- Capa dura: 448 páginas
- Editora: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (7 de março de 2017)
- Idioma: Inglês
- ISBN-10: 0544133315
- ISBN-13: 978-0544133310
- Dimensões do produto: 15,2 x 3,8 x 22,9 cm
- Peso de envio: 658 g
- Avaliação média: Seja o primeiro a avaliar este item
- Lista de mais vendidos da Amazon: no. 57,882 em Livros (Conheça o Top 100 na categoria Livros)
How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain (Inglês) Capa dura – 6 mar 2017
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I read this book back in March of 2017, and refrained from writing this review because generally I'm uncomfortable with writing them. However, about an hour before writing this, I listened science writer Robert Wright's podcast of the author discussing her book and was so bothered by it that I felt compelled to write the review you're reading now.
Dr. Barrett discusses this book, and I personally found the discussion disingenuous at best, and intellectually dodgy at worst. Dr. Barrett, to me, sounded more like an attorney than she did a scientist. She nitpicked the meaning of Mr. Wright's choice of words, and if you nitpick enough, you can find a flaw in anything, then focus on it ad nauseam. She absolutely dominated the discourse with what I perceived to be a veritable flood of verbiage, while avoiding a truly honest debate on the issues with Mr. Wright, as he clearly disagreed with her.
Let's take for instance the point that Mr. Wright brought up about schadenfreude, which Dr. Barrett discusses in her book. Wright implied this is an instinctive emotion, Dr. Barrett claims this is a culturally constructed emotion, as are all emotions. Schadenfreude is a German word denoting the pleasure that someone feels at the misfortune of others. Can a three year old experience this, Mr. Wright asked. Dr. Barrett made a somewhat snarky remark to Mr. Wright saying that maybe YOU feel schadenfreude a lot, but most of us don't. Then went on to discuss that the three year old would not feel this because they haven't been taught, or learned the concept of it. Ultimately, this is as most questions in psychology, an academic question because we can't prove anything about subjective experience. However, can any of us honestly say that we've never seen a three year old who has no idea what shadenfreude is, experience it anyway? Haven't YOU felt it at some time, even though you many have never heard the word?
Here's another thing I didn't like in the book - Dr. Barrett joking referred to "brain blobs", as she pokes fun at the notion that the brain has specified locations for various functions. If I understand her point correctly, this would directly contradict eminent scientists Dr. Robert Sapolsky's view of the brain, which is greatly divided by function, and has much experimental evidence to back up his claims in his book "Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst", which I personally find a far superior book to this one. Here's a statement from "Behave" which directly contradicts the fundamental premise of Dr. Barrett's book - "by the time you finish this book, you'll see that it actually makes no sense to distinguish between aspects of a behavior that are "Biological" and those that would be described as, say, "psychological" or "cultural." Utterly intertwined. I think Dr. Sopolsky would agree that you could replace the word "behvaior" with "emotion" and still agree with him.
The author had the temerity to take a veiled swipe at fellow psychologist, Daniel Kahneman. Not directly, mind you, but it was an unmistakable negative remark towards him. Dr. Kahneman is the only psychologist to win a Nobel Prize; he won it with his contribution to economics on the psychology of decision making in uncertain circumstances. In his masterwork of psychology "Thinking Fast and Slow" he summarizes his decades of research on human psychology by postulating that we have two different thinking systems, one rapid and intuitive, the other slow and deliberate. Dr. Barrett completely denied the existence of this distinction, in language I found similar to poking fun at "brain blobs." I admire a writer who has grand ambitions, however, taking a shot at perhaps the most accomplished living psychologist, and missing the mark entirely, further solidified my inability to construct much positive emotion of this book.
Ultimately, Dr. Barrett is trying to convince the reader that there are no universal emotions, as say psychologist Dr. Paul Ekman and others would have us believe, and that they are all dependent upon learning and culture. Now this view may auger well with our current intellectual zeitgeist, which is averse to the notion of human nature, and believes that most human ills can be mended by being educated in the right ideas. While I believe this in part, I do not believe this entirely. Why can't it be that there are emotions engraved on our DNA and our experience from birth to death interacts with our nature?
Wright and Barrett also discussed indigenous cultures, who are very often discussed in psychological texts because they don't have any of the influence of modern western cultures, and live in a way that humans are more evolved to live in. Dr. Barrett says that for instance, the !Kung simply do not feel fear in the way that you or I would because of their culture. So, if a !Kung saw within stepping on distance of themselves a coiled, ready to strike deadly snake, they wouldn't feel what any other human would feel? I highly doubt that.
