Emotion — The Science of Sentiment

Emotion — Book Review

Emotion — Another one of those books which I bought mindlessly based on the title. But this time, it worked out well. Dylan Evans writing is easy to understand which makes the reading very accessible and interesting. But the book is quite short, finished it around 2-3 hours.

It is really just an introduction, but a worthwhile one at that.

I rated the book at 4.00/5.00★.

Emotion: The Science of SentimentEmotion: The Science of Sentiment by Dylan Evans
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another one of those books which I bought mindlessly based on the title. But this time, it worked out well. Dylan Evans writing is easy to understand which makes the reading very accessible and interesting. But the book is quite short, finished it around 2-3 hours.
It is really just an introduction, but a worthwhile one at that.
Read my full review

View all my reviews

Emotion — Reading Notes

Emotion — A Brief History

If you haven’t read my review on “Happiness — A History” you should read them first before reading on the history of emotion. It’s awesome. Yup, that is me, doing a little bit of self-promotion.

The concept that emotion is the opposite of reason is frankly a new concept. Philosophers David Hume, Adam Smith, and Thomas Reid saw emotion as an integral part of our life. And also an integral part of society. Imagine how much chaos can be created by a simple emotion manipulation — takes the riot caused by the Joker in Joker (2019).

Rousseau claimed that reason corrupted humanity and the only way to recover our natural state was to act according to the prompting of emotion and disregarding reason. Science meanwhile always been more inclined to act according to logic, without emotional burden. This more often than not lead to conflict.

Inside Out: Joy, Fear, Sad, Disgust, Anger

“Researchers disagree about how many basic emotions there are, but there is a consensus merging that they include joy, distress, anger, fear, surprise and disgust. There is no culture in which these emotions are absent.”

Basic Emotions – joy, distress, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust

A few basic shared emotions are hard-wired into our brain, thus indicating that emotions are a necessity for human survival. And nowadays, as the twenty-first century unfolds, emotions are now a priced item, emotional intelligence is the new gold standard for leadership material. Oh, we even tried to develop a computer that are capable of understanding and communicating on the emotional level.

Read more on A.I, computer and emotion from my previous post on “Human Compatible — AI and the Problem of Control“.


Emotion — and Language

When Dylan Evans was 15 years old boy, his friends invited him to join a punk rock band. His reaction was an intense and memorable joy that the English language can’t describe. But the Japanese termed it as”amae”. Amae means comfort in another person’s complete acceptance.

The curious part is even when the emotion can’t be properly described by the English language, and Englishmen still are capable of experiencing it.

“Emotionally intelligent people know when it is right to control their emotions and when it is right to be controlled by them.”

Emotions as a learned behavior

Anthropologists hypothesized that emotion is a learned behavior, like language and is dependent on cultural conditioning.

To try to prove this hypothesis, anthropologist Paul Ekman set off for the jungles of New Guinea with a stack of photographs showing Americans expressing various emotions. Ekman asked the Fore people of New Guinea to match the photographs with a situation.

The Fore people to his surprise identified the American faces with the correct emotions of joy, distress and so on. Then he reversed the mirror. He asked the Fore people to make faces that expressed certain emotions. He went back to the United States and asked Americans to match the facial expressions with the emotions.

Again, the match was correct.

Hence, Ekman concludes that certain “basic” emotions are innate to us regardless of our culture. Again, as Inside Out suggests, the basic emotions include “joy, distress, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust”.


Not all emotions are innate and shared

However, not all emotions are deemed innate and shared. New Guinea cultures describe an emotion they termed “being a wild pig”, which I think might be a loose translation, refers to having a kind of uncontrollable fit, running around and attacking people.

The good thing is the culture tolerates those afflicted with such emotion, forgives them and relieves them of their financial burdens. If this happen to other parts of the world, the odds are the outcome won’t be that kind. This emotion is unique to New Guinea, but useful in its cultural context because the people afflicted with “being a wild pig” tend to be young men at the age when marriage and financial responsibilities begin to weigh heavily.

“Our common emotional heritage binds humanity together, then, in a way that transcends cultural difference. In all places, and at all times, human beings have shared the same basic emotional repertoire.”


Why Spock Could Never Have Evolved

Spock — I don't belong anymore
Spock — I don’t belong anymore

Spock, from Star Trek, is half-alien and half-human. He claimed that he doesn’t have emotions. This gave him a logical mind — an extraordinary power.

But is it possible for such creature to exist?

“If the heart has its reasons, this is because natural selection designed our emotions just as it designed our other mental faculties: to help us survive and reproduce as best we could in a dangerous and exciting world.”

I’m no stranger to saying stupid things when I’m angry, hence, if such creature like Spock is a possibility, would he be better than me?

I regrets much from “in the heat of the moment” situations. But as I learned, emotions can be control, in fact religion teaches us how to do so.

Plus, our emotion such as fear, anxiety, stress are designed to ensure our survival. For example, if I were to see a crocodile or a tiger, my body would go into a high-stress situation, where other bodily functions will shutdown, focussing all it might and energy on running, escaping, and my struggle to survive.

So, emotions are essential in this type of situation. I wonder how a Spock might response during such event.



Not all tears are equal. And the tears which rain in distress are unique, unique in their chemistry which purge stress hormone. Thus save our body from potential damages from self-induced stress hormone.

Emotion Control Through Thoughts

“By training ourselves to eliminate thoughts that provoke bad moods and to encourage thoughts that foster pleasant emotions, we may be able to gain some measure of control over our emotional state and lift ourselves out of the blues by sheer will power.”

This reminds me of “Learned Optimism” whereby the story we told ourselves when adversity hits is the difference between feeling optimistic or pessimistic about the future prospect.

