Emotions and Omotions. Who has your puppet strings?

All that shit you feel in your head.

Emotions. we all know about them, but we really don’t know about them. What I mean by that is that we feel emotions and we largely understand what another person is talking about when they say they feel a certain way, but we don’t really pay attention to what we do when we act on them. We know that we hate what another person is arguing politically, but we don’t really have a very detailed view of how we approach them, understand what they are saying, and how we respond to them. When we get into details of how we act on emotions things get very interesting. This is especially true when you take an outside view of how we act and look for patterns in lots of situations.

In this entry I’m going to try to explain how I see emotions and social emotions structured, and then finish up by using that to show some of how I see people fight with words. Specifically how “fight/flight/freeze” seems to work when people are arguing and getting intense. Some of this might get a little abstract because I’m trying to symbolize things that we don’t normally think about in these terms. But I think it’s worth it because of how this relates to my grappling [1] metaphor for social conflict. I described it like this,

Instead of limbs, joints and whole body being used with force and torque, you have objects and meanings being manipulated with emotion and instinct. There are positive and negative emotions in there, of many intensities connected to many objects and people-objects. All to convince a person, and especially an audience, by plucking at social emotions.

Social emotions are one of the “joints” in this metaphor. Our language has lots of little “pivot points” where meaning and emotion as it relates to objects in language can be manipulated. The division of “one of us” and “one of them” in our minds twists the way we see many many things. We literally change our entire way of looking at information depending on who we are talking to or receiving information from (motivated reasoning [2]). That in-group/out-group psychology switch gets flipped back and forth on a regular basis results in some most interesting kinds of human hypocrisy and bullshit.

I’ve posted an image of a Plutarch wheel before, and this one is modified with some symbols and explanations below.

Modified Plutarch Wheel

Modified from: Wikipedia Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions by Machine Elf 1735.


A really simple definition of emotions that works for us here is that emotions are the sensations that have a role in binding perception into memory and are used in memory recall so we can know what to do with what we see based on past experience. Emotions are painted on what we see as what we feel. Here is what the symbols mean.

[(+) = positive, feels good/satisfying

(-) = negative feels bad/threatening

(>*) = approach/fight

(<*) = withdraw/flight

just to complete the set for the future

(~) = pause/freeze

I’m not sure how that last one works computationally but it might have to do with balanced or cancelled signals. Also there is an approach-fight, withdraw-flight spectrum. Probably a pause-freeze spectrum too.]

The horizontal and vertical axes are split into positive (feels good/satisfying) and negative (feels bad (-)/threatening) halves. And they are also split into approach/fight, withdraw/flight behaviors (low and high intensity versions). It includes the traditional names for many but not all emotional states, and as you can see they blend at the diagonals such that you both like and fear someone you admire.

These are how we feel about things. That term “feels about” is a quality statement, what you perceive leaves a felt mark on you. Good/bad or approach/withdraw is termed the valance of the emotion, and they have intensity. You like it (ecstasy-serenity), you don’t like it (grief-pensiveness), you hate it (rage-annoyance), you fear it (terror-apprehension). So far this should be intuitive for us. Now I want you to think out of the box.

[If you happen to have ADHD this might be easier for you because we are good “think out of the box” types because associated concepts are often as interesting to us as the central object in perception making tangents easy.]


Objects of Discussion

You are the box here and you must think outside of yourself. You have a pretty good idea what your emotions are to you and we all unconsciously act as if other humans perceive the world as we do. But what is the purpose of emotion to all of humanity? Your anger. Your happiness. Your sadness. Your ecstasy. These always have to do with other people around you as much as they have to do with you. Evolution frankly does not care about you and me all that much. What it cares about is the whole group. If you and me vanished the human race would just keep on going largely like it was and we don’t tend to pretend this is true because it terrifies many of us. But if you want to know reality and have the advantage of knowledge when you act you will put at least as much emphasis on what you are to the group and other individuals as well as what they are to you.

