Sunday, November 20, 2005


Finished "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals" by Charles Darwin, 1872. Most of the middle of the book is fairly dull, going through the emotions by group and talking about which facial muscles are involved. One of Darwin's big points was the universality of facial expressions in showing emotions -- innate, not acquired behavior. But, Darwin's methodology was to write letters to people in the various parts of the British Empire and other countries and ask them, "Do the locals express surprise by opening their eyes wide, lifting their eyebrows, and opening their mouth?" -- anecdotal natural science, not much up to today's standards. Apparently Margaret Mead and the cultural relativists had a 20-30 year period where they had everyone convinced of the opposite. The pendulum is now swinging back to Darwin.

Sometime I will have to compare Darwin's list of emotions with those in "The Cognitive Structure of Emotion" by Ortony, Clore and Collins. Interesting too, not all expressions correspond to emotions, but rather to mental/emotional state -- say for instance, an expression of slyness, or rapt attention. Darwin also discussed:

  • Nodding your head yes and shaking your head no -- not particularly universal.
  • Shrugging -- fairly universal.
  • Shyness and modesty -- traits, not expressions.
  • Blushing -- universal, and unique to humans, always a function of other people.
Pauk Ekman, who is a "universality" guy and the maker of the 3rd edition of "Expression", also talked about "display rules" -- which do vary by culture and thus are acquired. These define to what extent it is acceptable in a culture to let your emotions show. In an interesting study, Japanese by themselves display the same emotions as others, put an observer in with them and they supress the display. Also interesting, some cultures clearly show one or more of the standard emotions, but don't have a concept or word for them -- Tahitians have no word for sadness, when they display the symptoms they describe it as sickness.

I have realized that I think that my generally very good catholic high school education included little if anything on evolution, and I took no biology in college. I did not know that Darwin in "Origin of the Species" defined two types of natural selection:

  1. Species selection (now also called ecological selection), the selection force that the ecosystem puts on a species to find an ecological niche;
  2. Sexual selection, the somewhat arbitrary selection criteria that males/females of a given species decide imply breeding fitness in the opposite sex.
So, from "Expression" re music, and "The Symbolic Species" re language and our big brains, traits that were sexually selected may have been the more important of the two in making the human race what it is today. Of course, the other advantages that came with big brains, tool-making, etc, definitely had lots of other survivability value.

Still, it's like "All You Need is Love", "Love is Like Oxygen", ... The dance between men and women may be the primary factor that drove the development of the human race and its culture and civilization. I feel like, if I were (much) younger, this might have been a major epiphany, a real moment of satori. Now, it's just like, "No, no, say it ain't so."

Oh well, maybe the women won't decide to do away with us after all, in honor of our mutual development of the race.

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