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The Origin of Emotions

Note: If you have not already seen them, please read the CAUTIONS in the introduction to this series of articles.

Emotion is a common enough word, but if I am going to talk about it for the next few hundred pages, I think I had better say exactly what I mean by it. And I am happy to report that I mean what most dictionaries mean – I mean a mental feeling, such as happiness or fear. Not only that, but the converse also applies. Any mental feeling is an emotion.

Of course, sensation is also a feeling – but it is a physical feeling, not a mental one.[9] Thought, volition and action, on the other hand, are not feelings at all. Thought, though, can have a feeling as its subject – it can have anything as its subject.

Emotion, sensation, thought, volition and action are interrelated in a continuous, omnidirectional dance of reciprocal influence (but surely no gratuitous hyperbole) called the mind. However, sensation and action also have elements outside the mind.

So emotions exist in the mind, but they are not alone there. I didn't mention awareness, incidentally – I am saving that for later. As for anything hypothetical beyond awareness, I will stick to simple things in this book; though I do wax a little hypothetical elsewhere (see last footnote under Cautions).

Anyway, we now have a working definition of emotions, and a general idea of their context. But I am still going to give a few examples – skip them if they get tedious. Feelings like anger and sadness are examples of emotions. Feelings like pressure on the big toe, or an itch where a mosquito fed, are not emotions – they are sensations.

A feeling of severe crushing pain in the chest is also a sensation – but it is likely to give rise to emotions, thoughts and actions. The emotions might include fear, sadness and anger. The thoughts might include wondering what else is in there, apart from the heart. And the actions might include calling an ambulance.

Thoughts like "three fives make fifteen" are not in themselves associated with emotion – though past experiences in a schoolroom could add an emotional overtone. Thoughts like "I will never amount to anything" are almost always associated with emotion. So either sensation or thought can give rise to emotion, or not – depending on the situation, current knowledge, previous experience and interpretation.

By now, you may be wondering why I have not mentioned the brain. That is because this book's approach to the mind is subjective. And resorting to my dictionary again, I am glad to discover that, by subjective, it means just what I do – existing in one's own consciousness.

Subjectively, I am quite sure that I have a mind. I live there, and sometimes I rearrange the furniture a bit. But subjectively, I have no idea whether I have a brain. My anatomical studies lead me to think that it is extremely likely. Some of my friends are inclined to imply that it is extremely unlikely. But subjectively, I can only wonder about it.

Perhaps I do have a mind and a brain. But I have no idea whether the two are the same, or a bit different, or very different. Fortunately, though, I don't care. This book is a subjective exploration of one aspect of the mind – its emotions. That is all it is. There are plenty of other books about the brain.

In exploring emotions, I will, as advertised, consider their origin, their characteristics, their effects on our daily lives, their often considerable power – and some very effective things that can be done to relieve the suffering which they so often cause.

This first section is about their origin – though it inevitably classifies them to some extent, as well. I am pretty confident of convincing you that emotions have their origin in the universal human state of wanting something or other.[10] This is illustrated in the "Wanterfall Chart" (a little further down the page) which will be introduced shortly, discussed lengthily, and referred to frequently.

It is by using this "Wanterfall Chart", in the way described in the text, that I think you will become convinced that a significant degree of wanting is the source of the turbulent river of our emotions. I will argue in favour of the proposition, but if you really want to know the answer, the best way to find out is simply to watch it happening in your own mind.


The Wanterfall Model of Emotions

You may already have looked at the rather sparse flow chart called the "Wanterfall Chart". If not, you will see it a little further down the page. If you think it looks far too simplistic to represent anything of actual or potential value, I am not surprised. After all, there are only sixteen words on the page.

However, that is entirely by design. It is simply a skeleton, which will be fleshed out in the text. It is also meant to be used as the kernel of a map of insights, by those readers who choose to make the ideas in this book a part of their daily routine. For now, it would be a good idea to make a copy of the chart, so that you can refer to it easily while reading about it – and perhaps scribble your own ideas on it as you go along.

But how was this chart made? In a sense, it created itself. The chart printed on the next page is just a neater copy of the most recent version of the countless diagrams that I have scribbled down on scraps of paper over the last twenty-five years, while attempting to clarify and simplify my own thought processes. Anyway, I suggest you make that copy before reading any further – and keep it handy as you read the rest of the book.


The Wanterfall Chart

The Wanterfall Chart



The chart illustrates a cascading series of subjective phenomena which flow spontaneously from the well known state of wanting. In fact, two parallel cascades occur – rather like a waterfall, split by a jutting rock into two adjacent falls, which feed a pair of turbulent rapids. Fancifully, a sort of waterfall of wanting – hence Wanterfall.

If you watch carefully, you may be able to notice the sequence of events depicted by one side or other of the Wanterfall in your own mind. You can often notice the effects of those events in the behaviour of other people, too. But if it seems like just another theory – that's OK. Let it be a theory, and come along for the ride – on a strictly provisional basis – while I pin some ideas on the chart.

The Wanterfall starts with wanting, and I will do the same. Starting earlier, with the causes of wanting, would not be relevant to the Wanterfall model. Suffice it to say that some wanting is instinctive, some is learned and there is rarely any shortage of either. However, I have included some very brief notes about the causes of wanting in an appendix to this book.

I am using "wanting" in its broadest sense. Wishing, for example, is certainly included. Wishing may seem a little more polite than wanting. Nevertheless, if you wish something were so, or wish something were otherwise – be it ever so refined a wish – you're already over the edge and riding those rapids.

Desire, whether horizontal or otherwise, is another word for wanting. And leaping straight to hope or fear, without even noticing wanting on the way, will make barely any difference. Perhaps you dived in, instead of being swept away. Perhaps you simply fell in – same Wanterfall, same ride.

If only the water were smoother… Oh yes, that reminds me! "If only" is yet another variant of wanting. It is especially common when thinking of the past. If only I had done something differently. If only I could have another go at the last twenty years of my life. "If only" simply means I wish it could have been. Even plain old "if" is sometimes short for "if only".

What about the love/ success/ fitness/ whatever that I never had at all? Can you miss, or wish for, what you never had? Easy – all you have to do is imagine what could have been, and compare it with the reality. Welcome to the Wanterfall.

In fact, we often miss what we never had, even more than we miss what we had, and then lost! So, I want, or I wish, or I desire, or I hope, or I fear, or if only, or anything with a remotely similar flavour – whether related to the past, the present or the future – puts your kayak smack in the maelstrom which I call the Wanterfall.

Having said all that, and hopefully included every imaginable variant of wanting in the process, I would like to reiterate what I said in a recent footnote. I am not talking about figures of speech, such as "and hopefully included" or "would like to reiterate" – both of which you can see in the previous sentence, incidentally. Nor am I referring to idle daydreams which are not thought of as likely or necessary ever to become real.

Things like that may indeed point to a small amount of desire – though the figures of speech often simply express opinion or intent. But either way, they are of little or no significance as causes of emotions. It is the things you really want strongly that cause the mischief. The mere flutter of a possible preference will never cause a thundering, surging Wanterfall.

Before I explain the chart itself further (and I agree that it is fairly self-explanatory, but that will not deter me) I must define the one word found on it which is not (yet) in the dictionary. You already know my first made-up word – Wanterfall. But there on the chart is a second – "propathy".

Before I say what propathy means, I will tell you how to pronounce it. It has the accent on the "o" – which rhymes with "low". The "pathy", I am glad to report, is the same as it is in antipathy or apathy – in other words, pretty forgettable. None of this (nor the meaning, soon to be announced) is in dispute, because it's my word. Well, it was, anyway. Now that it has been released into the wild, I guess it is mine no longer.

But why did I have to make this word up in the first place? Well, I searched for (literally) years to find an English word which is truly the opposite of "antipathy". Why did I do that? Because the Wanterfall Chart needs the opposite of antipathy – just as desperately as it needs antipathy itself. The reality is there, so the chart must acknowledge it – with a word. When I finally accepted that antipathy has no antonym, I coined one.

Now, antipathy is a general term that covers unfriendly feelings like anger, irritability, a "short fuse", frustration, animosity, antagonism, aversion, coldness, detestation, dislike, disapproval, enmity, hatred, hostility, ill will, malice and repugnance.

Therefore, propathy has to be a general term that covers friendly feelings like affection, amity, approval, cordiality, fondness, goodwill, liking and warmth, as well as some of the meanings of the much overworked word love. Otherwise, it could not possibly occupy the position on the chart opposite antipathy. You will encounter propathy from time to time in the text, and it will always have the meaning just given.

Now, back to the chart. We have seen that the chart starts with the normal human tendency to want things to be a certain way – whether or not that is the way they actually are. Of course, we often want things not to be a certain way – but, for our purposes, that is the same thing. In either case, we want a particular result – whether we define it in the positive or the negative, it is the result we want.

For example, whether we want to remain well, or we want not to get sick, the thing wanted is the same (good health). Or, if we want some variation on that, or any other, theme, then that will be wanting, too. Whatever we want or don't want, however we express it, is wanting. That is fairly straightforward – and universal. We want to get what we want – a too true truism.

Sometimes, though, getting what we want is not quite so straightforward as wanting it. We may not even know exactly what we want to get, or avoid – but the effect can still be very powerful. At other times, we get exactly what we wanted – but find that it does not bring much happiness when we get it. Indeed, it sometimes brings unexpected sorrow.

However, the principle remains the same. While we want it, it is something we want. Later, perhaps, it is no longer something we want, and it is therefore no longer relevant as regards wanting. If we find that it is actually unpleasant, and regret getting it, it will become something we don't want (which is still something we want, but in the negative). The rapids are just as turbulent then, because the wanting is exactly the same.

When we discover that something we wanted is really useless or harmful, we have actually lost something we didn't even realise was at risk. We have lost the pleasant illusion we originally had, that getting this thing would bring happiness. And the loss of an illusion can be just as distressing as the loss of something concrete. So when we think of wanting, we must include illusion and fantasy, if there are any strong desires attached – though not, as previously mentioned, idle daydreams, as these lack that vital ingredient.

The outcome of wanting is often expressed in terms of success (getting what we do want or not getting what we don't want) or failure (getting what we don't want or not getting what we do want). Whether these things are concrete, or merely figments of the imagination, makes no difference. And, if we don't like the outcome we wanted and got, it just means we were riding one Wanterfall – and now we are riding another.

So although the situations in which wanting is found may differ, the wanting itself is always the same phenomenon – and any example of wanting will do, to start the Wanterfall flowing. After that, the chart moves in large steps, which are in fact very broad generalisations, through the main possibilities that can follow any given instance of wanting.

Arbitrarily, I have placed the possibilities we prefer on the left hand side of the page, and the others on the right hand side of the page.[11] As you can see, six of these possibilities are identified by bold italic text with a shaded background.

I call these six possibilities the "primary emotions". These six primary emotions each represent a group of related emotions, which include, or from which can be derived, all of the more complex human feelings. They are discussed in some detail under The Anatomy of Emotions.

Hope and fear regarding the outcome is the first pair of primary emotions shown. The outcomes themselves are shown next. Then the remaining four primary emotions appear, placed under the outcomes which generate them.

Finally, hope and fear reappear at the bottom of the chart, in reverse order – because we always want to keep our good luck – or else to lose our misfortune. And while we want, the Wanterfall continues. You can go down it any time, and any number of times, all in the privacy of your own mind.

You will have noticed one other thing. As well as the + signs that show how some of the vertical elements on the chart often coexist, there is also a + sign between hope and fear, each time they appear. Though one of these emotions often predominates, there is usually a little of the other lurking in the background.[12]

We now come to a very important point. Apart from "wanting", all the elements of the Wanterfall Chart are arranged in pairs, with the members of each pair shown on opposite sides of the page. These pairs represent symmetrical opposites which exist in our emotional life. The members of each pair are so closely linked to each other that each pair has often been likened to the two sides of a single coin.

In other words, if you find one member of the pair, you can be sure its opposite is lurking nearby. Or, to put it another way, both members of a given pair come into existence simultaneously – or not at all. This, however, does not necessarily mean that both are experienced simultaneously. That is not uncommon with hope and fear, but when it occurs with the other four, it is usually to a relatively minor degree.

For thousands of years, eastern philosophers have emphasised the two-sided aspect of human emotions – and therefore of most aspects of human existence. The word most often applied to this phenomenon is "duality". I will have quite a bit to say about duality in Section 3, when considering the ways in which emotions exert their power over human beings.

But for now, we can notice a few things in passing. There are three major "coins" (or dualities, or linked opposites) illustrated on the chart. There is a coin with hope on the face and fear on the reverse. There is a coin with happiness on the face and sadness on the reverse. And there is a coin with propathy on the face and antipathy on the reverse. (Which side is called the face, and which the reverse, makes no difference at all.)

Incidentally, the last two "coins" mentioned, shown nearer the bottom of the chart, are sometimes merged into one coin of a larger denomination. That coin has (emotional) pleasure on the face and (emotional) pain on the reverse. It is sometimes used as a sort of placeholder for duality in general. However, it is a little non-specific for our purposes.

Of course, there are plenty of subsidiary dualities, like right and wrong, good and bad, friend and foe. Some of them include other mental elements as well as emotions – but it is the emotional component that gives them life. However, these smaller dualities are not our immediate concern.

Having looked at the words on the chart, it is almost time to consider how to use it. But first, I'm sure you have noticed that there are many things which are not on the chart. In fact, most things are not on the chart. This certainly makes it easier to read – but are some essential things missing?

What about equanimity – was it just too boring to include? Or causeless joy – too unbelievable? Did perfect peace pass the author's understanding? And love with no strings attached – did it simply float away? Well, perhaps rather conveniently in the circumstances, I do not think those things are emotions at all. And that means that they will barely get a mention in the text – let alone find a place on the Wanterfall Chart.[13]


(Click the number of a footnote to return to its reference in the text)

[9] Its perception is mental – and sometimes generates emotions – but that is a different matter. OK, that is two different matters.

[10] I am not referring here to figures of speech, like "Now I want to talk about the environment" or "I think I would like to start with soup". Statements like that may indicate a very small amount of desire – or may simply express opinion or intent. Either way, they are of little or no significance as causes of emotions. It is the things you really want strongly that cause the mischief.

[11] Throughout the book, when I refer to the left or right hand side of the Wanterfall, I will mean that side of the printed chart, as you look at it.

[12] Strictly speaking, hope and fear are arbitrary points on a continuum, and so are the other two pairs of primary emotions. The chart leaves this point, which will be discussed at some length in the text, especially later in the book, to your imagination.

[13] They are, however, wondered about in Philosophical Musings, a gradually growing series of articles published by Wanterfall eBooks.

(Click the number of a footnote to return to its reference in the text)


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