Saturday, May 21, 2005

simulation, emotion, and runaway politics

There is a relatively recent theory of linguitic meaning (semantics) called simulation semantics. It's basic idea is that when you understand the meaning of a sentence, you actually simulate what the sentence means in ur head, actually firing the exact same neural structures which u would use to do the action you are hearing. So let's say, you are talking about kicking a ball. The exact same neurons which you use to kick the ball fire allowing you to understand the meaning of a sentence about kicking the ball. Your brain runs a simulation of the physical action, and that is how we are able to communicate meaning from one person to the next using language.
This research has also gotten into emotion, so when you hear the sentence "John is happy" some of the same neural structures that are the emotion of being happy are engaged. It looks like I will be, with a couple other grads, doing some research on this topic next fall in relation to musical emotions. The general idea is to play music for a research participant which will make them happy. We will then present happy-leaning sentences and sad-leaning sentences. If being happy from music and reading happy sentences both create a happy simulation in the brain, then participants should react faster to happy sentences than they do to sad sentences. Similarly, if already sad from music, they would react to sad sentences faster.
This is all a very powerful idea and would seem to tell us a lot about why art works. Here I am thinking about reading fiction. If reading a happy story engages the very neurons which make us happy, then it makes sense that books have the effect they do. It is also useful for personal Emotional Intelligence for lack of a better term. Namely, it explains why people can get in a cycle of sulking. They start off thinking about some bad experience; this then starts a sad simulation; if not completely blocked, you start feeling sad; then you think more sad things; etc and you go off on a spiral of sulkiness that you have a hard time breaking out of.
I got on one of these earlier today about this silly judicial nominee thing. Here is how it went: 1) Democrats declare intention to filibuster; 2) Republicans follow through with killing the filibuster; 3) Democrats follow through slowing all business to a crawl; 4) Republicans say that's fine and start doing business with no minority party representation at all; 5) This continues such that the Republicans contentedly create a one party rule where opposition has no role whatsoever in the judicial process; 6) you end up with a one-party dictatorship lecturing the world about how to implement a vibrant democracy.

I think the nominee debate is important, but it is unlikely to end in one-party rule the likes of which we have in China or the old USSR.


1 comment:

Killer Llama said...


The end of democratic deliberation is not at hand; that occured when Bush invaded Iraq.

It's so frustrating... people will accuse me of being naive about the way the world works, and yet from the moment Bush went on television, a couple of months after 9/11, and even mentioned Iraq, I knew that he was looking to manipulate things to go in. But the rest of the country seemed to be willing to buy the bullshit. Then, a few months after the invasion, we started blaming the lack of found WMD's on bad intelligence; not a single official inquiry was made into how the available intelligence was used. Now there's this British memo that flat out states that the administration was "fixing the detail" around the case for war. This is exactly what I knew was happening from the beginning, and yet the whole country seemed ready to believe our commander in chief.

Now I'm starting to get into one of those cycles you talked about. Pooh.