The Spectrum of Human Feelings

A biological-psychological-social & historical survey of emotion



Spock asks, “What is the purpose of (human) emotion?” This provocative question is addressed by surveying seemingly diverse aspects of evolution, physiology, neuroanatomy, social information theory and pragmatic communication. Simple and complex emotions are explained, differentiated and integrated. The article’s centerpiece is a visual model of the psychological spectrum of core feelings. In the end ‘teleology’ gives way to basic functionality. I hope and trust that Startrek’s cerebral Mr. Spock, who regularly provoked Bones, the ship’s doctor, and Captain Kirk with questions about the use of emotion, would be satisfied if not overtly ‘pleased’ with this article.

Preamble-abstract: Anyone in any kind of relationship, which means everyone, probably should have more than a passing acquaintance with newer ideas about emotions. Doctors and therapists, who professionally deal with patient’s feelings every day, require a very solid understanding. Unfortunately, all too many do not fully comprehend the true nature of feelings. At best they tend to reify them with a false life of their own. At worst they blindly open up emotional wounds they cannot close. While art approaches feeling by displaying it; science tries to explain it. So, after some definitions, I start with a look at simple emotions as they act—through evolution—in raw animal survival. This taste of the primary uses of emotion is followed by presentation of a psychological model, the spectrum of human feelings, founded in physiology. This is its first appearance in print. For the hardy souls who like to dig deeper, details of the complicated ‘anatomy of feeling’ follow. Next, I develop the concept of historical-social ‘evolution,’ i.e., the unique production in humans of an ever-expanding repertoire and lexicon of complex higher feelings. How feelings are actually exchanged between people—via communication—tops it all off. Finally, I sum up the systems coorelations and main purposes of emotion without getting afoul the shoals of teleology.

It is noteworthy that Shakespeare never used the word ’emotion.’ Hamlet praised his close friend Horatio as a man “whose blood and judgment are so well commingled.” Today we would say that Horatio’s emotions and thoughts were in good balance.

The words emotion and feeling have separate origins and a subtly different meaning. Both words are general—categorical—terms. Thus, while most people use the two words interchangeably in everyday speech, some dictionary definitions make clear distinction between them: Emotion is the outward expression and feeling the inner subjective aspect of passion or sentiment. The word feeling goes back to the twelfth century. Its meaning is blurred because of its many meanings: i.e., ‘to feel’ may mean to sense (physical pain, touch, etc., e.g., I feel dizzy, nauseated.) and used loosely to think (I feel he’s okay.). In the context of this article feeling reflects inner sensitivity, as in “I feel angry or guilty.” The word emotion was coined in 1579 (just five years before Shakespeare’s birth) to describe “conscious mental feelings that are distinct from thoughts.” It is from the French verb emouvoir (to stir up), in turn from two Latin roots meaning to move—out. The word emotion makes for an awkward verb! Compare: I feel happy and I emote happiness. Feelings are the true love of poets. But scientists prefer emotion and avoid references to feelings. Where necessary, we’ll use the words emotion and feeling explicitly and correctly, but I won’t be too obsessive about it. Where both words apply equally well, I’ll contract ‘feeling-emotion’ to FE. Oh no! you may say, yet another acronym? But please bear with it. I promise: it will prove useful.

There is no dearth of words that denote specific FEs in virtually all circumstances, whether at home, work, school or play. In the pressure cooker of marriage FEs typically are intensified: tenderness, love and hate, anger-rage, fear-anxiety, jealousy, sadness and depression, sometimes indifference and apathy. The list goes on. It is true: marriage is intense, families are complex. A certain latitude of emotional expression is accepted between friends. Otherwise we wouldn’t be friends. At work excessive emotional expression is variously proscribed. In anybody’s language the end result of unrestrained FEs is anything from passionate sex to brutal violence. As Thomas Fuller MD quipped in 1732, Seeing’s believing, but feeling’s the truth.

I’ll end this introduction with a reference that is likely familiar to almost everyone: Spock, of Gene Rodenbury’s Star Trek fame, who is almost all alien intellect and virtually devoid of human emotion, persistently bugs Captain James Kirk and Bones, the ship’s doctor, to explain, “What is the purpose of emotion?” Invariably Kirk reacts by launching off into some adventurous action. Bones seems always to get flustered and cannot respond rationally with any good answer. We’ll now start to get the answer…


Evolution—primary ‘uses’ of emotion

150 years ago, Charles Darwin, in his epochal book On the Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, considered emotion a crucial aspect of survival. He described the facial, vocal, postural, and other kinesic (action) displays that automatically accompany specific primitive emotions. [1]

More recent studies help us to open the evolutionary door a bit farther. Johnson-Laird, an engineer cum psychologist, wrote, “The important situations in the life of a species can be mapped into a relatively small number of emotions … happiness, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust.” [2] Furthermore, the makeup of all animals includes basic drives or appetites—thirst, hunger, sex, and sleep (THSS). Each has survival value, both species and personal. Each also has its own special internal subjective feeling or, better, craving, i.e., there is hunger for food, and lust for sex, etc. The question is: Should some of these unique cravings be included as a broad category of basic emotion? I think the answer is yes. Now, combining the seminal ideas of survival situation and automatic display we can take one basic kind of emotion at a time:

HAPPINESS: Varying degrees of pleasure and contentment occur in successful attachments and during the completion of the basic life drives and instincts—for food, warmth, sex, etc.

Happiness has involuntary as well as voluntary modes of expression—sighs of love, smiles and laughter, humming and singing. All primitive tribes, including Western teenagers, have rhythmic and ritual dances. More civilized people enjoy ballet—and jazz, symphonies, art, architecture, literature, poetry… We’ll later see how such well-cooked, Epicurean pleasures come from such raw evolutionary beginnings.

THE APPETITE CRAVINGS (THSS): Each appetite has an automatic internal (brain) trigger (as we’ll later see) and external signals and behavioral sequences. The unique discomforting urge of a particular craving comes first. The craving, in turn, drives seeking behavior which may in itself be pleasurable or coldly calculating. If successful, the sequence ends in contented satisfaction.

Thus, the mere thought of food can provoke salivation. Starving explorers may dream constantly of food. Drowsiness has yawns. Sex has species-specific signals—or displays. ‘Angry’ emotion displayed during sexual contests between rival males in the wild is usually of a sham nature; in lower animals rage is nicely contained. Modern boys and girls driven to go a-courting can dress up like peacocks. Humans are not really different than any lower animal, just more complicated (and sometimes more dangerous). But, to reiterate, however unpleasant the initial urge may be, the end result of a positive quest is contentment, pleasure—happiness. A failed quest may evoke unhappy feelings of several varieties…

SADNESS and grief are normal reactions to separation from an attached individual through death or loss. Put another way, when we lose someone we grieve sadly. The survival value of grief may be that the attendant psychic slowdown forces us to take leave, rest and recover.

Sadness is signaled with a down-turned mouth and eyes, crying and tears. General bodily posture in marked sadness is slumped and movements are often slow and labored. Loss that turns into clinical depression loses all survival value. A drooping lateral upper epicanthic eye-fold is typical of the so-called ‘physiognomy’ of depression. In fact, it is pathognomonic (diagnostic). Observed by Hippocrates 2500 years ago, this facial feature (shown in the title) was sketched by Leonardo da Vinci 500 years ago. [3]

ANGER, up through rage, is a functional precursor to aggression. In lower animals it may have quite distinct modes of expression depending on whether it is directed towards sexual rivals, competitors for territory, predators or prey.

Anger is automatically signaled through a hunched and aggressive posture of readiness and a typical frowning facial expression. Its vocalization ranges from hisses, snorts and grunts to a progressively louder growling, gravely or barking voice. While a display of rage often accompanies defense from predators, wild predators themselves, when in action, virtually never display it! The stalking cat is ’emotionless’ and cold because it is juiced up with noradrenaline. This brand of the hormone arouses and focuses but doesn’t excite. Social animals such as monkeys, and herbivores such as horses, squirt out plain adrenaline when preyed upon—and get excited. The one shrieks and chatters, they both panic and run. Other animals turn about and face the threat, as evidenced by the cowering wild animal that suddenly bristles and growls when cornered. In civilized humans, far removed from their bio-evolutionary origins, rage ill-contained, is counter-productive. Defensive fighting is ‘nicer’ than offensive aggression, but both are hardwired, in the deepest cavern of the brain. Humans, in this respect, are very much akin to animals; women can fight viciously, especially when their young are threatened. Young men, driven by a steady flow and high levels of the sex hormone, testosterone, are ready for a fight at the drop of a hat. But, interestingly, trained athletes secrete smooth, galvanizing noradrenaline (as opposed to nerve jangling, screeching adrenaline) and approach the game with cool focus. Humans have it both ways!

The tendency to aggression, provoked or not, takes all of civilization’s best efforts to curb. Through its institutions, schools, laws, churches, and more recently women’s activist groups, constant attempts are made to counter the crude expression of basic raw rage. It is noteworthy, however, that the Vikings deliberately whipped anger up as group rage, or furor, before battle. The lost battle-cry of the American southern confederacy was probably much the same. As is all war. When all is said and done, it is well to consider what Seneca, the ancient Roman, said about furiosus: He was much in the right that first called anger a short madness. But then again, as Francis Bacon asserted in 1625: No man is angry that feels not himself hurt. Worth considering?   

FEAR through terror, is perfectly normal depending on circumstances. It is seen as a precursor to submission to dominant rivals, to flight from predators, and to the helpless freezing response (playing possum) in unfamiliar situations.

The automatic transmission of fear amongst social animals, signaling danger, is an evolutionary survival mechanism; the whole group or herd almost immediately stirs and is on the run, in flight. Group fear in humans is almost always counterproductive through its attendant short circuiting of intellect. Fear in individual humans will signal its presence through dilated pupils, sweaty palms, trembling, cringing, and a kind of risorius or pulled-back grin. This typical facial expression accompanying fear is also shared by our simian cousins. Its involuntary vocal expression is the scream (so close to the surface in human females). Temporary submission may be lifesaving in human domestic situations that are heading towards violence. But the signaling of fear is often both undesirable and dangerous. The very smell of fear may provoke an angry dog (or a cold psychopath) to attack. Similarly, in prisons the fearful, vulnerable inmate is frequently the object of predatory aggression.

DISGUST is a precursor to rejection. Its animal origin is the feeling of nausea induced by bad food and toxins; we vomit—part of our repertoire for survival. Disgust may thus be classified along with anger and fear as an emergency emotion.

