1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Emotional Expression

(Part 63)

(I) Emotional and Conative Action (cont.)

Emotional Expression

Joy finds expression in dancing, clapping the hands, and meaningless laughter, and these actions are not only pleasurable in themselves but such as increase the existing pleasure. Attention is not drafted off or diverted; but rather the available resources seem reinforced, so that the old expenditure is supported as well as the new. To the pleasure on the receptive side is added pleasure on the active side. The violent contortions due to pain, on the other hand, are painful in themselves, though less intense than the pains from which they withdraw attention: they are but counter-irritants that arrest or inhibit still more painful thoughts or sensations. Thus, according to Darwin, "sailors who are going to be flogged sometimes take a piece of lead into their mouths in order to bite it with their utmost force, and thus to bear the pain." When in this way we take account of immediate effects as well as of the causes of feeling, we find it still more strikingly true that only in pleasurable states is there an efficient expenditure of attention. It is needless now to dwell upon this point, although any earlier mention of it would hardly have been in place. But we should fail to realize the contrast between the motor effects of pleasure and of pain if we merely regarded them as cases of diffusion. The intenser the felling the intenser the reaction, no doubt, whether it be smiles or tears, jumping for joy, or writing in agony; but in the movements consequent on pleasure the diffusion is the result of mere exuberance, an overflow of good spirits, as we sometimes say, and these movements, as already remarked, are always comparatively purposeless or playful. Even the earliest expression of pain on the contrary, seem but so many efforts to escape from the cause of it; in them there is at least the blind purpose to flee from a definite ill, but in pleasure only the employment of present fortune.

From Plato downwards psychologists and moralists have been fond of discussing the relation of pleasure and pain. It has been maintained that pain is the first and more fundamental facts, and pleasure nothing but relief form pain; and, again, on the other side, that pleasure is prior and positive, and pain only the negation of pleasure. So far as the mere change goes, it is obviously true that the diminution of pain is pro tanto pleasant, and the diminution of pleasure pro tanto unpleasant; and if relatively had the unlimited range sometimes assigned to it this would be all we could say. But we must sooner or later recognize the existence of a comparatively fixed neutral state, deviations from which, of comparatively short duration and of sufficient intensity, constitute distinct states of pleasure of pain. Such states, if not of liminal intensity, may then be further diminished without reversing their pleasurable or painful character. The turning-point here implied may, of course, gradually change too, -- as a result, in fact, of the law of accommodation. Thus a long run of pleasure would raise "the hedonistic zero," while – to the small extent to which accommodation to pain is possible – a continuance of pain would lower it. But such admission makes no material difference where the actual feeling of the moment is alone concerned and retrospect out of the question. On the whole it seems, therefore , most reasonable to regard pleasure and pain as emerging out of a neutral state, which is prior to and distinct from both, -- not a state of absolute indifference, but of simple contentment, marked by no special active display. But it is by reference to such state of equilibrium of apathia [Gk.] that we see most clearly the superior volitional efficacy of pain upon which pessimists love to descant. "Nobody," says Von Hartmann, "who had to choose between no taste at all for ten minutes or five minutes of a pleasant taste and then five minutes of an unpleasant taste, would prefer the last." Most men and all the lower animals are content "to let well alone."

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