At their most basic level, emotions are physical reactions triggered in the body by experiences in the moment that map to similar experiences in the past. In this way, emotions function as embodied memories. They may also represent the evolutionary and developmental connection between body and mind, or perceptual and conceptual levels of cognition.

When we talk about our physical senses, we usually describe five of them: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. They correspond to the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin of the body. These five senses represent different sensory patterns. These are the patterns that then give rise to our awareness of the world.

What if we consider memory from a similar perspective? Rather than thinking about traditional categorizations of memory, how might we describe different ways in which our bodies express what we subconsciously remember from our experiences? What are the patterns that give rise to our awareness of relationships in the world?

What we are considering here is a very basic form of memory. We tend to understand memories as being stories of the past experiences we consciously replay in our minds. However, our brain’s pre/subconscious mapping of connections through our everyday experiences is also a kind of memory.

With this understanding of memory, it’s possible that our habits, intuitions, and emotions represent different embodied memory patterns in much the same way that sight, smell, and touch represent different sensory patterns. In which case, just as sight is our dominant sensory pattern, emotion could be our dominant memory pattern. That is, emotion could be our primary mode for representing our awareness of relationships, which would make it an integral element of higher level cognitive functions like conception and interpretation. To the extent that the basis of memory is experience and the basis of experience is the sensory perceptions of the body, then emotion as a bodily expression of our reactions to previous experiences might be an evolutionary / transformational link between perception and conception.


This content is being created and curated as part of a project exploring how changing the ways we think about thinking can revolutionize the ways we change the world. See the Emergent Cognition Project overview to learn more.