Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Role of Emotion in Experience

What role does emotion play in our everyday lives?  How does emotion affect our experience and being?  These are questions addressed by some of the finest minds of our era. 
For Piaget, emotion is the motivating force of action emanating from outside the individual in the form of sensations emitted by objects.  His view is rooted in the Newtonian conception of a universe comprised in isolated objects requiring an emotive force to initiate a series of mechanistic interactions between objects.  Piaget reduces all conscious human experience to a cognitive formulation of these causal relations.    His abstract concept of emotion as force fails to explain the relationship between bodily feelings, emotions, and higher forms of consciousness in human beings.
Alfred North Whitehead indicates the factors in human nature which go to make up the particular emotions, arise from our apprehension of these permanent features of order in the world. His concrete concept of emotion gives insight into the experience of bodily feelings and their relationship to the growth and learning of human beings.  He explains the emotions are the crucial mediating factors between the welter of awareness of these feelings in higher organisms.  “We perceive other things which are in the world of actualities in the same sense as we are.   So our emotions are directed toward other things, including of course, our bodily organs . . . the world for me is nothing else than how the functioning of my body present it for my experience.”
Jean Paul Sartre sees it differently in his book, The Emotions, Outline of a Theory.  He sees our emotion as an “abrupt drop of consciousness into the magical.”  He believes:  “emotion is not accidental modification of a subject which would otherwise be plunged into an unchanged world.  It is easy to see that every emotional apprehension of an object which frightens, irritates, sadness, etc., can be made only on the basis of a total alteration of the world.  In order that an object may in reality appear terrible, it must realize itself as an immediate and magical presence face to face with consciousness.“  In other words, we modify our experience with emotion to make it more comfortable, according to our own nature.  We emote sadness, anger or gloom because “lacking the power and will to accomplish the acts which we have been planning, we behave in such a way that the universe no longer requires anything of us.”
What do YOU think?
Artwork by Beth Nash.  Many thanks.


Louis said...

One of the keys to a happier life is maintaining our composure and that is by pursuing a positive outlook to accept its challange by questioning theory and acceping facts. To refuse and hold any negative feelings or emotions we know that by using all our senses to the fullest, the choice of logic will eventually overcome emotion. What a great ride we'll have in our lives by constantly learning to tolerate each other and "think for ourselves" in an unselfish manner! The mind is a terrible thing to waste so we must accept this challenge by using our brain with the help of a higher power.

eas said...

Positivity creates a positive environment. Since we are all energy one can expect this manifestation to occur. Have you ever noticed the warmth generated from a happy home ? Or going to the opera where everyone applauds in joyous celebration at the music ?

Considering the fact that we are pure energy, we must forever be striving to re-alter the ebb and flow of the emotional roller coaster ride.

Jack said...

Consciousness utilizes life, life utilizes forces and substances. Am I wrong in stating emotions are forces? is one aspect of quantifying force, expressed by the term 'power'? is the possession of power and intelligence which lacks discipline and constructive purpose, something to detest? This topic is probably one more object for discussion where severity, mildness, and mercy can be inserted as a part or portion of the discourse.

aalferos said...

I wanted to comment on your post earlier but like Ambo’s remarks to Darrell I too needed some time to understand what it is you are saying. I think I can relate to all three interpretations of emotions because I think that emotions can be caused from both internal and external stimuli, but I think it is always an indicator of some form of participation with that stimuli, I think it can also be a lack of participation. If you consider the persons that are able to maintain awareness with the present moment without reflecting what should or could be even those persons have emotions. Sharing laughter with the joyful and sharing tears with the sorrowing, their emotions are present to the present moment. It may be that when one is not in solidarity with what “is” one can have an “abrupt drop of consciousness into the magical” as Jean Paul Sartre describes, because there we may be reflecting what should or could be.

In order that an object may in reality appear terrible, it must realize itself as an immediate and magical presence face to face with consciousness – I can understand this conclusion when we consider that living in the present moment would require us to be conscious of all that is and in a sense all is in harmony, so when something appears as terrible it would appear from a lower state of consciousness as that which is opposed to being present to that “terrible” thing.

