biological emotions and laughing goldfish

Lisa Feldman Barrett, psychology professor at Northeastern University, reduces the emotional states of being into four categories, in her book, How Emotions Are Made (Pan Macmillan, 2017). These four proto-emotions are, in essence, the messages your brain derives from your nervous system, the pure biological pulses that ultimately guide our relationship with the world around us:


Everything else, from happiness to sadness to disgust and so on, says Barrett, are learned reactions. Passion is culturally transmitted.

In identifying these raw materials of emotion, we might draw a closer understanding of the experience of that-which-is-not-human, even perhaps that-which-is-not-mammal, as pleasant — even mildly arousing — is the notion that this may be an indication of some broader universality.


Here is one of my favorite Chuang Tzu stories, which for me settles any argument over the existence of universal experience, and imparts the listener to "trust their gut" on this matter. Our relationship with the world around us is much tighter than we tend to consciously acknowledge:

Two old friends were crossing a bridge over a pond. One paused to look down, and noticed a school of goldfish swimming below. "Look, how those goldfish are playing and laughing!" His friend glanced down, nodded, and then replied, "How is it you know these fish are experiencing some form of happiness? Maybe they are simply swimming in the fashion that such fish swim, not happy, but neutral, and that you are imagining their emotion? You can never ask a fish! Does it not seem foolish to you to ascribe human feelings to simple creatures?"

His friend thought about this for a little while, peered one more time at the fish below, and then, waving his friend forward on their walk mentioned, "I know those fish are happy because I, too, have known happiness."


I used this story to put the 26 forms of cognitive bias into context, as well, "Cognitive Bias and the Laughing Goldfish."

As I click "publish" on this post, two blue jays are squealing in the flower box outside my window. They sound aroused!


The Need for Roots

Labor and human rights activist, Simone Weil, working in London with the French Resistance to the Nazi occupation of France, training towards becoming a Special Operations Executive which would return her to Paris, whilst suffering a bout of tuberculosis which would prove her death, wrote a large book titled, The Need for Roots. It is a wide-spanning work, investigating the common needs of humanity, the universal morality of feeding the hungry, the uprootedness of modern urban and rural life, collectivism, nationalism, and ultimately suggesting a plan for France upon victory in the War.

An example from its pages; I find an interesting rationale for the rule of law, and the effects of justice served, as a question of social morality:
"Just as the only way of showing respect for somebody suffering from hunger is to give him something to eat, so the only way of showing respect for somebody who has placed himself outside the law is to reinstate him inside the law by subjecting him to the punishment ordained by law."

She also declared eight spiritual needs for the human soul:

societal, to minimize individual encounters with conflicting obligations
with consent
more power equates to higher standard of conduct
looking up to symbols
a measure of conduct
to prevent one's falling to vice, to allow for integration, post-
Freedom of Opinion
free expression
freedom from fear and terror
to protect us from boredom
Private Property
a home, and one's tools
Collective Property
everyone shares