C> I suspect that in his early criticism he was primarily interested (quite reasonably) in earning a quick buck (or should I say quid), and laying down some random & high sounding "new" principle is the easiest and quickest way to write a review. (Hence, for example, "objective correlative).
Eliot's controversial idea of the "objective correlative" has been widely discussed over the years. As stated in his essay "Hamlet and his problems,", Eliot wrote: "The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an 'objective correlative'; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked."
I have recently read the 1995 book "Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman, in which Goleman uses recent scientific discoveries to offer insights into the emotional and rational modes of thinking/feeling/behaving. It appears to me that there could be a scientific basis for Eliot's intuitive understanding of the relationship between thoughts and their evoked feelings.
I'm going to briefly summarize some key points from the book, and then I'm going to post (at the end of this email) some brief excerpts from the book so you can see the passages for yourself.
The key ideas are:
1) The physical signals for 'emotion' are located in very primitive sections of the brain, such as the brainstem, the olfactory lobe, and the limbic system. This implies that the "emotional brain" evolved first, before the "thinking brain." The early purpose of 'emotions,' such as fear and anger, was probably as a very fast (essentially 'automatic') survival mechanism. That is, the 'emotional brain' was responsible for making fast decisions based on sensory perceptions of the world, and then causing the body to take action based on those split-second decisions. The 'emotional brain' causes physical changes that can be scientifically measured, such as increased heart rate and shunted blood flow to the hands or legs. This prepares the body to act quickly on the perceptions/decisions of the emotional brain. As Goleman says, " . . this quickness [of the emotional brain] most likely revolved around that most basic decision, what to pay attention to, and, once vigilant while, say, confronting another animal, making split-second decisions like, Do I eat this, or does it eat me?"
2) While the first use of the 'emotional brain' was in 'automatic decision making,' a 'rational brain' evolved in the neocortex. This 'rational brain' is slower than the 'emotional brain', which can cause us to ask ourselves after an emotional outburst, "What did I do _that_ for?"
3) As human evolved, there became two separate pathways to trigger emotion: One way is the 'fast, automatic' pathway based on sensory perception (for example, we see a burglar breaking into our house and we feel fear, causing our heart rate to increase). But a second pathway evolved in which the thinking brain _triggers_ emotions. For example, we start to think about a person who died, and this evokes a feeling of sadness in ourselves through our thoughts.
Goleman argues that this second pathway to trigger emotions also was probably a survival mechanism. In this second pathway, some learning from the past becomes a 'pattern' that evokes an emotion that is similar to the emotion evoked before. For example, if we had once been cheated by a business partner, then if another person _reminds_ us of that partner (though similar appearance or through similar conversations), we might feel angry or disgusted with the new person. Our rational brain is "matching the pattern" of the old person against the pattern of the new person. Once the pattern is found to be sufficiently matched, the rational brain triggers the emotional brain to send out the same feelings (e.g., fear, anger, disgust) as were once evoked by the old person.
To me, this idea of the rational brain "pattern matching" some present object with a past object (and then triggering an emotion _associated_ with the past object) is essentially what Eliot was describing with the concept of the "objective correlative" in literature. The author is "pattern matching" some "set of objects, a situation, a chain of events" which then becomes the "formula of that particular emotion" through the physical mechanism by which the neocortex triggers the brain stem and the limbic system to evoke an emotion.
Since this post is already too long, let me end here. Below you'll find some excerpts from "Emotional Intelligence" so you can read the material for yourself.
-- Tom --
From "Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman
(selections from chapter 1 and appendix 'A' and 'B')
From chapter 1:
In our emotional repertoire each emotion plays a unique role, as revealed by their distinctive biological signatures. With new methods to peer into the body and brain, researchers are discovering more physiological details of how each emotion prepares the body for a very different kind of response;
1) With anger, blood flows to the hands, making it easier to grasp a weapon or strike at a foe; heart rate increases, and a rush of hormones such as adrenaline generates a pulse of energy strong enough for vigorous action.
