Emotions, skateboarding, and speech recognition

The inaugural post in ‘This week I have mostly been..‘. A new category which is an attempt to log recent activities, on the web. Some sort of internet diary if you will.


Invisibilia, ‘Emotions‘, part 1 and 2, which I will attempt to summarise here for the benefit of my own poor memory.

So we’re taught that we’re wired to feel responses to stimulus (e.g. running away from predators). Like they’re reflexes; an automatic reaction to the world. The consensus is that it’s universally programmed. But Lisa Barrett says nope; there’s nothing inevitable to emotions. She’s the author of How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain which I now want to read.

She says things like, emotions aren’t reactions TO the world, emotions construct the way we view the world.

“Whatever sensation you have in your body, your brain develops a theory – actually a whole bunch of theories – based on previous experiences. And then uses them to make a prediction about what is going on.”

Your culture has a ton of emotional concepts – you learn them from your parents. When that kid in the park pushed you, your parents explain that the feeling you have is ‘anger’. These concepts, are the things that shape those raw sensations, the raw materials into the actual emotions you experience. Without those concepts, you wouldn’t have any of the emotions that you think of as ‘hard-wired’. Even sadness or fear. They are not fundamental.

“Concepts are your brain using past experience in order to make sense of incoming sensory input.”

Very much related (unsurprisingly) was part 2 – High Voltage – about an anthropologist who lived with a tribe in the Philippines and encountered the word liget. The word basically translated to the specific feeling of wanting to behead someone. We might call it an intense blend of anger and sadness, but they specifically call it liget; that powerful energy that coarses through you and makes you physically howl and then, chop a head off. I’ve not personally felt this emotion yet, but I sort of look forward to it (though, ideally it won’t happen due to horrible circumstances).

Further listening

Still on the podcast tip, I also listened to a couple of 99% Invisible episodes. Firstly, The Trials of Dan and Dave – on a Reebok ad campaign for the 1992 Olympics. I’d never seen heard of it before (being 10 at the time and not caring about the decathlon) but loved this story. The campaign was a great idea, but the Dan and Dave relationship was better. Brought a tear to my eye.

The other 99% Invisible episode, The Pool and the Stream – ostensibly about the early days of skateboarding in LA (think Dogtown and Z Boys) but more about the origin of kidney-shaped pools but also more than that. Well worth a listen. Also I love this quote:

Architecture and its details are in some way all part of biology. Perhaps they are, for instance, like some big salmon or trout. They are not born fully grown; they are not even born in the sea or water where they normally live. They are born hundreds of miles away from their home grounds, where the rivers narrow to tiny streams. Just as it takes time for a speck of fish spawn to mature into a fully-grown fish, so we need time for everything that develops and crystallizes in our world of ideas.


I finished watching Hate Thy Neighbour on Viceland TV. I don’t really have words for it. Much kudos to Jamali Maddix who does an amazing job at keeping his shit together. I also recently listened to the This American Life episode, Fear and Loathing in Homer and Rockville which had me facepalming so much. Couple those with the recent events in Charlottesville, and it’s been a disheartening week all round.


Played a bit with speech recognition and speech synthesis in the browser to make a voice controlled navigation. I’d like to do more along those lines, so expect me to shoehorn computer voices into as many places as I can. I also helped get the Dorset Blind Association new site together – they do great things.

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