Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

General Semantics and Emotional Intelligence

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

General Semantics and Emotional Intelligence

Article excerpt

IN 1995, DANIEL GOLEMAN, a science reporter for the New York Times, published the international bestseller Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ. The impetus for the book was an article he chanced upon in a small academic journal by two psychologists, John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey. Their piece, published in 1990, contained the first formulation of a concept they labeled emotional intelligence. (1)

These days the phrase emotional intelligence is ubiquitous, showing up in the cartoon strips Dilbert and Zippy the Pinhead, in Roz Chast's art work in The New Yorker, in "Social and Emotional Learning" (SEL) programs, and in professional development workshops. (2) Harvard Business Review calls "EI" a "groundbreaking, paradigm-shattering idea, one of the most influential business notions in a decade." (3)

This three-part article will examine some of the key biological and theoretical underpinnings that support the concept of emotional intelligence. In addition, it will show how the tools and formulations of general semantics (GS) can help a person to attain mastery in an area that is, according to Goleman, redefining what it means to be "smart"--research indicates that IQ accounts for only about 20 percent of career success. (4)

PART 1: Emotions and the Brain (5)

Folk wisdom uses the expressions "heart" and "head" to express the difference between "feelings" and "rational thinking" ("I know it in my heart" is different than, and usually more powerful, than knowing through reason). The emotion/ thought dichotomy is sometimes also conceived in terms of an "emotional brain" and a "reasoning brain." Commenting on the two-part division of reason and emotion, the sixteenth-century humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam said:

"Jupiter has bestowed far more passion than reason--you could calculate the ratio as 24 to one. He set up two raging tyrants to Reason's solitary power: anger and lust. How far Reason can prevail against the combined forces of these two the common life of man makes quite clear. Reason does the only thing she can and shouts herself hoarse, repeating formulas of virtue, while the other two bid her go hang herself, and are increasingly noisy and offensive, until at last their Ruler is exhausted, gives up, and surrenders." (6)

To better understand the powerful grasp that emotions have on the "reasoning brain," and why feelings and thoughts are so often in conflict, let's examine how the human brain (an organ that is triple in size to our nearest cousins in evolution-- nonhuman primates) evolved.

The most primitive part of the human brain, shared with all species that have more than a minimal nervous system, is the brainstem surrounding the spinal cord. It can be thought of as a set of preprogrammed regulators that maintain basic functions of the body. From this most ancient root, and with the arrival of the first mammals, the limbic system emerged. It brought emotions to the brain's repertoire. Millions of years later in evolution, a new brain part developed.

Approximately 100 million years ago, mammalian brains had an immense growth spurt. Several new layers of brain cells were added to the ancient brain's thin two-layered cortex (the regions that plan, comprehend what is sensed, coordinate movement) to form the neocortex. This new gray matter offered an extraordinary intellectual advantage.

The human neocortex, which is much larger than in any other species, is the seat of thought. It helps us put together and understand what the senses perceive. It enables us to think about our feelings and have feelings about ideas and symbolic depictions, like works of art and literature.

The neocortex can influence and moderate limbic system impulses. For example, a person may feel quite angry and want to strike someone physically for doing something that he or she perceives as a great affront. But rational thought (generated in the neocortex) can intervene and keep the aggrieved party from acting in ways that might be deleterious--e. …

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