Summary of Alchemies of the Mind

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Alchemies of the Mind book summary
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  • Analytical
  • Scientific
  • Inspiring


This superlative work belongs on the shelf of any serious student of art, literature, philosophy and psychology - not to mention those readers who seek self-knowledge. Author Jon Elster explores the complex cognitive antecedents and consequences of emotional experience. Noting that much of what society needs to know about emotions is inaccessible in the psychology laboratory, he makes original, insightful use of literary and philosophical sources. He uses the work of such authors as Francois de La Rochefoucauld, Michel de Montaigne, Jean de La Bruyère and Alexis de Tocqueville to examine how emotional mechanisms function. This approach sheds light on the emotions and on the way you might read literature or listen to music. highly recommends this book and finds it valuable not only for what it says, but for what it inspires. It is capable of changing how you think and feel in ways that are (just as emotions themselves) far from predictable.

About the Author

Jon Elster is the Robert K. Merton Professor of Social Science at Columbia University.



Why Emotions Must Count

Emotions define what and who human beings are. Because of emotions, and only because of emotions, people matter to each other as individuals. Emotions can give people reasons to live and reasons to die. They can lead people to war or bring them to peace. They change the way human beings think and know. Understanding emotions is indispensable to understanding human psychology, yet the science of psychology can discover very little about the emotions.

The approaches and impedimenta of psychological inquiry cannot open a door to understanding profound emotional experiences, such as envy, love, shame, violent hatred and the like. Ethical and practical considerations make it impossible to induce such emotions in a laboratory setting merely for the purpose of studying them. Scientists cannot, for example, deliberately get people to steal money and then embarrass them by discovering their crime only in order to examine the nature of shame.

Yet psychology can and should take advantage of the legacy of philosophy and the arts, where sources provide sophisticated, astute studies of emotions that are inaccessible to laboratory research. The work ...

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