This article discusses a study where scientists developed techniques for detecting emotions in measured brain activity and the discovered that the three things that impact how you store (modulate) emotion in order of effectiveness is valance, intensity, and other people [3].

“We found that three main organizing factors underpinned the emotion neural signatures, namely the positive or negative valence of the emotion, its intensity — mild or strong, and its sociality — involvement or non-involvement of another person. This is how emotions are organized in the brain.”

[That’s right. I’m in your head. EVERYONE is in your head. Other people are literally creating patterns in your brain that can permanently alter the function and  structure of your brain and the beliefs and behavior of the mind it generates. Look on the bright side, you get to be in our head too which is why you should take all of this stuff seriously. Once you know about it you have some moral and ethical decisions to make. We certainly can’t unsee this stuff and would not want to.

What did you expect? We are networked biological computers and social primates.]

From good/bad emotional impressions, to emotional impressions that define objects.

I want you to think about things that act the same as emotions but store information about different qualities. I want you to think of emotions that define kinds of objects.  It’s a crappy term and I want a new one but lets call them omotions for now. Some of these omotions categorize simple objects that we encounter.


And we all self reference when trying to understand the world.


We encounter all sorts of objects.


(The “>*” and “<*” below is supposed to represent going towards or away from and object.)

(-)(>*)[Other]:pest insects

(+)(<*)[Other]:beautiful dangerous waterfall

(-)(<*)[Other]:forest fire

(-)(>*)[Other]:damaged tool

And at some point we discover that that some of these objects are like us.





Objectification as a concept is run on a brain system. So people discussing sexual objectification deserve your attention. Perception paints characteristics and qualities to define what we are perceiving, how we feel about it, and what we should do. But the concept of objectification is probably broader than that. Do racists objectify racial minorities? They only seem to care about them as objects and not people from what I see.]

I want you to imagine that those emotions are “tags” in a tagging system similar the tags that I apply to blog posts to organize them.


Omotions abd emotions

[This is a TS aside just for fun, “demonic lore”. Skip to the next part if you want.

There are a lot of anatomical differences in the brain between a person with TS and “average humanity”. Including the amygdala, what is often thought of as the “fear center” but is actually at least as involved in positive emotions as it is in negative emotions. We think of the amygdala [4] as the “writing head” and possibly “reading head” (I’m still doing reading) for your “hard drive” when it comes to emotional signatures. Our amygdala is… different [5]. One relevant part (basolateral complex) has something to do with “emotional, aversive, and discriminative learning”,  “reinforcers”, “reward anticipation”, “behavior suppression”, and “modulation”. And the other part (central nucleus) has something to do with emotional and autonomic (intensity, fight/flight/freeze type stuff) motor behavior.

Fun stuff.]

Your brain paints omotions and emotions onto what you perceive as you experience reality so that you know what it is to you and how you relate to it now based on how you related to it in the past. Those tags determine how the experience is stored and what you will feel about future perceptions that relate to the past experience so you can determine what/who something is and how to feel about it.

Did you notice that “(not like)[Me]” on the figure instead of just nothing for non-person objects? I’ll explain that below.

Confusing “(-)[Other](like)[Me]” with “(-)[Other]”. Descending into hypocrisy and irrationality.

Social emotions are critical in psychological differences in behavior between a person’s in-group and out-group (“my people” versus “those people”). Those emotions are part of why logical fallacies work. Consider the ad hominem fallacy [6]. Dismissing another person’s argument because of an irrelevant characteristic often occurs after someone finds out the other person is a feminist, a republican, a democrat, a conservative, a liberal, a libertarian, a communist, a socialist and any number of other groups. Would you think that someone should dismiss what you have to say just because you are on a particular part of the political spectrum or with a particular group? Of course not.

Ad hominem

Yet for many people the rules for “us” change when it’s one of “them”. Somehow the fact that you feel bad about the other person is all you need to render them literally “not like me”. This could either mean that a person never learned to see another person as the same as them socially, or they are suppressing the omotions that make them see the other person as the same as them socially. So that “(like)[Me]” up there is basically equivalent to empathy.

