Autodidact: self-taught



by V. L. Craven

Emotion: The Science of Sentiment by Dylan Evans
-01- xiv: We are all descended from a few thousand hominids who lived on the African plains a hundred thousand years ago.
-02- xv-xvi: Appealing to feelings offers a way of making people change their minds without having to provide good arguments or evidence.
-03- 2: I am certainly not the only person to have experienced this particular emotion. Millions of football fans and religious worshippers seem to feel something similar every weekend.
-04- 2: [In Japan] amae means just the kind of ‘comfort in another person’s complete acceptance’… Why is there no word for amae in English? The different ways in which various languages carvue up the world reflect different cultural needs. Perhaps the Japanese need a word for amae because the emotion it designates accords with the fundamental values of Japanese culture. Unlike the situation in the English-speaking world, which prizes independence, self-assertion, and autonomy, in Japan it is often more important to fit in with others and live in harmonious groups. Amae is an emotion that helps people to comply with these values.
-05- 3: Cultural theory of emotion: emotions are learned behaviours, transmitted culturally, much like languages. Just a you must first hear English before you can speak it, so you must first see others being joyful before you can feel joy.
-06- 7: Basic emotions are universal and innate. They are of rapid onset and last a few seconds at a time. Researchers disagree about how many basic emotions there are, but most would include the following in their list: Joy, Distress, Anger, Fear, Surprise, Disgust
-07- 15: Every culture has its own rules the define the socially acceptable forms of emotional expression. In Europe and North America, these ‘display rules’ encourage vivid facial expressions of emotion; a poker face is generally regarded as dull or deceptive. In Japan, on the other hand, excessive emotional displays are often perceived as rude, and Japanese people consequently make more of an effort to attenuated their emotional expressions.
-08- 19-20: If you believe that the human mind works in a particular way, then, even if your theory is wildly inaccurate as an account of human psychology in general, your mind will probably start behaving partly as your theory predicts. In other words, theories about the mind are, to some extent, self-fulfilling prophecies. If your culture teaches you that there is an emotion called ‘being a wild pig’, then the chances are that you will experience this emotion. And this experience will not be a calculated act of deception. If deception is involved at all, it is a kind of self-deception, though this is probably not a very good way of putting things, as culturally specific emotions do not feel fake. In fact, they feel no different from basic emotions, which are universal and innate. Gururumba men (it is only men who experience this emotion) really feel as if the emotion of ‘being a wild pig’ has taken them over against their will, in the same way that basic emotions such as fear or disgust just ‘happen to us’, without any conscious decision on our part. Those in the grip of culturally specific emotions like ‘being a wild pig’ are not faking it.
An interesting feature of culturally specific emotions like ‘being a wild pig’ is that they often provide people with a way out of difficult situations. Gururumba men who are in the grip of this emotion are treated with remarkable tolerance; the emotion is seen as an unwelcome but involuntary event, and so people suffering from it are given special consideration, which includes temporary relief from their financial obligations. By a curious coincidence, it so happens that the emotion is mainly experienced by men aged between 25 and 35—precisely the age when they first encounter the financial difficulties that arise in the early years of marriage. How fortunate it is that, just when a man’s economic obligations increase, he may experience an emotion that causes others to allow him some leeway in meeting those obligations.
Of course, it is really no coincidence that the state of ‘being a wild pig’ afflicts just those people who might derive some benefit from it. The psychologist James Averill has argued that it is precisely the function of many emotions that they help people to cope with the particular demands of their culture.
-09- 28-29: While basic emotions are largely processed in subcortical structures buried beneath the surface of the brain, emotions like love are more associated with areas of the neocortex. The neocortex is the part of the brain that has expanded most in the past five million years of human evolution, and supports most of our most complex cognitive abilities such as explicit logical analysis. The fact that the higher cognitive emotions are more cortical than the basic emotions means that they are more capable of being influenced by conscious thoughts, and this in turn is probably what allows higher cognitive emotions to be more culturally variable than the basic emotions.
