Daily BulletinDaily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by The Conversation
image©2015 Disney•Pixar

As we drove to our local cinema to see Inside Out, my five year-old son asked me: “So what is this film going to be about?” “Feelings,” I said, “the feelings that live inside our heads”. He thought for a moment, before replying: “That sounds pretty boring.” It’s true that I could have done better with the pitch, but the film held his attention, and mine, and gave us both a few laughs. While my son giggled at the good old-fashioned slapstick, I could chuckle knowingly at references to Freud, evolutionary psychology and the emotional turmoil of puberty.

Inside Out is the tale of 11-year-old Riley and her traumatic move from Minnesota to a new home in San Francisco. It’s a pretty run-of-the-mill story, but there’s a twist: it’s all seen through the eyes of the five emotions that control the girl’s mental life, from a console inside her brain. Riley’s mental steering committee is headed up by Joy at the start, but as the narrative unfolds, Joy, who has previously tried to keep the four more negative emotions – Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness – away from the controls, gradually learns the special value and importance of sadness.

imageFive basic emotions: Sadness, Fear, Anger, Disgust, Joy.© 2015 Disney•Pixar

The psychological model used by the film is essentially the one already popularised with stunning success over several decades by the American psychologist Paul Ekman, the leading proponent of the theory that all human beings, regardless of their historical and cultural milieu, share a repertoire of identical “basic emotions”. Quite understandably for the purposes of an animated movie aimed at children, Inside Out simplifies things further still.

Ekman’s list of cross-cultural basic emotions is longer, including, in addition to the five in the film: contempt, surprise, shame, amusement, satisfaction, contentment and relief, among others. Ekman’s particular concern has been to show that there are certain innate facial expressions, whose emotional meaning can be discerned by anyone, regardless of their culture and education. In this special interest in the bodily and facial accompaniments of feeling, Ekman is a descendant of pioneer emotion theorists of the 19th century, including Charles Darwin and William James.

Inner landscapes

But the story of Inside Out is not a story of bodies and faces: it is much more inside than out.

Glowing glass bowling-ball memories, each with its own emotional hue, are handled and stored by the myriad helpers in Riley’s mind. That mind is visualised as a combination of the high-tech factory of dreaming and perception, the organic archipelago of personality traits, the vast storehouse of memories and the psychedelic soft-play area of the imagination.

imageRiley’s Islands of Personality.©2015 Disney•Pixar

The various regions are joined up by tubes and wires as well as the very literal “train of thought” railway. It’s a wonderful mess of mental metaphors, even including a dark subterranean unconscious, albeit one tame enough for a U certificate. But there’s more missing from Riley’s mind than emotional complexity, psychodynamic drives, or nascent sexuality.

What Inside Out reveals, beyond the obviously attractive simplicity of the idea of having just five basic emotions, is the triumph of a psychologised view of the self: one that lacks any ruling faculty. This is the epitome of the modern, democratised mind, a mind in which there is no higher authority than the collective but unguided outcome of a melée of sensations and feelings.

Whatever name and characteristics one might choose from the history of thought for a putative higher mental faculty, Riley’s mind lacks it: reason or intellect; conscience or reflection; will or love. All are missing. The role of abstract thought is reduced to one entertaining cameo.

Slave of the passions

Considering this, I would say Inside Out shows the influence more of the philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and David Hume than it does of the science of Paul Ekman. For Hobbes, the moralists’ faculty of the will was replaced by whatever happened to be the prevailing passion, while for Hume the divine power of reason was reduced to a mild emotion which was and ought only to be the slave of the other passions. I found the absence of either love or conscience as any kind of force in Riley’s mind to be the most striking.

“Honesty” is one of the several islands of her personality, but has no special role. Even in Darwin’s writings about the human mind, the faculties of love and conscience, evolved from earlier social instincts, were the most highly prized of all. When Riley steals her mother’s credit card and boards a bus to run away from home, her mental state is portrayed as dead and emotionless. Her change of heart comes about through an ability to articulate her sadness. She is saved, then, by a kind of advanced emotional literacy rather than by an attack of conscience or the power of love. This is the world according to a purveyor of emotional intelligence such as Daniel Goleman rather than a Victorian moralist like Charles Darwin.

Although the happy ending of the film is presented as being about the importance of recognising the emotion of sadness, in fact it is about the power of tears. This is not quite the same thing. The film’s explicit focus remains on the inner emotion, while the real action is in fact in the outward performance. It is the girl’s tears that have betrayed her in front of her classmates and caused her shame and dismay, but also her tears that reconcile her to her parents, restoring the bonds of familial sentiment that had become stretched and frayed.

As I wiped away my own tears, I asked my son what he thought of the film. “Good,” he said. I asked him what he thought it was about. “Feelings?”, he asked tentatively. “Can we go and play now?”

Thomas Dixon does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Authors: The Conversation

Read more http://theconversation.com/inside-out-and-the-democracy-of-the-modern-mind-45202

Malvertising successfully delivers ransomware to APAC users for the past 7 years


There are many ways to achieve Indigenous recognition in the constitution – we must find one we can agree on


The Conversation


Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

FORDHAM: Thank you very much for talking to us. I know it's a difficult day for all of those Qantas workers. Look, they want to know in the short term, are you going to extend JobKeeper?   PRI...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison interview with Neil Mitchell

NEIL MITCHELL: Prime minister, good morning.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, how are you?   MICHELL: I’m okay, a bit to get to I apologise, we haven't spoken for a while and I want to get t...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham

PRIME MINISTER: I've always found that this issue on funerals has been the hardest decision that was taken and the most heartbreaking and of all the letters and, you know, there's been over 100...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

SEO In A Time of COVID-19: A Life-Saver

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about a lot of uncertainty for everyone across the world. It has had one of the most devastating impacts on the day-to-day lives of many including business o...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

5 Ways Risk Management Software Can Help Your Business

No business is averse to risks. Nobody can predict the future or even plan what direction a business is going to take with 100% accuracy. For this reason, to avoid issues or minimise risks, some for...

News Company - avatar News Company

5 Ways To Deal With Unemployment and Get Back Into the Workforce

Being unemployed has a number of challenges and they’re not all financial. It can affect you psychologically and sometimes it can be difficult to dig your way out of a rut when you don’t have a job ...

News Company - avatar News Company

News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion