Romantic Love (Limerence): A Workshop on Emotion

I’ve begun to offer a pair of workshops on emotion that focus primarily on romantic love, technically known as “limerence”. The first workshop is designed primarily to enhance participants’ understanding of their emotions, whereas the second is focused on “relating to” their emotions. This post is about the first workshop.

Why Understand Limerence (Romantic Love)?

So what does limerence have to do with cognitive productivity? As I argued at length in Cognitive Productivity, to learn effectively we must not merely develop dry, cognitive mechanisms and representations (the substrate of memory, skills, etc.). Otherwise, we will at most develop an “inert” storehouse of knowledge, as Alfred Whitehead put it. We must rather change ourselves affectively: develop inclinations, feelings, desires and tendencies to apply what we’ve learned. To this end, it helps to understand emotions.

Furthemore, emotions generally, and limerence in particular, can directly promote productivity and creativity. (Beethoven’s may have been fueled by his unrequited love. There are countless similar examples. Compare the reference to The Mating Mind below.) Emotions can also, of course, destroy our ability to focus.

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On Having One or More Theories of Emotion: Perturbance and Ur-Emotions

We can’t get away from “folk psychology” and “intuitive physics” (also known as “naive physics”), i.e., from using everyday concepts like emotion, memory, force and energy. However, in everyday discussions as in more technical ones, those words can trip us up. “Emotion” in particular is a tricky one. This difficulty is acknowledged in multiple articles in the emotion literature (and elsewhere on this web site). But, even in psychology, often the term is used without reference to particular theory of emotions. And therein lies the problem:

without a reference theory of emotion, the term “emotion” doesn’t mean much at all.

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A Tale of Two Summer Conferences: ISRE-2015 and CogSci 2015

I attended and presented at two conferences this summer:

  • ISRE-2015 July 8-10, in Geneva (International Society for Research on Emotions),
  • CogSci 2015, July 23-25 in Pasadena (37th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society).

I enjoyed and will continue to benefit from both conferences. But there were psychosocially interestingly differences.

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On Ruminating and Intrusive Thinking…

I’ve been thinking a lot about rumination recently… actually have been for quite a while. Obviously, rumination can  hinder productivity. Psychologists have looked at the dark-side of rumination, to the point of defining it as counterproductive.  However, some measure of obsession and tenacity is required in order to stick with and solve hard problems. The history of expertise and creativity in science are a testament to such tenacity. (See the discussion of cognitive miserliness and other thinking dispositions in Cognitive Productivity. [Footnote 1] )
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Emotion as Perturbance, Draft of ACT in Three Acts (Performed)

I was asked to assemble a service for Beacon Unitarian. I accepted and decided to meet several constraints, some of which are mentioned below.

As I said in my last post, I am trying to relate (a) acceptance and commitment therapy/training to (b) H-CogAff (a theory of affect). This is to better understand mental phenomena and to develop new solutions that promote well-being and cognitive productivity (including “meta-effectiveness”, the skills and propensity to use knowledge to become more effective.)

So, I decided to create a service entitled Emotion as Perturbance: A Draft of ACT in Three Acts to informally present the perturbance theory of emotion in combination with acceptance and commitment therapy/training and the work of Jacques Brel. That allowed me to pursue several CogZest projects in one Zest of Brel production.
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You Can’t Fully Control Your Own Mind: Affect at Work

It is tempting to say that having control over own’s emotions, or more generally one’s affect, is necessary for cognitive productivity and overall well-being. But “control” is too strong a word. For the mechanisms that generate “affect”—moods, emotions, feelings, urges, wishes, wants and so on–are not under direct voluntary control. You can effectively instruct your finger to scratch your nose. In contrast, (normally) you can’t simply will yourself to stop feeling pain, hunger, sadness or fear. It’s worth noting that the instruction to scratch your nose is not directly effected because human behaviour and perception are always very indirect, mediated by several neural layers and several virtual layers, as a bit of neuropsychology or computational modeling quickly reveal. (Going forward, you will notice that many authors overlook this critical fact when they talk about “direct perception” of the world or their minds. They’re wrong. In fact, people can be mistaken about the contents of their own consciousness!)
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Distraction, Information Technology and Emotion as Perturbance

Much has been said in the last decade about the fact that information technology has made it difficult for people to focus on their work. Nicolas Carr in his best selling book, The Shallows has gone so far as to claim that our brains are being (adversely) rewired by technology. In Cognitive Productivity I argued against Carr’s pessimistic, neuro-babbling characterization of our problems.
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Broad Cognitive Science Deals with Emotion, Motivation and Moods

English has the largest lexicon of all languages. It is loaded with terms about affect (emotion, moods, motivation). Western culture has produced a panoply of emotion-conveying art that displays the tremendous power of “folk psychology”. Still, it does not equip us to understand and handle emotion as well as we could and perhaps should.

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