DRMacIver's Notebook

The landscape of

The landscape of

One of the features of my working model of emotions is that they exist as a tendency towards behaviours. Anger is a tendency to behave angrily, etc.

This tendency is experienced as something like the default thing that happens if you don’t put in energy to avoid it happening. It’s not that behaving angrily is inevitable when you are angry, it’s that it is more work to avoid behaving angrily than it is to behave angrily. You have to constantly choose not to behave angrily.

I was having a miserable day yesterday, and I was wondering… what is that? What is miserable? Is it an emotion?

I want to say that miserable is not an emotion because it lacks intentionality, it’s not about something (although there’s some linguistic ambiguity - I feel like one can be miserable about specific things as well, but there’s miserable-about and there’s just miserable, and it’s the latter I’m pointing to).

I want to say that miserable is not an emotion but a mood.

What’s a mood? Well, a mood is to emotions as emotions are to behaviour: A tendency towards.

This ties into Ratcliffe and his notion of Depression as constituted by existential feelings, and in particular as a restriction on the set of possible emotions, which suggests that “tendency towards” may be insufficiently strong in its connotations. Sometimes that tendency is overwhelming: A feeling of hopelessness creates not just a “tendency” against hope, but a feeling that hope is itself impossible. Moods contain not just slopes but also walls.

Does this in turn go back to emotions and behaviours? I think it does. If I’m absolutely furious with someone I may be able to behave calmly with them, but I probably can’t behave warmly to them - I can go through the motions, but I will probably seem stiff and artificial (because I will be) because I do not have full control over my body language, and have to fight against my natural tendencies.

So perhaps a better way to think of emotions and behaviour is not the tendency towards behaviours but the landscape of behaviour. It is the set of hills and valleys and walls that behaviour operates in. You can apply energy to move up a slope, you probably can’t move up a wall, but as soon as you stop applying energy you will fall into the local minimum.

Moods in turn are the landscape of emotions.

What is the landscape of mood?

I was going to say that it’s temperament, but that isn’t quite right. It’s some combination of temperament and environment - part of why I was miserable yesterday is definitely environmental, prompted by how grey and unpleasant the weather is.

In general this feels like a fruitful question to ask even outside the context of mood and emotion: When you have a space of possibilities, what constitutes the landscape for it?