An inquiry into the expression of emotions
by, David S. Alfaro
National Autonomous University of Mexico
It seems to me you’ll never find another lover good as I, to give you all that you need
And I’ll be there to love you each and every night and all through the day…”
-Words from a Song
The answer is what you do is you act like a fool! You are irresponsible, and perhaps ironically or even paradoxically, the person to whom you are most irresponsible, most inconsiderate, and sometimes even cruel to is the person whom you love.
How to explain this? Well my argument illustrates the thesis, whether or not plausible in this particular case, the idea that one chooses love as a way of absolving oneself from responsibility for one’s behavior. Consider too the emotion of joy.
Most people think of joy as a very positive thing, but joy too is a kind of escape behavior. When you feel joy, what you do is you kind of throw off the world, you throw off your cares, in particular you throw off those responsibilities and obligations that are involved with most people’s daily life.
One can certainly think of examples that air this out. People whose good moods in fact are very obnoxious and you might wonder why? Why should I resent someone’s being in a good mood? But you watch their behavior closely and you see that the good mood is in fact acting as an excuse for them not to be doing the sorts of things that they are suppose to be doing, and not be behaving in the way perhaps they should be behaving.
In short the idea is that what emotions do for us is that they act as choices, they act as ways of transforming the world, (our world), such that difficulties disappear, or at least in some sense mitigate.
The idea of the unconscious provided the 20th century some useful insights, but I want to reject it and also be very careful in drawing a comparison between thinking pre-reflectively and unconsciously, in neither case is it open to conscious awareness, articulable, or readily articulable. In what sense does the unconscious exist?
Unconscious mental events are not just those that are not conscious, but they are those that cannot be made conscious. They are repressed, consequently it is not simply the fact that they are not in mind or reflective at the time, but it takes enormous effort, and perhaps enormous expense and time to make the unconscious, conscious.
But to understand my objection to Dr. Freud is to take into consideration my second idea and that is the notion of psychic-determinism. What the unconscious does for Freud is it gives him a way of explaining human behavior, including behavior which before him seemed inexplicable or meaningless; by pointing to the causes which the person, him or herself may not be aware of at all. The idea here is that every conscious event has its unconscious determinants, its unconscious causes.
If this were to include decisions and choices, if this were to include emotions. Then we would find that my thesis is firmly contradicted.
So what I reject here is that the psyche can be determined by forces outside of it, or in a sense within it. In fact consciousness involves virtually no dimensions at all. It is a nothingness, it is no-thing. This means that the ideas of causal relations either between it and the world, or within it, are simply incomprehensible.
Back to the idea of emotions: as Freud might argue they are not forces within us, they are strategies taking up willfully or even pre-reflectively. This raises the question: if they are strategies, and if they are in that sense conscious, then where do we fit in the body? How do we take account of the very good and plausible argument that William James makes about the necessary participation of the body in emotions?
Well the important thing is to say first, that while emotions involve the body it is not primarily a matter of bodily sensations, which is where James puts the emphasis. Rather it is a matter of bodily responses.
It has been often argued, by biologists for example. That if you take the physiological disturbances that happen to us in emotion. One can easily see these as part of a pattern, and they would add some of these are more or less automatic, part of the autonomic nervous system. Others are in a sense willful; they are part of the voluntary nervous system, but nevertheless the idea is that if you look at all these sensations and physiological disturbances that James was referring to; most of them have to do with preparedness for action, getting ready to do something: for example, in fear getting ready to flee, or in anger getting ready to fight.
When James talks about the body he doesn’t distinguish between physiological reactions. The idea is that you could put oneself in an emotion by for example acting it out. James famously said, “a woman is sad because she weeps, she doesn’t weep because she is sad.”
How should one account of all this? Well by not taking the sensations in emotion as the primary focus, but rather by taking the bodily responses and preparation for action as the focus. Basically part of the magical transformation of the world, (our world), is a magical transformation of one’s own body.
One might take as an extreme example this: a young woman who faints upon hearing some dirty jokes. More realistically one can understand why one feels the way one feels in fear by seeing it all involve the complex, which in other things is, getting ready to flee. In this way one can understand the emotions of heat and tension and anger by understanding those not as mere sensations, but as preparation in action for doing something.
In short, bodily sensations, like the ones we were talking about, in general bodily responses, follow from the emotion, and are not causes of it, where Freud says “I cannot.” I say, “I will not.”
In love one and one are one.
Consciousness has no place for emotions to hide.