Disgust is founded in evolution (and is also, as we shall see later, neurologically determined). We all know how hard it is not to communicate disgust when we feel it. Facial expression and vocalization (ugh!) are quite specific when we step on something disgusting. We can also feel that way towards another person. When we reject another we may feel disgust for, and even nausea, at the thought of that other. Sufferers of schizophrenia, who are ‘notoriously’ honest, sometimes display persistent pursed, protruding lips and a crinkling of the nose, an expression redolent of disgust, termed ‘schnautzcramf.’

To sum up thus far: Each basic inner feeling has its own nonverbal means of emotional expression through general posture, gestures, facial expression, involuntary vocalizations, and somatic visceral changes. Thus, in spite of our best attempts to hide how we may be feeling, automatic signals of our inner state do get out to the rest of the world. [4] The emotional expression of basic feelings safely signals an animal’s inner state to others of the same (or different?) species.


Developing a psychological model

There is a host of words that describe the many types and degrees of inner feelings and their emotional expression. They range from contentment through happiness to ecstasy, irritability through anger and on to rage, apprehension to fear and up to terror, sadness to sorrow, grief and depression. Adding just one of the basic appetite cravings, we also have lust and on to the various kinds of affection and love. And so on, and on. Some categorical logic needs to be brought to bear to bring reason to the subject.

Cognitive science, which is central to modern academic psychology, fails to seriously address FEs! Nevertheless, clinical psychologists have tried to fit the many types and shades of feeling into a few broad categories. One such scheme divides feelings into four general types: 1) level of arousal, 2) general mood(s), 3) feelings toward the environment, and 4) feelings about one’s own self and competence. [5] This, to my way of thinking, is too lexical and arbitrary.

        The preferred approach uses common sense in tying in threads of evidence from evolution, physiology, anatomy and clinical practice. The most scientifically succinct idea of a basic core of emotions comes from physiology, which boils them down to three elements—arousal, pleasure and pain—pain being a hardwired sensory warning of imminent physical damage.

        As early as 1915, Walter Cannon tied animal fear and rage into the primordial alarm reaction—arousal and flight-or-fight. [6] Combining the two concepts, flight-fight and pleasure-pain, we get a vertical pain-pleasure axis and a horizontal fear-rage axis, with arousal central to both—a useful template.

        I now will translate this physiological template into a comprehensive psychological model of human feelings. Upon the physiological core template all of the basic feelings derived from evolution can be logically layered as shown below:

The basic types of human feeling are akin to the primary colors of yellow, red, and blue. Out of three primary colors we can make a rainbow or paint a masterpiece. From seven core feelings—the appetite cravings, surprise, fear-anger, happy/sad, and disgust—come all ‘higher’ FEs. [7]

At the center of the map is arousal. Arousal may be associated with startle or curiosity. Sudden arousal may result in surprise, which is also considered by some to be a distinct emotion. [8] Surprise may be slightly tinged with fear, sometimes with pleasure, maybe even with disgust. Curiosity is a non-judgmental alert. It may give rise to exploration. Its end-note is either perplexity or recognition (the aha! reaction) which may be colored by pleasure (e.g., friendliness, like a dog wagging its tail), or on the other hand, fear, anger, etc.

The horizontal fight-flight axis includes the full range of fear and anger, from their milder forms reflected in irritability and apprehension to their respective extremes of terror and rage. (There is also a fright-freeze—playing possum—response, not shown.) Fear and rage, termed the emergency emotions, are closely related chemically, both being mediated through adrenaline congeners. While fear and anger can wind up instantly, they linger awhile after the threat is gone; this is because the circulating hormone needs time to dissipate. Fear and anger are flip sides of the same coin; one can turn into the other in a split second. A cowering animal, cornered, especially females with nearby young, can turn and fight in fury.

Vertical axis: Pain and pleasure seem also to be related. Pain is both an inner feeling and a peripheral physical sense. Pleasure is a generalized pure inner feeling, regardless of triggering origin. Happiness and sadness are polar opposites. Sadness is the psychic equivalent of ‘pain.’ Its normal extreme is grief. Despair is associated, but not normal. Psychological happiness and sadness are not related in a physiological way as are anger and fear. The brain centers and neurochemicals for sadness and happiness are separate, distinct, and different. Nevertheless, we have laid out happy/sad in logical up/down relation to each other. A vertical arrangement has clinical merit and nicely depicts mood, as mood tends to be up or down, happy or sad. To tritely repeat, sadness as grief is painful, happiness pleasurable. Both of these core feelings can burst forth suddenly, but they may linger for any duration of time—as mood.

Oblique axes: Disgust is related to both anger and sadness as well as to rejection, hate and shame. The hunt for food and its cooking is pleasurable, as is the search for sex. But the cravings of hunger, sex, etc., can be mildly unpleasant to severely agonizing. The hungers or appetite feelings are the inner psychic signals of basic drives. “I feel hungry. I feel thirsty, sexy or sleepy.” They range from mild urges, to discomfort combined with anticipation, to horrendous extremes of agony: “I’m starving, dying of thirst, gasping for air.” When core cravings are fully satisfied there are relief, satisfaction, contentment, and sometimes drowsiness often leading to sleep.

Theoretically, at the exact point of intersection of the vertical and horizontal lines, zero, there may be no actual feeling tone. A sort of mental hebetude. We are less than on-alert, at most only mildly aroused, ticking over with a minimal degree of awareness. When the physical seat of emotions in the brain is simply idling we hypothetically experience a resting neutrality of feeling, without any definite ‘color’ tone. But do we in fact? Is there not always a shade of feeling that reflects our mood or our personality? Try to check it out on yourself when relaxed or slightly drowsy. Some people, when just idling over, seem to be variously in expectant states of bland contentment, apprehension, irritation, or sadness. [9]

In general, FEs above the horizontal line are felt as subjectively pleasant. Those mapped below it tend to be uncomfortable. Along the horizontal line subjective perception depends upon circumstance. Thus, excitement and thrills, physiologically indistinguishable from fear, may be actively sought—as fun—on a roller-coaster ride. Any sport, along with pleasure, can evoke fear or anger or both. Rarely is anger pleasant. It is mostly painful—for the recipient! But a foolish display of anger may also be embarrassingly unpleasant after the fact—for the sender. [10]

There are seven simple types of basic FEs. The four best-known core feelings are happiness, sadness, fear and anger. The latter two are true ‘emergency feelings.’ Disgust, associated with rejection, has real survival value too. Central to all is pure surprise. Added are the cravings of the various appetite drives (hunger, thirst, lust, etc.); appetite satisfied often results in somnolent contentment. Each FE may be triggered or induced by an outer event or inner urge or recall, but as we’ll see, all are ultimately generated within the brain. The simple emotions, being directed at instant survival or safety, short circuit the newer and higher cognitive brain parts and functions. Thus, in humans, they all, especially intense fear, tend to lower IQ by sacrificing time for reflection, rationality and judgment. But, despite this inherent, necessary drawback, simple FEs are quite normal. All ‘sick’ emotions (including anxiety, panic and rage) along with other social elaborations, as we’ll soon see, are termed complex. The diagrammatic view or map of seven core simple FEs is easily rendered as a clinical test—included at the end of the article for your scrutiny and use.


The anatomy of feeling

Twenty-five centuries ago Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said “Not only our pleasure, our joy and our laughter but our sorrow, pain, grief and tears arise from the brain, and brain alone.” And he said this in a time when feelings were generally imagined to arise from blood, bile and phlegm, the bodily humors. Hippocrates was so far ahead of his time!

Although many professional practitioners are concerned about emotions exchanged between people or specific noxious affects induced from outside an individual, [11] [12] the incontrovertible fact is that the ultimate generator-repository of feelings is within—inside the brain. Whatever our clinical orientation, this reality must always be born in mind. Below is a schematic (medial right-lateral) section of the brain, as we know it, with the emotionally-related parts labeled.

Key (come back and refer to this paragraph later): A=Amygdala—it connects to caudate tail. BS=Brain stem, i.e., pons/medulla. CC=Corpus callosum (or cerebral commissure). CG=Cingulate gyrus, both limbic and cerebral. FC=Frontal lobe cortex—cerebral. H=Hippocampus  goes all around: CC to S; T to M. HT=Hypothalamus, anterior part sensory, post-motor. M=Mammillary body—really part of HT. MFB=Medial forebrain bundle. OB=Olfactory bulb (smell), connects to Amygdala. P=Pituitary gland, the endocrine system command center. RF=Reticular formation for filtering and arousal. S=Septal area, nucleus of H. SC=Spinal cord. T=Thalamus, the brain’s great sensory relay center. V4=Fourth ventricle—underlies cerebellum which is for balance and coordination.

Even Hippocrates, for all his prescience, could hardly have imagined how far beyond the ancient Humoral Doctrine modern medicine takes us. [13] The structure of the enormously complex human brain can be simplified by splitting it up into three stacked and layered parts, representing a sequence of lower-animal brains—reptilian, equine, and simian. These functional divisions integrate all of our thoughts and actions—and feelings. They coincide with embryological fact and harmonize with evolution. [14]

The reptilian or snake brain, marked (1), is shaped like the stem of a mushroom without its cap. This brain ‘stem’ subserves primordial instinctual drives that are built in, hardwired for 1) sex and procreation, 2) stalking and eating, 3) escape from danger and 4) sleep and restoration—and associated emotions (cravings-contentment and alerts such as rage-fear). Its parallel output is raw visceral-emotional behavior, mostly invoked for life-death emergencies and sheer survival. The snake brain is mediated by an endocrine, hypothalamic-centered nerve axis located in or near the brainstem. Notably, among other parts, tracts, and links, it is connected at its upper end to the simian or cortical brain. [15]

The simian brain (3) is dominated by a cerebrum that sits over all like a wrinkled cap—the seat of advanced intelligence. Monkeys (and humans) have a bilateral patch of mirror neurons that enable imitative behavior and rudimentary empathy. In us the cortical gray matter, especially that of the frontal lobe, has been taken much further to include speech, a conscious concept of the future, creativity, conscience and morality. In short, thought. This thinking part of the brain supervises the creation of complex emotions such as love and hate and loyalty and patriotism. It does so by virtue of a combination of thinking and feeling, singular and plural, which subsumes all of the most advanced of behaviors including war and peace. (All of this will become clearer later in the special section on higher, ‘complex’ FEs.)

Between these two extremes of simian intellect above and raw reptilian drives below is the horse or equine brain (2) which comprises modified parts of the archaic olfactory (smell) lobe called the limbic system. This set of complex, convoluted circuits and way-stations, connected as it is with the temporal lobe cortex (memory processing), elaborates and mediates our simple but unique lower-mammalian emotions—essentially the seven pure feeling-tones.

