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The History of Human Emotions by Tiffany Watt Smith (Transcript)

Tiffany Watt Smith

Here is the full transcript of Cultural historian Tiffany Watt Smith’s Talk: The History of Human Emotions at TED conference.

Tiffany Watt Smith – Cultural historian

I would like to begin with a little experiment. In a moment, I’m going to ask if you would close your eyes and see if you can work out what emotions you’re feeling right now.

Now, you’re not going to tell anyone or anything. The idea is to see how easy or perhaps hard you find it to pinpoint exactly what you’re feeling. And I thought I’d give you 10 seconds to do this OK? Right, let’s start OK, that’s it, time’s up.

How did it go? You were probably feeling a little bit under pressure, maybe suspicious of the person next to you. Did they definitely have their eyes closed? Perhaps you felt some strange, distant worry about that email you sent this morning or excitement about something you’ve got planned for this evening.

Maybe you felt that exhilaration that comes when we get together in big groups of people like this; the Welsh called it “hwyl,” from the word for boat sails. Or maybe you felt all of these things. There are some emotions which wash the world in a single color, like the terror felt as a car skids.

But more often, our emotions crowd and jostle together until it is actually quite hard to tell them apart. Some slide past so quickly you’d hardly even notice them, like the nostalgia that will make you reach out to grab a familiar brand in the supermarket.

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