[xmca] Emotion and Cognition

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Wed Jul 25 2007 - 22:34:54 PDT

(Actually, Brenda, that last posting was pretty rational and coherent by my standards; normally I write much worse drivel than that!)
  As I understand it, Andy has two objections to Wolff-Michael's paper (and Damasio). I'm not going to take a stand on either until I'm sure I not only understand both of them but I also understand how they are related to each other and to Damasio (I just finished reading "Looking for Spinoza" and "Descartes' Error").
  a) Andy doesn't think that consciousness, motivation, or identity are "subordinated" to orientation and emotional readiness just because they are prior in evolutionary terms.
  b) Andy thinks that the identity of the modern individual does not emerge in anthropogenesis, as "the body's idea of the mind", but is instead a late development, arising from material culture.
  On the one hand, I don't really see why "subordinated" is necesarily positivistic, or how it differs in principle with consciousness, motivation, and identity being "superstructural" relative to orientation or emotional readiness.
  In this superstructural sense it is undoubtedly true that the airplane is "subordinated" to the horse and cart (it is hard to imagine a civilization that has developed the former without having developed the latter) and civilization is "subordinated" to jungle life (ditto).
  On the other, Damasio DOES assert a homology, even an isomorphism, between the way a paramecium orients to a danger and the way we are "emotionally ready" for a romantic experience when we embark on a date.
  (Rather inconsistently, Damasio then REJECTS an analogy between a human being and an airplane on the grounds that humans are just a hell of a lot more complicated. Perhaps we are, but an airplane has more moving parts than a paramecium, and it has a homuncular "consciousness" piloting it and passengers to boot, so in a sense an airplane is actually more complex than an individual human being, since a working airplane is really a system which includes a large number of human beings!)
  It seems to me that the problem is not that Damasio uses the word "subordinate" (if he does) but rather that he assumes that:
  i) the microgenesis of emotions obeys the same order as their ontogenesis, and the ontogenesis of emotions obeys the same order as their phylogenesis. Just because emotional readiness and orientation evolved before consciousness does not mean that they develop that way. LSV points out that in evolution sexual behavior emerges very early on, and consciousness is late emerging, but in human development we see consciousness from the very beginning and sexual behavior only when development is almost complete.
  ii) higher emotional responses obey the same rules as lower emotional ones, with emotional readiness and orientation coming first and higher emotional functions like identity, motivation and even consciousness itself being built on top of them. LSV writes that a child at nine months is more helpless than a chick just hatched from an egg in physical terms, but that same child is capable of using simple tools, and even signs.
  In the case of culturally mediated intellectual functions, there is no reason to think that higher emotional functions such as identity and motivation and even conciousness itself have to wait for orientation and emotional readiness to emerge. Very small children, sometimes poorly oriented in the world and emotionally far from ready to cope with the complex relationships around them, can still be remarkably willfull--verily, the first is last and the last is first!
  Andy argues that modern identity is not simply individuality, a cognitive correlate of an indiviudal body bounded by its skin that we share with primates and other animals as well. Instead, it is the product of the differentiation of subjectivity and is thus tied to a man's relationship with material culture (property and its enjoyment, in our own society).
  As a linguist, with a very Hallidayan notion of what subjectivity means, I imagine it rather like this. A grammatical subject can mean many things: the topical THEME of a sentence ("This teapot was given to my aunt by the duke"), or the ACTOR of an action ("The duke gave this teapot to my aunt"), or the SUBJECT responsible for the validity of the message ("My aunt was given this teapot by the duke"). Similarly, man in his relationship to material culture, man as a subject in bourgeois society, has various functions which are being differentiated and even fragmented: a producer, a consumer, and even a product!
  But if the various strands of our individual subjectivity are fragmented and separated like this, why do we feel so strongly that our own epoch is in some sense more individualistic? Perhaps it is because the socio-cultural horizon has tightened around our identity like a noose. In the eighteenth century, a man's identity (and, more concretely, his obligations to others for financial support and protection) could be strongly tied to an ancestral lineage or at least an extended family. In the nineteenth century, the horizons of this family shrank to those of a single breadwinner, his spouse and children (and maybe servants), and in our own epoch, the socio-cultural horizon has shrunk still further: "There is no such thing as society!" and if there were, the next generation would soon abolish it.
  In Volosinov's 1929 "critical sketch" of Freudianism, he points out that the family in the Freudian scheme of things has even lost its ties to material culture: the father is no more than the mother's lover, and the son is his rival. This he suggests is due to the general tendency, often seen in the collapse of one economic system and its replacement by another, to renounce the cultural heritage of one's epoch and indeed all epoch's to assert man's animality. I remember in 1989, just before the student movement in Beijing, there was a group of poets in Sichuan called the "Not No" group which declared the whole of anthropogenesis a regrettable mistake and went off to search for our ape ancestors in caves.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Wed Jul 25 22:37 PDT 2007

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