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The Michael Shermer Show

A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

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EPISODE # 239

Richard Firth-Godbehere on emotions and their history, based on his book A Human History of Emotion: How the Way We Feel Built the World We Know

A Human History of Emotion: How the Way We Feel Built the World We Know (book cover)

We humans like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, who, as a species, have relied on calculation and intellect to survive. But many of the most important moments in our history had little to do with cold, hard facts and a lot to do with feelings. Events ranging from the origins of philosophy to the birth of the world’s major religions, the fall of Rome, the Scientific Revolution, and some of the bloodiest wars that humanity has ever experienced can’t be properly understood without understanding emotions.

Drawing on psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, art, and religious history, Richard Firth-Godbehere takes us on a fascinating and wide ranging tour of the central and often under-appreciated role emotions have played in human societies around the world and throughout history—from Ancient Greece to Gambia, Japan, the Ottoman Empire, the United States, and beyond. A Human History of Emotion vividly illustrates how our understanding and experience of emotions has changed over time, and how our beliefs about feelings—and our feelings themselves—profoundly shaped us and the world we inhabit.

Richard Firth-Godbehere, PhD, one of the world’s leading experts on disgust and emotions, is an independent researcher and consultant in the history, language, science and philosophy of emotions, and an Honorary Research Fellow at the Centre for the History of the Emotions, Queen Mary University of London. He received a first-class degree from the University of London, during which time he won two awards for academic excellence, alongside a Masters (MPhil) from the University of Cambridge and a Ph.D. From Queen Mary, University of London, where he was a Wellcome Trust Scholar. His award-winning interdisciplinary research walks the line between history, psychology, linguistics, and futurism. He examines how understandings of emotions change over time and how these changes can influence the wider world.

Shermer and Firth-Godbehere discuss:

  • What are emotions and how do they differ from feelings, moods, and passions?
  • How has the understanding of emotions changed historically and culturally?
  • emotions in ancient Greeks and Romans, Jews and Christians,
  • the nature of “sin” in religious and secular contexts,
  • the nature/nurture of emotions: which dominates when and where?
  • Paul Ekman and the universal nature of emotions,
  • Lisa Feldman Barrett challenge to Paul Ekman’s theory of universal emotions,
  • rage circuit: amygdala-hypothalamus-periaqueductal gray,
  • the effects of social context on emotions,
  • love, hate, anger, fear, disgust, pleasure/pain,
  • hunger, thirst, lust, attraction, desires, passions,
  • emotional regimes,
  • witch crazes: what were these people thinking and feeling?
  • Schachter-Singer theory of emotion and its competitors,
  • A.I. and emotions,
  • the future of emotions: will we all feel the same once Western culture has spread globally through the Internet?

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This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

Wondrium (sponsor)

This episode was released on January 4, 2022.

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