Inside Out

Inside Out” is a finely created, and commercially successful, film by Pixar, which is now a division of Disney.  At the same time, in its discussion and representations of human inner life the film is fundamentally flawed.  In part this is inescapable, because modern neuroscience (which contributed to the “ideas” the film tries to represent) is itself flawed, holding the view that the human being is only matter, and never spirit.

All the same, we can heal this situation by pointing out a few of the missing elements, some of which are actually semi-present, although not carefully noticed. 

The film places in the center of childhood development the feeling life, represented by five characters, allegedly emotions: Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness.  The film also shows these “characters” as being in a room where they can observe what the main character, Riley, experiences, as well as how her life (early developmental biography) creates “islands” of personality characteristics, noted again in the film in a five-fold arrangement: goofball island (where silliness abides); friendship island created by relationships with friends; hockey island because of Riley’s love of hockey; family island, related to her family experiences; and, honesty island created by Riley’s naive willingness to be truthful.

The film does not carefully discriminate between these five emotions’ ability to experience what Riley experiences through her senses, or just how it is that the five emotions have some consciousness of  the personality “islands”.   Given the basic idea that the brain is the principle organ of consciousness, the “room” in which much of the “drama” takes place is called “headquarters”.  This room as two viewing portals.  One through the eyes and ears (only two of our many senses clearly  represented here), and the other portal somehow into the inner (neurological?) life of Riley.

As the film develops it tries to show how memories are created, only a few of which are called “core” memories.  At the end of every day, the regular (not the core) memories are shunted to “long term memory”, and dreaming takes place during sleep.  All of this is connected to the idea in modern consciousness studies that what we are as an individual is built out of memories - that is our personality is a function/creation of memory experiences, although the film does not explicitly say this.  Each memory fragment is “colored” by one or more of the emotions (Joy - yellow; Sadness - blue; Fear - gray; Disgust - green; and, Anger - red).

This group of emotions, led by Joy in the film, makes decisions while “observing” from the headquarters, or at the least tries to influence decisions, that the Riley personality must make.  Here the film is unclear.  The existential questions of what “rules” and what decides is not well represented.  Each of the characters that are emotions seems to rule itself, and the film treats each of them as if they had an “I” or an “ego”, i.e. as if they (the emotions) were individual living human beings.  They are represented as “characters” in the film, who themselves undergo “development” over time.

These emotions/deciders consult with each other, and have a control board by which their decisions (mostly ruled by Joy), are then conveyed to Riley’s face and actions by the push of some buttons.   I thought this "button pushing" idea rather interesting, because in ordinary speech people whose emotions are evoked by others of describe this as "having the buttons pushed.  As  well, the emotion Joy having a kind of "domination" (often pushing buttons in the headquarters) is not a bad observation - see the material on the temperaments below.

The film also conceptualizes a number of other inner human characteristics, such as: “train of thoughts”, “abstract thoughts” and “the imagination”.  Since Riley is mostly dramatically portrayed as around the age of 11 (with some infantile-like flash backs to younger experiences), we do not have (and cannot fault the film-makers for this) a fully developed human being.  The dramatic arc of the film is built around a crisis for Riley that happens because her parents move the family from her home in Minnesota, to San Francisco.  Riley also has no siblings.

Like any good Pixar (or Disney) film, there is a lot of clever cuteness, a dramatic crisis, and then an enjoyable, for the audience, resolution of that crisis.  In fact, we should applaud the creators for the effort to make a film were human inner life can be dramatically represented in this fashion, regardless of any weaknesses or flaws in the accuracy of these “ideas”.  They are not making a scientific dissertation, but rather a work of art that speaks to mysteries we all share, and the film-makers are right to be living out the impulse to represent matters about which we all should wonder.  The validation in the film of the role of Sadness in our lives is important, and given that a lot of children will see this film, the film does try to deal with these questions in a responsible fashion.

In a wider social sense, the film argues against the parental and social demands that everyone be happy all the time.  Children should be allowed to be children.  Everyone should be able to feel what they feel, including being afraid, angry, and sad.

That said, is there anything out of kilter here?

Many thinkers in modern brain and consciousness studies have the idea that there is no self, and basically no free will.  The physical organ - the brain - rules our biographies through deterministic processes that go on in the cells, and other neuro-biological structures.  We are being urged to believe, against our own experience by the way, that we do not rule our lives, but rather our lives are ruled by a meat organ.  This meat organ is very complicated, and basically it is given all kinds of magical powers.  That’s right: the ideas of brain scientist grant to the brain “magical powers”, precisely because these scientists are guessing about what actually happens there.  They assume far more than they actually know, given that their basic belief system (a dogma) is that the brain (meat) organ produces all the phenomena of consciousness.