Dr. Barrett resides in academia's ivory tower - me, I'm a mud-spattered grunt in the trenches of trying to heal people's painful emotions. I was hoping for cutting edge insights from the Ivory Tower to help us emotional hygienists in the world below. I found woefully little, unfortunately. I see countless people ruled, tormented and sometimes ruined by their painful, negative emotions. If I summarized this book to your clients - "well, those emotions are just constructs that you learned and you create, so just change them!", I think I'd be out of a job. Our emotions are just not that simple. Not even close.
Perhaps I misunderstood the book. I was hoping that the podcast would convince me of Dr. Barrett's way of thinking. It didn't. It actually secured my own existing beliefs, partly because I found her so overbearingly loquacious, without really saying much of anything with substance. Mostly a big disappointing word salad.
On a more positive note, I really liked her discussion about the concept of emotion differentiation and emotional granularity, and found them extremely helpful to my job as a mental health therapist. I now have lists of words for emotions that I have clients read through to help them better identify feelings that cause them trouble, or feelings of things that they find pleasurable. It's been very helpful, so I'm thankful for that.
In closing, I'm a grizzled old veteran of the internet, and anticipate this review may provoke some reader's ire. I won't respond to anything argumentative, snarky, or hostile. I may not respond at all, it depends upon my mood. If there is something I'm misunderstanding, I really would like some enlightening. In short, I simply don't believe the premise of this book, that emotions are cultural constructs. They are a product of both our natures and our experience. Thank you for reading.
According to Dr. Barrett, there are no neurological or physical "fingerprints" defining how each individual emotion looks in the brain; instead the brain takes whatever hormonal and physiological ingredients are involved in a particular instance of feeling (like increased heartrate, body temperature, and respiration), and processes it through concepts it has constructed -- i.e., its own expectations based on prior experience (memory) and cultural norms.
"There is no single difference between anger and fear, because there's no single 'Anger' and no single 'Fear,'" says Barrett. There is no particular place in the brain that produces Fear (or an avoidance response); the sense of Fear is a learned response. So are Anger and Sadness. For some people, force of habit makes them associate many of their everyday feeling tones with Anger; for others it is Sadness or depression -- but the sensory inputs (the circumstances in which they find themselves) aren't really important factors in creating the anger or sadness they feel. More importantly, there isn't any "disorder" of the brain involved. They have simply learned deeply unhealthy habits of thought and feeling, which take place without their awareness. And WHY does the brain go to so much trouble? Because its primary function is, ultimately, to predict the future based on current circumstances and past experiences.
So far, so good. From my own experience, I can say that this resonates with me. Earlier in my life, I spent far too much of my time ruminating on life as meaningless and hopeless; these habits of thought became closely associated in my brain with every manner of physiological state, even those which were otherwise entirely neutral. As a result, these perfectly neutral states became depressive states to me, entirely as a result of my own habits of thought. My depression was a construct of my brain. Even though the habits of thought I developed could be viewed as a natural consequence of the circumstances in which I grew up, as soon as I realized that I had control over my own thoughts, I was empowered to break the cycle of depression.
If everyone understood that our emotions are NOT inherent to our circumstances, but are rather a consequence of how we perceive our circumstances, society would be much better off. But here Barrett starts to go off the rails. She claims not just that all emotions are constructed by the brain, but that there cannot be any objective measure of the validity or "truth" of our emotions, because they are socially constructed. Here is the example she gives to illustrate her point: Say you are walking down the street with a friend, and you see a stranger stamping his feet. You perceive this stranger as being "angry;" your friend sees him as "dejected;" to the man, it was merely an act of "clomping caked mud off his shoes." Barrett asks, who is correct?
Her answer is no one, because with social reality there is no such thing as accuracy. At best, there is only consensus. "You, your friend, and the stamping man each construct a perception by prediction. The stamping man himself might be feeling unpleasant arousal, and he may categorize his interceptive sensations...as an instance of 'Removing Mud from My Shoe.' You may construct a perception of anger and your friend a perception of dejection. Each construction is real, so questions of accuracy are unanswerable in a strictly objective sense." In other words, we are expected to believe that ANY perceptual response one individual has to a particular emotional state is just as accurate as any other individual's response.
Now, I will readily agree that each emotional response is individual; is built on a socially-defined foundation; and is not inherently a part of the objective circumstances themselves. However, there is unquestionably an objective measure by which the various responses can be judged against each other, and Barrett herself makes the point repeatedly: i.e., how well does a given "explanation" predict the future?
In the case of the stamping man, if I perceive "anger," then I will certainly have a neurophysical (or "interoceptive") reaction to my own perception -- I will anticipate the possibility of interacting with "an angry stranger," and my body will react accordingly with some level of flight-or-fight response. If my friend perceived "dejection," then her bodily reaction will be correspondingly different.
Now imagine the "stamping man," having completed his task of getting the mud off his shoe, smiling pleasantly and saying "Have a nice day" to me and my friend before proceeding merrily on his way. Can we still insist that there is no objectively accurate answer to the question of who was right regarding the man's emotional state in this instance?
Barrett seems to have adopted a problematic attitude toward the construction of emotions: That simply because something is in part socially constructed, it is therefore wholly arbitrary; thus, any construction is just as good as any other. But the truth is that whatever mental and emotional perceptions I habitually construct will have an enduring impact on how I interact with the world, i.e., with society and other human beings; and those interactions will have repercussions which reverberate throughout the society to which we all contribute.
The danger comes when, out of an excess of egocentricity on my part, I insist on the accuracy of my belief that the man was angry, and no amount of apparent pleasantness or merriness on his part convinces me otherwise. Thus I go through the rest of my day thinking that I've encountered an angry guy; and since I am apparently in the habit of seeing "anger" at inappropriate times, I'll probably have lots of interactions with "angry" people -- or at least with people I perceive as angry, and to whom I respond accordingly. In this regard I am reminded of a humorous aphorism: If the first person you meet today is a jerk, then you met a jerk; if everyone you meet today is a jerk, then YOU are the jerk.
This could certainly explain why people come to believe that our society is filled with angry people, or depressives, or scarily aggressive cis-normative patriarchal oppressors. Once they develop the habit of seeing these things in others, they see them habitually.
Another point Barrett makes, the significance of which she seems to miss, is that although we feel emotions "effortlessly," and as if they were "built-in," they are really just concepts that we learn extremely early in our lives. It is because they become a part of the foundation of "who we are" that we think of them as "built-in." Cannot the same be said for every other aspect of our unique personal identities?
Barrett further makes the claim that stress and emotion are created identically by the body-brain connection. But she is less than coherent in the way she describes these processes. She says, "You might think that stress is something that happens to you.... But stress doesn't come from the outside world. You construct it."
Then she describes things that we associate with stress, like living in prolonged poverty or being bullied. The problem is that these are things that HAPPEN TO US. And Barrett even acknowledges that these things (which happen TO us) have a profound impact on our body (our "body budget" as Barrett puts it). We use the term "stress" to label the very real impact that these things have on us. Barrett's description of the way the brain "creates" emotion/stress sounds as if our neurophysical responses are somehow arbitrary, socially constructed; but those bodily responses are NOT arbitrary or socially constructed, only the label we use to categorize them (the word "stress") is arbitrary.
What she's really saying (though she doesn't come out and say it, implying to me that she doesn't consciously realize it) is that our mindset is the key to mental and emotional health -- that is, how we respond mentally to the things that happen to us is the key to how we feel about those things (which is subtly different from the idea that our brains are "creating" emotions out of whole cloth). She repeatedly asserts that poverty and bullying produce negative physical reactions in the body which we perceive as "stress." So isn't it obtuse to say that "stress" doesn't really exist, and isn't caused by things happening to us, but is instead wholly constructed by the brain?
When we view our circumstances as the "problem," we are denying ourselves the ability to learn the mental habits which are the real means of achieving mental and emotional health. If we perceive bullying as the problem, then we will devote our resources to stopping bullying, rather than the more useful approach of helping kids learn how to deal with bullies. Ditto for poverty.
Yet Barrett pooh-poohs the idea of changing your thoughts in order to change your moods. She doesn't explicitly address what she thinks is really going on when people successfully "change their brain," but I suppose she would argue that by altering their own subjective perception of what is happening to them, they are recasting events into more positive (to them) categories; over time, by improving their "body-budgeting" predictions they gradually begin to feel better.
She says that there aren't any areas of the brain that are devoted to various functions, there's just a brain trying to predict the current and near-future energy needs of a complex organism based on its own past experiences (memories). I can totally get on board with this.
But she doesn't really have an explanation for our subjective experiences of things other than that they are a shared social construct. Where and how does this construction occur? Yes, in the brain, through top-down and bottom-up processes -- but how is this idea any different from what we currently believe about the brain? Is the "difference" merely in how we conceive of what is happening, as either the brain "processing" a distinct state known as Anger or Depression, versus the brain shoehorning a hazy and nebulous neurophysical state into a mental category called, say, Anger? Why in the world would such a system evolve, and how can this socially constructed system cause a brain to misread its body's own needs so drastically?
Even more bizarrely, she insists that any prediction is as "accurate" as any other, regardless of how pernicious the consequences of a given prediction might be. She offers a story about her own visit to the doctor where she was feeling very fatigued, and the doctor suggested she might be depressed even without being aware of it. She countered that there was no depression, just physical fatigue caused by various things in her life. In her telling, by listening to her doctor's suggestion about possibly being depressed, she might have reframed her own inner experience into one of "depression," making it literally true for herself, even to the point of producing depressive thoughts. Instead of allowing this to happen, she stuck to her guns
But isn't this identical to the "change your brain, change your life" argument, which Barrett dismisses out of hand? The whole point about changing your thinking is that it recasts your habits of thought into a more positive mold, helping to shape your future perspectives into more positive ones. She seems to be all-but-agreeing with the fact that you control how you respond to things, while insisting that changing your thoughts isn't really changing your feelings.
Instead she explicitly argues that it's really the other way around, that the way you feel influences the way you think. Yet with the doctor story she acknowledges that she could just as easily have adopted a way of thinking about her feelings which would have produced worse feelings. There seems to be a fundamental contradiction in her argument which is never resolved (but constantly recurring) and therefore frustrating to read.
In conclusion: I think Barrett is right that most of our thinking about the brain is too rigid and "essentialist" (i.e., that very specific areas of the brain are associated with "recognizing" very specific instances of emotion), and that we instead essentially create the concepts of emotion which we then apply to the situations in which we find ourselves; but the fact is that this isn't as far removed from what many people think as she seems to believe. And every time she uses an example to bolster her point, it invariably undermines her claims -- which suggests to me that she doesn't really understand the real implications of her theory. I would hazard the guess that she's determined to believe that her theory is an earth-shattering paradigm shift in our understanding of the brain (possibly one for which she deserves a Nobel Prize), and so she is constantly trying to present her findings as if that is the case, whereas in reality she is mainly tweaking our established understanding.
I'm reminded of the Daoist story of a man riding in a canoe which is hit by another canoe, spilling him into the water. At first he is angry and outraged at the person in the other canoe for deliberately ramming into him -- until he sees that the other canoe is unoccupied.
We are always responding to things emotionally, as if the outcome of everything that happens to us is the deliberate, intentional effect of conscious agents. But really, everything that happens is just stuff happening. Even more importantly, even the deliberate and intentional things done by others which cause us pain are just more examples of stuff happening.
In both cases, whether or not the outcome is caused by an intentional agent, our emotional reactions to those things arise from the same place: The egocentric mind. Only when we can set aside our own egoic impulses can we learn to recognize all the things that happen to us as just "stuff happening," and respond appropriately.
This is where Barrett goes so wrong in her description of how emotions are made; while she recognizes, accurately enough, that emotions are just mind-stuff, she makes the mistake of assuming that everyone is equally entitled to have his or her mind-stuff recognized and acknowledged by everyone else -- in other words, that any emotional reaction is as accurate as any other.
But realizing that NO emotional reaction is "accurate" isn't the same thing as saying that every reaction is as accurate as every other. I believe further that Barrett is right in speculating that the main purpose of the brain is to act as a prognosticating machine, predicting the future as accurately as possible -- and in this regard, accuracy is real and measurable.
However, Barrett misses the mark by suggesting that the labels we apply to whatever internal state we find ourselves in (our "body-budget") is more or less entirely a matter of cultural conditioning. (If that were the case, how could we glean any meaning from the Daoist story?)
As long as we insist on accepting our emotional reactions as "truths," then we are like the man who is knocked into the river but who insists on holding on to his anger and outrage, which he expresses toward the empty canoe; the cold wet river; the whole dumb, monstrously unfair universe. My answer: Let it go.