Paul Broca, the great French neurologist, noted in 1879 how the cingulate gyrus, just above the corpus callosum (which bridges the two cerebral hemispheres), and the hippocampus (which curves out into the temporal lobe), seem to encircle or border the base of the forebrain. He imagined that this border, “placed at the entrance and exit of the cerebral hemisphere,” was like the threshold of a door; hence, the term limbic, the Latin for threshold being ‘limen’. Through evolutionary adaptation and embryological development, this bilaterally duplicated region has become a tangled semicircle of stretched fiber tracts and widely separated relay centers. In 1937, James Papez came up with a brilliant hypothesis for the function of this mysterious archaic ‘lobe.’ He proposed that it was the exclusive neural circuit underlying emotions. The Papez ‘circuit’ includes cingulate and parahippocampal gyri, hippocampus and amygdala, olfactory bulb, septal and pre-optic nuclei, and their various extensive connections. [16] In 1952 McLean termed it the limbic system. Various studies have highlighted or imply neurological sites for several core emotions. (The following and subsequent examples of basic research have been highly selected by me.)

Zero feeling tone: Temporal lobe ablation by Kluver and Bucy (1955) produced a syndrome of psychic blindness—monkeys devoid of emotion. [17] This result drew attention to the importance of the amygdala (A) in coordinating emotions. Electrical stimulation of the amygdala has subsequently given mixed and equivocal results. Lesions of this area also include disorders of memory—an important collateral effect.

Relief of anxiety: In the early 1960’s it was shown that major sedatives potentiate the inhibiting effects of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma amino butyric acid). More recently it was shown that barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and alcohol share similar action sites, corresponding with the limbic system and amygdala. [18] Carboline, which has the opposite effect of tranquilizers, inducing intense anxiety and panic, inhibits GABA at the same limbic neurotransmitter sites.

Sadness: I found no special studies of areas or fiber tracts that specifically mediate pure sadness! However, experiments on the uptake of labeled sugar measured by scanning techniques, various neurotransmitters, SRI-antidepressants, and endorphin distribution all point to the limbic system or brainstem pain centers.

The limbic system is definitely involved in emotions, but Papez was not entirely right. The idea that there is a distinct limbic system exclusively for emotion, just as there is a clear-cut visual pathway for visual perception, is very attractive, but over the last 50 years, it increasingly appears that “this is a case of a beautiful theory at the mercy of some very stubborn facts.” Nevertheless, it is still useful to think of a functional limbic system in terms of a core with many internal and outlying integrative centers. The borders of this system are not sharp, and the system overlaps with many other systems.

Encircled by the limbic system is the hypothalamus (H) which is the central (key) node of another important system which neuroscientists have spent considerable effort studying. A series of structures extending from frontal lobe cortex to hypothalamus and through to the reticular formation, (RF)-arousal, are all tied together by the medial forebrain bundle (MFB). Connecting up from below are the locus ceruleus (with more ‘anxiety’ connections per cell than any other part of the brain!) and nerve centers for facial expression and bodily posture. Again, central to this MFB-axis or continuum is the hypothalamus (as noted above) which, among other functions, subserves mating, eating and drinking.

The pleasure center: In seminal research in 1954 Olds and Milner demonstrated and introduced the phenomenon of rewarding effects through self-stimulation in rats in areas associated with the MFB. [19] Kamiya, working with operant conditioning in 1968, enabled human subjects to bring their own EEG waves to a subjectively desirable level and thereby experience concurrent ‘serenity.’ [20] More recently, neurosurgical patients receiving electrical stimulation along the MFB-axis have reported inner subjective feelings of pleasure and euphoria.

Internal biological sources of human pleasure stem from the relief of cravings, that is, passion accompanying physical sex, contentment after eating, and from the relief provided by shelter and warmth after exposure to the cold. An often overlooked source of pleasure is the ‘aha’ reaction of recognition that occurs when incoming perception meets stored memory. This ability in lower animals is probably linked with the so-called primordial alarm reaction and hence has survival value. In humans it enables us to process vast amounts of memory unconsciously, leading to plucking associations ‘out of thin air’ and other remarkable things.

The whole MFB-axis roughly coincides with the reptilian brain. One of its main outputs, via the vagus nerve and sympathetic ganglia, is the autonomic nervous system or ANS. The autonomic nervous system mediates the visceral (bodily) expression of emotion. It consists of two parts, sympathetic and parasympathetic, continuously and automatically on, sometimes alternately, usually working quite outside of awareness, in parallel with the conscious, voluntary nervous system. The parasympathetic component of the ANS runs and monitors quiet vegetative states, especially the sequences of digesting food. During sleep it takes over life support. The sympathetic side of the ANS alerts and readies us for danger—with tensed muscles to flee or fight with, rapid heart beat and increased deep breathing to provide an extra supply of oxygen, increase of pupil size the better to see with, flushing or paling of skin, and many other urgently required bodily changes necessary for the confrontation of danger. The sympathetic NS runs the fight-flight-freeze, fear-anger, alarm reaction. When the alarm reaction is triggered the parasympathetic side temporarily rests or shuts down. Seminal studies:

Fear and rage: Walter Cannon was the first to demonstrate sham rage, postural bristling and hissing, in cats by ablating the forebrain region. Next, electrical stimulation of the cat hypothalamus by W. R. Hess in 1928 (Germany) produced defensive behavior including expressions of fear as well as rage!

Disgust: The area postrema of the brain is very special in that it has no blood-brain barrier. Here, toxic substances have direct access to the nearby vomiting center or CTZ (chemoreceptor trigger zone of Zietz). Also nearby is the taste area (the long solitary tract nucleus) which in turn is richly connected with the MFB-axis (and limbic lobe), which in turn receives and elaborates frontal cortical cognitive messages. Thus, through these overlapping distributed systems there is a solid neurological foundation for the feeling of disgust—and, ipso facto, its more complex psychic extrapolations.

Thus, there is a series of phylogenetically ancient structures extending along an axial continuum from the midbrain to the hypothalamus and into the basal forebrain. It follows the route of the medial forebrain bundle. It is concerned not only with visceral motor functions but also with related displays of motor behavior expressing emotion. By this means is achieved the coordination of visceral output to inner organs and somatic output to striated muscles (posture and facial expression) that is required for the expression of emotional-type behavior. These displays need the coordinated action of other brain centers, likewise ancient, and collectively called the limbic system, which physically encircles the hypothalamus. Some of these limbic centers, such as the amygdala and the cingulate gyrus, are closely related to the core MFB system, caudate (motor) nucleus, and the olfactory bulb (smell). Others, such as the hippocampus and parts of the thalamus (sensation) and midbrain, are related in limited, though specific ways, such as in memory, vision, hearing, etc. Each of these reptilian and equine regions acts as a nodal point in a distributed system, processing unique combinations of inputs and sending this information to unique output sites. Emotions are triggered by some external or internal event—an outside threat, an inner craving, a pleasant or unpleasant memory. Neurology suggests and validates a model of core feelings. The added role of the simian brain with its raw intelligent cortex can only be surmised—as monkeys can’t talk. Of course they show—more intensely!—all of the observable ‘equine’ effects of experiments on emotion. The concept of overlapping distributed systems involving several brain areas in the generation of feeling and in emotional expression is the best way of describing the vogue in neurological thinking. Now, try to answer Shakespeare’s pensive question, Tell me where is fancie bred, Or in the heart or in the head?

Complex emotions

 An arbitrary doctrine encompassing ‘four temperaments’ defined all of Hippocratic (Ancient Greek) and Galenic (Roman) medicine. It posited four elements—earth, air, fire, and water—along with their hot, cold, wet and dry properties and associated temperaments. This ancient doctrine pervaded medical theory and practice from Greco-Roman times well into the 19th Century. At right we see a diagram of this doctrine adapted from Stedman’s Medical Dictionary. [21] The temperaments—sanguine, melancholic, phlegmatic and choleric—were based on the so-called ‘body humors’ (blood, bile, etc.).

        These very old, emotionally-tinged words still are a peculiar part of modern everyday speech: A sanguine person (Hamlet’s friend Horatio?) exudes happiness and enthusiasm; a melancholy person is sad, serious, and orderly, striving for perfection in all things; the phlegmatic person is seen as calm and peaceful, reconciled to life; and a choleric person readily blows off steam, is a powerful leader, always right, knowing everything. [22] Maybe there still is something to all this?!

The ancients were indeed as good as any medieval scholastic or modern psychologist at devising constructs! Having looked at the core simple feelings and the attempt of the ancients to rationalize complexity in terms of temperaments, we must now ask how higher, more complex feelings, such as love and hate and jealousy or loyalty and patriotism, really come about. The simplest response is that they came about along with speech. That is, as shown below, complex emotions are simple feelings wrapped in words (thoughts and ideas):

Complex emotions are cognitively constructed. They have a core of raw basic feelings layered with and modified (cognitively) by socially engendered thoughts—memories of the past and anticipation of the future—like layers of an onion. That is, complex emotion = (F+T1,2,3…)n.

Metaphorically, “…higher emotions are really cocktails of socially valuable ideas, laced with a ‘raw’ (feeling) for extra punch.” [23] In order to fully understand this idea, we first need to clearly distinguish between thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and feelings are very different. Thoughts are of the intellect, the cerebral cortex. Like a digital computer, thoughts and speech are intermittent, on and off. They come and go. But any feeling, when stirred, is continuous, flowing. FEs, in effect, are analog, like the sweeping second hand of a watch. As we have seen, they stem from a completely different part of the brain, the archaic limbic system and very ‘low-level’ brainstem axis. As Nietzsche once said: Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings—always darker, emptier and simpler.

This important cognitive concept can be explained step by historical step. [24] Starting with the diagram, in lower animals (A) outside events or inner appetites trigger immediate emotional behavior in almost a linear sequence. Humans (H) have language and thought. Thoughts and core feelings combine and intertwine as complex FEs. Circular feedback loops between thoughts and feelings exist as shown. Human emotional expression may be sudden and animal-like, delayed, restrained, or elaborate and esthetically creative. “…feeling’s the truth.” And then came along speech making the voluntary expression of feeling-as-words a sometimes different matter—complex cognitive emotion. Complex emotions are products of learning and communication: social ‘evolution’—through a glass darkly.

Over millions of years, biological evolution, layer by layer, built the prototype juicy animal brain that thinks only in simple images and manufactures raw emotions for survival (fight-anger, flight-fear). Evolution eventually built in a propensity for language and the human brain became a feeling-machine that also thinks and remembers—in meaningful words (as well as images). The brain became a memory-machine with ideas, sown and activated by words. This then, speech and the use of words, is the most essential difference between animals and man. Now, it is readily seen why some animal studies of emotion cannot be extrapolated directly to humans. The ‘aha’ reaction of recognition enables a single word to dredge up a whole net of emotional associations. The nearness of the temporal lobe and the emotional circuits is not by architectural chance. A perception or experience associated with emotion is more likely to be processed into memory than one without. The stronger the emotion the better the events are tagged for later recognition as distinct from relatively inefficient recall.

