by Brian Rivera
The main theme of this paper is the proper way to understand what we mean by feeling and thinking. Feeling and thinking have usually represented as opposites. However, in this paper Worthman presents evidence of how deeply interconnected feeling and thinking are and argues for acknowledgment of the contribution of emotions to the anthropological understanding of cognition and well being of individuals.
The feeling thinking divide is characterized through the ethos-eidos distinction where ethos is the affective emotional landscape of members of a community (emotional landscape) and eidos is the cognitive-propositional (knowledge structure). This distinction carries Cartesian dualist assumptions characteristic of the Western/Enlightenment tradition that are at odds with some recent findings from neurobiology and neurology. Studies, like those in the work of Antonio Damasio, show that feeling and thinking are deeply intertwined in the nervous system and that in fact it is not clear where one begins and the other one ends. Emotion is thus integral to cognition and serves to mediate or give valence to a landscape of arbitrary information.
Worthman then uses this new conceptualization of the emotion-cognition system to reanalyze the relationship between the individual and the socio cultural landscape. To do this Worthman draws on the concept of embodiment drawing on fields of research that aim to ground theories of human capacity and behavior in the body. Culture shapes the body of the individual and the individual shapes culture through its body. This is what Worthman states is the dual nature of embodiment.
Through the lens of the dual nature of embodiment, the influence of emotion on culture is more easily understood. The biological states influence emotion which influences the individual’s body and experience which in turn influences culture and this influence runs backwards from culture to the individual’s biological states. Worthman then goes on to provide examples of this dual relationship like how temperament affects development in children and rhesus monkeys and how hardship and hostility affect health. From these case studies, five main points are highlighted about dual embodiment biocultural model:
Worthman concludes the chapter by providing examples of how this biocultural model can inform discussion of the role of emotion in psychological anthropology.
The scope and scale of the chapter is impressive. Throughout, we discuss, conscious and unconscious processes from the scale of neurotransmitters to that of a society. A question that emerged while reading the chapter is whether the model makes us more optimistic than we should be, whether such a linear model will make us overlook unknowns yet unknown. While it is possible to draw a link between biological states and social environment, the complexity of such relationship is so massive that one must safeguard against finding a signal in the noise. It is possible for individuals or even cultures as a whole to mischaracterize (or misinterpret) the nature and role of emotions and biological states. The different sources people throughout history have attributed to disease (both physical and mental) speak to this misattribution. Additionally, although easily recognized, “well-being” is difficult to define and measure and thus difficult to attribute to the individual, the culture, or the dynamic between the two. This is not to undermine the usefulness of the model, but simply to highlight that there is a real challenge in moving from the statement “that” biological states have a relation to social environment to describing “how” they relate to each other.