Emotion | Dylan Evans

Summary of: Emotion: The Science of Sentiment
By: Dylan Evans


Get ready to explore the fascinating world of human emotions with this summary of ‘Emotion: The Science of Sentiment’ by Dylan Evans. In this book, Evans dispels the myth that emotions oppose reason and reveals recent scientific findings on the importance of emotions in human life. Delve into the realms of anthropology, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience as you uncover the shared basic emotions that are hard-wired into the human species. Learn about the impact of emotions on decision-making, memory, and perception, and even contemplate the potential future of emotions in artificial intelligence.

The Reconciliation of Reason and Emotion

The traditional notion that emotions and reason are incompatible is relatively recent. Before the Romantic Movement, great philosophers like Hume, Smith, and Reid considered emotions an essential part of human life. However, the romantic writers such as Rousseau created a divide between reason and emotions where acting on emotions was seen as a way to recover the purity of the “state of nature.” Science remained indifferent to this idea until recent scientific investigations in the fields of anthropology, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience provided new insights into the importance of emotions. It was previously believed that emotions were purely cultural, but now scientists argue that humans instinctively recognize six basic emotions – joy, distress, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust – indicating that emotions are not a survival impediment but an essential human trait. In fact, computers are now being developed with the capability of experiencing and communicating emotions.

Amae and the Universal Language of Emotions

Author Dylan Evans explores the universality and cultural differences in human emotions and how they shape our behavior and perceptions.

When author Dylan Evans was fifteen, he experienced a powerful feeling that he later discovered the Japanese called “amae.” It refers to the comfort and acceptance one feels in another person’s presence. It’s a comfort we all seek, although the English language lacks a concrete word for it.

Emotions have long been seen as a learned behavior, dependent on cultural conditioning. Anthropologist Paul Ekman set out to explore the universality of emotional expression in human beings. He showed American faces expressing various emotions to the Fore people of New Guinea and asked them to match the emotions with the appropriate pictures. Much to his surprise, the Fore people identified the emotions correctly.

However, emotions are not solely universal. Some cultures have unique emotions and practices surrounding them. For example, the Fore people describe an emotion called “being a wild pig,” which is unique to their culture. People experiencing this emotion have uncontrollable fits, run around, steal, and attack people. The cultural practice is to tolerate the behavior, forgive the victims, and relieve them of their financial burdens.

Evans argues that while some emotions are universals, others are culturally specific and shaped by context. The key to emotional intelligence is knowing when to control and when to be controlled by emotions, and this hinges on an understanding of the cultural and contextual significance attached to them.

Overall, emotions are a universal language, but the way they manifest and are expressed varies from culture to culture. Evans’s work emphasizes the importance of understanding emotions’ social and cultural context in shaping our behavior and perceptions.

The Role of Emotions in Human Evolution

The book explores the role of emotions in human evolution by discussing the advantages of possessing emotions in a dangerous and exciting world. The author argues that natural selection designed our emotions, just like our other mental faculties, to help humans survive and reproduce. Despite occasional negative outcomes, such as anger or passion, most emotions are necessary for our well-being, such as reflexive fear or joy in sex. Additionally, culturally specific emotions and distress-related tears are discussed, along with how guilt fosters trust and the value of destructive emotions, like jealousy and vengefulness, in protecting relationships. The book presents an argument for the importance of emotions and their impact on human society, using psychopaths as an example of how lacking emotions could lead to suffering.

The Science of Happiness

Have you ever wondered if sex, drugs, and rock and roll can lead to happiness? While fleeting joy can be achieved through these things, true happiness is not a simple emotion. Psychologists have created a “World Database of Happiness” to study the sources of enduring happiness. What they found may not be surprising – money cannot buy happiness. Even lottery winners ultimately return to their previous state of happiness. The keys to authentic happiness lie in health, friendship, family, love, and children. Pharmaceutical drugs can help people feel happier, but without a proper understanding of the science behind mood and antidepressant drugs, providers can only speculate how they work. Cognitive therapy can be just as powerful as pharmaceuticals in treating depression. Language can cause catharsis, purging the soul of intense emotions like sadness or anger. Nonetheless, it is essential to administer it properly. Traumatized victims, for instance, are at risk of talking about their emotions too soon after an event, which can worsen their condition over time. Music and colors are other ways that people can stimulate different emotions, with music having the potential to rewire our neurons differently.

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