Social ‘evolution,’ i.e., cultural history, did the rest in the relative wink of an eye. With the advent of symbolic language and the gradual accumulation of words, mankind altered its own brain function! Words, and the ideas they embrace, yanked us out of a perpetual present of raw sensations into a world of self awareness. Words let us create history and a concept of future. Around this new kind of past, present and future, accretions of word-ideas layered themselves on top of core feelings. The seven simple biological FEs, that we looked at in the psychological-physiological model, could now expand to become potentially infinite in number and very complex in nature. Thus, simple fears now become complicated worries and hopes. For example, tied together with words, fear and anger become jealousy or paranoia, vengeance and justice. Basic pleasure becomes pride, patriotism and esthetic taste. Empty sadness and grief, colored with fond memories, becomes ‘sweet sorrow.’ In a background of loss, sadness tinged with hopelessness may emerge as clinical depression, worsened by neurochemical changes.

ATTACHMENT AND LOSS: Simple, core emotions are the object of physiological experiments. Higher feelings and emotions like love and hate make for eternal poetic flights of fancy or become the raw material of innumerable (and sometimes scholastically ugly) philosophical essays (which I hope this one isn’t).

A unique cluster of special complex FEs—love, hate, jealousy, and grief—is extremely important. This group of complex feelings is loosely interconnected through the key processes of attachment, loss, and rejection. Raw lust aspires to love, romantic or poetic. And, as we shall explain, disgust at another person may become hate, but self-disgust is shame. An understanding of these complex emotions obviously is very important to therapists. In the paragraphs that follow we will touch upon lust and love, disgust, hate and shame, and the fear of loss attendant upon grief in jealousy.

LUST AND LOVE: Basic appetites, colored by thoughts from the cortex, provide us with whole ranges of higher pleasures in fine cooking and wine, hardly to speak of the varieties of love. Far more than material things, however, friendship and loving intimacy—as long as it is a happy two-way street, a byproduct of social success—is the most important source of human pleasure.

Explaining love is a de-muddling task. Love very often is encrusted with religious assertions and prohibitions. But the poetic imagination may mollify it. Philosophical speculation on love has abounded: Plato described an ideal and selfless platonic love—with homoerotic overtones so characteristic of ancient Greece. Ovid, a Roman realist, wrote of lusty heterosexual love; he offered advice on makeup and other tricks to catch a lover. Modern ‘romantic’ love, the very first concession to women’s rights, emerged and became stylized in medieval times; a truly revolutionary guide book on courtly love was actually ghost-written by a woman and fronted by a priest. [25]

These social-historical ideas, encrusted layer by layer upon one another (as shown in the next diagram), are the underpinnings of all modern Western notions of lust-love. Bertrand Russell, the philosopher-mathematician, expanded upon lust-love in a small book describing brotherly, parental and other varieties of love and affection.

The sighs and rituals of love-sickness and attendant follies have entire plays, novels and movies in their honor. Science (and psychiatry) rounds things out, as we’ll see, by unraveling the chemical and developmental interplay of lust and love. Adding scientific fact to the mix seems audacious if not anticlimactic. Common sense logic can clarify much also. Lust, played up or down, is the basic raw appetite. Love, whatever kind, is the complex feeling.

Love’s beginnings have a chicken-egg quality: First comes mother-infant attachment, founded in evolution. Care by a mammalian mother for her offspring is essential to the survival of a species. It is also the prototype of all bonding. Vis., breast feeding is not only a crucial source of infant nutrition but is a neurologically determined attachment behavior between mother and infant; there is a clear ‘labeled line’ between an infant’s sense of smell (of the mother’s breast) and the infant’s brain. Other infant attachment behaviors include eye contact through facial recognition (the eye-nose T-shaped configuration face-on) and cuddling. All fundamental attachment behaviors are basically hard-wired rather than learned. [26] The initial emotional attachment between mother and child may be translated later on into a complex propensity for prolonged spousal bonding, interpreted as ‘the joy of love,’ which further ensures species survival—as well as much individual misery. With maturity love starts within an individual and then is fostered or rejected from outside. One cannot demand love any more than one insist upon spontaneity; it is by its very nature spontaneous. After simple lust comes complex love. [27] Beneath all sexual love, attraction and attachment have a complete spectrum of love chemicals: 1) the male and female sex hormones, 2) the pheromones (attractants), 3) oxytocin (conferring relaxed satisfaction—the ‘cuddle’ chemical), and 4) the endorphins and phenyl-ethyl amine (PEA) (which cause euphoria and goofy behavior.) Incidentally, the latter substances are truly addictive; separation, rejection and deprivation result in a painful abstinence syndrome quite correctly called ‘love-sickness.’ Chemistry is real! The long and the short of it is that love as a higher, complex state of feeling has become encrusted with myriad words. The idea of love is a complex product of social ‘evolution’ that is constantly changing.

ANGER AND HATE—their distinctive origins and ends: Anger and hate to little children are as confusing as sex and love to teenagers. When they say, “I hate you!” children really mean, “I’m angry at you!” In family and children’s work it is wise to pick up on and clarify this seemingly small point.

We all know how hard it is not to show disgust when we encounter something disgusting. We can also feel that way towards another person. When we reject another we may feel disgust for, and even nausea, at the sight or thought of that other. Then, repellent words and ideas begin to encircle the core feeling of disgust. Disgust operates when we are doing the rejecting. Perhaps it is necessary to be nauseated by someone in order to whip up enough hate to reject him. Disgust is a precursor of hate. At any rate, hate is a complex species of disgust. It can lead to anger, but there is no necessary connection. You can feel hatred for someone without feeling anger; you can feel angry with someone you do not hate.

Shame is a feeling of self-disgust, rejection of one’s own self. Inner feelings covered in thought are tied into one’s self esteem (How I feel about myself, Do others like me? Am I OK?) and body image (how I see myself, physically). A favorable self esteem engendered during childhood can sustain a person through years of later trials and tribulations. How grateful we should be to good and loving parents! If one’s inner feelings and their emotional expression are generally above the core feeling model’s horizontal line, it is fair to assume that body image and self esteem are intact. Conversely, if one’s feeling tone is largely on or below the line, SE and BI come into question. Obviously, low self esteem and poor body image feed into and adversely affect emotional affect.

JEALOUSY: Shakespeare dealt with jealousy in Othello, his truly classical play about an African general who contracted to take on the defense of Venice. [28] Jealousy is an extremely complex, usually noxious emotion with underlying feelings of sadness and loss (real or imagined), anxiety and anger, combined with much more extensive cognitive components, past memories and lingering hopes.

Cognitive formula: past misery/loss  + present insecure mistrust + future uncertainty = jealousy

As with disgust, jealousy involves social learning and memory. Just as hate has to do with the active rejection of another, jealousy has to do with real or imagined rejection by another. Both jealousy and hate, along with grief, are the negative sides of affection and love. While hate is notably pain free, grief and jealousy are subjectively very painful. Grief usually goes away, but jealousy stays. Virtually every human being has felt jealous and a bit of jealousy can occur in many perfectly normal relationships.

A POTPOURRI OF COMPLEXITY: As we have seen, while pure thought is distinct from basic feeling, we intertwine them to create complex emotions. When a complicated and abstract thought or idea is merely tinted around the edges with feeling, what then do we have? A very complex feeling? Or a complex thought tinged with incidental feeling? That is for the reader to decide.

Other questions: Are the temperaments what now would be scientifically termed complex emotions? I would say yes. Guilt? Is it really a true feeling, or can we only have guilty thoughts, which, in turn, stimulate the production of certain unpleasant feelings and emotions including the illness of depression? Certainly, guilt is one of the most cognitively encumbered varieties of ’emotion.’ Hope is a complicated feeling-idea that has built-in optimism. It is opposed to pessimistic apprehension in which thought of the future is tinged with fearful, hurtful memories of the past. Worry combines both past memories of uncertainty and present and future apprehensions. The seven deadly sins (lust, envy, pride, greed, sloth, gluttony and wrath), the source of so much guilt (at least in bygone times), may be seen as either complex emotions or elaborate ideas with strong feeling-tone.

Speech and the communication of ideas enables humans to manufacture such higher FEs as loyalty and patriotism, which are encrusted in cognitive nuances. E.g., the ‘American dream.’ Is the pursuit of happiness truly a dream? Or a hopeless, never-ending quest. [29] Whatever the answer to that question, it is probably best to cultivate and greet happiness as an ongoing intermittent pleasure rather than as a goal in and of itself. Others? Artistic enjoyment, vanity, humor, and honor. These idea-emotions cannot occur in lower animals as they have no language. But, they are locked into purer emotions that connect with the present only. (So, I think my dog can harbor anticipation (hope?) of a walk. A future-concept without words?!)

COMPOUND OR MIXED EMOTIONS: Feelings in the literary sense are metaphorical. Artists and poets, painting with a fine brush (color or words), long did the best job with them. [30] Shakespeare wrote about “sweet sorrow,” a mixture of sadness and pleasure bathed in erstwhile thought. One might write a poem about fearful-joy-and-excitement; that’s what we seek on a roller-coaster ride. Or, how about melancholy rage? I sometimes feel serene-sadness while trying to teach skills that I know must be earned by students through hard experience. Can such ever be taught? [31] Most depressions are laced with guilt; hopeless-disgust is a variant that amazingly responds better to simple Gravol than to an SRI. [32] The ‘mix’ between primary feelings highlights the unique human quality of splitting affect. [33] Complex mixed feelings are not abnormal; we can consciously harbor irritation over a teenager’s antics with pride for his or her accomplishments; and we can combine affection and disgust while changing a baby’s diaper. If, however, opposed feelings get isolated and hidden from each other, if we act one way one time and the other way the next, it is abnormal. The term for this latter, ambivalence, is very common in mental illness. But not always:

The lullaby, Rockaby Baby, is a good example of sane ambivalence. A mother croons a soothing song that first expresses her well-wishes for her baby to have a nice sleep in a treetop—when the wind blows the cradle will rock. Then, her murderous unconscious thoughts are expressed as, when the bough breaks the cradle will fall, and down will crash baby cradle and all. Most new mothers wouldn’t be aware of or admit to harboring both abusive and nurturing feelings side by side. They can be there, however, and this lullaby is wise old folk lore to that effect.

