Richard Firth-Godbehere headshot

“Wars start because someone gets annoyed.” – Richard Firth-Godbehere – History of Emotion – Sentientism Episode 98

Find our Sentientist Conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism Podcast.

Dr. Richard Firth-Godbehere PhD (drrichfg.com and @DrRichFG) is one of the world’s leading experts on disgust and emotions. He is an independent researcher and consultant in the history, language, science & philosophy of emotions & an honorary research fellow at the centre for the history of the emotions, Queen Mary University of London. Richard’s first book, “A Human History of Emotions” (also known as “Homo Emoticus”) will soon be published in over a dozen languages in countries ranging from Japan to the USA, from Australia to Brazil.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” In addition to the video above the audio is on our Podcast here on Apple and here elsewhere.

We discuss:

00:00 Welcome

01:27 Richard’s Intro

  • The history of human emotions
  • Academia & public engagement
  • History “never talked about feelings” but wars start “because someone gets annoyed”
  • You can’t really separate emotion & rationality “You cannot make a decision unless you feel something”
  • Interdisciplinary

06:00 What’s Real?

  • Lapsed Catholic mother & an “its all bloody rubbish-arian” father
  • Scientific family; Doctors, engineers, nurses. “We didn’t go into the seminary”
  • Joining mum in a spiritual phase. Tarot, mediums, psychics…
  • Realising you could “read people” without tarot
  • “Yeh – this is a load of rubbish”
  • “Firmly atheist”. The incoherence of “god”. “If it’s timeless it doesn’t exist anywhen, if it’s spaceless it doesn’t exist anywhere”
  • “Every answer… has come down firmly not on the side of the supernatural”
  • “In a world where we have a billion HD cameras… why do we only see blurry photographs [of ghosts]?”
  • Hume’s scepticism
  • The Kalam Cosmological Argument “doesn’t get you back to god… it could have been a farting space pixie!”
  • “People assume emotions mean ‘irrational'”
  • Science is driven by excitement, wonder, passion & curiosity
  • “The idea that science is people in lab coats with no feelings is completely wrong”
  • “Emotion is a driver & part of decision-making”
  • “The Stoics didn’t suppress their emotions, they used them!”

19:10 What (& Who) Matters?

  • Ethics comes from us being an evolved group animal. “If we all went around stabbing each other we wouldn’t be here”
  • The Golden Rule
  • Secular Humanism
  • Well-being for humans & beyond
  • “I have a real problem with ‘everyone must be happy!'”
  • Negative emotions (e.g. appropriate fear) can help wellbeing
  • Good/bad forms of hate & love
  • The harm of “toxic happiness.” It’s OK to feel down
  • “Don’t be ‘orrible”
  • Emotion as central to sentience
  • Momentary feelings vs. wider flourishing
  • Going vegan 1) treating gout & 2) “being an animal lover”
  • Can we know the inner life of others? “When I step on my cat she yelps”
  • Our most fundamental needs are the most shared
  • The good/bad of anthropomorphism
  • “I grew up in a culture that eats meat all the time”… The pain gave me a reason to stop
  • “People who went vegan in the ’80s were so hard”
  • A keto phase “Where the farmer knew the cow’s name”
  • “Now we’re just changing brands” [to go vegan]
  • Moral agents & patients
  • Pluralism
  • “The more you are sensitive to physical disgust, the more extreme your politics”
  • Horseshoe politics & purity
  • Gatekeeper emotions: disgust, belongingness
  • “How do we widen the groups of love?”
  • Priorities vs. moral inclusion
  • JW: “I’m not suggesting you quit your job & go run an animal sanctuary – but I am suggesting you don’t pay people to needlessly torture & kill”
  • Emotion is a recent concept with an ancient complex history
  • Evolved reactions & social responses
  • Is sentience “just” a class of info processing?
  • Panpsychism & proto-consciousness?
  • “Consciousness exists because all brains… are pattern analysing machines”
  • Consciousness is a good way of analysing complex patterns & solving complex problems. “All the rest is side-effects”
  • “I don’t think there is a black or white”
  • Life & consciousness weren’t “switched on”

58:12 How Can We Make a Better World?

  • “We are short-term beings & social change is a long-term goal”
  • Progress on trans issues, gay rights
  • Long, slow processes then sudden revolutions
  • The power of shame “You’re on the wrong side of history!”
  • Dangers of a fear & disgust driven culture (e.g. Trump, Brexit) & hopes for a push-back
  • Homogenisation of emotions via global comms… “a shared pallette”
  • We need people to feel disgust/shame/anger about the right things!
  • “Our Futuretopica will have more universal emotion” & hopefully still plenty of diversity
  • “There is an artificial pet that is so realistic that people refuse to switch it off”

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at Sentientism.info.

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Thanks Graham for the post-production.

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