Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Role of Emotion in Experience

What role does emotion play in our everyday lives?  How does emotion affect our experience and being?  These are questions addressed by some of the finest minds of our era. 
For Piaget, emotion is the motivating force of action emanating from outside the individual in the form of sensations emitted by objects.  His view is rooted in the Newtonian conception of a universe comprised in isolated objects requiring an emotive force to initiate a series of mechanistic interactions between objects.  Piaget reduces all conscious human experience to a cognitive formulation of these causal relations.    His abstract concept of emotion as force fails to explain the relationship between bodily feelings, emotions, and higher forms of consciousness in human beings.
Alfred North Whitehead indicates the factors in human nature which go to make up the particular emotions, arise from our apprehension of these permanent features of order in the world. His concrete concept of emotion gives insight into the experience of bodily feelings and their relationship to the growth and learning of human beings.  He explains the emotions are the crucial mediating factors between the welter of awareness of these feelings in higher organisms.  “We perceive other things which are in the world of actualities in the same sense as we are.   So our emotions are directed toward other things, including of course, our bodily organs . . . the world for me is nothing else than how the functioning of my body present it for my experience.”
Jean Paul Sartre sees it differently in his book, The Emotions, Outline of a Theory.  He sees our emotion as an “abrupt drop of consciousness into the magical.”  He believes:  “emotion is not accidental modification of a subject which would otherwise be plunged into an unchanged world.  It is easy to see that every emotional apprehension of an object which frightens, irritates, sadness, etc., can be made only on the basis of a total alteration of the world.  In order that an object may in reality appear terrible, it must realize itself as an immediate and magical presence face to face with consciousness.“  In other words, we modify our experience with emotion to make it more comfortable, according to our own nature.  We emote sadness, anger or gloom because “lacking the power and will to accomplish the acts which we have been planning, we behave in such a way that the universe no longer requires anything of us.”
What do YOU think?
Artwork by Beth Nash.  Many thanks.