Interview with Edgar Gerrard Hughes, the author of new book, The Book of Emotions. (known as How Do You Feel? in the US) in The Browser.
- hard to define precisely what emotions are
- the concept, as a way of talking about feelings, is a relatively recent (19th C) invention.
- how are they different from “passions”, “sentiments”, moral or epistemological inclinations, vestiges of our animal nature?
- widely varying typologies of emotions exist
- Darwin: emotions are vestigial, not that useful
- Charles Le Brun: ‘…believed that contorting your face into these different shapes was a way of orienting yourself towards God’
- emotional expression as a better way of communicating, augmenting or overcoming the limitations of language?
Lost and found emotions, e.g.:
- compersion, ‘the opposite of jealosy’. A new idea arising from polyamorous communities, joy rather than dismay on your romantic or sexual partner’s intimacy with another
- solastalgia, preemptive nostalgia for anticipated loss
‘ …a feeling that fifth century monks in North Africa used to have where they’d be sitting in their cells—meditating and praying all day long—but then a complete languor and listlessness would come over them all of a sudden in the afternoons. They’d have no commitment to any sort of spiritual discipline, just this overwhelming urge to give up on everything. In some ways, it’s an afternoon slump, but with a very intense spiritual crisis attached.’
- gruntled (the opposite of disgruntled) is one of several lost positive emotions. How about ‘mayed‘, the converse of ‘dismayed‘? or ‘ruthful‘ or ‘reckful‘? Why do we tend to keep the bad ones and lose the good ones?
The book does not advance a particular thesis. Rather it is a patchwork quilt reflective of our confusion about emotions. Questions arise:
- Does what we feel depend on whether we have a word for it (maybe encouraging people to interpret what they are feeling through a specific lens)?
- Are emotions culturally relative or universal human experiences?
- Do specific emotions relate to specific neurobiological events or proesses in the brain?
- …or in the body? Variety as to where in the body emotions are experienced? 19th C psychologist and philosopher William James felt that ‘bodily movements were the emotions themselves.’ Lots of debate about whether the emotions can be separated from bodily sensations. Recently, there is a thought that barely perceptible awareness of internal feelings — referred to as interocepts — form the basis of emotional experiences; sometimes we are not aware of these sensations until deliberately pointed toward them. For instance, there is a suggestion that those who more readily feel their heartbeat — or suppress the awareness less — are more susceptible to anxiety. In Eastern spiritual practices, tuning in to bodily experiences helps stabilize emotional fluctuation.
- To what extent is an emotion embedded in an interpersonal relationship rather than an individual?