Higher Cognitive Emotions: Higher cognitive emotions are universal, like basic emotions, but they exhibit more cultural variation. They also take longer to build up, and longer to die away, than basic emotions. Higher cognitive emotions include the following: Love, Guilt, Shame, Embarrassment, Pride, Envy, Jealousy
Some basic emotions can also be co-opted for the social functions that typify higher cognitive emotions. When someone feels disgusted by the sight of faeces, this is a basic emotion. When you feel disgusted by an immoral act, however, the basic emotional response designed to keep you away from infectious or poisonous things is co-opted for the social functions of keeping you away from untrustworthy people.
-10- 36: The two routes to fear: The American neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux has found that fear is controlled by two separate pathways in the brain. The first of these corresponds to the basic emotion. It is very quick, but often makes mistakes. The second is slower, but more accurate. Ideally, the two pathways work together to get us the best of both worlds. The first pathway makes us respond quickly to signs of potential danger, but can often be set off by false alarms. Meanwhile, the second pathway considers the situation more carefully, and if it concludes that the danger is no real, it cuts off the fear response initiated by the first pathway. In phobias, the second pathway ceases to function properly, so that we continue to react fearfully to harmless stimuli.
-11- 37: Two neural pathways of fear:
Low road. Emotional Stimulus–>Sensory Thalamus–>Amygdala–>Emotional Responses
High road: Emotional Stimulus–>Sensory Thalamus–>Sensory Cortex–>Amygdala–>Emotional Responses
-12- 43-4: Darwin denied that tears shed in distress served any useful function. The tear glands, he argued, evolved as a means of protecting the eyes in infancy, when prolonged screaming might otherwise cause optical damage. Tears shed by adults in distress, thought Darwin, were merely an incidental result of pressure exerted on the tear glands by screwing up the eyes, just as contraction of the same muscles can lead to tears when you laugh or sneeze.
More recently, this view has been challenged by researchers who have proposed a variety of functions for emotional tears. After finding that tears shed in distress have a different biochemical composition from other kinds of tears, William Frey has suggested that such tears remove stress hormones from the body. This, he claims, is the reason why people usually feel better after having had a good cry. A more common view is that tears provide an honest signal of distress. … According to this view, the reason we usually feel better after crying has nothing to do with getting rid of excess hormones; it is simply because crying usually prompts other people to offer us their support.
-13- 49: Take guilt. On the face of it, it is hard to see why natural selection would have endowed us with this emotion. There are many occasions in life when it is possible to cheat—to take a benefit without paying the corresponding price. If you can be reasonably sure that you can cheat without being detected, the most advantageous thing to do is to cheat. If you have a conscience, however, the thought of the guilt that you would feel afterwards might prevent you from cheating. Thus it seems that an animal with the capacity for guilt would be outcompeted by less scrupulous rivals. The capacity for guilt would be eliminated by natural selection.
This analysis has been challenged by the economist Robert Frank. Frank argues that it is actually advantageous to have the capacity for guilt, because people who are known to have a conscience are more likely to be trusted by others.
-14- 55: The sad fact is that there is a good evolutionary reason for this feature of human nature. Without a taste for revenge, we would be easy to exploit.
-15- 59: Aristotle based his whole ethical system around this simple idea [that the optimal state of emotion involves having just the right amount of it, neither too little or too much] . The virtues, he claimed, were all midpoints between the extremes of having too little or too much of a particular emotion. Courage was the midpoint between the extremes of having too much or too little fear. The virtue of amiability lay halfway between the extremes of cantankerousness and obsequiousness. And so on.
Aristotle’s concept of the golden mean is remarkably similar to what psychologists now refer to as ’emotional intelligence’. Emotional intelligence involves striking a balance between emotion and reason…
-16- 62: Evidence is mounting that the ability to recognize facial expressions of emotion is subserved by specialized neural circuitry. Those circuits comprise key limbic structures such as the amygdala. When these structures are damaged, the circuit is broken and the ability to discriminate between different facial expressions is diminished. Bilateral damage to the amygdala, for example, reduces people’s ability to detect negative emotions such as fear and anger.