I can’t say what all of the differences are but “(not like)[Me]” and the total absence of any category for things being (like/unlike) [Me] are probably different. But for now I will concentrate on “(not like)[Me]” because I suspect that the absence version is a severe thing (perhaps equivalent to psychopathy).

[Want to feel how they work? Consider a Conservative Republican Christian Male White terrorist, or a Liberal Democrat Atheist Male White terrorist. Consider the fact that all women experience sexism from men.

I bet a bunch of you just felt a surge of “something” inside.  Was that “something” anger? Was it attached to anything interesting? Did the urge to say “Not all Republicans!” or “Not all Whites!” or “Not all Men!” come to mind? Yet I did not say that all of all of those groups do anything. I described a person that has existed and does exist, and what women experience. All that happened because from your perspective I chose not to textually separate a group you are part of from something terrible. Sucks how manipulable we are huh?

Who has your puppet strings? You? Or Us…]

A spectrum of strategies in offense, defense, evasion, redirection and more.

This final section involves a set of patterns that I have seen in human social conflict that involve the object of discussion, the object that is the opponents and the object that is the audience. These patterns are like specific “moves” in fighting like a punch, block or throw. That object of discussion can take many forms, but the emotional rules are the same. Good/Bad, Intensity and social emotions are the primary things affecting what one feels about the object and shapes how they “choose” to respond.

Moving towards or away from an object that someone likes or dislikes will occur depending on the people involved and how they respond to one another AND the audience. An honest and reasonable opponent willing to engage in a social exchange in control of themselves and their reasoning and logical skills will engage in a fair fight. A dishonest and unreasonable opponent unwilling to engage in a social exchange who is not in control of their reasoning and logical skills will not engage in a fair fight.

One of the issues I’ve seen people fight over the most lately is rape and sexual harassment.

[We are naturally attracted to concentrations of social tension and conflict. Why avoid the big stuff now?]

Objects of importance in an argument.

The 5 most important object categories to keep in mind in a conflict in progress are:

1) You.

2) Your opponent(s).

3) The object(s) of discussion.

4) The audience.

5) The emotions and omotions each person associates with the object(s) of discussion.

I will note at this time that this is not like what is often termed “objectification” because the idea here is to talk about how your brain and mind literally create objects such as people that you see as having equal worth to yourself. A “non-‘objectified’ object” would be an opponent that you respect in a way that would cause you to treat them as you want to be treated including avoiding fallacious reasoning and logic.

1) You must consider yourself an object as much as any other. This is how you learn to strip bias away from what you choose to do in a social conflict. You must practice self objectifying by learning to identify it when you use reasoning that you would not want used on you. You literally have to make a mental simulation of yourself to do effective introspection.

2) Naturally they are the human object you are interacting with using language to create conceptual objects of discussion.

3) These can be anything conceptually. Literally every word of text can be an object in analysis of an argument. But there will be a central object, supporting objects, reasoning and logic (which are often objects when showing why someone is wrong).

4) This is virtually always a factor on the internet. The audience is always a psychological pressure that drives a lot of fallacious reasoning and logic, and other emotion-driven behavior. The general nature of the problem is “winning instead of being correct”. You want to be correct and win, in that order.

5) This is the point of this blog post. The (emotion)[omotion] combination drives perception, memory and behavior. Race, sex, gender, religion, political party, and more are all omotionally painted on what opponents perceive of one another. It drives your behavior and theirs. The trick is to make sure social groups are only used in reason, logic and rhetoric when relevant.


The relationship of the object with emotions and an “abstract/concrete filter”.

So let’s get to our example, solving the rape and sexual harassment problem. Many omotional connections have driven behavior. Rape and sexual harassment drive very strong emotions and reactions with respect to rape as a conceptual object as a concept or in specific examples. Logical fallacies are easy, these examples are about what look like social strategies with respect to topics that rouse intense emotions. What is worse is that they can be consciously or unconsciously done with respect to hurting people and making social problems worse (or not making them better at best).