Complex emotions accumulate in historical time. They do not evolve biologically! Higher feelings and emotions are socially engendered, encrusted with time-linked thoughts—word-ideas—which are taught, learned. Higher FEs are layered like an onion-skin: feelings stimulated by thoughts, thoughts stimulated by feelings, thoughts encrusted with feelings. Put yet another way, complex emotional expression is core feeling wrapped in words and thoughts. (The sequence is immaterial—except in Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy which posits that thinking precedes feeling.) As the ‘evolution’ of culture progresses, the social warehouse of complex and commonly shared emotions will undoubtedly expand almost endlessly. Just as the propensity for speech is 1) genetically inherited through biological evolution and 2) specific language is learned through environmental serendipity, so 1) simple core feelings are few and genetically determined and 2) complex FEs are constantly changing social-historical elaborations. Earlier, we sought an escape from premature flights into theoretical psychobiology through physiology. Never more. Words to the psychologist are as numbers to a physicist. Cognitive science and information communication through complex emotions are as valid as any ‘big bang’ theory. Psychobiologists never need feel inferior to theoretical physicists. Theorize ad infinitum! [34] [35] [36] But, and this may now be obvious, it is impossible to design a single clinical test to measure complex FEs as I did for simple FEs.


The communication of feeling

Dealing with emotions as information to be communicated helps us avoid the reification trap. [38] We must remember, however, that all feelings are essentially internal neurological events. Any one or a mixture of the basic feelings can, theoretically, wind up suddenly like a blaring klaxon horn and fade away slowly like an air-raid siren inside our head—sometimes without anyone else’s knowing. But the practical basis of emotion is communication of inner feelings between people. Communication theory [39] [40] is a study in itself. Fundamental to all communication, emotional and cognitive, are several basic premises (or are they genuine hypotheses?):

1. COMMUNICATION IS EVER-PRESENT. Tits or ‘that is to say,’

1.1 One cannot NOT communicate. Even silence (between people) is a message.

1.2 Direct communication is between two people. A third person is always ‘odd man out.’


2.1 Information traverses several channels (auditory, visual, smell, etc.) and way-stations (voice box, ear) between source and destination (sender’s brain—receiver’s brain). It can be corrupted in transit and upon reception misinterpreted.

2.2 Thus, message sent is not necessarily message received. (Nor is message sent necessarily intended.)


3.1 It is always at two parallel levels: 1. A content message and 2. A contextual relational metamessage. The relational component may be emotional (I love you.), command (Go!), or plea (Help?). Content and relational levels are simultaneously present. Either may be primary.

3.2 It is comprised of two message modes: 1. Digital (verbal speech) and 2. Analog (nonverbal-kinesic). The digital mode is cortical-intellectual. The nonverbal-kinesic mode is of old-brain or limbic origin, hence relational-emotional—as gestures, posture, facial expression, tone of voice.

3.3 Messages and relational metamessages may or may not correspond. Thus, congruent harmony, while usual, is not assured; contradictions and paradoxes (binds) occur. Perverse binds may adversely affect one or all of thinking, feeling, and acting.


4.1 It is nonlinear, i.e., circular, with feedback. The feedback acts as both a cybernetic control and behavioral reinforcement. Hence it is more complex and powerful than a simple SR linear sequences.

4.2 It has punctuation that organizes sequence—starting and endpoints. Over time, as in an infinitely oscillating series, punctuation may become spurious in practical reality. I.e., who starts what is irrelevant.

4.3 Its interpersonal context is either symmetrical (egalitarian) or complementary (one-up, one-down, i.e., authority-dependency), at any one time, with parametric, back and forth, safety switches. Difficulty in this area is inherent in power issues. If one person defines a relationship as one-up while the other sees it as equal, metacomplementary trouble (a serious dysfunction) is afoot.

4.4 Communication systems gone awry tend to chase around in vicious circles which can trigger or induce distressing emotions. In vicious circles cybernetic control is the breakdown. Thus, relationships do not self-correct as readily as diseased or damaged tissue heals. 


5.1 Communication ensures species survival and progress. (In this respect it is similar to genetic transfer.) Lower animals use old-brain smell and clear kinesic emotional displays and usually do not get mentally ill, symbolically!; humans, in addition are verbal, lexical and technical, and thus can display frustrating contradictory and paradoxical tendencies—along with humor, powerful originality and amazing creativity.

5.2 The law of conservation of mass-energy maintains bio-system viability. But information as memory forms its fragile functional content, communication being a major process. Distinct from the genetic code, social communication is both immediate, bridging the spatial distance between people, or delayed (as in books), spanning time.

5.3 The information in communication decays with time—memory can fail or distort, books get moldy and rot. Thus, the process of information transmission and storage is very closely linked to the Second Law of Thermodynamics (the inevitable drift towards entropy, disorganized chaos). Social systems and marital-family interaction are primarily based upon information-communication and this second law.  [42]

Empathy or skill at reading into, trying to understand what or how another feels is very important in all kinds of relationships in every walk of life. Especially in therapy (of all kinds) the communication of feelings—their accurate transmission, reception and feedback—and their practical social effects are of paramount importance. [43]

EXPRESSION: As we have seen, indicators of our inner feeling-state either blare forth or subtly trickle out to ‘escape.’ Individuals vary, but a threshold is reached where private feeling becomes involuntary public emotion through vocalization, posture, and facial expression. This nonverbal or kinesic mode is continuous, and we can hardly help it.

Thoughts and feelings are generated and sent out simultaneously over two distinct channels: verbal and kinesic. One is always the metamessage to the other, modifying it. Actions can communicate feelings directly, while words are colored by facial expression, gestures, tone of voice, etc.

An emotional paradox: Analog communication, i.e., nonverbal emotional output, possesses the semantics, but has no adequate syntax (technical value) for the unambiguous definition of the nature of a relationship. That is, people misread and misinterpret emotional displays while trying to translate them into meaningful words. On the other hand, the digital mode—words (except in the hands of poets)—is woefully deficient in expressing emotion. The glaring defect of digital verbal expression is that it lacks adequate semantics (meaning value) in the field of relationships. To emphasize, words are hopelessly deficient in accurately conveying feelings. (We’re not all poets, but most of us surely can do better than uttering an obfuscation like “He has attitude, I’m upset, I’m not happy, stressed out,” etc.) All messages at the very same instant combine both digital and analog components, and thus, all messages, but emotionally charged ones in particular, are varyingly 1) congruent (clear and direct), 2) ambiguous, 3) contradictory, or 4) paradoxical. Put another way, the two modes can harmonize or clash. While some emotional displays may be explicit, their interpretation by the recipient is often badly flawed. Control and feedback suffers. Relationships suffer.

Voluntary displays (even talk) of one’s own feelings may be intrusive and unwelcome except when confined to a psychiatrist’s couch. When we habitually over-display, we may be considered emotionally unstable; if we under-display we are labeled repressed, up-tight, etc. If we talk too much about how we feel, we become bores. Otherwise, public expression of emotion may be happily achieved through sport, poetry, singing, art, and drama. Or, by straightforward, honest declarations in ordinary civilized language.

Transmission Reception Feedback

All FEs, positive and negative, may be exchanged in several combined ways along two axes (direct-indirect, clear-masked) containing four quadrants. [44] This representation, demonstrated specifically for anger, is explained in the next few paragraphs.

1) Clear and direct: It may be emotionally healthy to pop our adversary on the jaw or yell and scream and stamp our feet, but it is obviously more civil to express anger with a calm statement such as “what you are doing makes me angry because…”

2) Clear but indirect: Unless one is skilled in wordplay it is socially ‘healthier’ to contain anger, to ‘displace’ it onto a punching bag or in a vigorous sport or in an active house cleaning.

3) Masked: ‘Loaded’ words, deftly used, can directly convey all shades of feeling in an under-handed, ‘crooked’ way. E.g., some people express anger directly in a barely disguised fashion through cutting wit and sarcasm—as in roasts.

4) It is generally true that negative feelings that are habitually masked and suppressed may be translated into psychosomatic problems, but rage, based in suspicion that is repressed and then projected, may become paranoiac. [45]

The rare person who has both empathy (the ability to feel and put oneself in another’s place, and compassionately feed such back) and who has a good share of intuition (the ability to discern the hidden and essential truthful nature, or dishonesty, of another), is often as good as any polygraph, and will be able to pick up the feelings of the most stony-faced person amongst us. [46]

The polygraph (lie-detector in police hands) attempts to reveal truth, expose lies—duplicate intuition—with gadgets that get at physiological autonomic changes by measuring heart rate, blood pressure, electrical skin resistance, etc. The lie-detector, in essence, tries to trip up the simian brain by monitoring the output of the reptilian/horse brain! In short, it gauges FE escape.

It is noteworthy that deception is to humans as camouflage is to lower animals. That is, the ability to deceive may confer a genetic advantage. Paradoxically, often the best liars are worst at picking others out. Be that as it may, there are some very skilled liars (con artists) and the rest of us amateurs. Some nonverbal cues to lying (steadiness of eye contact, specific body movements, etc.) are only partially understood by most people who, when lying, attempt to control them with greater or lesser success. Most ‘nonverbal leakage’ that truly gives away lying is uncontrollable because it is deeply and truly emotional.

Slow motion films of people engaged in lying reveal that bursts of facial activity interrupt deceptive expressions. These bursts of truth last less than one fifth of a second and are known as micromomentary expressions. The smiling person we know is hostile proves the case with micromoments of sheer contempt showing on film. The stony faced, but otherwise loving, old aunt displays micromoments of affectionate warmth. As has been noted, feeling’s the truth! The problem is that we cannot see and detect these fleeting moments in real life. (To my knowledge no police force has yet added slow motion filming to its other polygraph paraphernalia. Maybe security people should consider this. It’s certainly better than torturing out ‘truth.’)

Recent studies have discovered mirror neurons on each side of the brain that internally replay observations of outside movements of others and tie in with our inner associated emotions. The empathy center? I don’t know but that would be a good name for these mirror neurons. Intuitive feeling is much faster than having to figure people out with pure intellect. But intuition is not always completely

accurate and we shouldn’t judge too soon. Women, who traditionally are reported as pretty good at intuition, certainly having an edge over the average male, should be careful in its use. It should be used with caution, especially if we are angry or jealous. Even though inherently flawed, our sensibilities are a very fine gauge of the status of other people. Going a step further—our feeling for other’s feelings helps us fine-tune our relationships. Aside from evolutionary survival, this is probably the most important use of feeling in a civilized social sense. In fact, sensitive use of our feelings increases our social intelligence.