The matter rules, and our sense of having a self, or of having free will, is an illusion.  Not only that, but perception is also an illusion, for the “real” world of atoms and quantum events is not observed.  Only the machines made for physicists sees “reality” and our own eyes and ears receive “constructs” created by the meat organ.  For example, the light enters the eye, and is interpreted by the brain, and that interpretation is not what is out there and real, but something the meat organ invents.  Somehow the brain scientist has lost the ability to wonder just why we human beings see the world of appearances, instead of the world of atoms and quantum events physicists believe is the core basis of material reality.

This “thinking” is latent/hidden in a lot of how this film - Inside Out - represents our inner life.  The emotions rule, and in the studies of modern consciousness emotions are physiological/ chemical processes over which we have little or no control.  This point of view is becoming so dominating, that more and more it is argued in courts of law that bad behavior is not the result of personal choices and individual character, but simply an accident of brain chemistry over which the individual being tried had no control, and for which the individual being tried had no responsibility.  A person who doesn’t control his/her bad temper has an illness, not a character flaw.

There is a fun sequence in which Joy and Sadness, in the company of Riley’s imaginary friend “bing bong”, pass through the realm of abstract thought, while seeking to connect to a “train of thought”, in order to get back to headquarters.  As an aside here, keep in mind that our ordinary language (and experience) treats emotions as not centered in the head at all, but around the heart region of the human body.  For a couple of examples among many, we believe we have “gut feelings”, and our “hearts get caught in our throat”.

The terms used in the film to refer to characteristics of abstract thought are: non-objective fragmentation; deconstructing; 2 dimensional (shape and color); and so forth.  These terms originate in rather lame disciplines connected to the field of linguistic analysis, which analyses language as if what lives in the words and grammar we use, will teach us about the thoughts and thinking that generated the language uses and conventions.   Itis not true that the study of language tells us exactly what thought and thinking are up to, although given that most thinkers on this question only are awake in their own inwardness to “discursive” thought (we talk to ourselves inside our mind), this presumption is understandable.  There is a great deal more to thinking than discursive thought.

We can also have bright ideas, which are represented by “light bulbs” in the film that are inserted in the control panel.  For most of us, we know this effect of inner light-filled thinking as what we call: intuition.  The light-bulb going off over one's head has been a pictorial representation of the "bright ideas" of intuition for more than a century.  Over in a corner of headquarters is a small library of what are called “mind manuals” that Joy has Sadness read in order to distract her.  The manuals, to the extent we are given hints as to their content, read like very boring dissertations of how the mind operates like a computer, which is a major erroneous assumption of modern brain sciences.  See: "I am not my brain - the map is not the territory".

Joy, Sadness, and Disgust are given female voices and visual characteristics, while Anger and Fear are given male voices and characteristics.  I know of no particular reason for this, except the artistic license the film enjoys in general.

In the film, it is in the personalities of the emotions where the “I” or “ego” or decider resides.  Riley is ruled by that emotional element.  She does not rule her Self, as there is no representation of a “Self” in the film, other then the self-nature of the emotions, and the personality traits on the "islands".  Riley does obtain some new characteristics, when by a kind of accident, Joy and Sadness fall out of "headquarters", but other than that Riley does not appear to have a concrete self at all.  Not all modern psychological therapeutic approaches take such a view.  In fact, talk therapy assumes there is a Self present that can and does rule the emotions, rather than the other way around.  If this was not true, talk therapy would never be successful, nor would various efforts to “cure” addictions and such.

Weakly represented is the Land of the Imagination, which given Riley’s age is full of infantile structures.  For us adults Einstein’s remarks are apt here: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

I could belabor these critical observations, but will instead just offer some older ideas, spiritual in nature, that got left behind in the last few hundred years of Western Scientific and Materialistic Culture, as science decided human beings were only matter, with no spiritual component at all.

Out of ancient Persia, and now found in certain Sufi approaches, there is the metaphor of the charioteer, the chariot, and the horse.  The charioteer is the spirit, or “I”.  The chariot is the thought content of the mind created by the charioteer over the course of one’s life.  The horse is the “emotions”, which the charioteer learns to guide/master.   The emotions are very powerful, and important.  They just should not be given free rein.  The emotions also don’t/can’t consult each other, as depicted in the film, because the “I” resides outside them, not inside them.

In the film the fake “I” of the emotions introspects (observes and seeks understanding of) the interior life (the “window” in the control room - on the islands of personality and the land of memories and so forth, which is opposite the “window” through the eyes and ears).   Were the film to try to take Riley into puberty, and into the arising of true individual thinking, it would have to have an entirely different model of what goes on Inside.  In a sense, the film represents the psychology of Riley as already “arrested development”. 

The five emotions - i.e. the causal elements of Riley’s personality according to the film, can also be more accurately portrayed by introducing another set of concepts, well known in Europe even into the 19th Century: the doctrine of the Four Temperaments.  This doctrine is actually richer in its conception of human (soul/spiritual) inner life, for it makes a number of important distinctions.

