Skip to main content

How we feel – Giovanni Frazzetto ****

The format in this book is that we look at one emotion (anger, anxiety, love and others) per chapter, and for each one author Giovanni Frazzetto relates a (sometimes quite personal) story from his own life where he experienced the emotion. He then goes on to tell us how much me know about what’s going on inside our brains when we experience each emotion, and why each emotion has evolved.
The limits to our understanding of emotions are nurmerous. Sometimes the problem is that any study of emotions carried out in a lab will inevitably lack realism; sometimes our understanding of a particular emotion is based only on aggregate data collected from a large number of brain scans, never the same as any one individual’s experience; sometimes we’re unable to determine how much genetics accounts for the existence and expression of emotions, as against social factors or an individual’s personal history.
I enjoyed the book a great deal, mostly due to the fact that I finished feeling that I had learned a lot effortlessly – what’s great is that the science Giovanni Frazzetto discusses is in amongst engaging stories from his own life, and his expressive style of writing is very enjoyable to read.
What I also liked was the regular emphasis on the fact that, when it comes to understanding emotions and ourselves, we shouldn’t look to science as self help, and we shouldn’t expect science to be able to change how we feel. Reflection, poetry, and trial and error as we go through life dealing with emotions are much better here, the author says. Reading the book, it always felt like the author was speaking of the science in its proper place. For this, and the other reasons given above, I’d certainly recommend this title.

Hardback 

Kindle 
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Matt Chorley

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Magicians - Marcus Chown *****

The title may seem an odd one for a popular science book, but it refers to what Chown describes as ‘the central magic of science: its ability to predict the existence of things previously undreamt of which, when people went out and looked for them, turned out to actually exist in the real universe’. That may be true of all branches of science, but physics – which is what the book is about – is a special case, because its theories are rooted in mathematical equations rather than words. This makes the matter completely black-and-white: if the equations predict something you had no inkling of, then either the maths is wrong, or that thing really does exist. This book describes some remarkable instances where the maths was right.

Actually, I’m not sure the title is strictly accurate. It’s true that it centres on people – both the theoreticians who came up with the predictions and the experimentalists who proved them right – but in most cases the ‘magic’ is something the human players simpl…

Infinity Plus: Quintet (SF) - Keith Brooke (Ed.) ****

When I was younger there was nothing I liked better than a good, deep, dark (frankly, often downright miserable) science fiction story, and this collection delivers excellent modern examples that would have fit easily into a thoughtful if downbeat 70s collection such as the 'New Writing in SF' or the Interzone magazine of the day (one was actually first published in Interzone, in 1987 - the rest date between 1989 and 2010).

If I'm honest, I prefer more upbeat fiction now, but that doesn't stop me appreciating the quality of these five stories, put together by the SF website and publisher Infinity Plus. I've rarely seen a better contradiction of Margaret Atwood's putdown of science fiction as being limited to 'talking squids in outer space.' What we have here is pure character-driven storytelling with not a mention of space, spaceships, ray guns or aliens. It's the inner world, not the outer trappings of sci fi tropes that interest these writers.

On…

Until the End of Time: Brian Greene ***

Things start well with this latest title from Brian Greene: after a bit of introductory woffle we get into an interesting introduction to entropy. As always with Greene's writing, this is readable, chatty and full of little side facts and stories. Unfortunately, for me, the book then suffers something of an increase in entropy itself as on the whole it then veers more into philosophy and the soft sciences than Greene's usual physics and cosmology.

So, we get chapters on consciousness, language, belief and religion, instinct and creativity, duration and impermanence, the ends of time and, most cringe-making as a title, 'the nobility of being'. Unlike the dazzling scientific presentation I expect, this mostly comes across as fairly shallow amateur philosophising.

Of course it's perfectly possible to write good science books on, say, consciousness or language - but though Greene touches on the science, there far too much that's more hand-waving. And good though he i…