Composing a thought: Why feeling and sensing are integral to thinking in emergent cognition

| What is the nature of thought as a process of cognitive emergence? |

Not unlike a kind of elusive material – a cloud, for example – we can imagine that a thought (mental perception) is composed of feelings (affective/energetic perceptions) in much the same that an organism is composed of cells, or that cells are composed of molecules. Feelings, therefore, are the basic building blocks of thoughts.

However, it is not just the feelings themselves that give rise to thought; it’s the interactive relationships among them. And it’s not just about a network of feelings working as a collective unit; it is also about the higher level patterns that these networks create. The whole (thought) isn’t simply greater than the sum of its parts (feelings) – it is a representation of the interactions of the collective whole manifested at a scale beyond any direct relevance to its individual parts.

Following the same pattern as thoughts, a feeling (affective/energetic perception) is composed of sensations (physical perceptions), which themselves are composed of units of information from the physical world. In a similar way, sensations are the basic building blocks of feelings. To the extent that sensations inform feelings and feelings inform thoughts, the processing of thoughts involves the processing of both feelings as well as sensations.

The main point here is the argument that thoughts, feelings, and sensations, while very different in their characteristics and functions, are nonetheless derivatives of a common essence. Metaphorically, they are the same system of information processed in different patterns of interaction at different levels of scale. What distinguishes them from each other should not be described in terms based on standard models of hierarchies, networks, or systems. Their relationships are more accurately described in terms of emergence.

The concepts of interaction and scale are key to understanding emergent processes. With this understanding, we can begin to shift from our classic ideas about part-whole and cause-effect relationships to a newer version of both in which the whole is a higher order effect caused by the dynamic relationships of its parts. From this perspective, we have a profoundly different frame of reference for exploring how our bodies affect/effect our minds, how experience affects/effects learning, how our perceptions affect/effect our conceptions, and how we might design for cognition as an emergent systems process.