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Emotion and Reason: Partners, not Opposites

Dan Levine, Ph.D.
UTA

Dr. Levine will discuss recent advances in cognitive neuroscience, and behavioral results from cognitive psychology, supporting the notion that emotion and cognition are not separate but intricately intertwined.


Recent advances in cognitive neuroscience, and behavioral results from cognitive psychology, support the notion that emotion and cognition are not separate but intricately intertwined. Emotions facilitate distinguishing relevant from irrelevant material when we process cognitive information or make decisions. Conversely, high-level cognition facilitates satisfying long-term emotional drives in complex social environments. Hence, at best emotion and reason are partners rather than opponents in the quest of a good life: to use a mathematical metaphor, emotion provides axioms whereas reason provides theorems.
Powerful short-term emotions can distort information processing by drawing attention to salient but irrelevant attributes of events. Yet the remedy for this kind of distortion is not suppressing all emotions. It is understanding and directing the power of emotions to influence our choices in other ways that are personally and socially beneficial, including aesthetic emotions that enhance the pursuit of knowledge.
The belief that reason and emotion are opposites, with reason being superior to emotion, has roots in Aristotle, Descartes, and other leading thinkers, and pervades our culture. Yet this belief has harmful social consequences. Valuing reason over emotion has meant a widespread loss of meaning, as people feel they are valued only for their ability to produce for a job. Those who feel they are not appreciated for themselves as people, and only for their market value, are vulnerable to the appeal of charismatic demagogues and terrorist leaders who promise to give their lives meaning and purpose. Also, the belief that reason is superior to emotion easily degenerates into a rank ordering whereby some people who are “rational” (typically whites, men, and straights) are superior to other people who are “emotional” (typically blacks, women, and gays). Hence, creating a more egalitarian and harmonious society requires making the best of our complex brain pathways that interconnect emotion and reason.

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  • A former member
    A former member

    Sounds fascinating - I will try to make it!

    April 8, 2013

  • Skip K.

    going to Justin's debate.

    April 8, 2013

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