The emotions involved in learning are linked in complex ways

Spinoza writes in Proposition 14: “If the mind has been once affected by two affects at once, then afterwards when it is affected by one of them, it will also be affected by the other.” (Spinoza, 1994a, pp. 78, P14).
This is important regarding the “emotional temperature” of a classroom; if an “affect” of fear for example dominates a classroom, then a child’s joy of learning may become intertwined with fear, and both affects will become interlinked, thus diminishing the child’s power of learning overall. Furthermore, as Spinoza says in the following Proposition 15 that “any thing can be the accidental cause of joy, sadness or desire”. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the pedagogue to be aware of the “things” that might affect the affective atmosphere of a learning environment. Spinoza writes in his Scholarium to P15: “From this we understand how it can happen that we love or hate some things without any cause known to us.” Spinoza’s ideas are similar to Freud’s notions of “transference” in that he appears to be saying that people are unconsciously affected by feelings which they do not adequately understand the origins of, namely why they are feeling in a particular way. Teachers need to be mindful of this and should give learners the chance to explore their feelings towards particular subjects and help learners discover the reasons why they might be feeling negatively towards a subject so that they can begin to have an adequate understanding of how their emotions have shaped their conceptions of a subject.

Above is an “affective” process map of the reasons why I avoided and still avoid the subjects of maths and science: a number of powerful affects shaped my feelings towards these subjects. Both my parents, in their different ways and for different reasons, my schooling and British cultural attitudes “passed on” the “affect” of “sadness” (in the Spinozist sense of the word), which manifested itself in the dominant affects of fear and boredom which I attached to the subjects of maths and science. My teachers played a role in me feeling this way about these subjects – none of them imparted any sense of wonder to these subjects – but it would be unfair to blame them entirely; there were powerful psycho-social forces at play as well. My father insisted that only scientists and mathematicians were truly worthy of academic accolades, which had the net affect of me feeling even more fearful about the subjects because, in part, he made me feel that my worth as a person was “on the line” when I was studying these subjects. Concomitantly, my mother, who was divorced from my father when he urged me to study the sciences, showed no interest in the sciences and expressed hatred towards my father through my teenage years when I made my A Level choices. Furthermore, in British culture, there was, and is, a big divide between “arts” and “sciences” which is partially expressed by the fact that we had to choose between arts and sciences at A Level. And so we can see that this complex web of affects shaped my feelings of fear and loathing towards the science and maths which had actually had very little to do with the intrinsic nature of the subjects of themselves. Interestingly, my fascination with Spinoza has made me interested in Maths and Science again because his ontological framework embraces the infinity of causes that produce us; I have found myself investigating the Geometric method of Euclid, reading about the history of maths and science, and taking a particular interest in modern cosmological theories, which I feel have particular resonances with Spinoza’s ontology. Thus we can see a series of affects reconfiguring my attitudes towards Maths and Science, which is causing me to learn about these subjects again.

Thus we can see how a positive “affect” that of interest/curiosity, which have for Spinoza, generates joy and curiosity, and leads to me to learn about Maths and Science. I have ceased to be a fearful learner of the subject because I understand, in part, why I was “turned off” the subject in the first place, and why these subjects might interest me. Thus a positive affective learning process is enacted, which has its origins an affective intellectual curiosity in Spinoza.
I believe that Propositions 16 (p. 79) and 18 (p. 80) are relevant to this point in that they both attempt to prove that we can accidently love or hate a particular object because it reminds us of something else we loved or hated (P16) or that particular images (in the Spinozist sense) have just as powerful effect upon us as an image which is present to us (P18). In terms of the learner, this means that our feelings generated by past experiences have a tremendously powerful effect upon us in all sorts of hidden and unconscious ways.

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