2) With fear, blood goes to the large skeletal muscles, such as in the legs, making it easier to flee and making the face blanch as blood is shunted away from it (creating the feeling that the blood "runs cold"). At the same time, the body freezes, if only for a moment, perhaps allowing time to gauge whether hiding might be a better reaction. Circuits in the brain's emotional centers trigger a flood of hormones that put the body on general alert, making it edgy and ready for action, and attention fixates on the threat at hand, the better to evaluate what response to make.
3) Among the main biological changes in happiness is an increased activity in a brain center that inhibits negative feelings and fosters an increase in available energy, and a quieting of those that generate worrisome thought. But there is no particular shift in physiology save a quiescence, which makes the body recover more quickly from the biological arousal of upsetting emotions. This configuration offers the body a general rest, as well as readiness and enthusiasm for whatever task is at hand and for striving toward a great variety of goals.
4) Love, tender feelings, and sexual satisfaction entail
parasympathetic arousal the physiological opposite of the "fight-or-flight" mobilization shared by fear and anger. The parasympathetic pattern, dubbed the "relaxation response," is a bodywide set of reactions that generates a general state of calm and contentment, facilitating cooperation.
5) The lifting of the eyebrows in surprise allows the taking in of a larger visual sweep and also permits more light to strike the retina. This offers more information about the unexpected event, making it easier to figure out exactly what is going on and concoct the best plan for action.
6) Around the world an expression of disgust looks the same, and sends the identical message: something is offensive in taste or smell, or metaphorically so. The facial expression of disgust the upper lip curled to the side as the nose wrinkles slightly suggests a primordial attempt, as Darwin observed, to close the nostrils against a noxious odor or to spit out a poisonous food.
7) A main function for sadness is to help adjust to a significant loss, such as the death of someone close or a major disappointment. Sadness brings a drop in energy and enthusiasm for life's activities, particularly diversions and pleasures, and, as it deepens and approaches depression, slows the body's metabolism. This introspective withdrawal creates the opportunity to mourn a loss or frustrated hope, grasp its consequences for one's life, and, as energy returns, plan new beginnings. This loss of energy may well have kept saddened and vulnerable early humans close to home, where they were safer.
From appendix 'A' and 'B'
I take emotion to refer to a feeling and its distinctive thoughts, psychological and biological states, and range of propensities to act. There are hundreds of emotions, along with their blends, variations, mutations, and nuances. Indeed, there are many more subtleties of emotion than we have words for.
Researchers continue to argue over precisely which emotions can be considered primary the blue, red, and yellow of feeling from which all blends come - or even if there are such primary emotions at all. Some theorists propose basic families, though not all agree on them. The main candidates: anger, sadness, fear, enjoyment, love, surprise/wonder, disgust, shame . . .
The argument for there being a handful of core emotions hinges to some extent on the discovery by Paul Ekman, at the University of California at San Francisco, that specific facial expressions for four of them (fear, anger, sadness, enjoyment) are recognized by people in cultures around the world, including preliterate peoples presumably untainted by exposure to cinema or televisionsuggesting their universality. Ekman showed facial photos portraying expressions with technical precision to people in cultures as remote as the Fore of New Guinea, an isolated Stone Age tribe in the remote highlands, and found people everywhere recognized the same basic emotions. This universality of facial expressions for emotion was probably first noted by Darwin, who saw it as evidence the forces of evolution had stamped these signals in our central nervous system . . .
Only in recent years has there emerged a scientific model of the emotional mind that explains how so much of what we do can be emotionally driven how we can be so reasonable at one moment and so irrational the next and the sense in which emotions have their own reasons and their own logic. . .[Here are] a basic list of the qualities that distinguish emotions from the rest of mental life.
a) A Quick but Sloppy Response
The emotional mind is far quicker than the rational mind, springing into action without pausing even a moment to consider what it is doing. Its quickness precludes the deliberate, analytic reflection that is the hallmark of the thinking mind. In evolution this quickness most likely revolved around that most basic decision, what to pay attention to, and, once vigilant while, say, confronting another animal, making split-second decisions like, Do I eat this, or does it eat me? Those organisms that had to pause too long to reflect on these answers were unlikely to have many progeny to pass on their slower-acting genes.
