Sep 3, 2013

A Psychophysiological and Philosophic Commentary: the Role of Emotions in the Process of Cognition

I would like to go back for a while to the line 1.16 in which Patanjali exposes the factors that accompany the process of comprehension (samprajnya) listing among them ananda – the delight. This issue is clear from the empiric point of view and it is rather difficult to say something against it, yet here comes the question – what is the ground of this relation between the cognitive, even existential process and the emotional experience associated with it. First of all let us turn to psychology and remember the role of emotions in human life. The rule of memorizing says that the more emotionally significant and coloured the information is the better it is memorized.
In order to understand the principle of this formula remember how many times when a child you had to repeat poems of the school curriculum to learn them by heart, and how easy, almost on the first listen you memorized the foul verses that you heard in the street. This happened because the agony of Lermontov who was bidding farewell to “unwashed Russia” does not reverb in the soul of a six-former, but the genitals mentioned by someone will heat his pubertal imagination. While the stage of adulthood that provides for a whole range of manifold emotional experience also promotes memorizing the poems of classics on the first try – of course if one still reads them [1]. It is not for nothing that I have distinguished between emotional significance and emotional colouring since the emotions associated with some event can be generated not only by one’s personal mind but can be also induced from outside. And it is this principle that both the process of upbringing and social order are grounded upon.

And now let us shift from the field of scientific psychology into the sphere of metaphysics in order to wonder why it happens this way. And to ask one more question: how does it come that one and the same situation can be emotionally significant for one person and leave another one indifferent. The answer may lie in the concept of evolutional development of the soul. The degree of emotional significance of the situation is determined by its role in the person’s development at this very stage. One will not be able to pass by a crucial aspect, he will be recurring to problem again and again, even though in the mind’s eye. And on the contrary, he will use attribution of emotions – this time positive – in order to designate and consolidate the properly accumulated experience.

In scope of this theory we can explain the fact that people with “exhausted” emotional sphere, for instance those who artificially stimulate emotions by means of psychedelic substances, have poorer memory and are less precise in defining their life experience.

[1] By the way, I consider the school curriculum aimed at making pupils read works of literature in big advance of the person’s emotional maturation to be a purposeful vaccination against cognition that blocks the ability of reading high-quality literature in one’s ephebic stage.

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