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 -
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
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
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
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
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
In more ancient thought, these ideas were framed with this
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 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,
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,
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.