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Institute of Advanced Study

Thinking with Feeling


How can human beings think effectively about scenarios beyond the ones they actually inhabit? No other species seems to have this capacity for thinking outside the box. To be sure, evolution can create dispositions for the moment that make local thought and action adaptive in the longterm, without the organism's being aware of that adaptation and without the organism's being motivated by those long-range consequences. A human being needs no concept of nutrition or metabolism to feel hunger, needs no dream of grandchildren making great-grandchildren to feel sexual attraction to a member of the opposite sex. But we can also think about scenarios distant in time and space. In doing so, we bring present living and feeling to the service of long-range, big-time conceptions. Here, I explore the mechanism by which human beings accomplish this singular feat.

Insights Paper