Looking for Spinoza

Antonio Damasio

2004

Understanding the biology of emotions, and the fact that the value of each emotion differs so much in our current human environment, offers considerable opportunities for understanding human behaviour.

We can learn, for example, that some emotions are terrible advisors and consider how we can either suppress them or reduce the consequences of their advice. I am thinking, for example, that reactions that lead to racial and cultural prejudices are based in part on the automatic deployment of social emotions evolutionarily meant to detect difference in others because difference may signal risk or danger, and promote withdrawal or aggression. That sort of reaction probably achieved useful goals in a tribal society but is no longer useful, let alone appropriate, to ours. We can be wise to the face that our brain still carries the machinery to react in the way it did in a very different context ages ago. And we can learn to disregard such reactions and persuade others to do the same.