Friday, June 29, 2007

Feelings and Faces

Donald Nathanson, M.D. has written much on the ideas of Sylvan Tomkins -- the latter’s work being a bit abstruse for most of us to digest easily.

Tomkins believed that there were nine - and only nine - universal emotional affects. These affects, i.e., feeling experiences, were innately tied to the nerves in the face. Thus a baby could not help but show it if he were in the midst of experiencing one of these affects.

Here are the nine:

  • Interest —> Excitement
  • Enjoyment—> Joy
  • Surprise —> Startle
  • Fear —> Terror
  • Distress—> Anguish
  • Anger —> Rage
  • Dissmell —> Disgust
  • Shame —> Humiliation

One important thing to notice is that each is on a spectrum. We spot something novel and become interested. As we move toward it and investigate further, we may become excited about our find. You see this phenomenon in small children all the time; the whole world is new and exciting.

In an optimal environment, the expression of interest, followed by excitement at learning something new actually increases the complexity of the neural network in children. In other words, it increases their intelligence. On the other hand, where curiosity is suppressed, boredom and depression often set in and the developing brain is also stifled. The eyes of such children often seem to be flat or empty.

Tomkins proposed that these nine affects were the sum total…we might experience variations on their themes as we matured, and we might learn (we’d better learn!) to mask our expressions in polite society, but we would continue to experience these affects throughout our lives.

Each affect has its own unique facial expression and body language. In shame, for instance, the neck droops and the eyes turn away from whatever caused the feeling state of shame. Intensifying, the state can move on to humiliation and cause the child to withdraw - physically if he can, or emotionally if he cannot. Everyone develops coping skills to deal with shame, though these skills are limited. Nathanson diagrammed them out in a compass of shame.
[Scroll halfway down the page to see the diagram]

Nathanson illustrates his book with pictures of babies in the midst of these feeling states. The “disgust” face is amusing to see — and moving, too. It makes you realize how absolutely similar we human beings are when we start out.

Yarrrggghhh! I’ll tear yer throat out wif me bare teeth, matey!All of this is a preface to explain why this picture fascinates me. Here is a “baby face” that has disintegrated into pure rage. John McCain has an anger problem, hmm? Or at least it appears he has difficulty modulating this affect under duress.

I’d like to get eight more politician’s pictures illustrating the remaining affects. If I can, I’ll try to find images from both sides of the aisle. No need to pick on either group since - despite what some say - we’re all human. Somehow, though, I don’t think anything I find will be as absolutely perfect an example as this one is.

Maybe it's his chubby-cheeked baby face that makes this example so fascinating?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Have you seen them?

poysin orange ones

There are several running jokes in this huge collection of animal pictures (mostly of cats interacting in their environment while the omniscient human narrator provides the dialogue).

Wikipedia has an entry for lolcats — and another image — explaining both their provenance and the idiosyncratic pidgin language often employed in the captions.

A lolcat is an image macro featuring a photograph of a cat with a humorous and idiosyncratic caption. The name “lolcat” is a compound of lol and cat. lolcats are also referred to as cat macros.

lolcats are created for the purpose of sharing with others on imageboards and other internet forums, especially on Saturdays (“Caturdays”). lolcats are similar to other animal-based image macros such as the O RLY? owl, but the cuteness of cats “enhances” the appeal and increasing prominence of the Internet meme. lolcat is an example of anthropomorphisation.

lolcat images usually consist of a photo of a cat with a large caption characteristically formatted in a sans serif font such as Impact or Arial Black. The image is, on occasion, digitally edited for effect. The caption generally acts as a speech balloon encompassing a comment from the cat, or as a description of the depicted scene. The caption is intentionally written with deviations from standard English spelling and syntax, featuring “strangely-conjugated verbs, but [a tendency] to converge to a new set of rules in spelling and grammar.” These altered rules of English have been referred to as a type of pidgin or baby talk. The text parodies the grammar-poor patois stereotypically attributed to internet slang.
[The footnotes in the original have been omitted. Click on link to follow them]

It also has a link further down the page to information on snowclones, an evolution in speech formation that I will leave to you to peruse. Let us just say that the more things change, the more they change.

You can only surmise how things will evolve after you’re gone; what was our language will be very different in a hundred years, and it would ring strange and discordant to our ancient ears if we were able to return. Fortunately, we can’t.

Meanwhile, George Bernhard Shaw is rolling over in his grave…but then he needs the exercise anyway.

Next will be ROTHLHAO dog pictures. Except dogs are not as flexible as cats. All they can do is sad and glad. Hard to get a huffy looking dog, or an imperious one. They are buffoons. Amusing, but without the possibilities for depth that the lolcats possess. Perhaps it’s merely a matter of spinal differences.

Enjoy lolcats. See how many you can scroll through before you quit.

Once you see those “I can haz cheezburger” on “Caturdays” your time doesn’t belong to you anymore. Not to mention the diagrams for the monorail cat which keep popping up.

It’s definitely a different world.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Commentary on the Weather

The following is an OT comment left on LGF last week. For some reason, his musings made me muse on the fact that we all sit with our sandwiches at lunchtime – outside, in the good weather – and think about the same things.

Somehow that is comforting,

Lunch Time Weather Musings

On this, the second sunniest day of the year, the Gulf of Mexico is nearly cloud free.

