About this time last year I scribbled badly on various sheets of flipchart paper depicting anatomically dodgy diagrams of a person and their brain, plus other people milling about. I was exploring the language of emotion and how it materially affects our experience of being in the world with others. Through a lot of reading I became aware of the linguistic variations globally to describe these emotions and/or feelings and also the commonalities of experience shared amongst all of us, and the differences.

During this process it became evident that we were in a bit of dead-end; trying to describe phenomena that are not contained within a clearly defined criteria – something which is dealt with in the LeDoux paper referred to in the reblogged post.

The post also takes a wider view of the relationship of reason and feelings. I am reblogging this post because it is an excellent read, strongly related to my own preoccupation of classification of emotion, and because it refers to one of my *favourite allegories: Plato’s charioteer who, representing Reason, struggles to control both the black and white horses of human desire and spirit.

*The other is Plato’s cave – where prisoners watch shadows on the wall and believe they are real…

Why We Reason

In Phaedrus, Plato likens the mind to a charioteer who commands two horses, one that is irrational and crazed and another that is noble and of good stock. The job of the charioteer is to control the horses to proceed towards Enlightenment and the truth.

Plato’s allegory sparked an idea that perpetuated throughout the next several millennia in western thought: emotion gets in the way of reason. This makes sense to us. When people act out-of-order, they’re irrational. No one was ever accused of being too reasonable. Around the 17th and 18th centuries, however, thinkers began to challenge this idea. David Hume turned the tables on Plato: reason, Hume said, was the slave of the passions. Psychological research of the last few decades not only confirms this view, some of it suggests that emotion is better at deciding.

We know a lot more about how the brain works…

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Posted on March 6, 2012, in Horse racing. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Here is an alphabetized list of some 250 vocabulary terms that name or describe emotional states.


    • Hi Barry, thank you for the list of words 🙂 I sense we may be coming at this at cross purposes, and I have to confess I am exploring the subject of affect in learning from all angles. I did some action research on the impact of increasing emotional vocabulary on prevailing affect in the classroom, so the more ideas I can get the better. I am interested in a) quick reactions that create a physiological effect before cognition can respond and b) affective, perhaps I mean psychological, states that can affect the physiology of the person over a longer period. Of course I am not an expert, but I am an educator and a learner and I appreciate your comment.

      I could not claim to have experienced all those states mentioned on the list. I have done a bit of reading around languages and emotion and I think it is interesting that there is a huge range of words to describe emotional states that we don’t have in English. My question about that is – does the language influence the emotional state, or vice versa… For example the Germans have schwellenangst (fear of thresholds) and torschlusspanik (gate-closing panic such as in middle age). Then for love, well, there a loads of different words in different cultures to differentiate between types of love. Our emotional lives must surely in part be due to our culture? Anyway I could go on and on, so I’ll shut up.

  2. Piece of mind = Creepy parents who don’t trust their kids

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