Re: What Meaning Means (was: RE: presentation)

From: John Wilkins (
Date: Sat 17 Jun 2006 - 13:27:18 GMT

  • Next message: Chris Lofting: "RE: What Meaning Means (was: RE: presentation)"

    Hi Chris On 17/06/2006, at 10:34 PM, Chris Lofting wrote:

    > Hi John,
    >> -----Original Message-----
    >> From: [] On
    >> Behalf
    >> Of John Wilkins
    >> Sent: Saturday, 17 June 2006 10:05 PM
    >> To:
    >> Subject: Re: What Meaning Means (was: RE: presentation)
    >> It's very arguable whether emotions are genetically determined. Some
    >> emotive responses are, but the actual emotions are socially mediated.
    > Sort of, IMHO you are missing some detailed analysis. The HARD
    > CODING of the
    > fight/flight dichotomy is well researched with the resulting
    > self-referencing of that dichotomy eliciting the full spectrum of
    > 'hard
    > coded' emotions in generic form of:
    > Anger
    > Love (sexual)
    > Acceptance
    > Surprise
    > Anticipation
    > Rejection
    > Grief
    > Fear
    > Analysis of the derivation of categories from fight/flight show that
    > flight/fight to be a particular expression of a life form dealing with
    > context - to REPLACE or to COEXIST with that context.
    > The REPLACE focus comes out of differentiating and links to positive
    > feedback bias. The PAIRS formed in the self-referencing give us, for
    > example, anger/love sharing the same space, they both communicate
    > dealings
    > with context replacement - be it by eradication or replication
    > (drown out
    > the opposition with copies of self).
    > These fight/flight emotions are spread across other neuron-
    > dependent life
    > forms but are best refined in us, such that, with further self-
    > referencing,
    > finer distinctions are possible (and so from generic 'anger' comes
    > self-respect, competitiveness, singlemindedness etc where the genetics
    > interacts with nurture)
    > With the birth of a human child (and to some degree with primate
    > infants) a
    > sense of self develops manifesting itself at about 24 months. WITH
    > this
    > development come emotions dependent on that sense of self for
    > expression
    > (e.g. the emotion of embarrassment). I think it is THIS area that you
    > associate with culturally-determined emotions in that interactions
    > with
    > context will 'guide' development of self and so those emotions
    > dependent
    > upon that sense of self.
    > Since the derived emotions come out of the genetically-determined
    > emotions
    > (as in are refinements of the genetics, with 'unique' forms of
    > expression
    > mapped to the unique sense of self), given a genetically-determined
    > emotional stimulus it can 'seed' or 'stimulate' the expression of a
    > more
    > developed, self-oriented, emotion.
    > For refs to the 'hard coded' element, together with my analysis of
    > categories derived from dichotomisations, see

    This is not my field, but it is the field of two of my co-workers, Paul Griffiths and Stefan Linquist. We had a conference here recently, the one-day variety, with Bob Solomon (who's totally in the social context side of the debate) and from what Paul and Stefan were saying, there's good reason to think that the neural processes or affects that are in play with emotions are not what we would, in a folk psychological sense, call emotions. Stefan mentioned a Pacific island group, I forget the name, which has an emotion form that is a mixture of shame, guilt and sorrow, which fails to map onto the western folk psychology. There are other examples. He also thinks anger is not a "primitive" emotion, but that rage might be.

    I think that a lot of the emotion literature assumes that the affects
    (again, this term is contentious) map onto the western or some more general anthropological conception of emotions too easily. The basic list you give here is challenged by several workers, particularly in neuropsychology, but, as I said, it's not my field. However, it wouldn't surprise me if what we refer to as emotions are post-event rationalisations in terms of prior social categories that are acquired between the ages of three and five or older, and that the biology is rather different. There's even one psychology researcher at UQ who believes (and this is the extreme end of the debate) that all you have is intensity and one other variable, again I forget what it is, that is biological and the rest is all social context.

    There is a tendency in human-related research to characterise events and processes in terms of the leading categories of the researcher's own social context, whether that is a vernacular sense or a professional sense. I don't think you can leap immediately from someone at any age or in any culture showing facial expressions typical of, say, sadness or rage to the substantial claim that the emotion they are experiencing actually is. Somebody has a
    "machiavellian intelligence" claim that emotions are social acts, for example; that can't be ruled out (yet).

    FWIW - I'm not up on this.

    John S. Wilkins, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Biohumanities Project
    University of Queensland - Blog:
    "Darwin's theory has no more to do with philosophy than any other
    hypothesis in natural science." Tractatus 4.1122
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