How Hardwired Are We?: Investigating Primary Emotion

Like primary colors in visual art, long has there been debate on whether human beings can identify primary emotions: happy, sad, angry – can our entire emotional range, as nuanced as it is, possibly be represented in various combinations of our feelings’ simplest base components? 

But what is an emotion? How many primary emotions are there? How do we decide what they are, if there are any? The goal of this reading group is to enter the debate on primary (or “basic”) emotion by reviewing a selection of readings from the most recent revision of the Lit and Mind reading list:

  • Colombetti, Giovanna. “The Emotions: Existing Accounts and Their Problems.” The Feeling Body: Affective Science Meets the Enactive Mind, pp. 25 – 52. MIT Press, 2013. 
  • Damasio, Antonio. “Emotions and Feelings.” Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, pp. 127 – 162. Penguin Books, 1994.
  • Panksepp, Jaak. “Emotional Operating Systems and Subjectivity” and “The Varieties of Emotional Systems in the Brain.” Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions, pp. 24 – 58. Oxford, 1998.

Reading notes: Emphasis will be on the Colombetti reading, which is shorter and much easier to read than the others. For the Damasio, pages 1-7 in the PDF are necessary for background information, but the whole chapter is useful. Figures can be disregarded. For the Panksepp, pages 24-28 and 41-55 are most central to the debate. Figures and study details about non-human organisms can be disregarded. There’s also a selection of pages 302-305 from the last chapter that might be interesting for folks. Please email for the selected readings.

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