A communication tool to take home

In a paper like this it would be a cruel oversight not to show you the very best way to get at another’s hurt feelings and do some good at the same time. The so-called reflection of feeling, which I shall describe, was pioneered at a branch of the Hospital For Sick Children (Thistletown-Warrendale) Toronto, a countryside place for extremely disturbed children. What works for them is bound to work for anyone. Among other modalities, I used the reflection of feeling for over 50 years with singular success.

When people feel like dumping it is hard to stop them. On the other hand, if a concerned person asks about or points out feelings, a lot of people, including children, clam right up—particularly if the feeling is anything but happiness. And some even deny that. Certainly, anger is the most commonly denied feeling. In short, some people dump feelings indiscriminately, while others may need help expressing them. So, how can we deliver feelings as safely as a doctor does a baby—in a therapeutic, non-reifying, ‘hygienic’ way? One method, tried and true, borrowed from child psychiatry, is the reflection of feeling. But before examining it, let’s see how not to elicit feelings. Mind-picking and mind-reading are two noxious approaches commonly used by parents, teachers, and police. Neither is much recommended.

Mind-picking: In therapy any comment or sentence with a question mark at its end, is mind picking. “Aren’t you upset? Are you angry? You’re depressed—aren’t you? Scared?” It is hard to convey compassion in a question. If a person is sad and depressed, the question, “You’re depressed, aren’t you?” is an overt intrusion. “You ought to see a shrink” will be next, and that is a gross insult. In the hands of teachers mind-picking is basically quizzing—“What is the sum of 2 + 2?” It is quite expected, appropriate and innocuous. Doctors have the unique license to ask questions about body systems, but if a patient has a mild cough it is inappropriate and insensitive to dig right into, say, sex life. Or into private feelings. In the hands of police mind-picking is interrogation: “We know you did it! You’re guilty, aren’t you?” Because interrogation is essentially accusatory, fraught with potential dangers to human rights, its use must be prefaced with a legal warning. To have legal counsel during police interrogation is a hard-won right.

Mind-reading: Nobody can really read minds. But some parents almost can. And some people think they can. All parents indulge in mind-reading and very small children expect it. “I know you’re not feeling well. You’re upset, angry, bad…” Who else will miraculously know how I am, if my parents don’t? But parents and parents only, with their implicit-explicit love and acceptance, are the only people with a privilege to ‘read’ immature minds. And even then it must never be done with such words as stupid and bad. Saying, “You’re angry, You’re upset, You’re cranky,” is OK when tendered gently. Such observations discharge an essential parental task. They teach their child to understand and clearly label his/her own feelings, as well as commiserating and helping the child to cope with them. But by saying this sort of thing to other adults, people impose an awfully irritating familiarity—attempting to read another person’s mind is quite impossible to do outside of the parental framework in childhood and, to boot, is inherently offensive. Even the most compassionate rendition of “you are angry” is a presumptuous put-down that more often sounds like an accusation, and if not meant that way comes across that way. If the other person really is angry the statement “You’re angry” will make them even angrier. Minds cannot really be well read. Summing up, no one, not even children (certainly as they get older), likes a stranger or anyone to read their mind—unless they are paying a psychic to do so. 

Everyone almost intuitively dislikes these clumsy mind-reading and mind-picking ways. Used in what should be a compassionate setting, therapy, they are intrinsically authoritarian and insensitive—by definition slipshod. “You’re angry, aren’t you? You’re depressed.” In the face of such queries and assertions children and adults, both, tend to clam up when they should open up. Both mind reading and mind picking in the mouth of a therapist bespeak a temporary lapse of polite thoughtfulness at best, incompetence at worst. To sum up, any assertion is mind reading and any query is mind picking. Both will do more harm than good when used in therapy to dig for feelings.

And now we come to the one tried and true method of properly getting at and getting out locked up feelings, namely, the reflection of feeling. Doctors and therapists have a timely responsibility to dig into patients’ feelings—but only appropriately. Everyone should approach anyone, not only children, in the gentlest way possible. A kindly and well-designed reflection of feeling enables it, vis.,

You seem as if you’re upset. You look as if you’re a bit down.

You act as if you are sad, scared, irritated, disgusted. Et cetera.

The key use of as if: Syntactically, the crucial as if phrase gives the patient, especially a very upset child, a face-saving, comfortable temporary way out if not yet ready to open up and talk. It enables the hurting person to deny private feelings until they feel safe in acknowledging them. A patient might at first grump (lie), I’m OK! meaning, Leave me alone. But that is OK too—for now. The as if phrase always makes it possible and permissible for a therapist (or any concerned friend for that matter) to come back to the subject at another time.

The tone of voice (metamessage) accompanying the words must be gentle, compassionate and accepting. One’s posture and facial expression must harmonize to convey concern and interest. Sit back relaxed and open—with arms apart and palms up. Don’t make this openness too obvious.

For once mild euphemisms are permissible, even desirable, when trying to tap into anger! Use the word ‘irritated’ instead of the word ‘angry’. In most cultures the admission of anger will be denied even if the person is foaming at the mouth. Use ‘upset’ at other times. This use of words is tactful on the part of the therapist and face-saving for patients. Use your discretion about semantics.

Use of reflection of feeling is primarily a therapeutic tool for eliciting blocked or unlabelled feelings. Reflection of feeling is also helpful in everyday adult social intercourse. If you are not too obvious about it, in addition to opening up wider vistas of other people’s minds, it will subtly leave them with warm feelings about you. Reflection of feeling is a clinical technique that takes practice. It must be tried over and over again with gentle patience and persistence, with an expectation for and acceptance of repeated temporary failures. In the long run, however, the method does work. When hurt feelings that are denied or suppressed are finally acknowledged and clearly labeled, perhaps with some emotive ventilation in the process, the door to subsequent discussion and real change in behavior is opened. Thus, this empathic labeling is not just diagnostic, it is therapeutic. It is healing by its very nature—for it conveys, in an acceptable way, that someone understands and cares.

There are some cautions to bear in mind: Encouraging the release of pent-up feeling, as in time-honored ‘ventilation’ therapy, may give rapid temporary relief in crisis situations, but is not generally recommended. Normal grief and ‘dry’ depressions are exceptions and the very constricted person may be cautiously coached to be normally, socially expressive. ‘Getting it all out’ indiscriminately, however, especially deep-seated rage, may sometimes be quite dangerous. The brittle, poorly controlled, internally roiling, frustrated (postal) worker might just translate rage into action. The same with loner high school students. It is well to heed the old surgeon’s adage, “If you are going to open up someone’s belly, make sure you can get back out before you start cutting.” The same applies to someone’s mind. It is fact: people who habitually act out in rage can start misbehaving after dumping. If opened up, they not only need to be heard out, but to be taught to contain it.


Purposes of FEs—answering Spock

Pure reason is devoid of feeling and vice versa. Is either possible? Basic raw drives along with their own unique feeling tones—cravings for food or lust for sex—tend to activate pure and simple feelings such as pleasure or pain. Blaring fear and rage, or retched disgust are reactions to alien, outside factors. Our more complex and rich emotions—love, hate, jealousy, loyalty, patriotism—being cognitive elaborations derived from memories, thoughts and ideas, by comparison are like rich cultural chords, indeed whole symphonies. When the cortical gray matter orchestrates with the brain’s limbic system we can appreciate the higher pleasures of life—music and art and literature. Or, we can experience the aesthetics of true love. On the other hand, when the brain stem connects with the limbic system true lust replaces love. In a sense then, lust and being ‘in love’ are the same, joined by feeling, pure lust being at the bottom of the mind, wordy, romantic, selfless love in its ethereal attic. Is it no wonder that Freud traced almost everything back to sex!

In intimate marital or family relationships contentment and warmth are natural byproducts of attachment and protection. Excessive anger, fear and disgust are natural signals of noxious substances, frightening physical events, and predatory dangers. They are natural danger signals of alien infringement and do not belong in intimate relationships. Their strong presence in that context is a clear signal of dysfunctional abnormality. That aside, we now conclude with a brief summary of the purposes, or far better (to avoid the notion of teleology) the positive functions, of emotion:

1. Physical survival: Emotions, via basic drives (THSS) and the emergency alarm reaction (fear-rage), ensured survival of the species. More immediately yet, other raw feelings, as in disgust or sensing physical pain, help protect us from a sometimes noxious environment; we retch and vomit up distasteful and dangerous substances; we pull our finger away from a hot stove. In the social-psychic sense, we protect ourselves by withdrawing from or rejecting noxious others.

2. Simple FEs fine-tune relationships: That is, the ability to pick up another’s subtle emotional signals and act tactfully in return, fine-tunes all social relationships faster than words ever could. This fine-tuning saves marriages. It makes family life fun. And, notably, a finely tuned eye and ear for special emotional signals can be a built-in lie detector. Of special note, for those of us who help treat the hurt and disturbed feelings of others through their relationships, at school and work, in marriage and the family, an academic knowledge of feelings and emotion rationalizes our very clinical existence; fine-tuned empathy is an essential tool in all therapy.

3. Complex feelings: Higher feelings form the core of appreciation of music, art, dance, good food. Higher feelings are part of spirituality and a religious life. Learning to feel guilt and remorse and pride and loyalty puts us all in tune with customs and laws and helps us to conform to wider social expectations. By the same token some complex feelings, such as prejudice, hate and vengeance, may take us down a counterproductive and unhappy path.

Our feelings, fed by our senses, memory, and self-awareness, form the basis of the appreciation of all the nicer things in life: music, poetry, gourmet food and fine wines, sculpture and painting, symmetry and beauty. Without feelings these experiences would be bland and empty. Feelings are the taste buds of the mind. If also, in our loves and friendships and in our family, we can share the pleasure of some of these things, we add aesthetics to the joy of relationship. André Gide said it well in 1892: The important thing is being capable of emotions, but to experience only one’s own would be a sorry limitation.



