War over human nature

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Chapter 8 endnote 30, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

James and Darwin were also casualties within this war over human nature, as their views of emotion were, shall we say, “adjusted,” and the spoils went to scientists such as Broca who claimed a victory for evolution... or at least an essentialist sort of evolution.


The Emotion Wars
Copyright © 2013 Lisa Feldman Barrett and Daniel J. Barrett


Plato split the mind in three,[1]
Forever changing history.

Then Descartes added one more rule:
The body and the mind are dual.

And Charles Bell said of the face,
Expressions come from God's good grace.[2]

But Darwin disagreed and said
Expressions had evolved instead,[3]
Although their function now was stale
And useless as a human tail.[4]

Then James declared that we create
Our every human mental state:
A stimulus yields a reaction
Culminating in perception.
All these parts would then congeal
Into an instance of a feeling.[5]

Cannon said, “This can't be so!
The human body is too slow.”[6]
And then, some say, all research ceased
On taming the emotion beast.[7]

In truth, however, there arose
A cannonade of research prose.
Experiments for fifty years
Were logging laughs and testing tears.[8]
Alternatives to Cannon's gripe
Began to bloom like orchards ripe;
The research was both strong and sound,
Yet no emotion e’er was found.
“More likely,” scientists relayed,
“Emotions are not found, but made.”

But then a funny thing occurred:
Sir Allport twisted Darwin's words,[9]
And James's ideas got swiped by gangs
Who merged them upside-down with Lange's.[10]
And then McDougall championed
That our emotions are built-in.[11]
The end result swayed many minds:
“Emotions must be natural kinds!
Evolved for eons, they remain
Innate within the human brain.”

Thus, fifty years of research bright
Mysteriously slipped from cite.

No theory lingered in defense
Against the Basic evidence.
And so we’ve heard, for decades hence:
“Emotions are just common sense.”[12]


Notes on the Notes

  1. Plato's "Tripartite Soul"
  2. Sir Charles Bell, an anatomist who believed that facial muscles and their expressive capabilities were divinely given by God.
  3. The widely-known story of Darwin's Expression.
  4. The lesser-known story about Darwin's Expression. As I explained in chapter 8, Darwin wrote that these expressions are vestigial, not functional, over a dozen times in Expression.
  5. William James' actual theory of emotion, described in chapter 8, in which an emotion is a perception that comes after a bodily reaction.
  6. Cannon, Walter B. 1927. "The James-Lange theory of emotions: A critical examination and an alternative theory." The American Journal of Psychology 39 (1/4): 106-124.
  7. The alleged "Dark Ages" described in chapter 8.
  8. The voluminous research of the Lost Chorus, described in chapter 8.
  9. Floyd Allport's misinterpretation of Darwin, as described in chapter 8.
  10. The mongrel "James-Lange theory of emotion" created by John Dewey, as described in chapter 8.
  11. The work of William McDougall predated basic emotion theory by several decades. His "primary emotions" used the concept of instinct to define which emotions are biologically basic. See McDougall, William. 1923. An Outline of Psychology. London: Methuen.
  12. Until now, as I argue in the book, because evidence from neuroscience has settled the question in favor of construction over essentialism.