“The Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni once painted the canteen red to put his actors in the right mood for some tense scenes, but after a few weeks he noticed that other workers using the canteen had become more aggressive and had even come to blows on a few occasions.”


Emotional manipulation

Emotional manipulation could be the norm if only people know how to use them. Properly used, this might be a powerful tool in motivating people, but with great power comes great responsibility.

Psychopaths offer an argument for the importance of emotion, especially emotional intelligence, take Lord Voldermort for example, remarkably intelligent and power-thirsty but lack such emotions as guilt and sympathy. Voldermort has no conscience, he is able to analyze situations, apply rules and manipulate others with extraordinary charisma and facility. But when applied by the right person, such as Dumbledore, emotional intelligence is a potent tool to inspire and to lead others. Just like how Dumbledore manipulates Newt Scamander to stop Gellert Grindelwald.

I think society would benefit more from manipulators in the mold of Dumbledore more than of Voldermort.

The quick way to happiness

“Despite the claims of various pharmaceutical companies…we simply do not know very much about the chemical details of mood or how antidepressant drugs work.”

Happiness is one of my favorite reading topics, you might be interested in reading “Happiness – A History“, “Before Happiness” by Shawn Achor and “The Five Thieves of Happiness“. All are awesome books.

Joy is one of the basic emotions but happiness is not. Hence, psychologist takes serious view when discussing happiness, and have assembled a “World Database of Happiness” to help with their investigation.

Some finding seems to confirm ancient wisdom, for example, you really can’t buy happiness, but “Happy Money” would argue otherwise. But you only be happy if you spend your money in a certain way.

Let consider those who won a big lottery jackpot, most of them wind up feeling much the same as they did before winning. Hence, the basis of happiness seems to remain with good health, loyal friendships, and companionships, family, love, and children. These are the enduring sources of happiness.


Does drug help us to be happier?

Yes. Drug like Prozac can help us feel happier but no one quite sure why. Some say that high serotonin levels in the brain are associated with happiness. But these drug takes weeks before depressed patients experience any improvement of mood. The downside? The effect doesn’t last, required consistent pill-popping, typically in increment doses.

Does it worth it? No. Cocaine addicts arguably not the world’s happiest people.

Language better than drugs

There’s a reason why we love to gossip, complaining. It makes us feels better for a moment. Cognitive therapy which addresses the way people talk to themselves, such as learned optimism, can be as potent as Prozac in treating depression.

Aristotle noted that language helps people undergo a kind of purging of the soul through the experience of intense emotion, as in a theater. He called this “catharsis.”


Language side effects as dangerous as drug’s.

Given at the wrong time, it can make things worse.

In recent years it has become commonplace to subject victims of traumatic disasters to debriefing sessions with psychological counselors. During the sessions, victims talk about the disaster and their feelings. Although undertaken with good intentions, debriefing seems counterproductive.

At least one study of accident victims showed that a year after the accident, those who were debriefed found themselves plagued by flashbacks and episodes of fear. They were in worse psychological shape than those who were not debriefed.

So, we need to be careful when choosing our words, and when we utter it.

The Brain and the Heart

As I mentioned before, under certain conditions, emotions have an extraordinary ability to focus our minds. And as per what we learned from Learned Optimism, depressed people tend to focus on failure while the optimist view failure and adversity as a stepping stone, as a temporary setback which makes life itself worth living.

Emotions influence our memory. People in an upbeat mood tend to remember happy things; those in a sad mood recall sad things which psychologists called “mood-congruent recall“.


Emotions also affect how we perceived people

A person in a good mood perceives people more positively than those in a bad mood. Anxiety, which seems to bond people, is paradoxical. Consider the “Stockholm syndrome,” which occurs when hostages show deep concern for their captors.

Emotions affect our logic

Emotions even affect our proclivity for logical analysis. People who are in a good mood and have little time are inclined to accept weaker arguments than people who are in a neutral mood or who have more time to consider the arguments.


Emotional Machines

In order to gain the required breakthrough in Artificial Intelligence or A.I, we need the computers to understand language. Hence, developing an understanding of what’s happening around them. Thus, being truly intelligent.

But by understanding language, meaning the computer would also able to understand emotion. I’m just hoping that such a superintelligent computer is designed to benefit humanity, not just purely intelligent. Otherwise, humanity is in big trouble.

So, without emotions, nothing seems more logical than a computer. MIT developed Kismet, a robot that can open its eyes, move its lips and look happy, sad or fearful. Some experts suggest that machines will surpass Kismet and possess a full range of human emotions as soon as 2050.

Read more on A.I. from my previous post “Human Compatible“.


The Logic of the Heart

By now we’ve learned that emotions are not only valuable but necessary. German researchers find that people who deal with several choices by picking the most comfortable, familiar option, tend to make better selections than people who take time for careful analysis. Overconfident people may attempt more than reasonably reserved people.

Although the latter may make more factually based judgments, overconfident people will succeed some of the time. Their very overconfidence may help them gain the trust of potential allies and helpers. Blaise Pascal was right, after all; the heart has its reasons and they may be completely beyond the reach of reason.

Final Remark

The book is a quick read, an introduction if you will, but a good introduction 🙂 It’s another dot linking my other dots on happiness.

I hope you find this review both enjoyable and worthwhile.

Please like and share this post. Thanks in advance.

To buy the book, click HERE.

Again, let us end the post with the Dancing Lord Voldermort, a symbol of extraordinary power coupled with a lack of basic emotions.



Author: Muhamad Aarif

A notorious book addict by night and an oil and gas executive by day. As Mark Twain said, "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." So, read, read, and read some more.

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