Modern neuroscience and psychology, on the other hand, teaches that the ancient dichotomy between “cold” logic and “hot” passion is as deceptive as the idea of a difference between the sexes. Dirac has obviously never lacked feelings, and men are guided by them just as much as women. Intangible and emotionless minds are a figment of the imagination. “No body, whatever,” wrote neuroscientist Antonio Damasio. Since mind, brain, and body are one, it’s impossible to disentangle our much-vaunted rationality from emotions.
It is interesting to see this argument developed by a writer who began his career as a theoretical physicist. Mlodinow has written previous books with and about his late friend Stephen Hawking, and others that have discussed how chance permeates our lives. With “Emotional”, he dives into an area that is clearly not his. The result is a rather intellectualized version of emotions without all of their bodily manifestations and long evolutionary history. Charles Darwin is duly mentioned, but we don’t read about some of the greats, such as psychologist Paul Ekman or neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, who put facial expressions and emotional brain circuits in an evolutionary context. This is not Mlodinow’s goal.
Those who wish to understand how feelings subconsciously guide thought, however, are ready for thought-provoking read. Mlodinow treats this topic artfully with compelling examples and attention to the latest research, which is pretty spectacular. It writes in a lively, friendly style that easily draws you in and makes you think both about the anecdotes being told and your own way of dealing with comparable situations. In this regard, I found it a plus that the author comes from outside in this area. He wastes little time on the academic controversies of the day, such as whether or not feelings are culturally constructed, and instead turns to the basics, such as motivation, determination, and the ill-defined concept of ‘l ’emotional intelligence “.
Since both of his parents survived German concentration camps during WWII, some of Mlodinow’s examples refer to this time of upheaval and horror. He recounts, for example, how his emaciated father was freed in Buchenwald by the US military in 1945. US soldiers generously distributed cold water, cigarettes, chocolate, and food to starving prisoners. While his father’s friend Moshe couldn’t stop eating and ended up consuming a whole salami, Mlodinow’s father managed to control himself. Within hours, Moshe suffered from severe intestinal distress. He died the next day. The author’s father survived thanks to his detention.