion studies, according to scientists. They have yielded discoveries that are widely acknowledged as important. And they have even generated enthusiasm among the leaders of the cognitive revolution, as emotion studies have helped ground cognitive psychology — which has had a penchant for the abstract — in the real world, uncovering important science behind everything from how people decide what to buy in a supermarket to how they make weighty moral decisions.
The impetus for the article was this historic gathering of eminent cognitive psychologists:
The Cognitive Revolution at Fifty, Plus or Minus One:
A Conversation with Jerome Bruner, Susan Carey, Noam Chomsky, and George Miller
Monday, April 30, 2007, 4pm-6pm
Science Center, Hall B, One Oxford St., Cambridge, MA
If you have any interest in the mind and happen to live in the Boston area, the free event is a must-attend.