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.
Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist at USC, has played a pivotal role in challenging the old assumptions and establishing emotions as an important scientific subject. When Damasio first published his results in the early 1990s, most cognitive scientists assumed that emotions interfered with rational thought. A person without any emotions should be a better thinker, since their cortical computer could process information without any distractions.
But Damasio sought out patients who had suffered brain injuries that prevented them from perceiving their own feelings, and put this idea to the test. The lives of these patients quickly fell apart, he found, because they could not make effective decisions. Some made terrible investments and ended up bankrupt; most just spent hours deliberating over irrelevant details, such as where to eat lunch. These results suggest that proper thinking requires feeling. Pure reason is a disease.
Besides Damasio (whose Looking for Spinoza is a must read!), the article makes reference to other theorists who I've been in the habit of reading, Jon Haidt and Josh Greene.
Spinoza, of course, goes unmentioned, but again we find that he was centuries ahead of his time.
(Tangential Remarks: Recently, I've been toying with some unusual interpretations of Spinoza, not so far from Damasio's neuroscience-infused account of the mind-body relationship. For instance, the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics would be consistent with Spinoza's claim that everything that is possible exists.
Now I'm not so brash as to claim that Spinoza anticipated modern physics, anymore than he anticipated evolution with his outstanding refutation of intelligent design in Ethics I Appendix. Rather, like Damasio has argued with respect to the brain, Spinoza provides a framework for thinking about the sciences that is far preferable to other paradigms, like the Cartesian.
In a similar vein, Spinoza also seems to have a notion of identity as continuing proportion which meshes nicely with current ideas about identity as patterns of information--which has now led me to believe that mind uploading is possible [particularly if the upload is gradual, but perhaps even in the case of instantaneous transfer or the activation of a "backup" copy--imagine being able to "save" your life story!--it's something I've wanted to do for as long as I've been playing RPGs].
These recent ideas, which are extremely exciting, have spawned from my recent reading of Hans Moravec's brilliant 1988 work Mind Children. Moravec's solution to the problem of consciousness copying strikes me as brilliant, if extremely counterintuitive.
I hope to write more on this work at some other point, because it's been extremely fruitful for my thinking: so much so, that I think the more appropriate title would be Mind Fuck [which would be a natural predecessor to Mind Children, anyway.] The first 100 pages can be a bit boring, especially since he dabbles in what's state of the art for 1988 [i.e., even before the Internet], but beginning with the fourth chapter's discussion of the Robotic Bush [not the George variety, but the branching kind] things take a turn for the surreal-yet-plausible.)