We emote sadness, anger or gloom because “lacking the power and will to accomplish the acts which we have been planning, we behave in such a way that the universe no longer requires anything of us.” - this statement leaves very little room for excuses and puts our emotions on trial as being the deterrent to action instead we may give much more credence to the authority of emotion as an indicator of right action. The second part is much easier to accept although after saying it – it sounds rather feeble.

I am also considering the emotions that arise from the “apprehension of these permanent features of order in the world” – I suppose this would be life and death, and cause and effect, maintaining a conscious level of awareness without opposing or turning away implies a participation that may reflect joy or sorrow, an appropriate response to the present moment.

Thanks for this post; it got me thinking about some things I needed to think about!

John said...

Of the three that you listed, my model would be more along the lines of the Piaget.

To explain... I distinguish between emotions and feelings.

I see emotions as those things that change our body state. Happiness means more happy chemicals, lower blood pressure, increased energy... you get the idea. Anxiety means higher blood pressure, a knot in the stomach, a restless energy level... again, you kind of get the idea. Emotions change our body.

Then we feel the change. We feel the knot in the stomach - and become aware of it.

I'm saying that the concept of a brain/mind-body disconnect is wrong. We need our body. We might know we are startled, but feeling the sudden up-tick in our heart rate is where we really begin to know and feel our excitement.

So... the brain "thinks" or "perceives" something, releases chemicals into the bloodsteam, these chemicals produce changes in the body, these changes are then reported to our more conscious awareness through our nervous system. Then we may or may not take action on the feeling(s) - or may chose to suppress or minimize the feeling (we were startled by the cat, no need to do anything about it but let the heartrate correct itself).

I believe we experience emotions for a reason. One explanation I tend to give is that anger is actually a wonderfully necessary and important emotion. Without anger, much of our understanding of morals wouldn't develop... while empathy would certainly guide things, we need other people asserting their rights to their toy when we take it as a 2 year old, to help catalyze the empathy. Anger is a delightfully important emotion.

But we often do it wrong. We get belligerent. We get defensive. There may be a time and a place for those responses, but... it's not as often as we chose it. Anger tells me something needs to change. Maybe a situation needs to change and there's something I should do about it (kids' rooms are messy), maybe I need to change, and maybe I just need to learn to cope (the difficult co-worker isn't going anywhere)...

I tend to think all emotions have a reason and purpose. BUT we have the ability to consciously consider the helpfulness of the emotions/feelings. We get to decide if we are going to act on them. If it's worth it. How we should act on them (raised voice of anger, soft voice of trying to understand, or middle voice of hurt - as examples).

Not all emotions are valid. Not all feelings are worth validating. But we experience them for a reason - and we do ourselves a disservice to not be aware of how we feel, why, and what seems the best way to respond to a situation.

That's part of where I try to take a modified-Tao approach. It allows a bit more flow, less entrenched thinking, while also allowing that we DO need to reflect on our responses and how to respond.

Molly Brogan said...

I completely agree that it is important to recognize and either release or process our feelings as emotions. Emotions, I think, are the outward expression of our feelings but can carry the baggage of other events associated with those feelings - a function of ego I think. Emotions can warn us by associating with past distress and are functional as such until we hold on to that distress and relive the past through it. Emotions too, can open us up to the beautiful experiences associated with them. The body based feelings, I think, are also energy based, and can be used by simply remembering them, taking us to a greater state of awareness, back to peace or where we need to go. Envisioning our desires through feeling as though they are now manifest, like a happy dance, allows our becoming.

Shamal said...

To view 'The Role of Emotion' from functional standpoint, it must be acknowledged that the human relations are based what is called 'bodily feelings' or 'play of mind'. So far as it remains unoperative within a person, it does not matter so much. But when it interacts with a given social phenomenon constituted of similiar feelings, then it really matters. Why? Because here the concept of a good or bad social set up is generated. In order to create an environment to let positive social practices thrive, then the majore focus should be on how to bringing up a child? It is believed that in the life of a child, both 'nature' and 'nurture' play equally important role. Albeit my option would always fell on 'nurture' if I would be asked to select the one.

