dimanche 19 juillet 2009

Aperitif/ Introduction

The power of emotions to affect us, to stimulate and encourage our behaviour has always been a source of fascination; the apprehension as well as the excitement of the goal of living.
The Recipe of emotions is an experiment to extract from the theme of cooking another understanding of emotion. It will focus more on processes, the fact of being in a movement of flow, which happens also during the creative process. Keeping the flow for the initial chapters and engaging in all the complex connected points, I will separate the ingredients from the utensils, the temperature and time of cooking… I hope that by using a cooking vocabulary I may be able to offer a more sensitive language to write carefully about inexpressible emotions.
Creating mixed media textiles, this dissertation is an occasion for me to mix cooking and emotions to work out the interest of a mixture. Creation has to shift our basic vision to respond to the perpetual movement of our way of living and come near to the nature of things. As food has very appealing sensual colours, and textures and emotions make us vibrate, they both present a sensitive and conceptual language that is very rich for a textile designer.
Moreover, they both give information about our identity construction and our impressionable perception. Data gathered in a questionnaire showed that characteristics between basic emotions and terms of cooking cross surprisingly to reinforce the physical pictures we have in mind. I created visual graphics that are an expressive representation of the space and the weight one emotion would be. The main interest of this essay is to come to another understanding of the meaning of process and to hopefully give you an original reading of the complex emotional machine.

samedi 18 juillet 2009

Chapter 1: Whet your appetite

1/ Whet your appetite
“One day, she lost her appetite. The day after, she lost her motivation. Emotionally, she was in trouble, not satisfied…”
I have always noticed that many things are interconnected in our behaviour, but without knowing exactly what it meant. To me, different appetites are a kind of motivation; something that we would like to have, which is necessary, vital or not, but may provide us with some pleasure or satisfaction at least.
For a long time now, I have been very interested in how psychologies work, how motivation is generated, how passion is something you can feel deeply inside a person.
I honestly cannot imagine studying or working in a job without being passionate, even though, of course, it is not always practically possible for everyone. When it is, I wonder how you can push people to understand how to find their own interest, when they are not able to do it on their own. As with young people, they have to find out their own areas of interest, and how they can develop their capacities further.
Well, looking at the explanations offered for emotions, it is generally admitted that emotions are recognized as being one of three types of mental process, that is to say: motivation, emotions, and cognition.
Emotions therefore exist to indicate some changes in individuals’ relationships and their environment in order to adapt their behaviour. Faced with a threat or an injustice, anger rises. In danger, fear mounts, followed by an attack or by flight.
But let us focus our attention on motivation. Motivated by certain motors, able to cause motion, we are lead by our various needs. Primary motors are notably hunger, thirst, needs of social contacts and sexual desire. The role of motivations is to guide the organism to satisfy its need for survival and reproduction. Unlike emotions, with their flexible cycle, motivations are more regulated by a temporal cycle. For example, thirst rises until it is satiated, and is satisfied by drinking. Then, there is a distinction to be made between basic need for subsistence or survival and real, deep needs. On that point, I suggest that we look at Human Scale Development , by the Chilean economist and environmentalist Manfred Max-Neef who researched fundamental human needs to fight against poverty in developing countries. He classifies them as follows: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity and freedom. Needs are also defined according to the existential categories of being, having, doing and interacting, and from these dimensions, a 36 cell matrix is developed which can be filled with examples of satisfiers for those needs. It is quite interesting to look more carefully at his chart… Understanding the specifics of the different needs is important for the adoption of creative solutions, the creation of objects and services that might answer accurately our human needs and desires. Another way of seeing this, for me, is that we can distil ideas from it and use them, as a part of a stronger strategy for creation.
Coming back to my last category, less well known I think, are the cognitive factors. They enable the organism to learn from his environment and resolve problems in new situations. The learning process is actually done to satisfy the motivations, on the one hand, and to maintain some positive emotions, on the other. So cognition includes the learning process, memory, and the resolution of problems. Thus, these three basic mental processes belong to, and blend together into, a larger systemic framework to generate more complex mechanisms that forms the individual’s personality.
What must be admitted then is the importance of food and the organization of diners at any occasion, be it private or for business matters. Important things happening in our life, from a birthday, a candlelit dinner to a wedding breakfast, are celebrated around a table. It is certainly because all seated together, we share a meal and a moment in time; stories are activated and emotions engaged. Then, when we remind these moments, the context, the people with whom we were, what we have eaten, and the spoken topics, all come to our mind, merged together to evoke a global feeling.
On second thoughts, consider the meal – something we do generally three times a day, started in our family and given to us by our parents. And I would say, it is parents, and, particularly the mother – if she is the one who prepares the meal – orientate our tastes, our dietary habits, our health, actually a quite big part of our identity. Through a simple meal, she may pass down cultural culinary customs. And her pleasure to prepare a meal, to satisfy different tastes might influence the appetite and the curiosity for various ingredients, ways of cooking, and so forth.
Well, it has to be said that it is then something particularly important in France, although I am sure it has a meaning for other cultures. I cannot really explain why, but it is true that if you choose good products, invent simple recipes, cook for people you like, and enjoy the sensations together, all this bring a natural and simple pleasure. I think, though, that this has more meaning for French people, as traditional cuisine, with each region in France having its own culinary specialities. Of course, it depends on the families, mine, for instance – my father being an oyster farmer, passionate, with subtle tastes, he was very keen for us to savour samples of various fresh seafood for instance. “Dégustation” has been his favourite word! And because his job is his passion, I have been grown up with plenty of oysters (which, you will notice, is typically French) and I can say it tells about us, about our history, about part of my identity.