-17- 64: Emotions seem to underlie much, if not all, of our moral behaviour. [PN: ??? How so?]
-18- 65: Hobbes thought that our natural emotional inclinations would almost always make us tend towards selfish behaviour, and that the only way for us to behave in a moral fashion was to transcend our animal instincts and act in accordance with the law. A similar view was proposed by Kant. Kant did not deny that emotions could sometimes lead us to do the right thing, but he argued that such emotional inspired actions were not truly virtuous. If a man obeyed the moral law out of fear, for example, this would not be a case of moral behaviour for Kant. The only way of behaving morally, according to Kant’s view, was to obey the moral law completely unemotionally, purely for the sake of obeying the law. This is a bloodless view of morality for only for Vulcans.
-19- 66-7: On the other hand, the Kantian vie of mortality has also given rise to a misleading view of how people make moral decisions. According to a view known as moral law theory, whenever we have to decide which course of action is morally superior, we do so by applying a set of general rules to a particular situation, just like the judges working within a Napoleonic legal system. Ideas like this prompted the philosopher Leibniz to dream about creating a machine that would apply the rules for you, thereby automating all moral decisions and finally removing all uncertainty from our moral life. If we wanted to know whether something was right or wrong, all we would need to do would be to consult our moral computer.
The fantasy of the moral programme still underlies a lot of work in the psychology of moral behaviour today. Theories of how the capacity for moral reasoning develops in children are still largely based on the idea that such development consists in acquiring a set of rules.
-20- 67: [On Star Trek] Inside Data’s silicon brain is a specialized bit of software concerned exclusively with moral behaviour. In one episode, this ‘ethical subroutine’ was disabled, and Data suddenly became inconsiderate and then psychopathic.
Psychopaths are indeed curiously amoral, but this is not because they lack an ethical subroutine’. The moral capacities that most of us have, and that psychopaths lack, are based not on a set of rules like the instructions in a computer program, but on emotions like sympathy, guilt and pride. The development of moral capacities in children is, therefor, not likely to be helped by teaching them a set of commandments or precepts, unless their emotional capacities are also well nurtured. Psychopaths are only too good at applying rules. Without moral sentiments to guide your moral reasoning, you would only ever obey the letter of the law rather than the spirit. [PN: Who cares why someone obeys the law?]
-21- 69: The World Database of Happiness combines the results of hundreds of surveys that have been carried out on life satisfaction.
-22- 70: The studies reveal that most people are not made supremely happy by their [lottery] winnings. When people win a fortune on the lottery, a few find that their life satisfaction increases, but for most winners the euphoria quickly wears off and they feel exactly as they did before the win. Those who were happy beforehand return to their state of normal happiness. Those who were depressed go back to being depressed.
-23- 79-81: The idea of venting was largely pioneered by the Viennese physician Sigmund Freud (1859—1939), who argued that speaking about negative emotions was sometimes the only way to be rid of them. To understand how Freud arrived at this view, it is necessary to digress a little and look at the ‘hydraulic theory’ of emotion on which Freud’s arguments seem to rest.
Hydraulics is the science of conveying liquids through pipes and channels, and the hydraulic theory of emotion views feelings as mental fluids that circulate around the mind, much as the blood courses through the veins. Whenever you hear someone telling you not to ‘bottle your feelings up’, or warning that you will ‘burst under pressure’, they are implicitly endorsing this view. As some liquids can easily be converted into vapours, gaseous metaphors such as ‘letting off steam’ can also be pressed into the service of the hydraulic theory.
The hydraulic theory of emotion goes back at least as far as the French philosopher and scientist Rene Descartes (1596—1650). Descartes envisaged the nerves as pneumatic pipes, transmitting the pressure of ‘animal spirits’ from nerve endings to the brain, and thence to the muscles. This was very much in line with humoral theory, which dominated medical thinking on the West from the time of the Greeks until the eighteenth century. According to this theory, the most important determinants of health were the four ‘humours’ found in the body: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. Most illnesses were thought to result from imbalances or blockages in these liquids, which is why bloodletting was such a popular treatment for many disorders during the past two millennia.