The Gulf is warming nicely.

And, a good part of the Gulf has warm water at least 25 meters deep, with some areas having warm water to 75 meters and more.

This is like the growing season for hurricanes, like the orange tree in my backyard. The oranges are still green, and no bigger than limes, but they are getting better and better.

The weak low off Florida won’t develop as long as strong Westerlies aloft blow the thunderstorms away from the LLCS.

No forecast to develop, but this interesting feature should move into the Gulf of Mexico and enhance the rainfall late Monday through Wednesday from coastal Texas to extreme Western Florida.

I think its cool how the weather in Texas this time of year can sometimes come from Africa and cross the entire Atlantic and Caribbean to get here.

No wonder people invoked the weather gods. They are mighty and inscrutable indeed.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Midsummer's Eve and St. John's Wort

The Baron’s friend, Phanarath, sent us a recording and the lyrics for Vi Elsker Vort Land (We Love Our Country), a Midsummer’s Eve song the Danes sing every year at the celebration of the summer solstice.

For many years we used to have a two-day party here on the weekend nearest the solstice. Were we still celebrating, it would have been winding up today with trips to the river for a swim and then lunch, before everyone folded their tents and headed back to the city.

The best part of the celebration was Saturday evening. Everyone brought food, there was often live music, and then immediately after dark — around 9:00 or so — our friends would put on a spectacular fireworks display, lasting a half hour or so.

Yesterday was sadly quiet; we don’t have a Midsummer’s Eve party anymore. Over the years things change, and the gradual deterioration of my health made it harder to do every year. Besides that, after my daughter’s death, celebrations became harder. The picture of her that I sometimes display was taken at one of those long ago parties.

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I notice that the Danish midsummer song mentions “sankte Hans” (St. John), whose feast day is June 24th. Here is the English translation of one verse:

We love our country
and with sword in hand
outside enemy’s will know us, as ready
but against unpeacefull spirits
over fields, under the beach
We will light the fire on the graves of our fathers
every town has its witch and every Parish has its trolls
we will keep them from our lives with fires of joy.
we want peace in this land
sankte Hans, sankte Hans!
it can be won, when the hearts never gets doubtfully cold.
we want peace in this land
sankte Hans, sankte Hans!
it can be won, when the hearts never gets doubtfully cold.

hypericum perforatumI didn’t know the Danes celebrated ‘sankte Hans’ particularly. They probably don’t anymore; no doubt it’s an anachronism, just as is naming hypericum perforatum St. John’s Wort.

Phanarath’s song reminded me that I’d let St. John’s wort die out in the garden. The plant is not long-lived, but it’s attractive and sturdy. I put it in among the flowers in my daughter-in-law’s perennial bed a few years ago. Her house is on a busy corner; lots of people walk by with their dogs and the former owners put up a small, attractive rail fence — probably to keep pedestrians from cutting that corner. The St. John’s wort looks pretty right there.

The Germans call it “Johanniskraut” — “kraut” means herb, says the Baron. In Germany, tinctures and powders of hypericum perforatum outsell the more modern treatments for depression. Evidently the Germans have established that it helps mild to moderate depression. A lot of people think herbal medicine is “safer” than the synthetics that Big Pharma concocts. However, taking this herb can cause photosensitivity just like the pharmaceutical anti-depressants do. If you use it, be sure to stay out of the sun during the most intense part of the day.

Once I have a car again (mine died the other day — but that’s another story), I’ll get more St. John’s wort and re-plant it in the herb garden where it used to flourish; it’s bright yellow prostrate flowers went well with the tall white Echinacea and the daylilies. Yes, I know the latter aren’t herbs, they were just there at the end of the bed when I started it. Besides, the flowers and the spring shoots are good in stir-fry dishes. I know because Wally Ballou showed us how to cook them. And daylilies abound here — they grow wild everywhere, just like the dogwoods and redbud. So even if they don’t cure anything, they’re pretty in addition to being edible and not prone to diseases or dramas. That’s as good an excuse as any not to have to dig them up and move them.

Thanks to Phanarath for the song — what a joyous way to celebrate the solstice. Whoever said that singing is “praying twice” was right.

Happy feast of Saint John to all.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

When I Fall in Love

Exultant BrideYou Tube has disabled the embed for Nat King Cole’s video, and the sound doesn’t meet today’s standards, but this is worth watching. It’s hard to imagine him this young, but not this talented.

Before I was married, this was my secret song to whomever it was that I would someday meet. Now on the far side of that bridge, I know that the lyrics were true.

Fausta caught this picture while on vacation in Kill Devil Hills. She said the groom had a chest full of medals, eight rows perhaps. So biology alone could explain the bride’s exultation; she's got a winner there.

May they grow old together, full of grace and years.

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When I fall in love
It will be forever.
For I’ll never fall in love
In a restless world like this is
Love is ended before it’s begun
And too many moonlight kisses
Seem to cool in the warmth of the sun.

When I give my heart
It will be completely.
Or I’ll never give my heart.
And the moment I can feel that you feel that way too
Is when I'll fall in love with you.

[Of course, the first time I heard this song, I was in a convertible on a starry night in July, in Pensacola. The second lieutant who was driving had other plans than “falling in love forever” so I ended up walking home.

It didn’t ruin the song for me, though.]