Let us see what is happening around a meal: When a resonant “Dinner’s ready!” is called to everybody at home, we know that our personal rhythms are going to be re-timed for a familial moment. Eating with your family in not harmless. We might return from such a meal in another mood, because all the personality of a person is building up during the meal. As the sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann says: “The meal is the architect of the familial life”. To me, many things I have read in this book echo with plenty of my own daily life stories around the table.
“Contact” expresses the idea of getting close to somebody ‘with’ ‘tact’, the touch, physical and emotional. Well, to get in touch tightly may take time; it is about building ties through different areas of interests and sharing it, offering it to others in an ideal of union and pleasure.
This notion of union is interesting since the table forces us into a close intimacy with the ones with whom we share the table. The table is not a simple object, but really an intermediary for communication. “Being in communion with” others achieves a familiarity, and to some degree enables a freedom in our expression of the emotions, and this is easily perceived as successful or as a drama through a meal. Given that it is quite difficult to deal with the conversation and table manners, such as the careful avoidance of certain hot topics, like political views, the table might then become a challenging moment of tension. Fortunately, food is always here “to smooth over some clangers…”

This makes us fully aware that the table can be used on purpose to revitalize the links within a family. Some mothers make sure to keep the dinner time at least with their family, or their husband, even though there is no deep conversation, it is the only thing left. Switching off the television may sometimes save relationships while many times over it calms the atmosphere and even encourages exchanges. At any rate, it might be said that through a meal you can quickly “renew the unique links” that a family has with one another.

1. http://www.rainforestinfo.org.au/background/maxneef.htm
2. Kaufmann, Jean-Claude, Casseroles, amour et crises: ce que cuisiner veut dire, Armand Colin, 2005, p.93, 172.
3. ibid., p.180, 278

Example of questionnaire

jeudi 11 juin 2009

Chapter 2: The emotional process

2) The emotional process

Emotions fuel the reading of a book, make a movie stirring, and above all imbue our relationships with uniqueness. Emotions are ever present and unconscious most of the time, even when we would like to refute them. They have little to do with the ‘reason’ side of the brain. In the beginning, that is perhaps why we perceive emotions as a second source of information, after reason, whereas they are generally good appraisals of a situation. Thus, understanding our emotions better may help our well being in everyday life.

