The field of emotion theory has been described as 'one of the last strongholds of orthodox cognitivism' (Lewis & Granic, 2000, p. 3). However, a small number of researchers have recently begun to dismantle the broadly computationalist framework that has dominated the field by applying formal and conceptual tools from dynamic systms theory (DyST). The first part of the thesis introduces this new approach, contrasting it against more orthodox approaches. The second part explores unresolved issues in the application of DyST to emotion theory.
On a DyST approach, emotions are emergent products of complex causal interactions among domain-general physiological and psychological functions (hypothesised to comprise most, if not all, subsystems of the human organism). To explain how to separate emotional episodes from general business-as-usual system operations, I identify emotional episodes with synchronised patterns of change in emotion components. A related issue concerns what it means to say that such a pattern of changes is an 'emergent' product. I develop an account that highlights the explanatory utility of the concept of emergence and responds to criticisms of emergence based on its apparent 'logical incoherence' (Kim, 1999, 2006). I also provide an account of how top-down causation features within such a framework, arguing that it plays an essential role in the explanation of emotional episodes and emotional development.
The discussion of these issues are framed in context of what I call the 'either/or' of emotion and reason, a common explanatory trope that portrays emotion and reason as distinct and separable processes. I explain why the DyST approach outlined here has revisionary consequences for 'either/or', inasmuch as it takes so-called emotional processes and reasoning processes to share a common substrate. The resultant picture is one broadly consonant with the embodied approach to mind (Varela, Rosch & Thompson, 1992).