Cartesianism, the Embodied Mind, and the Future of Cognitive Research

In Dirk Evers, Michael Fuller, Anne Runehov & Knut-Willy Sæther (eds.), Do Emotions Shape the World? Biennial Yearbook of the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology 2015-2016. Martin-Luther-Universität. pp. 225-244 (2015)
Philippe Gagnon
Universite Catholique de Lyon
In his oft-cited book Descartes' Error, Antonio Damasio claims that Descartes is responsible for having stifled the development of modern neurobiological science, in particular as regards the objective study of the physical and physiological bases for emotive and socially-conditioned cognition. Most of Damasio’s book would stand without reference to Descartes, so it is intriguing to ask why he launched this attack. What seems to fuel such claims is a desire for a more holistic understanding of the mind, the brain and the self. For Descartes however, here allowed to answer back, the question of accounting for the whole diversity of human potential experiences was what could not be left out of sight. Concerning the question of his neglect of the mind said to be "abysmally" detached from the body, it is claimed here that, in the light of Descartes' move which was to break with the scholastic practice of putting more and more things under the control of the soul, the program of using the reality of embodiment to understand the mind was one he actually started. An answer is also suggested to counter the charge that Descartes failed to account for the interaction of the two substances, the mind and the material body, by showing why and how Descartes actually believed in the substantial union of mind and body. Yet, he kept in the picture an ingenium, a faculty of pure understanding overarching a cybernetic model of the body-mind, of which we also here seek to appreciate the significance. This project of accounting for the mind-body interaction ended-up in a study the "passions," as emotions were then called.
Keywords emotion  cybernetics  embodied cognition  cartesianism  body and soul  René Descartes  Antonio Damásio  passions of the soul  affects  information theory
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