Because they are complex and happen so quickly – they can be volatile – it seems difficult to give a precise definition of what emotions are without going against their particularity. There is no one right answer to this; otherwise we narrow the parameters of the research. The question of what an emotion is has been debated for a long time, at least since an article by William James in 1884, and indeed the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio is still contributing to this debate with some interesting discoveries about the brain. Many theories have been offered about the essence of emotions, how they are generated, how they are connected to cognition and motivation, and how they play a main part in decision-making. Such theories depend as well on the interpretative framework, such as the different approaches towards emotions, from a Darwinist evolutionary perspective, a neurobiological one, or else a cognitive one. But what emerges, above all, from all of these theories is that emotions are a process. To me, starting to think about emotions as a process and humanising them was an interesting starting point.

I therefore intend to conduct research into a sort of creative framework and suggest a comparison with cooking to enable another way of seeing what an emotion looks like. Indeed, cooking similarly involves a process, that is to say, a chain of facts or phenomena responding to a certain system and leading to a result, like a mechanism, a manner of creating something. The process of making is engaged: making a cake, creating a particular emotion… Is it possible to ‘create’ an emotion? As the cake needs many stages before it is baked, all the stages constitute the general process.

From some desires, needs and personal tastes, we are driven to buy those ingredients, to prepare this recipe, to make the meal in a particular way… It is not easy to say why we have reacted like that at a certain moment, overwhelmed by shame, let our anger get the better of us. To verbalize emotions is tricky, but that is part of why I have chosen to write about it constructively. Hopefully I will find some clues to the process, and to better control the links of the chain, or, at least, to better learn how to live with the uncontrollable.

Emotional processing expresses a flow in movement, a liquid or at least a kind of substance that transforms in a moment of time, beginning and ending. Indeed, can we not feel this sensation of an energy growing in our body, when the heart is bursting with joy, like the cake rising gently? The invisible smell that escapes from the oven delightfully titillates our nostrils. This first stimulus of our senses is the prelude to hunger. In the sequence of emotions, the stimulus occurs first and the feelings last. LeDoux examines William James’s approach to the components of the chain of emotions. James asked whether feelings cause emotional responses or vice versa. In answering that responses cause feelings, he started a century-old debate about where feelings come from. For instance, he argues that we do not run because we are frightened; we are frightened because we run. There is the stimulus, a response, followed by a feedback to the brain, and then the feeling. James’s theory was generally accepted and completed; other theories consider the emotion as an arousal in our body that we detect and label, appraising a situation for action. The stream of feeling, whatever paths it takes through the thalamus to the neocortex, is a movement. There is in any case a region in the limbic system called the tonsil that plays a significant role for emotions.

It is interesting now to come back to the etymology of the word ‘emotion’, which is based on the Latin emovere, from e- ‘out’ and movere ‘move’. ‘Motivation’ is also derived from movere. Thus the emotion is a sort of change of an affective state involving a high level of activation, visceral changes and strong feelings. This movement is made in order to adapt to a particular situation and to protect from the environment’s aggressions.

Generally unconscious, almost invisible, emotions, linked to cognition and motivation, however drive our behaviour and decision-making, giving a sense to our relationships with others. Feeling an emotion is really the expression of an energy that is moving and pushing us. And surprisingly to me at first, Damasio has said that we are efficiently able to stop one emotion as we can prevent a sneeze...

4. Ledoux, Joseph, The emotional brain, Phoenix, 1998, p.43
5. http://www.usc.edu/schools/college/bci/
6. Ibid. p.16-20
7. Ledoux, Op.cit., p.43-45
8. Chevassus-Au-Louis, Nicolas, A quoi sert notre cerveau?, On se bouge!, 2007, p.43