Cognition, Dialectics, Whatever

Doyle Saylor djsaylor at
Thu Oct 22 14:02:13 PDT 1998

Hello everyone,

Paul Henry Rosenberg writes Oct 22/98: Doyle posits an absolute disjunction of reason and emotion -- I reject that. I believe that real human emotions almost invariably have cognitive content, and of course that cognitive content is in large measure socially constructed.

Doyle Lets see if I can clear up this disagreement. I see emotions as a modular function in the brain. That module can be examined separate from the neo-cortex. This doesn't mean that the brain isn't interconnected, and that feelings are separable from thinking (cognition) as we experience them in life, because the mind is globally interconnected. This is the same thing as saying hearing is a functional module of the mind, but it is integrated into the mind inseparably from its interconnection with the rest of the mind. We can observe the properties of hearing, how loud, how high, how low. We can observe these in separation from seeing, or feeling, or thinking. But they are interconnected. Just try learning language without hearing. That is how deaf people can come to adulthood with no language at all.

Doyle The functional process of feeling has properties unlike thinking. Thinking arises in the neo-cortex with respect to the frontal lobe, the parietal lobe, and the temporal lobe. Even the occipital lobe affects thinking, we can't think color for one, without the occipital lobe contributing. No one as yet actually knows where feelings arise, except that the circuits which carry feelings into the neo-cortex are cloudily known.

Doyle Because I can conceptualize the difference between feelings and thinking doesn't mean in reality they can be separated in human thought. It is a technique of thinking on my part to help me to be clear about what I am considering.

Paul As far back as *Metaphors We Live By* (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980) there's been an explicit argument against positivism/objectivism based on an empirical study of cognition. Lakoff and Johnson weren't dealing with physiology, but their work is indicative of the kind of consequences that can come from critically examining human cognition in ways that most leftists would unfortunately dismiss, or not even consider in the first place.

Doyle I take my views from Lakoff. Lakoff emphasizes that feelings represent intensities, and one can understand moral systems as attaching feelings to rules in calculi of intensities where the rules become a model for how to act in the world. Lakoff uses this technique to marvelous extent in his book on "Moral Politics". In addition Lakoff makes the point in his book that these moral systems are related to the body in the family, and how we feel about that. That if you examine individuals they are often riddled with different moral calculi from one arena to another. For instance as a teacher someone might hold liberal views, but as a parent be a strict, and conservative parent. This contingent quality of feelings, and this scalar nature of feelings is what I'm driving at.

Doyle Secondly understanding feelings this way explains why logic fails when it comes to moral systems clashing. Lakoff uses the example that on abortion neither the left nor the right can understand one another, despite the fact that the main positions each have logical problems which the other side constantly throws up in the face of the other. This seems to me is a significant advance for socialist insight about how morality really works. Morality (strong feelings attached to how we might think of behaving, and not necessarily even a rule in the sense of written commandments) is contingent, it is not fixed. Morality leaks even in the individual (though slowly and unlike cognition). It is hopeless to regard these as debates to be won upon the issue of logic, but logic is important in other ways. Logic ought not to be looked at as simply rules, but the ability to form rules or "understandings" (which I think is a connectionist way of saying rule like in a parallel to how rules logically are derived), and the limitations of how much each of us can do logical thinking. The ability to think is not computer like (in the sense of sequential architectures in computing means), but restricted to a level which is controlled by feelings, and by an ability to connect details in ill-logical ways which is actually the dominant and most important part of the process.

Doyle I will give an example in chess. Computers use very long trains of logical trees to plot the best moves. Even the world champion could not do that. Instead, chess players see patterns from their experience, and relative abilities in their neural networks in very short and error prone logical operations performed primarily in the frontal lobe. Despite the enormous advantage computers have in doing logical operations very rapidly, a human mind is still able to get at the same sort of problem (chess) roughly comparably without resort to tens of millions of logical operations per second. The logical ability of the human mind is very limited, but it's ability to interconnect is awesome. That is the key, and that is the way to understand feelings, and logic

Doyle In my opinion then it is necessary to drop a faith in logic as the primary human goal in understanding consciousness. Instead while respecting what logic can do, we need to understand how seeing patterns is working for us. In that, "understanding" is shaped by feelings, but feelings aren't fixed, but contingent. An understanding is often times hardly strongly felt. It may be calm, or it may not, and only that persons history can really tell us what their scalar intensity might be.

Paul Finally, I'd like to point out that this is NOT totally irrelevent to the subject matter of LBO. The basic laws of neoclassical economics are based on assumptions about human nature, which are in part cognitive assumptions. Those assumptions have been tested and found wanting, with virtually no notice being taken of the fact. I believe that leftist ought to be paying a whole lot more attention to such matters. The embeddedness of the social in the biological is NOT, as conservatives has always supposed, an open-and-shut argument in their favor. It only looks that way if you don't bother to check out the facts.

Doyle I agree with this, and this is the important point I think for the left. I want to get up on the roof tops and shout this out, Paul has said what is epochally important goddamn it. Connectionism I think leads to forms of social structure much closer to who we really are. I think they point toward solutions to how the state might work for a classless society. I am very hopeful. regards, Doyle -------------- next part -------------- An HTML attachment was scrubbed... URL: <../attachments/19981022/29921a62/attachment.htm>

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list