“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

From murdoch to valences

Though perhaps I shouldn’t write it, I’m rather happy about Murdoch’s purchase of the WSJ. In recent years, the ideological hardline, which used to be confined to the editorial page, spread to the cultural page – basically meaning that the children of Heritage Foundation wanks, the Ledeen Jr. generation, were writing the reviews. And LI was not. If Fox is any indication, Murdoch knows when to narrowcast – the news and editorials strictly for the dittohead crowd – and when to broadcast – the Simpsons, The American Batchelor (now with more tits and ass!) and other assorted goodies. So hooray! Time to query those guys. I wonder if my bud Eric has survived the past four years purge…

Okay, in the latest slo mo episode of Happiness Triumphant, the Aristotle years, Alan has replied to me and me to Alan on his site. As I was looking up stuff in psychology textbooks, it hit me that the canonical use of ‘valence’ terms – the use of positive to denote some emotions, and negative to denote others – must have a history that LI could track. You don’t read about ‘negative’ emotions and ‘positive’ emotions in the 18th century, or before. And for most of the 19th century, emotional talk might be about noble and ignoble emotions, or it might use the old Galenic vocabulary of temperaments (which, with major modifications, LI wants to get back to), but it doesn’t conform to the valence talk that is now the psychological norm. Of course, I could imagine a psychologist saying that valence talk is about scales of intensity, blah blah blah, and is translated into vulgar negative and positive talk by self help books – but that isn’t true. This is a typical passage from the Handbook of Emotions (Lewis, Haviland Jones):

“Results revealed that the imagery of negative emotions (fear, anger and sadness) was associated with higher EMG activity over the brow muscle regions than was the imagery of the positive emotions (happiness) (178)”

And since -except if you are a Hegelian – negative cancels out positive, the co-existence of a negative and positive emotional complex would seem to be ruled out, not to speak of the attractiveness of negative emotions. Even though occasionally a psychologist will come out of the cellar, when the dogs are quietly salivating, for a cigarette break and find that, uh, we live in a world in which people pay money to go to movies to be afraid – and they do extreme sporty things too – and they join armies and shit. At this moment, psychologists summon the vocabulary to make the obvious into a delightful bundle of confusing terms.

‘Second, valence is by no means a straightforward characteristic of emotisons. Fedman Barrett, for example, in a recent study found that

“First, the desirability of a mood and the hedonic quality [valence] of a mood are related, but not identical entities. Secondly, the desirability of a mood is also related to the level of arousal the mood denotes. Thirdly, desirability components are related to the self-report ratings of mood, but the ratings also reflect the hedonic tone and level of arousal describing the internal state of the respondents…”

Another way of stating this finding might be as follows: Just as there is a goal-relevant type of emotional intensity, there would appear to be a goal-relevant type of emotional valence, what Feldman Barrett calls ‘desirability” as opposed to “hedonic tone”. Fear, for example, may be inherently unpleasant in some sense, bring about, in many cases, various intensities of ‘aversive arousal (Lang 1995). But it is also apparent that, in some instances, fear is sought out and enjoyed. Bungee jumpers, spectators of a horror or suspense film, and roller coaster riders routinely experience pleasure in the fear induced by the chosen activity.”

In this way, like Columbus discovering the New World, William Reddy, the author of those immortal words (in The Navigation of Feeling), discovers the meaning of the word “rush”. I hope you showed his discovery to his teenage kids. They would be so proud! Will miracles never cease?

So LI has taken a gander at the roots of this cumbersome conceptual framework and found – gosh! – that about the time classical economics was re-formulating itself around a physics model that emphasized equilibrium among molecules, psychologists were also absorbing the models of energetics. More in a later post.

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