Once Descartes had proposed that the mind also functioned by means of hydraulic principles, it was perhaps inevitable that the humoral theory of medicine would be extended from bodily disease to mental disorder. This, in essence, was what Freud did when he invented psychoanalysis. Freud argued explicitly that, since the mind was constantly being replenished with its mental fluid, the libido, it would have to be ‘bled’ in much the same way as doctors bled the diseased body. Emotional expression was the normal means by which the mental fluid was discharged, but, if emotional expression was inhibited, the fluid would seek discharge via another outlet, which might be dangerous.
The moral that Freud drew from this reasoning was that the inhibition of natural emotional expression could lead to dangerous consequences. If you are angry, and you do not vent the anger directly, it will not just go away. If the anger is not discharged via its natural outlet, such as shouting at the person who annoyed you, it will well up inside you like some noxious fluid, until eventually you blow your top at someone who really does not deserve it. If all such expression were inhibited, Freud thought that the emotion would then seek discharge through other, even less palatable, outlets, such as symptoms of a psychosomatic nature.
-24- 82: Conversely, if we are too distant from an emotional event, it will not touch us at all. The function of drama may be to provide us with a context in which emotions may be experienced at a safe distance so that we may learn how to deal with them better in the future.
-25- 83-4: However, psychologists are increasingly realizing that the hydraulic theory of emotion is too simplistic. It may well be very good on some occasions to indulge in the spontaneous expression of emotion. On other occasions, however, it can be positively harmful.
Recent evidence has pointed to the possible dangers of talking about one’s emotions at the wrong time. The evidence concerns a kind of psychological therapy known as ‘debriefing’. Debriefing is given to victims of traumatic events in many Western countries. As soon as there is a major disaster, such as a rail crash or a hijacking, counsellors are flown out to the scene along with the emergency services. After being treated by doctors for physical injury, the victims are treated by the counsellors for ‘psychological injury’. The treatment involves going over the memories of the traumatic event and talking through all the feelings they inspire. …
…According to psychologist Jo Rick, however, things are the other way round: debriefing actually makes things worse. In one study of road-accident victims, she found that those who had undergone debriefing had more flashbacks and more fear a year after the accident than those who had not.
…When left unexamined, bad memories do not fester like some untreated wound, as Freud thought. Rather, they tend to fade away, a process known as ‘extinction’. By contrast, if the neural circuits encoding memories are continually reactivated by recounting the original experiences, extinction is prevented. Talking about old memories does not help them to go away. On the contrary, it keeps them alive, as Adam Smith recognized long before neuroscience discovered the process of extinction. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he noted that, ‘by relating their misfortunes’, those who seek sympathy ‘awaken in their memory the remembrance of those circumstances that occasioned their affliction. Their tears accordingly flow faster than before, and they are apt to abandon themselves to all the weakness of sorrow.’
-26- 89: Compared to the neon glow of rococo art, nature is ‘too green and badly lit’, remarked the painter Francois Boucher.
-27- 92-5: …in recent neuroscientific research, which has found that, when a person listens to a classical melody, the neurons in different brain regions fire more synchronously than when the person listens to a random sequence of the same notes.
…The emotional effect of touch is better understood. Being caressed by another person releases natural opiates in the brain that are associated with a relaxed frame of mind. The evolutionary basis for this may lie in our recent primate past, around the time of the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees, some five million years ago. Grooming may well have been as important for this creature as it is for modern chimpanzees, who spend hours each day removing the ticks from each other’s fur. This grooming does not merely rid the other chimp of parasites; it also serves as a reliable sign of friendship.
-28- 97: Cottage cheese and chicken liver, for example, both contain high levels of tryptophan, which the brain uses to make a chemical called serotonin, which in turn is associated with good moods.