To render 'The Role of Emotions' positively functional and to develop it along utilitarian aspect, we should focus on proper training of the children right from their tender age. We should manage their emotions. Emotions are not unmanageable. Thanks!

Ulysses said...

emotions are responsive to external stimuli and a result of the perception of that stimuli. For this reason different people react differently to similar stimuli. Not all people are brought to tears by what is perceived by some as a very sad event, therefore emotions can be subjective. Emotions can be a release of subconscious senses and play a role in growth. We react differently to the same stimuli at different levels of maturity so emotions can change in time and in some cases become non existent.

Lee said...

What is the role of emotion? Good question.

I was giving some thought to another Randism the other week namely the following.

'Emotions are the automatic result of man's value judgments integrated by his subconscious; emotions are estimates of that which furthers man's values or threatens them, that which is for him or against him— lightning calculators giving him the sum of his profit or loss.'

I find myself (perhaps not surprisingly) disagreeing with this and can't help but think that emotions develop in the human a long time before rational thinking does.

So perhaps it is the other way around, perhaps we build our intellect upon the foundation of our emotion.

Ulysses said...

Is all that is within originating from all that is external in one form or another?

Lee said...

I really don't know the answer to that one, beyond some vague idea that the 'I' is there before perception of the outside world begins.

When a newborn cries for food, does he do so because his experience suggests that when I cry the mum feeds me, or does he cry because he is hungry and his emotions cause him to cry?

Ulysses said...

Not talking about lust or love but of emotional depletion. Again it's subjective and I could not possibly comment on your personal emotional levels nor that of any other so the generalization is apropos. Most of what you've commented on so far has been from a personal perspective. So what you are saying is that it is impossible that someone could be void of a certain emotion, that emotions are to a degree involuntary. When Jackson died did everyone on the planet break down in tears or were there some who just shrugged the 'oh well' expression?

Lee said...

Is indifference an emotion, I wonder, or is such indifference caused by other emotions I wonder?

Allan said...

imo the baby crying is a food mantra.. and boy does it work in the greatest majority of cases

Molly Brogan said...

I think that is Whitehead's point, the emotions are grounded in the body experience. In the case of the hungry infant, both are possible, in Whitehead's view.

Pat said...

As for me, I see emotions as the outward expression of inner feelings. They are the way we communicate our inner feelings to those around us. So, emotions are a form of communication of data (our inner feelings) to those who cannot (and, perhaps, could not) perceive them (the feelings) in an obvious way.

Lee said...

I think that you are right Pat but I think we can take that as a given really, emotions certainly show the truth of how we feel.

I question though whether emotions arise from perception of the world and experience or not?

I think that perhaps when they form they do so innately without reference to that which is external of us, and then perhaps as we experience more our intellect is build upon these first emotions.

Not to deny that some emotion is not shaped by experience, I know that my hatred for bigotry for example, would not be what it is without the experience of growing up in 70'and 80's London.

Yet I can't help but wonder where the emotion of hatred first reared its head? Also if I love much(which I think that it is clear that I do) then such emotion shapes my thoughts.

What come first my 'empathy' and then my 'ideals' or do my 'ideals' feed my 'empathy'?

Juan said...

Does emotion really need to be that metaphysical?

We are physical creatures, and our emotions and feelings are part of our physical interface to the world. A cat's fur stands on end to make the animal look larger upon encountering a dog. A stag's body fills with adrenaline with the thrill of combat. I don't think these emotions are any different than ours.

Our main problem our feelings and the physical reactions that go with are still linked baser, more animal reactions, and they may be obsolete for the situation in our complex world. This is a problem because our feelings and emotions are much closer to our animal mind, which usually gets a drop on our more rational thought processes.

The neat thing about ourselves is that our minds create an internal world to perceive. This leads us to having physical reactions to non physical situations. This is the primary reason for the existence of our minds, to be able to predict or engineer pain and joy. Strangely enough, it is by invoking those feelings on a smaller scale.

Pat said...

"Emotions can be expressed in isolation."

Absolutely. In that way, we communicate our feelings to God alone. Not that God doesn't receive the messages when we are NOT alone, but He is the only receiver when we ARE alone.