Actions that spring from the emotional mind carry a particularly strong sense of certainty, a by-product of a streamlined, simplified way of looking at things that can be absolutely bewildering to the rational mind. When the dust settles, or even in mid-response, we find ourselves thinking, "What did I do that for?" a sign that the rational mind is awakening to the moment, but not with the rapidity of the emotional mind
Since the interval between what triggers an emotion and its eruption can be virtually instantaneous, the mechanism that appraises perception must be capable of great speed, even in brain time, which is reckoned in thousandths of a second. This appraisal of the need to act needs to be automatic, so rapid that it never enters conscious awareness. This quick-and-dirty variety of emotional response sweeps over us virtually before we quite know what is happening.
This rapid mode of perception sacrifices accuracy for speed, relying on first impressions, reacting to the overall picture or the most striking aspects. It takes things in at once, as a whole, reacting without taking the time for thoughtful analysis. Vivid elements can determine that impression, outweighing a careful evaluation of the details. The great advantage is that the emotional mind can read an emotional reality (he's angry with me; she's lying: this is making him sad) in an instant, making the intuitive snap judgments that tell us who to be wary of, who to trust, who's in distress. The emotional mind is our radar for danger; if we (or our forebears in evolution) waited for the rational mind to make some of these judgments, we might not only be wrong we might be dead. The drawback is that these impressions and intuitive judgments, because they are made in the snap of a finger, may be mistaken or misguided.
Paul Ekman proposes that this quickness, in which emotions can overtake us before we are quite aware they have started, is essential to their being so highly adaptive: they mobilize us to respond to urgent events without wasting time pondering whether to react or how to respond. Using the system he developed for detecting emotions from subtle changes in facial expression, Ekman can track micro-emotions that flit across the face in less than a half second. Ekman and his collaborators have discovered that emotional expressions begin to show up in changes in facial musculature within a few thousandths of a second after the event that triggers the reaction, and that the physiological changes typical of a given emotion like shunting blood flow and increasing heart rate also take only fractions of a second to begin. This swiftness is particularly true of intense emotion, like fear of a sudden threat.
b) First Feelings, Second Thoughts
Because it takes the rational mind a moment or two longer to register and respond than it does the emotional mind, the "first impulse" in an emotional situation is the heart's, not the head's. There is also a second kind of emotional reaction, slower than the quick-response, which simmers and brews first in our thoughts before it leads to feeling. This second pathway to triggering emotions is more deliberate, and we are typically quite aware of the thoughts that lead to it. In this kind of emotional reaction there is a more extended appraisal; our thoughts cognition play the key role in determining what emotions will be roused. Once we make an appraisal "that taxi driver is cheating me" or "this baby is adorable," a fitting emotional response follows. In this slower sequence, more fully articulated thought precedes feeling. More complicated emotions, like embarrassment or apprehension over an upcoming exam, follow this slower route, taking seconds or minutes to unfold these are emotions that follow from thoughts.
By contrast, in the fast-response sequence feeling seems to precede or be simultaneous with thought. This rapid-fire emotional reaction takes over in situations that have the urgency of primal survival. This is the power of such rapid decisions: they mobilize us in an instant to rise to an emergency. Our most intense feelings are involuntary reactions; we cannot decide when they will erupt... For that reason they can offer an alibi: "It is the fact that we cannot choose the emotions which we have," notes Ekman, that allows people to explain away their actions by saying they were in the grip of emotion.
[So]there are quick and slow paths to emotion one through immediate perception and the other through reflective thought.
c) A Symbolic, Childlike Reality
The logic of the emotional mind is associative: it takes elements that symbolize a reality, or trigger a memory of it. to be the same as that reality. That is why similes, metaphors, and images speak directly to the emotional mind, as do the arts novels, film, poetry, song, theater, opera. Great spiritual teachers, like Buddha and Jesus, have touched their disciples' hearts by speaking in the language of emotion, teaching in parables, fables, and stories. Indeed, religious symbol and ritual makes little sense from the rational point of view; it is couched in the vernacular of the heart.