-29- 99-100: Despite some claims that serotonin levels are depleted in the brains of suicidal patients, no abnormalities in the serotonin system have been consistently found in depressed people. Also, antidepressant drugs like Prozac boost serotonin levels in the brain as quickly as recreational drugs like Ecstasy—typically within an hour or two. Yet the antidepressant effects of Prozac are not usually felt as quickly as the euphoric effects of Ecstasy. Most depressed people have to take daily doses of Prozac for two or three weeks before they experience any alleviation of their symptoms, while the effects of Ecstasy are noticeable within forty-five minutes of taking a single dose. So moods cannot be just a question of serotonin levels in the brain. At present, despite the claims of various pharmaceutical companies, which have found that the seductive simplicity of the serotonin hypothesis makes it ideal for marketing their products, we simply do not know very much about the chemical details of mood or how antidepressant drugs work.
Other brain chemicals besides serontonin, such as dopamine and noradrenaline, also play an important part in mood.
-30- 101: Alcohol, one of the most addictive drugs, affects nearly every organ system, so alcoholics have increased rates of liver cirrhosis, stomach cancer, heart disease, and amnesia.

-31- 103-4: Alcohol may have been invented as recently as 5,000 or 6,000 years ago, but there is archaeological evidence that humans began using other psychotropic drugs long before this. The earliest use of these drugs seems to have been associated with religious ceremonies and other rituals, rather than the merely hedonistic purposes for which similar drugs are commonly used today. A thousand years ago, the Incas restricted the use of coca leaves, from which cocaine is derived, in the royal classes and the priesthood.
Whether a person takes a drug for hedonistic or spiritual purposes, the emotional effects of the drug are reasonably constant. The cavemen still got high on their sacred weeds. Indeed, it it were not for the emotional effects of these drugs, they would have been useless for religious purposes, as emotions are integral elements of religious experience. The same area of the brain that lights up in religious experience also lights up when people take LSD. Inducing the emotional state by taking drugs does not necessarily make it any less religious than inducing it be meditation or prayer. Conversely, ‘religious’ practices such as meditation may be used by atheists for the completely secular purpose of calming their mood.
-32- 115-6: Psychologists have investigated the effects of anxiety on attention by means of an experiment known as the ’emotional Stroop test’. The original Stroop test has nothing to do with emotion. It involves showing people words printed in different coloured inks, and asking them to say what the colour of the ink was…
The emotional version of the Stroop test uses words with strong emotional connotations rather than the names of colours, but, like the original Stroop test, the words are still printed in different coloured inks, and people are asked to say what the colour of the ink is. When people are shown a word with strong emotional connotations, they typically take longer to say what the colour of the ink is than when the word is emotionally neutral.
-33- 117: Like attention, memory is highly selective. We remember only a tiny amount of the things we experience. Memory space is limited, so we have to use it economically, storing as little as possible and forgetting as soon as is expedient.
-34- 119: When something is stored in the memory, then, it is not recorded in all its finest detail, but rather filed away under a few keywords. When we come to recall something from memory, we extract some of these keywords, and fill in the rest by educated guesswork. Remembering is, therefore, never exact. It is more like reconstructing an antique pot from a few broken shards than replaying an old movie. Some memories seems so fresh and vivid when we recall them that we may have the impression of reliving the event exactly as it happened, but this is an illusion caused by the power or our imaginative reconstruction.
-35- 121: The ease and accuracy of recall are also influenced by the mood we are in when we remember something. Dozens of experiments conducted by the psychologist Gordon Bower show that, when we are in a happy mood, we tend to recall pleasant events more easily and more accurately then unpleasant ones. The opposite is true when we are in a sad mood. This phenomenon is known as ‘mood-congruent recall’.
-36- 124: In addition to their effects on attention and memory, emotions and moods also exert a powerful influence on decision-making and judgement. For example, the opinions we form of other people are often affected by the mood we happen to be in when we meet them. People in a good mood are likely to judge the same person more positively than people in a bad mood.