"Does emotion really need to be that metaphysical?"

Everything is metaphysical, as metaphysics underlies physics.

The primary reason for mind is communication. OF what use is a mind if you are the only thing that exists? So, when the One that IS found Himself in just that position, in His infinite wisdom, He folded and twisted Himself in such a way as to 'appear' to NOT be the only thing in existence. THEN, His mind, the combination of all awarenesses, can interact and communicate. This is why I say that God--who is One without unity--is trying to understand unity through the diversity of His creation.

Molly Brogan said...

I agree that emotion is the outward expression of our feelings, but I think they are also more complicated than the feelings, as they bring with them the remembrance of a cluster of events where the same or similar feelings occurred, and so create emotional tracks for us that can be tricky to recognize and difficult to move beyond, especially for those not inclined toward introspection.

Gibbs said...

Is the message indicating that the same data may be viewed from different perspectives. The views implied are a close up of details ( the midst of forest viewing the closest tree) contrasted with a wide angle view ( i.e. observing from the vantage point of being on the edge of the forest.) This idea could be expanded to include other dimensions (i.e. observing the forest from the vantage point of an airplane.)

Or - again - I wonder if what is implied is the different meanings of experience when viewed from the vantage point of linear logic contrasted with intuition. Or once more the difference in perspectives if one views the raw data of experience from the vantage point of linear logic contrasted with "pure feelings' and both contrasted with what I like to call experiential logic (a combination of all sources of information including thoughts, feelings, sensations, and intuitions).

Molly Brogan said...

I can see that Sartre's ideas shed light on the process of anger or resentment or indifference as emotional responses that relieve us of the responsibility of participating in the greater world or possibility available. These responses carry with them old tracks and experiences about religion that turned us from faith, or taught us to avoid the mention of it. Perhaps even more complex emotions that include crisis in faith, or experiences where what we knew to be true was contradicted in such a way that we rebelled against all faith. Emotions here can run high, and take us right to the edge of the deeper parts of our selves.

Neil said...

At bottom my belief is that we are manipulated into emotional positions almost as pack wolves (or some birds) form a hierarchy. Generally 'politics' is so exasperating we are supposed to give up on it and trundle along as cogs in wheels being as 'happy' as we can. There would seem to be a big connection in this between emotions and manipulation, probably a depressing and stressful one (perhaps better a bullying one). Emotions often seem to run highest almost at the point they are most denied. I still feel almost childishly hurt by discovering most religion forced down my throat was rubbish, but perhaps more these days that the 'void' never fills with anything more sensible. One might even suspect that our party politics relies on this 'void' to maintain its chronic, emotive and dated posturing - and that the 'void' may be a kind of 'public silence' brought about by the old taboo of not discussing religion and politics in pubs (a metaphor for 'polite conversation').

Norbert Elias often seemed to be saying were were so scared of emotions we invented manners. I deeply believe this too, and that we ended up with a wrongly mannered society (no doubt another holy reference here!) - my guess is that sharing what makes us feel uneasy, even if the references of the other, is much better than diplomacy of the smiling brotherhood conducted as way by other means. I think Sartre was tapping into a feeling that we are beaten down so much we go to utterly avoidable war.

Francis said...

I wonder whether the distinction we make between emotions and reason, feelings and thought isn't something conventional, artificial. Necessary in all sorts of ways in order for us to organise and analyse, to cooperate and build complexly, but, nonetheless, just one model of the way we work and are. Certainly it's not a very realistic model of the way we function, individually and interactively, minute to minute, in daily life. I'm quite taken with Dan Dennett's model of multi-draft consciousness, which sees our sense of consciousness/ living/existence as a continuous vibrant, dynamic shifting of different thoughts, memories - and feelings/emotions - resulting from ongoing cascades of millions of complex processes in the brain; a scintillating dance of countless, minute electrical signals, playing out on a stage of interaction of neurotransmitters and synaptic gaps, ions continually switching, building and collapsing patterns and structures on myriad levels, all interrelating with each other, perhaps even plumbing quantum depths.

