The official conference fan. Not a bad idea, given the weather.
I am currently at the conference of the International Society for Research on Emotions which is being held in Kyoto, Japan, from July 26-29, 2011.
So what can one find at such a conference? Interestingly enough, not only the present, but much past, and also some future. Today, the first day of the conference, there were some presentations dealing with how emotions, such as fear or anger, were perceived by philosophers in Greece and Rome (David Konstan, Brown University) or in England between the 12th and 18th century (Susan Broomhall, presenting for Philippa Maddern, both Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions). What can one learn from this? That the way we understand what emotions are, how they come about, what they do etc. is shaped in powerful ways by the environment and the prevalent beliefs and practices. This is relevant because it is unlikely that today we are so enlightened that we have achieved objectivity in answering these questions. In fact, not only is objectivity a difficult concept today and in the future, when emotions are concerned, but the questions that we ask, are also shaped by our present cultures, as two other presenters pointed out. This matters because, as David Konstan pointed out, if we do brain research, on a particular emotion, say anger, then how we go about doing this is strongly shaped by our present understanding of what anger is or is not - thus, the objectivity that the machines and sophisticated methods in neuroscience seems to provide is hopelessly intermingled with the subjectivity of the researcher that defines the question to be studied there and how. Interesting.
Tomorrow there is much about the future, robots, cyberemotions, and the like.
Arvid Kappas is Professor of Psychology at Jacobs University Bremen. He has been conducting research on emotions for over three decades in the US, Canada, and in several European countries.