By Liah Greenfeld
It is widely believed that human emotions, from love to ambition to pride or desire for freedom, for instance, are hardwired into our brain and that, therefore, both their range and their nature are universal, shared by humanity as a whole. This belief is wrong and itself reflects the fundamental universalism of modern Western, particularly American, thought and its tendency to consider all human consciousness and behavior as a function of biology. Both comparative zoology and comparative history show that, above the limited range of emotions we share, as animals, with other animal species, what moves human beings and makes them suffer in one culture or society may be dramatically different from the emotions shaping the living experiences in another one.
Emotions, or feelings, as the name suggests, are experienced through physical sensations. In this they differ from other mental experiences, usually called “cognitive.” The part of sensations in an emotion allows us to place it into one of three categories: primary emotions, secondary emotions, and tertiary emotions. Primary emotions are experienced through specific sensations and represent the direct reaction of the organism to the stimuli of its physical environment. They include such experiences as pain and pleasure, fear, positive and negative excitement (joy and anxiety), hunger and satiation, and their biological function is to increase the individual organism’s survival. It is clear that these primary emotions are common to humans and other animals.