Now, at last, you can answer Spock’s provocative question! We have looked at inner feelings and their expression as emotions. They were defined in the context of evolution and explored in terms of physiology and anatomy. A clinical model of the spectrum of simple, core, basic human feelings was developed. The critical historical-cultural derivation of complex higher feelings and emotions was explained. The communication of emotional metamessages was tantalizingly touched upon. For our purposes the subtle distinctions between feelings and emotion boil down to this:

1. The meaning of the word ’emotion’ is categorically specific; ‘feeling’ may be vaguer.

2. Feelings are of the mind (psychology); emotions are also of the body (physiology).

3. Feelings are essentially private; emotions are largely visible, measurable—and public.

4. Simple inner feelings and their expressed emotions are distinct from thoughts & words.

5. Higher, complex FEs are simple inner feelings intertwined with thoughts and ideas.

The hierarchy of emotional interconnections, reductio ad absurdum, is shown in the final diagram, next. (No diagrams–yet! Can’t load them. Will remedy that ASAP.) The physical factors are in color, psychosocial factors in white. Explanations of FEs—where they are generated and how they are triggered or induced—range vertically upwards from chemistry and microbiology through structural anatomy to social psychology (P = a person in dyads and triangles). The why’s and wherefore’s, from evolutionary origins (genetically via DNA) to cultural-historical influences (via information communication), are connected horizontally (by dotted lines). Note that all is embedded in a primary social environment (the large ellipse). When FEs are viewed in this encompassing fashion, it is clear that claims to exclusivity by biologists, psychologists or sociologists are indeed nearsighted and parochial. [47] [48] [49]

Screening your own feelings

Inside our head we all have basic feeling-tones which can become a symphony of  emotional expression. Below, separately estimate each feeling-tone by circling the statement(s) most closely approximating how you feel right now, today. This will help you further gage degree (or intensity) on a 010 scale where zero represents nothing at all of that particular feeling and ten the strongest level possible. (I suggest that you copy and print out this test to try it at your leisure.)  /wfh

1.     HAPPINESS is pleasure: contentment to ecstasy, expressed through smiling, laughing, singing, dancing.

     I am not happy.

                       I am mostly contented.

                                                   I am feeling in a very good mood.

                                                                                                     I am altogether too happy or euphoric.


2.     SADNESS is the opposite pole of happiness. Together they represent mood. Sadness signals a “loss.”

      I am not sad.

                       I am grieving for someone (or something).

                                                    I feel guilt and think I may be depressed.

                                                                                                      I am badly depressed.

                                                                                                                     I feel hopeless. I’m suicidal.


3.     FEAR – an emergency emotion, increased adrenaline for flight or hiding. Anxiety = fear without a cause.

      I have no fear, worry, or anxiety.

                       I am mildly tense or anxious.

                                                    I am tense and anxious and worry a lot.

                                                                                     I am tense and anxious most of the time.

                                                                                                                    I am having attacks of panic.


4.     ANGER – also an emergency emotion, adrenaline for defensive fighting. Aggression = offensive fighting.

      I harbor no resentment or anger at all.

                       Inside, I do feel some frustration, irritability, anger.

                                                                  I am full of anger (or even rage) much of the time.

                                                                             I am acting on it (e.g., smashing things, being violent).


5.     DISGUST + nausea = a safety ejection defense. Rejection of another = hate; rejection of oneself = shame.

      I am in no way disgusted.

                       I am quite disgusted (to the point of nausea) with someone or something.

                                                                           I am disgusted with, ashamed of, myself.

                                                                                                                    I am full of loathing (or hate).


6.   APPETITE THSS feelings:  Lust  Thirst  Hunger  Sleepy  Air-hunger… rate any you wish.




I am somewhat out of touch with my inner feelings and could not do justice to this test: TRUE or FALSE

Notes & References


[1] Darwin, Charles. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. (1872). London: Murray. With this book alone, Darwin might have founded the science of psychology, but academic philosophers perceived him as a biologist or naturalist and missed the boat.

[2] Johnson-Laird, P. N. The Computer and the Mind (An Introduction to Cognitive Science). Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass. 1988. Highly recommended to all readers.

[3] Popham, A. E. The Drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci, (p. 251). London: The Reprint Society, 1953.

[4] Ibid Darwin. On the Origin of Species (1859). Reprinted in 1975 by the Franklin Library, Franklin Center, PA.


[5] Strongman, K. The Psychology of Emotion. New York: Wiley, 1973.

[6] Cannon, W. B. (1915). Bodily Changes In Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage. New York: Harper, 1963.

[7] An equally sound (?) analogy is the scale of seven notes in a musical octave (vocal: doh ray me fa so la tee doh… instrumental: A G F E D C B A…) from which come all tunes and entire symphonies. Is it any wonder that art and music are so tied to feeling? At a high level in the brain, the ‘hunger’ to hear good music in the passive must be distinguished from the active pleasure in composing music or playing it on a musical instrument.

[8] Marsh, P. Eye to Eye, How People Interact. Topsfield Massachusetts: Salem House Publishers, 1988.

[9] Absolute absence of some degree of inner feeling tone or outer emotional expression is likely very abnormal. Sometimes observed in the illness of schizophrenia is a true poverty of affect or emotional emptiness; whereas, a coldness, a lack of authenticity, a core shallowness, characterizes the conscienceless psychopath.

[10] Aggressive rage, (among other psychopathological emotional states labeled as depression, mania, and anxiety-panic), while of complex type, can be read into the model. All emotions, healthy or sick, simple or complex, whatever the situation, in one way or another, affect our relationships with friends and at work, in marriages and families, and how we deal with our children. Emotions almost always play a life role. But sometimes an utter absence of feeling, as may be seen in an icy cold terminal psychopath, sets loose such extremes as serial homicide or genocide.


[11] Hogg, William MD. The Split Field Relayer System as a Factor in the Etiology of Anxiety (A matched study of 48 cases), Psychiatry (Journal for the study of interpersonal processes), Vol. 35, No. 2 (May, 1972). This is the first ever paper to link the induction of fear-anxiety to a triangular mechanism in the family. The fundamental stance is Pragmatic Communication Theory.

[12] Hogg, William MD and John E. Northman PhD. The Resonating Parental Bind in Delinquency, Family Therapy Vol. 6 No. 1 1979. This paper shows how anger-rage, and its behavioral equivalent, acting out, is generated in teens by a specific dysfunctional family communication triangle.

[13] Shepherd, G. H. Neurobiology. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988. This is a highly technical tome. Many of the studies of emotional brain sites described in this article are extracted from the relevant chapters of Shepherd’s 700-page book. Not all are individually cited.

[14] Jacob, Francois. The Possible and the Actual. New York: Pantheon Books 1982. As I was taught in premeds: ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. As we now know, evolution ‘tinkers’ around and reuses old leftover parts, whereas architects and engineers ‘design’ anew from scratch.

[15] Once upon a time at a scientific colloquium a speaker presented a paper entitled Physiology of the Limbic System, Medial Forebrain Bundle, Hypothalamus, and Medulla Oblongata. Few attended. The following year he changed its title to Thirst, Hunger, Sex and Sleep. It was a sellout. Thirst, hunger, sex, and sleep (thss), the basic appetites or drives, have unique associated feelings. The specific psychic feeling is an aspect of, not necessarily a driver of drives. It brings the need to conscious attention.

[16] Papez, J. W. A Proposed Mechanism of Emotion. Arch. Neurology & Psychiatry. 38: 725-743, 1937.

[17] Bucy, P. C. & H. Kluver. An Anatomical Investigation of the Temporal Lobe in the Monkey (Macaca mulatta). J. Comp. Neurology. 103: 151-252, 1955.

[18] Snyder, S. H. Drugs and the Brain. New York: Scientific American Library, 1986.

[19] Olds, J. Physiological Mechanisms of Reward. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 3: p. 73, 1955.

[20] Kamiya, J. Conscious Control of Brain Waves. Psychology Today, 1: p. 56-61, 1958.


[21] The diagram of humors and temperaments was adapted from Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, 18th edition, 1953. By 1990 it was expunged from the 25th edition. The ancient humoral doctrine not only was the basis of medicine, it also guided day to day activities of all people in the Hellenic world. Until late in the 19th Century, it was seriously applied in medicine. Ten years ago in a serious presentation I listened to a psychologist recommend evaluation of the temperaments as a ‘new’ method of clinical diagnosis! Temperaments resonated well within the social lexicon until fairly recently, but, as they have absolutely no basis in science they are withering on the vine. Anyone, if inclined, can concoct any number of categories of higher complex feeling similar to the old-fashioned temperaments—and then embrace them with a model theory. Some theories fit reality and ring a resonant bell of social acceptance. They withstand the test of time. Others eventually wither on the vine as has the Ancient Humoral Doctrine.

[22] The modern view of ‘temperament’ in terms of Personality Theory takes a slice through our primitive drives or appetites, feelings and emotions (feeling-tone), our associated thoughts, and our habitual patterns of action. It gives a snapshot of personality as our individual psychological fingerprint. The core of personality is inherited, genetically determined. In support of this, differences in temperament are easily observed between new-born babies. Some are contented and placid, others irritable, others stubborn, and so on up to 11 distinct ‘temperamental types.’ Some aspects of personality, however, are learned as life proceeds. The placid newborn, if abused repeatedly, may grow up to have a cranky and irritable set of feelings that are always there, even when the limbic lobe is just ticking over. On the other hand, the same baby, well treated as he/she develops, may grow up with a basic idling feeling-tone of inner contentment, seen outwardly as patient calmness and imperturbability.

[23] McCrone, J. The Ape That Spoke. New York: William Morrow 1990. Highly recommended .

[24] Foundations of Cognitive Science, edited by M. I. Posner. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass, 1989. Cognitive science “deals with the nature of intelligence from the perspective of computation.” It is the modern answer to psychology’s embarrassing existential dilemma—of defunct behaviorism and biased IQ testing. Of note, only Gestalt psychology historically dealt with the mind per se. Modern academic cognitive science fails to seriously address emotions. Quoting from the above-cited 888-page book: “An … issue is the relationship of emotion, feeling, and affect to cognition. Despite recent stirrings … no satisfactory integration yet exists of these phenomena into cognitive science. But the mammalian system is clearly constructed as an emotional system, and we need to understand in what way this shapes the architecture, if indeed it does so at all.” But cognitive psychologists can take heart if they take heed. All complex emotions are comprised of a core feeling wrapped in words and ideas. Words and ideas are the province of cognition. Cognitive science might consider this as a legitimate starting point and work backwards and inwards through memory pathways to basic core feelings which are the province of evolution and anatomy and physiology-biochemistry. I’m sure that computational science will prove helpful to the task. And consider cognitive therapy: While Nietzsche made a clear distinction between thoughts and feelings, he may have confused their sequence. Thoughts sometimes precede, indeed induce, FEs. Feelings get layered around thoughts and more thoughts get layered around feelings. What people think can determine how they feel! This is the basis of cognitive therapy. Although cognitive therapy is not mentioned in the cited book, a sensible and seminal application of the cognitive approach to emotional states in clinical practice was developed by the psychiatrist, Aaron Beck. In Beck’s theory, pathological emotions (e.g. depression) are seen as the product of a triad that includes persistently negative thinking: that is, thoughts can induce FEs! Such a notion is entirely compatible with the concept of culturally transmitted complex emotions. And the idea is not incompatible with the reductionist neurochemical approach to mental illness. In fact, it has been quite unequivocally, statistically, shown that a coordinated combination of 1) medical treatment at the micro-cellular level (various psychotropic drugs) and 2) focused (psycho)therapy at the holistic level (marital-family, cognitive Rx, etc.) has a much better and sustained outcome than either approach taken by itself alone. Popular books also promote the personal use of cognitive efforts in order to ‘think oneself out of emotional funks.’ While such seems a contradiction (overriding an irrational emotion with rational thought), it is painfully possible if done with determination well before neurochemical events get ingrained and supervene all. When one also considers the visual revelation of patterns of emotion via modern imaging techniques (PET & SPECT scans, etc.), there is lots of scope and hope for Cognitive Science becoming relevant vis. a vis. emotional behavior.

[25] Capellanus, Andreas (1184). The Art of Courtly Love. New York: Ungar 1957.

[26] Bowlby, John. Attachment and Loss. New York: Basic Books 1980.

[27] Berne, Eric MD. Sex in Human Loving. New York: Simon and Schuster 1970. This book is essential reading for anyone doing sex therapy. In his Transactional Analysis method, Berne forswore dealing with anything but words. Hence he coined the idea of wet words (!) in talking about sexual love.

[28] Othello, who “loved not wisely but too well.” In my view it is mandatory reading for all therapists. The cognitive formula that I have devised for jealousy can be extrapolated to any complex emotion (CE). CE is a sequential sum of 1) past experience (PE) affecting 2) self esteem (SE) (the typical way of feeling about oneself) projected into 3) the future as habitual expectation (FE). Based on a knowledge of causes, the most significant past experience for any complex emotion can be figured out. E.g., the PE for anxiety is uncertainty, for depression loss, for contentment it is consistent parental love, etc. Similarly, PE colors SE in typical clinical ways. Both taken together color anticipatory thinking negatively or positively. Thus, the general cognitive and emotional formula is a sequence: CE = [PE + SE + FE]

[29] The American Founding Fathers originally expressed it as “…life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.” Property was seen as happiness in those days, similar to money now. They quickly had second thoughts and changed it to ‘happiness’ which has remained undefined to this day. Instead of happiness, what if they had used the word pleasure? Doesn’t sound quite right in the noble context of the American constitution!

[30] Maguire, Laurie PhD. Where There’s a WILL There’s a Way (or, All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Shakespeare). Viking, Canada 2006. In a masterful and entertaining way Laurie Maguire, a Canadian English teacher at Oxford, dips into Shakespeare’s plays to show that he long ago wrapped his mind and art around complex emotions, approximating cognitive Rx! She calls Shakespeare’s special way creative imagination or ‘seeing,’ both positive and negative, and equates it (more or less) with the power of positive thinking, spiritual visualization, and cognitive restructuring.

[31] Serene sadness: With this compound feeling I serenely accept the sad fact that one cannot transmit skills to students as one does knowledge. It is why advice-giving to the young doesn’t work too well. They may have to experience it all over again for themselves. Thus, the weary and wise teacher…

[32] Disgust-depression = feelings of sad loss laced with disgust. Rx: psychotherapy + any antinauseant.

[33] Some lower animals may also be capable of mixed feelings as in approach-withdrawal conflicts.

[34] Kressing, Harry. The Cook. Random House (1965). A small masterpiece, this entertaining novel of drama and high suspense shows far better than any dreary scientific treatise how the attraction of food can cognitively condition a full table—from course greed and gluttony to the fine taste of higher gastronomy.

[35] Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre (1955). The Phenomenon of Man. London & Glasgow: Collins. Teilhard, a Jesuit archeologist whose books were proscribed before his death, postulated a ‘noosphere’ (in space?) containing all the cumulative knowledge and experience of humankind. It presaged the internet.

[36] Grinspoon, David. Lonely Planets (The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life). New York: Harper Collins 2003. This book expands the idea of Darwin’s evolution. It transposes it into several phases: from big bang nebula and the stars to earth’s geology and on to the biosphere and noosphere. The movement of these several ‘evolutions’ is always similar: from chaos to complexity; from space to place, to life and mind (emotion and intellect).

[37] The use of the term ‘social evolution,’ although convenient and widely used, is not strictly correct. Biological evolution is selective; ‘historical social learning’ is instructive. Core FEs evolved, complex FEs are learned. But it is very easy to become too pedantic. Even the most hard-nosed astrobiologists now talk about cosmic and planetary evolution moving towards complex life in the biosphere and ‘universal mind’ in the noosphere and beyond.


[38] Therapists, along with poets, have a tendency to reify feelings. That is, they often consider FEs as if they have a life of their own. They too often tend them like greenhouse flowers that, according to Eric Berne, need endless watering and care.

[39] Watzlawick, Paul. An Anthology of Human Communication. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books 1964. This audiotape-booklet is the best introduction to Communication Theory that I know. It is very practical, with lots of live clinical examples.

[40] Watzlawick, P., Janet Beavin & Don Jackson. Pragmatics of Human Communication (A study of interactional patterns, pathologies, and paradoxes). New York: Norton & Co. 1964. A comprehensive, but small book from the Mental Research Institute, Palo Alto, CA. Is Communication Theory science? The use of basic premises and strict logic instead of testable hypotheses suggests not. (But I think that most of the ‘premises’ are really hypotheses.) Syntactic CT is rigorously mathematical. Semantic CT is deductive philosophy. Pragmatic CT, inductive and hypothetical, qualifies as science. PCT is the ‘genetic code’ of relationships.

[41] Computers, the internet, artificial  intelligence and robots are inanimate tools for the communication, storage and manipulation of information. They are ‘merely’ the highly organized products of the human beings they ‘imitate.’ This could change!

[42] Coveney, P. & R. Highfield. The Arrow of Time (A voyage through science to solve time’s greatest mystery). New York: Fawcett Columbine (1990).

[43] Berne, Eric MD. Games People Play (Psychology of Human Relationships). New York: Grove Press 1964. Berne was a California medical-psychiatric genius. His Transactional Analysis (TA) is a therapy of the conscious mind that entails active social intervention. The well-known PAC (Parent, Adult, Child) component is obliquely derived from Freudian ego psychology. The Parent (judgment and morals) is taught, the Adult (logical common sense) is learned, and the Child (irrational emotion) is felt. Berne’s theory of games builds upon John Bowlby’s seminal work on infant attachment and loss. Games are predicated on the notion that all people need social propinquity and ‘strokes,’ but, and here’s the main difference, cannot stand sustained emotional intimacy. Put another way, 1) too much closeness is discomforting, and 2) without adequate social contact people suffer from ‘stimulus hunger’—if isolated they shrivel up inside. So, in between the noxious extremes of isolation and excess intimacy, humans have developed a succession of distinct social stances that afford tolerable levels of emotional exchange. These are rituals, pastimes, and games. Each, continuing with Berne’s theory of dual contradictions, exacts its own liabilities. E.g., talking too much about unpleasant feelings (ventilating) constitutes the silly game of greenhouse flower in which nothing ever actually gets done to deal with real causes. So, do not just engage in empty talk or dumping—do something constructive! As you can well see, Berne’s imaginative theory contains some rather questionable basic assumptions. But, there is enough sound clinical observation to confer it with some degree of validity. As with many social and psychological constructs, it is very useful in practical real-world work. Therapists, hungry for some guiding light in a dark field, gobble it up as do I.

[44] The expression and transmission of FE can have a gender bias. In male-dominated and traditional societies: men were expected to be assertive leaders—open anger and aggression not frowned upon—but they must hide the ‘weaker’ feelings of fear, sadness and sentimentality; women, on the other hand, were (and still often are) expected to be nurturing to all and submissive to men and thus are encouraged to hide their anger, but being the ‘weaker’ sex, may openly display their fears and tears. About the only emotion that all people of both sexes could freely indulge was pleasure, often separately. In this setup there are serious mental health implications: men tend to cover sadness and grief, drink and commit suicide, women suppress anger and get headaches and psychosomatic ailments. The picture in Western culture is now in flux and changing radically as women gain equality and men are enabled to display their ‘feminine’ emotional selves. In 50 years of medical practice, I’ve come to this conclusion: the expression, or better, sharing of fears and sorrow helps both sexes; any excessive display of anger or discharge of aggression has little or no value in an urban, civilized world as it increases tension and lowers IQ; and all enjoyment of pleasure along with some hearty laughter is salubrious to everyone’s health. Also, talk about one’s negative feelings gives temporary release and can become a counterproductive, self-serving habit; acting tactfully-politely to correct the causes of hurt feelings (misunderstandings, resentments, etc.) is the best treatment.

[45] The recent deterioration of the usage of the word ‘paranoia’ to mean mere anxiety or simple suspicion is unfortunate. Correctly understood, it goes this way: I suspect you and am enraged and  ()likely hate you, but cannot admit my own hostile feelings to myself. Therefore it is easier to believe the reverse, that you hate and are out to get me. Then I can protect myself by attacking you first. Obviously, this is a very dangerous ‘preemptive’ emotional stance.

[46] No one can perfectly read another’s mind. Some ‘gifted’ mothers, however, are very good at ‘reading’ their very little children’s minds often to control them when bad, very often to help them if distressed or upset. Men are probably less able to read others’ feelings than are women. From the perspective of human relationships, which can and do trigger emotions from the outside, we are less interested in what goes on inside one person’s head than what happens between them.


[47] Gore, Al. The Assault on Reason. Penguin Press, 2007. This book gives a unique perspective on the high jacking and distortion of emotions in capturing the ‘marketplace’ of ideas in US-American politics. Also (ibid. reference 29), the origins and nuances of certain words and phrases (as in: life, liberty and the pursuit of …?) are nicely clarified by Al Gore: In 1759, Dr. Samuel Johnson coined the phrase “pursuit of happiness.” Adam Smith, British economist and founder of capitalism, focused on property. His book, The Wealth of Nations, containing the phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property,” was published the same year as the Declaration of Independence. Almost two years before, the First Continental Congress used the phrase “life, liberty, and property.” Thomas Jefferson famously purified these various ideas as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” which now is the cornerstone of all that is American. But, you may wonder, where did life and liberty come from? Higher emotional ideals indeed are complex!

[48] In complex self-organizing bio-psycho-social systems, diagrams are most effective in conveying intricate, non-equilibrium concepts. In fact, at the interfaces of the life sciences, they are the equivalent of mathematical formulas, differential equations, but with a time-arrow (ibid. reference 42), as used in the natural sciences.

[49] Two topics, neurotransmitters and dysfunctional triangles, have been barely touched upon in this article. To see how noxious social-family triangles can induce unhappy feelings from the outside refer to references 11 & 12. For more on the true inside ‘chemistry’ of emotions I recommend references 13 & 18.