I’m introducing something new here, I’m going to try calling it the abstract/concrete filter. This is essentially how specific or general someone is being about the object of discussion. An abstract concept and specific (concrete) examples are one way that this plays out. People will be abstract or specific depending on honesty and strategic needs.

Here are some examples of how I have seen it play out.

(-)(<*)[Concept of Rape]: If a person feels the object/subject threatening, such as someone with a relative who might have raped someone, one way to attack people trying to solve the rape problem is to stay in the abstract realms and avoid all discussion of specifics. If someone stays in the abstract realms they can bring up endless examples to counter what someone is talking about because you are dealing with a variable that can be endlessly replaced. If they were forced to actually deal with the specific, the conversation would turn to actual solving of rape which would not be in their strategic interests.

[The fear makes a person acting like a predator in communication avoid specifics about what they fear. If they stay abstract and ignore the specifics of their opponent they avoid what they fear and can keep doubting, minimizing, redirecting and more until their opponent is exhausted. What is worse is that they may not even know they are being predatory while retreating. That is a vulnerability :)]

(-)(<*)[rape]and(+)(>*)[public discussion]: A person interested in emotional dominance displays on people who want to solve the rape problem would attempt to foster public philosophical discussions that portray rape as a positive. One example is “If you had to rape to save the human race is this a moral good?” Seeing rape treated casually and positively is deeply hurtful to rape victims and their allies, yet privilege makes many unaware of this so the appeal to “Can’t we discuss a philosophical question without getting attacked?” can seem reasonable to some. This makes a rape victim or ally feel powerless if this occurs successfully or without social opposition/criticism. Again, since it’s a philosophical question it’s abstract so games can be played.

[The person thinking they are doing good here may be suffering from “They can’t tell me not to discuss rape philosophically!” The actual rapist would be enjoying the fact that they are triggering victims and allies. It might even be a mix. Human cruelty is often not straightforward unfortunately.]

Basically if someone finds something threatening and they are not in control of their emotions they will get general about things that “help the enemy” and specific about things that “hurt the enemy”. But it’s not as simple as how a rapist or a person who fears for a rapist might behave online. People with privilege such as white males like me will often get specific in ways that are harmful to people and what they are trying to express or change in society. For example:

(+)or (-)(>*)[Topic Subject Tangent]: At a social events about solving rape or sexual harassment people (males most often) asking questions often bring up what they experience in a way that subtracts from the overall message of the event. They make it about themselves and do not create a way for their experience to add to the event and the experiences of people effected by rape.

[This is mostly people used to being the center of attention acting like they are used to acting. They think everyone is interested in what they have to say or their experience instead of something that might actually solve the problem. I’m sure there is a “hidden rapist/harasser” in here somewhere but my predatory aspects have not been ready to speak casually about that.]

 There is a lot more than this. These are only some of the things that I notice about how people fight with words and how the emotions are arranged. I hope to flesh these ideas out a lot more in the future so if anyone thinks they see a hostile, unwanted or unfriendly strategy/behavior that fits in here feel free to offer example. What we see in other people is the only way these things get figured out.

The shit I do* to expel emotions related to all that fear and aggression I see…

[*Yeah some of the visuals are questionable in terms of facts, but I love the song.]


[1] Grappling. In Wikipedia, retrieved on 6/20/2015 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grappling

[2] Motivated Reasoning. In Wikipedia, retrieved on 6/20/2015 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motivated_reasoning

[3] Scientists identify emotions based on brain activity. On Science Daily June 19, 2013 at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130619195137.htm

[4] Amygdala. In Wikipedia, retrieved on 6/20/2015 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amygdala

[5] Morphologic features of the amygdala and hippocampus in children and adults with Tourette syndrome.

Peterson et al 2007. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007 Nov;64(11):1281-91.

[6] Ad Hominem Fallacy. On Wikipedia, retrieved on 6/20/2015 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem