This is a fascinating article in many ways. It traces the scientific debate concerning what, exactly, emotions are and whether they are universal or not.
This issue has a good deal of relevance for discussions of the arts, for art, especially music, communicates at least on one level through mimicking human emotional expression.
Here are a couple key points from the article, but I encourage you to read the whole thing:
- Paul Ekman’s research has pretty successfully proven that basic emotions and they way they are expressed by humans are biologically innate and universal.
- There is disagreement in the scientific field about Ekman’s conclusions, which the article describes, but it seems to me that these disagreements are rooted in a desire to avoid affirming a monogenesis. Universals in the human race present problems for Darwinian evolution.
- Note that Ekman does not discount the influence of culture and experience upon emotional expressiveness, but beneath these more conventional interpretations of emotion still lies the innate.
- The article points out the problem with the idea of “emotion,” a word that “did not exist in the English language until the early 17th century.”
- The article highlights something we’ve been saying here at RAM for a long time: prior to the invention of the idea of “emotion,” people differentiated between passions and affections.
- Thomas Brown was “the first to propose emotion as a theoretical category,” but even he had difficulty defining exactly what it is.
The whole article is worth reading, as is the Thomas Dixon article linked there.