-37- 125-6: Rather than making us view strangers in a negative way, being in an anxious mood can actually make us feel closer to them. This, at least, seems to be the conclusions of one famous experiment conducted in the 1970s. Men crossing a high, rather scary suspension bridge were stopped by a young woman, who asked them if they would take part in a survey. She then gave them a card with her phone number on, saying that she would be happy to talk to them about the survey in greater detail if they wanted. Later the same day, she did the same thing on much lower and safer bridge. During the following days, many more phone calls were received from the men who had met the woman on the scary bridge than from those who had met her on the safe one. The anxiety seems to have made them more friendly, perhaps even flirtatious.
The bonding effect of anxiety may perhaps provide part of the explanation for the strange phenomenon of hostages coming to care deeply about their captors. Some of this may simply be due to the close proximity in which hostages and captors live during their brief relationships, but even so it seems likely that such affection for one’s captor is intensified by the anxiety that lurks constantly in the mind of the hostage. …
…As well as affecting the way we judge other people, moods also influence our susceptibility to weak arguments. Here, though, it is not just a question of what mood one happens to be in when listening to the argument, but also of how much time one has to think about it. When people are in a neutral mood, or have lots of time to think, bad arguments are not very persuasive. But when they are in a good mood and have little time to think, people are more influenced by invalid arguments (and less by valid ones). It seems that the combination of being in a good mood and being in rush forces one to take short cuts, basing one’s judgement less on logical analysis and more on contextual clues such as the reputation of the speaker.
-38- 131: As this story illustrates, when there s not much at stake in making a decision, we are better off saving time by using the quick and dirty emotional system rather than the slower rational one. On the other hand, there are times when it is so important to arrive at the right judgement tat considerations of time are better left aside.
-39- 139—141: The universal preference for the familiar is known in psychology as ‘the mere-exposure effect’. The term was coined by Robert Zajonc, whose work in the late 1970s and early 1980s helped to bring emotions back into the mainstream of cognitive science. Zajonc demonstrated the effect in a series of ingenious experiments. In order to show that preferences could be formed on the basis of familiarity alone—on the basis of mere exposure—he flashed some visual patterns on a screen so quickly that the viewers did not notice them consciously. In sorting through a group of patterns afterwards, the subjects of the experiment were unable to identify which ones they had seen before. If, however, they were asked which ones they preferred, they piked out exactly those they had been shown earlier. Some bit of their brain must have processed the image, even though they were unaware of it.
The funniest thing about this experiment was that if people were asked to say why they preferred the patterns they did, they gave a whole range of reasons. Perhaps one symbol has a particularly elegant symmetry. Another might suggest picture of a smiling face. But these could not be the real explanation, because other people said very similar things about completely different pattens. The only thing in common between the patterns that people preferred was the fact that they had been perceived before, though not consciously.
If something has been perceived subliminally, it is stored in a part of the memory that is inaccessible to conscious recall. It can, however, be accessed by an unconscious form of recall, as Zajonc’s experiments with the mere-exposure effect show. This unconscious form of remembering usually manifests itself to consciousness as a feeling. If the subliminal memory has not been tagged with a particular emotion—if the event that occasioned it as perceived while in an emotionally neutral state—then the unconscious recall system will regard the memory in a positive light.
-40- 141—143: Whatever the cause, amnesia usually leaves the unconscious recall system intact, allowing us to see it unhindered by the glare of conscious recall.
Whenever you have a gut reaction to someone you have never met—whenever, that is, you ‘just don’t like the look of someone’–it is probably because your amygdala is telling you that the stranger looks like someone who has done something bad to you, even though you don’t have any conscious recall of the old foe. J.S. Morris, A. Ohman, and R.J. Dolan, ‘Conscious and Unconscious Emotional Learning in the Human Amygdala’, Nature, 393/6684 (1998), 467-70
-41- 178: People in a good mood regularly overestimate their chances of succeeding at a given activity, while those in a bad mood tend to be more accurate in their predictions ( a phenomenon known as ‘depressive realism’).

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress