Have our emotions changed over the century? A recent and entertaining article discusses five new emotions that have come into existence with the rise of computer use in everyday life. Though not exactly a rigorous examination, the article raises an important point: one can’t help but accept the fact that computers, and indeed the internet, are an increasing part of our daily lives – and we are going to have corresponding emotional responses to all sorts of computer-related phenomena. Articulations of affects relating to internet-time-wasting and facebook might not, on this understanding, just be entertaining illustrations of this everyday engagement with computers, but may actually be pointing the creation of new emotional cues and behaviours.
Emotions are historical phenomena. Consider love. To many, this emotion seems an essential part of the human condition. Every human, from the most humble caveman to the most noble Queen has the potential (even if not exercised) to recognize and to experience love. It can come as a shock to this view that our modern understanding of love qua romantic love (viz. the way in which love is not only as an emotional experience, but one with corresponding notions of fidelity, and sacrifice) comes from Trobadours, who expressed this idea of love in their songs and poetry in the Middle Ages. Indeed, the way in which love has been understood has changed dramatically over the centuries: from the kind of love exemplified by Aphrodite shining her light upon Helen, to the agape-love discussed by Augustine, up to the courtly love of Lancelot and Guinevere, and the romantic love of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
Recent neurobiological research has shown that viewing art stimulates the brain in a way that mirrors the experience of romantic love. The study, conducted by Semir Zeki, Professor of Neuroaesthetics at University College London, scanned and mapped the brains of participants who had been asked to look at a variety of paintings from such artists as Botticelli, Turner, Monet and Cezanne. It was found that experiencing art releases into the orbito-frontal cortex of the brain a significant quantity of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a biochemical associated with love, happiness and sociability, as well as drug use and certain psychological disorders.
The result comes at an ideal time for the art world in Britain, which has felt itself to be targeted by the extensive cuts in public spending. The correlation between aesthetic experience and happiness gives extra leverage in justifying the arts according to standards of public interest, a justification which normally consists in pointing out the economic benefits of the revenue which art institutions can generate. Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Stephen Deuchar, director of the arts charity Art Fund, said:
I have always believed art matters profoundly so it is exciting to see some scientific evidence to support the view that life is enhanced by instantaneous contact with works of art
Professor Zeki’s work in neuroaesthetics also stands to be of high value to the philosophy of art. This latest link between art and love is just one of many discoveries made by Zeki which coincide almost seamlessly with what artists and theorist about art have said for centuries, perhaps even for thousands of years. Plato, in his dialogue The Symposium, recounts a speech in praise of Love (Eros) made by Socrates which describes a journey of ascent from sexual love, through aesthetic appreciation of the body, to a spiritual love of the soul, arriving finally at the contemplation of the Platonic Form of Beauty itself. Continue reading “Art for Love’s Sake”
A Portuguese celebrity, Carlos Castro was recently found dead in a New York hotel room. He had also been castrated. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/10/portuguese-model-killing-carlos-castro?INTCMP=SRCH. Though who killed Castro, and what their motive was, is yet to be proven, it is thought that Castro may have been murdered by his lover, and that the motive may have been sexual jealousy. If this is true, Castro is not the first victim of jealousy. As Wilhelm Stekel remarked in 1921: ‘Has anyone counted the victims of jealousy? Daily a revolver cracks somewhere or other because of jealousy; daily a knife finds entrance into a warm body; daily some unhappy ones, racked by jealousy and life weary, sink into fathomless depths. What are all the hideous battles, narrated by history, when compared to this frightful passion jealousy?’
To give one more example of the victims of jealousy, on June 28th 2008 a 17 year old boy called Simon Everitt was tied to a tree, made to drink petrol and was then doused in it and set alight. He was so badly burned that it took a week to identify his remains. The motive for the murder was said to be sexual jealousy – two of the three murderers had previously been in a relationship with Simon’s girlfriend, Fiona Statham http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/8048281.stm A few months after these killers were convicted, peers in the House of Lords voted 99 – 84 against a bill which would have stopped people from being able to use sexual infidelity as a partial defence for murder. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8329444.stm.
Sexual jealousy deserves consideration. Though the murders mentioned above are clearly extreme cases, few people are lucky enough not to have suffered the torments of sexual jealousy at some point in their lives. It is the ‘green ey’d monster’ (Othello, Act 3, Scene 3) that can destroy relationships and take over lives. Jealousy seems to be an inevitable part of life, tied to our need to be loved and to the fear of losing love. Indeed, jealousy is often seen as a sign of caring, hence the practice of ‘making someone jealous’ in order to induce loving and protective feelings in them. However, whether jealousy is natural and inevitable or otherwise, allowing sexual infidelity to be used a partial defence of murder seems to be based on out-dated assumptions about marriage partners being each other’s property. If not, then why shouldn’t other anger-inducing behaviours (leaving your clothes all over the floor, spending all of your joint money in the pub etc.) also count as partial defences for murder? Allowing jealousy to occupy such a privileged position in society serves only to make us less likely to try and control our jealous urges and the subsequent destructive behaviour they may cause.
Tyler Doggatt: Recent Work on the Ethics of Self-Defence
A court in British Columbia is currently deciding whether Canada’s anti-polygamy laws are unconstitutional. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-11776534) Those in favour of the legalisation of polygamy suggest that by not allowing it, Canada is failing in its duty to guarantee the freedom of religion for its citizens (there is a large Mormon community in Canada). If polygamy is legalised, then Canada will become the first developed country to allow it.
82% of Canadians oppose legalising polygamy, but this is not due to sheer disgust for alternative lifestyles. The opponents argue that polygamy harms women and that the men who are ‘leftover’ will be unable to secure a wife for themselves. Interestingly, the debate has not focussed on the more fundamental issue of how far the state should be able to intervene in determining how adults arrange their lives. Furthermore, the lawyers are Continue reading “‘I now pronounce you man and wives’: Canada and polygamy”
In the spirit of St. Valentine’s Day, we turn to the subject of romance. But the outlook for monogamy seems to be bleak. In a study conducted by researchers at Oregon State University, soon to be published in the Journal of Sex Research, 40% of a sample of 434 young heterosexual couples, married and unmarried, gave conflicting answers when partners were asked individually whether they had agreed to be monogamous. Furthermore, of those who were in agreement about monogamy at least in principle, 30% reported that at least one partner had not kept to it. Continue reading “Let’s Talk About…Monogamy?”