Science has started mapping our feelings
Try clocking in as many feelings as you could in a day – from the most mundane to the most heart-piercing moments.
Notice the range and breadth of feelings that you experience. They range from feeling a sense of freshness when you see dawn break, a soft "awakening" after a sip of good coffee while still in your pajamas, and being a little tense and alert when you see a message on your phone, to a feeling of tenderness for your dog who seems to think all mornings are start-from-scratch chances. When you start dressing up, the feelings also start to change, which unconsciously have a bearing on your choice of colors and the form of how you would want to present yourself for that day. Then, during your morning drive, a host of feelings also come in slews – you feel an ache here, and get a tad worried. For the rest of your day, you negotiate another set of feelings until you finally come home to rest, or at least try to, as you quiet all the feelings that left residues in your consciousness.
Musicians clock in feelings in music sheets. Playwrights do this in scenes and dialogues. Painters portray this in colors, swooshes, and shadows. Dancers do this with the body's bends, leaps, turns, arches, and poses. Scientists probe them for patterns across humans and offer us a map – yes, a map – of subjective feelings. This is because feelings are not separate from the body – they get their spark and/or momentum from the body, and also from external experiences. We should not dismiss maps as something technical. It is an orienting device that guides navigation. If we could draw a map that could help us navigate the sea of feelings that we have every day and across our lifetimes, how cool would that be?
Scientists did just that recently. They worked out a map of feelings. They did a study probing over a thousand subjects about a range of feelings to see if they can be clustered into patterns. There were about 100 core feelings that they explored among the subjects. They asked them for the intensity of those feelings, the bodily sensations involved, the emotions that go with those feelings, and even the controllability of those feelings. Then they compared the similarity of those feelings across their subjects.
In terms of bodily sensations, they were asked which part of the body seemed to be asking for attention depending on the feeling. They also paired what they found with what the subjects reported about the level of significance of the experience. All in all, the scientists found that feelings can be mapped into 5 clusters: positive emotions, negative emotions, cognitive processes, somatic states and illnesses, and homeostatic states.
The first two are self-explanatory. Cognitive processes involve those feelings that arise from thinking, planning, and reasoning. In my job (and I think because of my personality), I have always known that there are always feelings involved in even the most abstract thing I deal with. Otherwise, I do not feel like I have the binding glue which makes me stay with the matter at hand.
Somatic states are those feelings that arise from what you sense from your body – whether those indescribable murmurs or lamentations from various parts of your body prompted by an experience, or actual physical manifestations of illness, like pain or numbness.
Homeostatic states are those feelings that are vital to your biological balance, like your body temperature or your balance. Any moment these go out of whack will make you feel something. This is nature's autofeedback mechanism, its emergency alert procedure. If you feel it, then you will pay attention to it and do something about it.
The study found that a feeling will last if emotions are attached to it. Emotions are different from feelings. Feelings are like the raw ingredient of emotions. Feelings, by themselves, are fleeting unless they get the stamp of our inner emotional bureaus.
The human experience is a galaxy of feelings. The arts help us navigate it by holding up a mirror to ourselves and society with paintings, sculptures, dance, plays, poetry, and music. The sciences, this time, has created an imaginary space where we can "receive" the dropping, gushing, or cascading feelings we experience, and place them in mental vessels so we can map those vessels inside ourselves and when we sense others. This way, we can perhaps better navigate the ebbs and flows of our lives and maybe, even more, fill each other's cup. – Rappler.com
Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, "Science Solitaire" and "Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire." You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.