Thoughts and feelings, memories, sensations and intuitions coming and
going, influencing each other in their growth and decay, combining,
dividing, recombining to form that sense of self which we call "I."
Or, expanding between us to form "we", potentizing the complexity even
farther. I find it difficult to express myself about this idea without
using poetic language. For what, after all, is poetry but a form of
expression which goes beyond the simple/simplistic dichotomy between
reason and emotion to express their complex, deeper, everyday unity?
How else can we explain the way being in love changes the whole way we
experience everything - to give but one example?

Jaikur said...

Thank you Molly for beginning this discussion on the often mis-understood/feared nature of our emotional aspect. I agree with Carl Jung's view that intelligence is only half-complete is using only the logic of the head and that for full intelligence, human beings need to drop into their heart and hear what their emotions have to say as well.
Or as I say to my students as a short-cut version, in matters of the head, use your heart, for matters of the heart, use your head!

Vam said...

Emotions are expressions of what you feel. The feelings are overpowering enough to determine your thought, attitude, speech and action, and qualifies what you are in terms behaviour and ethic.

All else is explanation of the phenomenon. It serves to make us be aware of the material coincidental processes and to be to apply such knowledge, one or other.

All of that changes nothing : What you feel still " determines your thought, attitude, speech and action, and qualifies what you are in terms behaviour and ethic."

Nancy said...

An interesting topic. Late in the summer, I was referred to an "Energy Medicine" therapist. I related to her the events of the previous year, including the passing of both parents and was experiencing the rush of anguish and emotion I'd been unable to move beyond. The therapist began tapping on points around my eyes, below my nose, chin and chest. Within two minutes, the emotion response stopped. I couldn't even find the grief.

She explained that thoughts bring about the emotional response, which makes sense to me. Things I think will not bring about exactly the same response in another person. Tapping (known as EFT) on the body's meridians while experiencing upsetting thoughts somehow causes the body to reroute the message and the negative emotional response simply doesn't occur.

I've known logically that I needed to get past the grieving, and had tried a variety of techniques, including exercise, more traditional therapy, crying it out and gritty determination. This simple technique was so effective, I've incorporated it into my daily routine and find that my decision making has become more calm and rational than I've ever known. Fear, sadness, anger, remorse, revenge, manipulation, defensiveness, fight or flight are absent while the facts of the situation remain.

This doesn't mean I am without emotion. Those feelings I treasure: love, gratitude, joy, delight, contentment now well up, no longer colored by a feeling of doom.

Emotions do indeed play a huge role in the daily dealings with our fellow planetary playmates. Rationality engenders more rationality, and better, more conscious choices seem to be made.

Louis said...

Great job! It's funny that you were referred to a therapist especially a specialist in energy medicine because if been on the" job" most of my adult life as a massage therapist with a special gift of "touch". When people asked what is my occupation, I'd reply that I was involved in the "energy transfer" business, techniquely speaking! So, Nancy, you're on the right track! The only constant in life is adjustment, and in my case I'm always in a learning mode especially if I give back to society a little something. Self awareness plays a major role in our daily lives especially if we want to improve ourselves and everyone around us !!!

John said...

It seems to me that the role of emotion in everyday life is sort of a catch 22 scenario. Our daily experience is both effected by and effects emotions. On the one hand how we perceive the world at any given moment is colored by our current state of emotion; at the same time what we perceive directly influences that emotion.

For example, a person can be sad and will often times perceive things in a melancholy way until some experience triggers another emotion which in turn changes the perception to match that emotion.

Of course both are influenced by a variety of things but it is interesting how both experience and emotion are dependent on each other to form the experiences that make us who we are.

Not just a sum of separate and individual experience but a sum of ourselves and experience colored by the world around us. What a tangled web!

Robert said...

Certainly we are all fall prey to the cognitive subjectiveness of our emotions. Such either serves the distraction into the carnal instincts of materialism or the higher sensory of the self and perhaps even the collective.

The comment John made with catch 22 made me think of the metaphysical state of 22 axioms. I will find my document titled Axiomatrics and post the 22 axioms. Thay are warmed over works of others as well. Nothing new under the sun.