The MWS Podcast 104: Igor Grossmann on Emotional Complexity

We are joined today by Igor Grossmann, who is an Assistant Professor of Psychology and the Director of the Wisdom and Research Lab based at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. His main research interest is the complex processes that enable individuals to think and act wisely. He has also done pioneering work on the development of wisdom in different cultures and was named one of the 2015 Rising Stars in the field of Psychological Science. He recently co-wrote a paper with Alex C. Huynh entitled Emotional Complexity: Clarifying Definitions and Cultural Correlates in which certain common , especially Western assumptions about having ‘mixed feelings’ are challenged.

MWS Podcast 104: Igor Grossmann as audio only:
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About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

4 thoughts on “The MWS Podcast 104: Igor Grossmann on Emotional Complexity

  1. A fascinating interview. It seems that Igor is effectively researching the nature and effects of integration, which seems to correlate a good deal with emotional complexity and awareness over time. In the way of scientists, he is very cautious about the interpretation of his results, and hasn’t got very far yet in researching the big questions around this topic, but nevertheless his engagement in the process is an important development. If Igor manages to get wider empirical information about such important topics as the benefits of integrative ways of thinking and judging, this may offer us helpful support in encouraging people to take the Middle Way seriously as an option, but in the meantime I think it’s also important not to wait for such scientific results before consulting our own experience on these points and acting on that experience.

    There were a couple of points Igor made that I found especially interesting. One was his finding that (if I understood him correctly), dialectical philosophies in the East do not necessarily help people to appreciate emotional complexity and thus actually think dialectically. That’s a finding that I think Buddhists ought to consider carefully, and it fits with my sense that emptiness talk achieves very little because it remains framed by an absolutizing set of assumptions.

    Another interesting point was at the end, where Igor said it would be difficult to understand how communities of more than about 200 people would co-operate without shared beliefs. He appeared to conclude from this that the Middle Way is limited in its applications to smaller communities and ‘personal decisions’. I agree with him that in communities of this size (where people don’t all know each other any more) one does pass an important point at which social organisation appears to change (correlating historically with the development of agricultural society in the New Stone Age). That point is also evidently the one where the shortcut of absolutisation becomes most tempting. However, I wouldn’t agree that the Middle Way becomes impossible to practise after that point. Rather it becomes less direct, because political judgements have to start using power or the threat of power, and that use of power then needs to be justified by the integration of judgement of the people wielding it as well as its benefits to society. For example, the fact that the US population has well passed the point where direct relationships can maintain order and shared purpose doesn’t mean that it’s not hugely preferable to have a leader like Obama who is more personally integrated and better able to make judgements that address conditions, compared to one who is evidently not much capable of emotional complexity, cannot appreciate different arguments, and is not even capable of maintaining enough self-awareness to avoid self-contradiction within a relatively short period of time (I’m referring to Trump). The Middle Way is not confined to ‘private’ decision making, but needs to be applied to every kind of decision making to engage effectively with the world’s problems.

    1. Many thanks, Robert!

      I just finished large review piece, showcasing newest empirical research on how integrative thought is the key pillar of wisdom and ways to promote it in daily life. It has been recently accepted in the flagship journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. I would be delighted to share it with the Middle Way society. My group constantly strives to advance the empirical scholarship in this domain, remaining mindful of the robustness and replicability of the results.

      RE: large scale decisions. I don’t think we are in disagreement. My speculation mainly concerned adaptability of certain practices for large- scale groups per se, using such large-scale groups as a unit of analysis. I agree that an individual is well capable of making integrative decisions for large-scale groups. The difference about levels of analysis (individual vs. group-level) is noteworthy, as it involves different assumptions and can be associated with different socio-cultural processes.

  2. Hi Igor, I’d be very interested in your review article. Do you have a link (to a source that’s not behind a paywall)?

    The relationship between individual and group integration is one I’ve written about, and there’s a video introducing my approach to it on this site at . I’d be interested to hear your view of my conclusions.

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