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on 19 October 2008
The VSI series is something of a mixed bag quality-wise, but Evans has done a good job with this sharp introduction to Emotion.

Eschewing the thorny little devil of definition till last, Evan's first chapter introduces us to several categories of emotion. He describes how the most basic emotions (fear, joy, disgust) are common to most higher-animals through the shared limbic system, an age-old group of brain structures, whilst other emotions we're more complicit in creating, either by incessantly thinking over them (cognitive feedback) or through social expectations of our behaviour.
The second chapter deals with the bad press emotion sometimes picks up as an occlusion to rational, and so presumably saner, thought. Evans tries to show how emotions have been an important evolutionary tool for the past 100million years; fear and joy each being quite functional adaptations teaching us what to avoid and what makes sense to cherish.
The following two chapters deal with our ability to induce emotions and how our emotional potential affects us every day in positive ways we are often unaware of. Finally, in chapter five, Evans begins to ask the question, `what is emotion?' His answer is that there is no stock of emotions as such, but rather emotional events, combining behavioural, neurobiological and evolutionary aspects. And although this may seem unsatisfying to some, it does leave the door open nicely for the evolving areas of AI and Robotics. Computers with genetic algorithms evolving their own programmes and environmental interactions may well develop forms of emotive consciousness different from our own yet no less `real'.

I liked this book. Evans has enthusiasm and a sense of humour, he's not too stompy in the boggy bits and leaves enough trails for the intrepid to explore. Frankly, that's what you look for from an intro writer... other VSI authors take note.
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on 8 August 2011
This book claims classic status, and argues that computers may need to have emotions too in the future. It travels from the realms of the `universal' language of human facial emotion, through brain structure, to discuss the social and biological value of the emotions. In the process, it argues that Spock could never have evolved, because emotions are so important in effective decision-making alongside Spock-like reason.

It travels on from that to efforts at philosophy - defining emotions - in ways which gloss over the physiological basis of emotions in the brain and in physical impact on the body - so it is easier for him to argue that computers could truly have emotions. Interestingly, the picture he uses of two robots falling in love is of course of two robots in human bodies.

Much of this is superficial. But there are gems of insight and nuggets of information reviewing the experimental literature - some good stories along the way ranging from how we flirt when anxious, to tips for interior decor!

Emotions are effective decision-takers guiding natural selection - they help us make better decisions eg to protect a friend from death, to help each other, to run away, and they help us because we anticipate those emotions and therefore act to avoid or achieve them, learning to do so from others as well as by experience. OK. It's a sensible argument, and the emotional brain doesn't do it rationally, it goes straight from sensory thalamus to amygdale and emotional response, often bypassing the cortex that may attempt to rationalise or reassess afterwards.

There is a good discussion of the pluses and minuses of talking to manage emotion - joking, venting, eliminating negative thoughts. But sometimes it helps just to forget about things - `in one study of road accident victims, those who had undergone debriefing had more flashbacks and more fear a year after the accident than those who had not.'

The book ends on a nice jibe at economists - after various accounts of how we can be manipulated. An economist is a person who, given a set of preferences, will act to `maximise' these preferences. But there is no such thing in economics as an irrational preference. Economics `says nothing about where these preferences come from, nor whether it is rational to have some preferences rather than others... This seems crazy to me.'
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on 6 June 2016
This is certainly a beginner's book and anyone who has read widely in philosophy and cognitive science will be aware of much that is in here and probably, like myself, will take issue over a number of things and feel that some new readers may be misled by the more cavalier comments. If you have no background in the subject I recommend the book as interesting but urge any reader to be careful. Here are a couple of examples - the author briefly mentions John Searle and David Chalmers, two of the very big names in modern philosophy of mind who deserve far better treatment than having their mind experiments labelled as "too much thought and not enough experiment". This crass and unwarranted assertion only shows that Dylan Evans has not read either of these philosophers to any great degree and clearly does not understand the role of a thought experiment in modern philosophy. A glaring omission in this book is any reference to the work of Jesse Prinz and I'd urge anyone interested in emotions to read this author's work. I agree with Evans positive stance on emotion and the holistic nature of the system underpinnings of emotion (pace Damasio who does get a slight mention) but the issues surrounding robots developing emotions are far more complex and problematic than is made clear in this book. In this respect, "The Character of Consciousness" by David Chalmers is very important as it poses the single greatest challenge for a proper explanation of emotion and consciousness to be found anywhere in the literature. All in all, not the best VSI out there and I've been more impressed with other authors in terms of both their knowledge and style but it still worth reading.
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on 9 November 2011
i originally brought this to do a research project, picking out the bits that were useful to me but ended up reading it all. very interesting.
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on 31 July 2013
Well written introduction to modern thinking about emotions, no longer as phenomena to be controlled with the most stiff of upper lips, but rather as a core part of our being, inextricably colouring our 'reason', and without which we could not evolve. You may not agree with everything that Dylan Evans says - I am not sure about the closing sections on emotional machines, but he does set out how emotions may work and their implications in a short, clear way, introducing neuroscience concepts without boggling the brain.
The book dates from 2000 and so this is not completely up to date for the student of neuroscience or psychology, but remains an excellent introduction for the general reader - and may be a good place for the student to start..
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on 6 March 2015
This book is okay. It is exactly what it says- a very short introduction to emotion. It was interesting but nothing mind blowing. It's one I will be passing on rather than keeping.
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on 23 February 2011
This is a decent overview of emotion, it covers a range of basic theories and makes for interesting reading. It doesnt explain anything very deeply but gives a good basic insight.
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on 19 January 2010
it does exactly what it says on the cover, it is a very short introduction to emotions. for anyone who does not know to much about emotions and the research that has been carried out around them it this will give u a brief look into it all with references so you can go and look further if you wish.

great book from a great collection of books
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