For example, the emotion/character in the film: “Disgust”, is seen in the doctrine as one-half of a primary paired instinctive feeling: liking and disliking, or sympathy and antipathy.  You can’t have disgust (antipathy) without its opposite characteristic (sympathy).  These instinctive feelings are very powerful, and often lead the “I” or “ego” into poor choices.  All the same, the “I” still is the decider, even when it succumbs to its feelings, and then kind of checks out of taking responsibility for its “actions”, or acts of will.  Drugs and alcohol also induce conditions where the “I” is weak in the face of the powers of the “emotions”, as well as appetites (primal desires and hungers are not touched in the film at all - at least specifically).

So we are left then (having moved Disgust elsewhere), with Joy, Anger, Sadness, and Fear.  The doctrine of the Four Temperaments has a lot to say about those.   Here are the names of the Temperaments: Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholic and Phlegmatic.   These are richer and deeper aspects of our inwardness, than the naked words joy, anger, sadness, and fear provide.  We are much more complicated than what the film (and neuorscience suggests).

Let me relate here a way/story/tale that some Waldorf teachers use to explain to parents what the “temperaments” mean, to help the parents appreciate how and why the teachers treat their children in certain specific ways.  As I do so I’ll make references to what the film does with their necessarily superficial idea of these inner (soul) phenomena.

Imagine the different temperaments individually walking on a forest path, and finding a very large tree has fallen across that path.  A choleric will not even pause, and will just jump or climb over.  In the movie this temperament was revealed by the red character with the fiery anger, who was related to the emotion: Anger.  Keep in mind that the film’s appreciation of human inner life (soul and spirit) is very weak (lacking an awareness of the fine detail).

A melancholic will slump their shoulders, turn around defeated, and go back the way they came.  This the blue character in the film did all of this almost all the time, and was being called, or reference to, the emotion: Sadness.

A sanguine will pause, notice a butterfly to their right, and wander into the woods chasing after it, and whatever next thing captures their fancy.  Maybe by accident they will end up on the continuation of the path on the other side of the fallen tree.  This was the yellow character representing the emotion Joy.

A phlegmatic will stop, and carefully think all possible ways to overcome the obstacle.  After selecting the best one, they will execute that plan.  This was the character in the film based on the emotion Fear.  In reality fear (anxiety/worry) is a special kind of intelligence as are all the temperaments.
In more ancient thought, these ideas were framed with this basic understanding:

    The humor of Blood, associated with the liver and with Air, which is the hot and moist element. A person in whom blood predominates is said to be “sanguine,” from the Latin “sanguis” (blood).
    The humor of Yellow Bile, associated with the spleen and with Fire, which is the hot and dry element. A person in whom yellow bile predominates is said to be “choleric,” from the Greek “khole” (bile).
     The humor of Black Bile, associated with the gall bladder and with Earth, which is the cold and dry element. A person in whom black bile predominates is said to be “melancholic,” from the Greek “melas” (black) and “khole” (bile).
     The humor of Phlegm, associated with the lungs and brain and with Water, which is the cold and moist element. A person in whom phlegm predominates is said to be “phlegmatic,” from the Greek “phlegmatikos” (abounding in phlegm) .

We are not just one temperament.  We may be dominated by one, but everyone at various times exhibits all temperaments.  In the film in the depiction of the inner life (head-space control room) of adults, we see this cooperative characteristic represented.  When we sigh, for example, we usually are shifting for the moment from one temperament to another.

The main problem for the modern scientist of our inner life (consciousness and self-consciousness or “I”), is presented by the lack of a clear appreciation of the nature of thinking and thought.  In thinking and thought-creation, our spiritual nature is, as was said by America’s Founders, self-evident.  We just have to look at the own mind from within, rather than at the brains of others from without.

That act, of course, is what this whole App - The Rising of the Sun in the Mind - is intended to support.

A brief note regarding the relationship between feelings (emotions) and thinking (details are in Sacramental Thinking) ...

Thinking has several modes, or Ways (these are not all of them, by the way): discursive thinking; comparative thinking; associative thinking; warm or heart thinking; cold or abstract thinking; picture or imaginative thinking; and, the following four Ways of drawing nearer the object of thought: thinking-about; thinking-with; thinking-within; and, thinking-as.

Feelings go with those modes and I call them moods: reactive (nearly automatic) moods are sympathy and antipathy; pain and pleasure; anger, joy, fear, sadness.  Non-reactive (cultivated intentionally - or willed moods) awe, peace, love, hope, faith.

Moods influence modes, but the “I” is to learn to artistically manage their mutual cooperation ... the charioteer needs to learn to guide the horse.  There is a lot to learn as we self-study our own mind/soul/spirit nexus.