Can you spot a liar by his facial expression?

Dominic Cummings, the architect of Brexit and right-hand man to Boris Johnson’s early days in government, has spent a day in Parliament. A man so fabulously gifted he knows how to use a car to test his eyesight is telling a committee about what happened in the early days of the UK’s COVID 19 outbreak. I’m not going to delve deeply into the things he said, the accusations he threw around, and the deep and visceral hatred he seems to have for Matt Hancock. …

“It’s about time you started writing more regularly”, my inner voice keeps telling me. Recently, I’ve been trying to find ways to find more time, to have the time to write, and time and time again, I’ve run out of time. But now it’s time I got myself together, found some extra time and started thinking things about feelings and history more times than I have been. The time is now!

With that time in mind, this is the first of a pretty regular bit of quick writing I’m going to start doing. Those who followed me even when I…

We may never be able to build a machine that can recognize the full diversity of human emotional experience

In the early 1990s, Lisa Feldman Barrett had a problem. She was running an experiment to investigate how emotions affect self-perception, but her results seemed to be consistently wrong. Eight times in a row, in fact.

She was studying for a Ph.D. in the psychology of the self at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. As part of her research, she tested some of the textbook assumptions that she had been taught, including the assumption that people feel anxiety or depression when, despite living up to their own expectations, they do not live up to the expectations of others.


Plastic brains and how we see colours might be the clue to how the understanding of emotions can vary from person-to-person, culture-to-culture.

Recently, I read two very interesting and thought-provoking books: Guy Deutscher’s Through the Language Glass and Bruce E. Wexler’s Brain and Culture. By taking these two works together, I think hints at how the nature/nurture question in Emotion research can be solved by the way we learn to understand the world as children through language.

More than Words

You may think that feeling awkward is something we all do and always have. But the emotion of ‘awkward’ might just be something new, and you might be one of the first humans to feel it.

Over the pasty few years, the word ‘awkward’ has started appearing more often than before. Adverts, TV programmes, news articles, and novels have all given space to this word. There’s a movie about it, songs about it, Facebook, Tumbler and reddit pages dedicated to it. But what is it? What is feeling ‘awkward’, and where did it come from?

I asked this question on…

From Alexa to self-driving cars, emotion-detecting technologies are becoming ubiquitous—but they rely on out-of-date science

The world is being flooded with technology designed to monitor our emotions. Amazon’s Alexa is one of many virtual assistants that detect tone and timbre of voice in order to better understand commands. CCTV cameras can track faces through public space, and supposedly detect criminals before they commit crimes. Autonomous cars will one day be able to spot when drivers get road rage, and take control of the wheel.

But there’s a problem. While the technology is cutting-edge, it’s using an outdated scientific concept stating that all humans, everywhere, experience six basic emotions, and that we each express those emotions…

I’ve just been reading Timothy J Riess’s book, Knowledge, Discovery and Imagination in Early Modern Europe: the Rise of Aesthetic Rationalism. This is an interesting book, suggesting that one of the reasons for the big changes that took place in the early modern period was a shift in focus at universities away from studying ‘Liberal Arts’ (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) known at the time as the Trivium, to the subjects that normally only Masters, or Quadrivium, students would study — arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. …

Short and regular musings on making music and how it relates to emotions

I play both guitar and bass semi-professionally. I spent much of yesterday playing bass. I’ve been playing for — well, a lot of years (decades, even), but there are still some elements I work on from time to time.

Yesterday, I wanted to practice playing stuff ahead of the beat, also known as pushing the beat. For those who aren’t musical, it means just what it says on the tin: playing bass lines (or drum grooves or guitar or whatever) just slightly — and I mean milliseconds…

Rich Firth-Godbehere

Emotions and ideas - in science, language, history, politics and philosophy. Relapsed musician. Always willing to consult, write or speak:

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