The emotional mind. The affective roots of our thoughts and cultures

In cooperation with the Faculty of Social Sciences

22mei2019 20:00 - 21:30


Tracing the leading role of emotions in the evolution of the mind, a philosopher and a psychologist pair up to reveal how thought and culture owe less to our faculty for reason than to our capacity to feel.

Many accounts of the human mind concentrate on the brain’s computational power. Yet, in evolutionary terms, rational cognition emerged only recently. Many of the distinctive behaviors and social structures of our species are best discerned through the lens of emotions. Even the roots of so much that makes us uniquely human―art, mythology, religion―can be traced to feelings of caring, longing, fear, loneliness, awe, rage, lust, playfulness, and more.

In their new book The Emotional Mind: the affective roots of culture and cognition Stephen Asma and Rami Gabriel trace these origins of our minds and our culture. Using affective neuroscience and ecological psychology, they argue that emotions have intentionality, and that the mind is neither a computer nor a collection of innate modules.

In tonight’s event, Asma and Gabriel will engage in conversation with Agneta Fisher and Rob Withagen, whose respective research has focused on various aspects of the emotional mind. They will pose the argument, among others, that emotions should not be conceived of as mental states residing in the head, but as goal-directed movements, directed at meaningful properties in the animal’s environment.

About the speakers

Stephen T. Asma is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia College Chicago and author of several books, such as The Evolution of Imagination (2017) and On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears (2009). He has researched and taught Asian philosophy in China, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Bhutan, Hong Kong, and Laos. He is currently working on a project called ‘Living Online: Isolation, Disembodiment, and the Challenge of Friendship’.

Rami Gabriel is Associate Professor of Psychology at Columbia College Chicago, where he is a founding Fellow of the Research Group in Mind, Science and Culture. Trained as a cognitive and perceptual scientist, he has published empirical studies on memory, self, emotion, prosopagnosia, consciousness, and the philosophy of cognitive science.

Agneta Fisher is professor of Emotions and Affective Processes, chair of the department of Psychology, and dean of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences at the University of Amsterdam. Since 2012, she has been the research director of the Psychology Research Institute and a board member of the Amsterdam Brain and Cognition research priority area. She is the chair of the Dutch Association of Social Psychologists (ASPO) and co-director of the Consortium of European Emotion Researchers (CERE) in the EU-funded program Horizon 2020 she will investigate the role of negative emotions in the development of populism.

Rob Withagen is Assistant Professor at the Department of Medical Sciences, University of Groningen. His research focuses on the philosophy of kinesiology and the learning and observation of movement.

Natalie Dixon (moderator) is a writer and mobile researcher based in Amsterdam. In her research, she documents and investigates people’s relationships with mobile technology at Affect Lab, a research studio she co-founded in 2012. 


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