jueves, 26 de abril de 2012

On the Nature of Emotions: Vanity Within

Consider emotions as comprised of internal (feelings) and external  (facial expressions, etc.) activities. I propose as an hypothesis that some emotions (or at least a subset of them such as "happiness" and "sadness") are elements of communication and barely anything else. This reasoning has verifiable implications. One is that a subject of emotions (e.g. a person) which is isolated from other receptors (e.g. other persons), will tend to diminish not only its external but also its internal emotional activity e.g. the solitary person will be neither happy or sad, on the long run. Mood would be understood as a social invention, as sophisticated as any other element of language. Moreover, if we push this interpretation a bit further as to say that  the internal experience of emotions is subsidiary to the external activity –after all, communication is up to semantics, an external process– then we will find a radically different perspective to understand emotions: the novice does not sings to uplift her melancholic mood; her mood is to uplift the song.

From this perspective is not crazy to say that the development of abstract language, in particular the decreasing role of analogic languages, will tend to diminish the necessity of internal emotional activity. Interestingly, we also see a realization of the analogic from the digital as a manifestation of the asynchrony, the tension, the anxiety between the pace of the format and that of the language in its wider, emotionally comprised, sense. The music may be seen as its epitome; in those societies where formal language has been largely cleaned of its analogical content, music becomes increasingly analogical. And so we can see that the refinement of the written language is paralleled by the birth of classical music. Or rap music, whose high amount of digital content (percussion, beat, prose, etc.) is paralleled by an outburst of slang, an epigenesis of emphasis which points to a revival of analogism in language. On could say that formal language and music, play at its best –or perhaps at its worst– a dialectical relation, an equilibrium of opposites [1].

 A possible experiment is to expose an emotional subject into a social environment but blockade the externalization of its emotions. Under suitable adjustment periods, this hypothesis would suggest that the subject will start to diminish its internal emotional activity given that it has become a useless burden. This experiment is not easy, many behavioral responses will get between the initial conditions and the suitable adjustment periods. To realize it we need to understand that the suitable adjustment periods can comprise weeks (hormonal relaxation) or even generations subjected to the evolutionary constraint (genetic relaxation). One of the intermediate responses is the well known self-harm driven by frustration. Within our hypothesis this could be understood as a response similar to that of a person that tries to speak louder as his voice fades. The body will tend to amplify emotions –even by self-harm– expecting to get a greater, hopefully, visible effect on its receptors. Again, by suitable adjustment periods we should be able to take the subject from this first self-strategic-response to the desired self-strategic-response associated to the "letting aside the burden of emotion". This is similar to the responses of a brain to amputation of an arm. The body will drive the regions of the brain controlling the former organ, to work in other activities or perhaps will simply switch off such regions –under suitable adjustment periods–. 

Even emotional manifestations like our expression when something is very cold or hot have a largely symbolic and therefore social nature; it is useful to show others that something is hot or cold, specially when language hasn't been developed yet or if developed, not as accurate as to transmit the relatively analogical measure of temperature perception. The whole of internal emotions as a response to extreme temperatures though, seems hard to be reduced to a social feature. It seems to comprise also a form of communication within the parts of the body –which is "social" but in another level–.

[1] This is just hypotetical (or perhaps hypo-poetical). Similar thoughts has been explored by George Steiner.

PD. It seems that "suitable adjustment periods" is the carpet to sweep the dirt under. But hopefully not totally, after all it is similar to the challenge of driving a physical system to a state of global minimal energy in the presence of local minimas.

PD2. The dialectics of internal versus external within the realm of emotions is slightly different than the dialectic of emotions versus feelings. Nevertheless, both influence each another.