Resolution of the Mirage

“As explained by Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, emotions take form as we interpret events and our physiological states. The richer the repertoire of emotional concepts we have to draw on, the more precisely we can name our feelings. This articulation shapes our experience of the world: The more precisely we can label a challenge, the more easily we can respond. Feeling ‘bad’ differs from articulating ‘righteous indignation,’ Feldman Barrett points out; the latter is more likely to propel one into action. ‘Emotional granularity’ creates more options for understanding and reacting to challenges. This ability to finely articulate emotions will likely also help us understand and relate to others.”

—Margaret E. Morris. “The New Tech of Relationships.” Nautilus. December 2018.

Interesting correlation to some of the teachings of Zen. As thoughts and emotions arise, labelling them creates distance, shifting us from the one experiencing the emotion or having a thought to an observer classifying them.

But, there seems to be a difference in goals. In creating a more sophisticated and nuanced language for emotional and intellectual experience, it gives us more control over the stories we tell about them and how we construct our identity. But, Zen is less about control and more about questioning the validity of any story.

For example, feeling “righteous indignation” is much more specific than feeling sad, but invariably, you have to identify as a good person who takes exception to a wrong observed in the world. Are there good people and bad people? Does what we think and feel, experiences we have no control over, indicate who we are? And are our ideas about what is right or wrong in the world a refection of Reality or a reflection of our thoughts and of our perception?

When you start looking closely, the difference between sad and “righteous indignation” is simply the level of detail in the mirage. Having higher resolution fictions makes for better stories, but do they make for better lives?

Emotional Regimes

“In September 2017, a screenshot of a simple conversation went viral on the Russian-speaking segment of the internet. It showed the same phrase addressed to two conversational agents: the English-speaking Google Assistant, and the Russian-speaking Alisa, developed by the popular Russian search engine Yandex. The phrase was straightforward: ‘I feel sad.’ The responses to it, however, couldn’t be more different. ‘I wish I had arms so I could give you a hug,’ said Google. ‘No one said life was about having fun,’ replied Alisa…

…’There is no such thing as a neutral accent or a neutral language. What we call neutral is, in fact, dominant’…

…In this way, neither Siri or Alexa, nor Google Assistant or Russian Alisa, are detached higher minds, untainted by human pettiness. Instead, they’re somewhat grotesque but still recognisable embodiments of certain emotional regimes – rules that regulate the ways in which we conceive of and express our feelings.”

—Polina Aronson, “The Quantified Heart.” Aeon. July 12, 2018.