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The Psychology of Emotions, Feelings and Thoughts by Pettinelli

The workings of the human mind are perhaps the last frontiers that are yet to be unraveled by science. Despite the advances in neurobiology and better technology, the cognitive aspects of the brain defy satisfactory explanation. Mark Pettinelli, through his book The Psychology of Emotions, Feelings and Thoughts attempts to throw new light on the subject of cognitive capabilities of the human mind concentrating on the mechanisms of thought, emotions and feelings. This book review captures the essence of Pettinelli’s work and offers comments on its importance and its possible usability as a standard reference textbook.

Pettinelli’s main thesis is that life is divided into three groups; emotion, thinking and feeling and that all three are connected. Pettinelli introduces his subject by making a connection between emotions and logic by stating that people’s responses to things result in feelings that are called emotional reactions while those that make them think are sometimes called logical or intellectual reactions and that if people feel, they are probably thinking less (Pettinelli 1). Pettinelli surmises that color causes more emotions and that between a gold or silver computer; the gold will cause more emotions.

The author explores the relationship between emotions and logic and uses easy contemporary language shorn of philosophical complexities that dominate most of the classical works on the subject as typified by Hegel, Kant and Russell. Thus Pettinelli’s treatment of human psychology borders more on philosophical aspects. Pettinelli’s reasoning is contentious as his surmise that “thought is concrete things which are real in the world, and emotion is something that you feel but can’t visualize. So therefore intelligence is just the ability to do things that are real…. (Pettinelli 6)”. This exploration of emotions appears to be superficial and the reader, especially a student of psychology gets no insight into the previous body of work on emotions as explored by Charles Darwin, William James, Freud, philosophical approaches like those of Aristotle, Descartes, Eliot, neurobiological approaches and developmental psychology as also psycho-biology and sociology. Pettinelli’s book offers no background on the subject.

Pettinelli then explores the connections between emotions and feelings and states that “feelings are more direct than emotions and thought because they are more sensory” (Pettinelli 16). In chapter IV, Pettinelli theorizes that emotions are nothing but dulled feelings and the mind can interchange them (Pettinelli 20). Other scholars make no such assertion but simply state that “emotions are principally feelings (Barret, Salovey and Mayer 341)” which is also qualified by scholars as assumptions unlike Pettinelli’s definitive statements. Later, he arrives at a connection that emotions and feelings are broad thoughts, which all are made up of real experiences. This emphasis on ‘real’ and ‘reality’ robs the book of its scholarship as Pettinelli has not explicitly stated that his approach to the entire query is based on Realism. Rather, the development of Pettinelli’s argument loosely follows ingredients picked up from Hegel, Kant and some aspects of Eastern philosophies.

In the chapter on Emotion Vs Logic, Pettinelli states that happy and sad are stronger than fear, anger, surprise, disgust, acceptance, and curiosity (Pettinelli 26). This surmise is not backed by any real and comprehensive argument except for a reference to bipolarity which seems to be out of place in what appears to be largely a philosophical work. The symptoms of mania and bipolarity seemed to have been borrowed from any standard book on psychiatry. In this chapter Pettinelli delves into issue of psychiatry, a field for which the author’s academic qualifications do not ascribe credibility to his work. Pettinelli states that emotions are entirely driven by intellect, a premise echoed by Holmes in 1926 who states that “Emotion is strong in man, and in the well-balanced person it is controlled by the intellect” (Holmes 302).

Pettinelli’s next chapter dwells on the concept that life occurs in sharp spikes is not wholly original but is presented in a readable form. A similar thesis is offered by Gee who theorizes that the mind works in spurts (Gee 106).The main contention is that since humans cannot pay attention to everything, they need to spike their attention to focus (Pettinelli 31). Pettinelli then offers an explanation that the more attentive a person is, the more he will be able to notice more things visually and intellectually (Pettinelli 42). The implication is that the visually impaired or the blind may not be as perceptive as those with all five senses intact. Not only is such a premise offensive but also factually wrong otherwise the world would have never seen the rise of blind people of repute such as Homer, Feliciano, David Blunkett, those who became blind such as Bach, John Milton, Goya, Monet and Stevie Wonder to name a few

Pettinelli then offers a view that emotions are nothing but combination of feeling and thought. Here he qualifies thoughts as being non-verbal thoughts. Here the author is paraphrasing Nussbaum who defined “emotion as though than as a combination of thought and feeling (Krause 60)”. Pettinelli also offers a theory that humans “can only experience one strong emotion at a time”. This contention runs counter to most commonly held understandings of the human brain’s ability to multitask and hence can be attributed to a certain amount of writer’s ‘license’ in Pettinelli’s thesis. In the chapter on optimism, Pettinelli offers an astonishing surmise that since the brain can only filter limited amount of information, those who are overly optimistic “have dulled emotions” (Pettinelli 63).

This is yet another postulate that is not grounded in any deep study. In the chapter on visual learning, the author is more in tune with the generally accepted views that visual learning is easier than abstract learning such as complex mathematics. The author’s postulates on consciousness are interesting as he explains the concept in simple understandable terms. The author holds that consciousness “occurs when feeling and understanding meet” (Pettinelli 76). The author’s treatment of consciousness is more in the lines of philosophical writings than writings on psychology. The author then tackles the malaise of depression and attributes psychological explanations for depression without making any allowance for the known causal effects of biochemical imbalances that have been proven to cause some types of depression.

The author’s bibliography is limited to just eight references, hardly a standard for a reference textbook. A better and more comprehensive study of emotions is offered in Understanding Emotions (Oatley, Keltner and Jenkins), which is a scholarly reference textbook. Though Pettinelli’s book per se is easy to read, there is a definite lack of scholarship. The author offers many premises but offers no backup sources or empirical studies to back his claim. This book at best can be used for casual reading and exploring the subject from an informal prism but definitely cannot be used as a book of reference.

Works Cited

Barret, Lisa Feldman, Peter Salovey and John D Mayer. The Wisdom in Feeling: Psychological Processes in Emotional Intelligence. NY: Guilford Press, 2002.

Gee, James Paul. An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method. KY: Routledge, 1999.

Holmes, Ernest. The Science of the Mind, 1926. Charlotte: Cosimo inc, 2007.

Krause, Sharon R. Civil Passions: Moral Sentiment and Democratic Deliberation. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008.

Oatley, Keith, Dacher Keltner and Jennifer M Jenkins. Understanding Emotions. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006.

Pettinelli, Mark. The Psychology of Emotions, Feelings and Thoughts. Raleigh:, 2008.


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