This logic of the heart of the emotional mind is well-described by Freud in his concept of "primary process" thought: it is the logic of religion and poetry, psychosis and children, dream and myth. The primary process is the key that unlocks the meanings of works like James Joyce's Ulysses: In primary process thought, loose associations determine the flow of a narrative; one object symbolizes another; one feeling displaces another and stands for it; wholes are condensed into parts. There is no time, no laws of cause-and-effect. Indeed, there is no such thing as "No" in the primary process; anything is possible. The psychoanalytic method is in part the art of deciphering and unraveling these substitutions in meaning.
If the emotional mind follows this logic and its rules, with one element standing for another, things need not necessarily be defined by their objective identity: what matters is how they are perceived; things are as they seem. What something reminds us of can be far more important than what it "is." Indeed, in emotional life, identities can be like a hologram in the sense that a single part evokes a whole. As Seymour Epstein points out, while the rational mind makes logical connections between causes and effects, the emotional mind is indiscriminate, connecting things that merely have similar striking features.
There are many ways in which the emotional mind is childlike, the more so the stronger the emotion grows. One way is categorical thinking, where everything is in black and white, with no shades of gray; someone who is mortified about a faux pas might have the immediate thought, "I always say the wrong thing." Another sign of this childlike mode is personalized thinking, with events perceived with a bias centering on oneself, like the driver who, after an accident, explained that "the telephone pole came straight at me."
This chidlike mode is self-confirming, suppressing or ignoring memories or facts that would undermine its beliefs and seizing on those that support it. The beliefs of the rational mind are tentative; new evidence can disconfirm one belief and replace it with a new one it reasons by objective evidence. The emotional mind, however, takes its beliefs to be absolutely true, and so discounts any evidence to the contrary. That is why it is so hard to reason with someone who is emotionally upset: no matter the soundness of your argument from a logical point of view, it carries no weight if it is out of keeping with the emotional conviction of the moment. Feelings are self-justifying, with a set of perceptions and "proofs" all their own.
d) The Past Imposed on the Present
When some feature of an event seems similar to an emotionally charged memory from the past, the emotional mind responds by triggering the feelings that went with the remembered event. The emotional mind reacts to the present as though it were the past. The trouble is that, especially when the appraisal is fast and automatic, we may not realize that what was once the case is no longer so. Someone who has learned, through painful childhood beatings, to react to an angry scowl with intense fear and loathing will have that reaction to some degree even as an adult, when the scowl carries no such threat.
If the feelings are strong, then the reaction that is triggered is obvious. But if the feelings are vague or subtle, we may not quite realize the emotional reaction we are having, even though it is subtly coloring how we react to the moment. Thoughts and reactions at this moment will take on the coloration of thoughts and reactions then, even though it may seem that the reaction is due solely to the circumstance of the moment. Our emotional mind will harness the rational mind to its purposes, so we come up with explanations for our feelings and reactions rationalizations justifying them in terms of the present moment, without realizing the influence of the emotional memory. In that sense, we can have no idea of what is actually going on, though we may have the conviction of certainty that we know exactly what is happening. At such moments the emotional mind has entrained the rational mind, putting it to its own uses.
e) State-specific Reality
The working of the emotional mind is to a large degree state-specific, dictated by the particular feeling ascendant at a given moment. How we think and act when we are feeling romantic is entirely different from how we behave when enraged or dejected; in the mechanics of emotion, each feeling has its own distinct repertoire of thought, reactions, even memories. These state-specific repertoires become most predominant in moments of intense emotion.
One sign that such a repertoire is active is selective memory. Part of the mind's response to an emotional situation is to reshuffle memory and options for action so that those most relevant are at the top of the hierarchy and so more readily enacted. And, as we have seen, each major emotion has its hallmark biological signature, a pattern of sweeping changes that entrain the body as that emotion becomes ascendant, and a unique set of cues the body automatically sends out when in its grip.