A Contemplation of Enfolded Butterflies: Emotion

Of all of the nebulous uses of language, perhaps none are so obscure as the deployment of the words “feeling” and “emotion.” Community depends on common meaning. In the Confucian spirit of “Rectifying the Names,” therefore, I wish to offer a brief reflection following an investigation of emotion on its own terms, and a consideration of feeling may be the subject of a future piece. Indeed, a distinction of emotion from feeling will allow for a deeper appreciation of both phenomena in themselves. By emotion I mean to indicate the echo of feeling resounding through the physiology. Emotion, in this sense, if pure feeling that is introverted or self-referential. This is to say, emotion is the more comprehensive and impersonal phenomenon of feeling insofar as its reference is circumscribed to the interest of a single individual. By “on its own terms” I mean that I will attempt a consideration of emotion as such, eoipso, rather than an explanation of this subject through recourse to something else. For instance, one might imagine one had explained emotion once one had correlated it to signature neural activity. This will not be the approach of the present investigation for the same reason that poetry is irreducible to linguistics, or handwriting. If the object of this study were neural activity, one would have indicated this at the outset.

Also relevant in the framing of this endeavour is the principle of commensurability: a bonafide understanding of a subject must concern that subject itself and not something else. This is the principle which determines, for instance that a true investigation of a butterfly* could neither take place in a library nor in a laboratory because in the first case the actual object of investigation would be a description in a book, and in the second the object would be a specimen. One may inquire in this oblique manner and attain useful information about context and correlations in regard to the subject in question, but if such a peripheral investigation be executed at the expense of immediate contemplation, this is a bootless-errand.

Still, an entity or phenomenon bears not an accidental, but an essential relation to its environment. A subject and its environment constitute a single whole which may be characterised as a reciprocal or complementary unity. Thus, a given entity may be distinguished from its context, but the former may not be divided from the latter. In this spirit, any inquiry of emotion must ensure that it is conducts its investigation in the proper venue. The natural habitat of these phenomena an be none other than the waking soul in its incarnation between bodily birth and death.

Immediately evident to objective introspection will be that emotions never appear ex nihilo in the soul. Quite the contrary, any given emotion is always situated in a context. The latter is not a spatial, but a temporal environment. Thus, a given emotion will be presaged by one class of phenomena and succeeded by another. Contemplation reveals that the seed of a given emotion is in a preference or desire, which always intends a certain an outcome that is not yet actual. Subsequent to this temporal germ, one may trace both a positive and a negative fulfillment of the given desire’s intention and discover that this decision determines the valence of the emotion to follow—the former leading to pleasurable emotions and the latter to the reverse. Thus, a schematic description of the causal aspect of emotion may appear as a dichotomous key between the fulfilment or non-fulfillment of a given desire.

We traced the causal aspect of an emotion to an origin which was of the nature of desire. Ulterior investigation will reveal that the effectual aspect of emotion, by contrast, is of the nature of will. The genius of language reveals the latter aspect in the very etymological constitution of the word: emotion is ex (“out of”) + motus (“movement”). We can follow the sequence of an emotus nascendi from its origin as (1) desire. The latter awaits fructification by (2) actual events. Following the union of inner and outer, the soul is then moved (3) to act accordingly. For instance, if (1) I am thirsty, I will be (2) happy if a comrade offers me a draught from his canteen, but neither happy nor unhappy if he offers me a potato, and distinctly unhappy if we receive marching orders from Uncle Joe. In the first case, I would (3) drink, in the second, likely receive the potato and save it for another occasion, and in the last case probably leave the Party.

With love to my readers,

*The butterfly is a symbol of Psyche, the Greek goddess of the soul. For an image of the soul, picture in your mind’s eye a butterfly whose wings unfold not into outer space, but into…

The second space, which is within, possesseth no answers nor apologies nor tokens nor ciphers nor seals; but it possesseth only types and figures

(Pistis Sophia, Chapter 99).


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