n-Dimensional Emotional Hyperspace

Darrell G. Yardley, PhD

On this page I discuss the psychobiological concept of emotional hyperspace. On our "Psychobiology of Emotions" page, we discussed the seven basic emotions: anger, fear, sadness, happiness, pain, shame, and loneliness. Below, I present the basic model, then discuss some of the psychobiology behind it and a few applications.

The Model: n-dimensional emotional hyperspace

Figure 1 persents a drawing of a seven (n=7) dimentional emotional hyperspace:
7-dimensional emotional hyperspace model

"n" is the number of basic emotions as described above and equals seven in this case. Each emotion is in its own dimension, i. e. has its own axis.

For perspective, we live in a four-dimensional space-time continuum. Space consists of length, width, and depth. Each of these dimensions are independent of the others, meaning you can move down the axis of say time, without affecting your position along any of the space dimensions. In a our two dimensional drawing here, imagine each axis (i.e. emotion) going off into a different dimension. Of course you can not draw that, but you can represent it.

Can you have more than four dimension? Yes, at least theoretically. In mathematics, you can have any number of dimensions. As I discuss in the Alternative View of Reality (coming soon), quantum physics string theory points to the possible existance of up to ten dimensions.

Several additional points about the model:

Rating scale for intensity

Each emotion is scaled on a 0 to 10 scale of intensity. I often have clients do this is therapy. I have them rate themselves on a scale of 0 to 10 for the intensity of their emotion, such as sadness, where 0 is no sadness and 10 is the strongest sadness they can imagine. Only two emotional axises are so labeled in Figure 1.


Orthogonal means that the axises are independent of each other in our emotional hyperspace, i.e. they are at 90° from each other. Mathematically, this means that movement along one axis/emotion, does not affect location along the others. Is this true?

Are our emotions really independent of each other? Can we be both happy and sad, for example? Can we feel happy and shame at the same time? Happiness is the culprit here. It is the only positive emotion here. The rest are all negative emotions. We can definitely feel a mix of emotions about something or someone.

We can have love-hate relationships for example. Or we can love someone, but not like them--our teens often fit into this category at least at times. I have not discussed "love" as an emotion. It is not a primary emotion and is more of a state of being. At best it is a secondary or derived emotion. More on this later.

Our emotional hyperspace model here is conceptual, not rigorously accurate. It is useful for helping us understand how our emotions affect us, as discussed below.

Comfort Zone

Our comfort zone is those set of emotional intensities in our emotional hyperspace in which he feel at ease or comfortable. Outside our comfort zone we feel discomfort. The further we move out away from our comfort zone, the greater the discomfort becomes.

Real personal, spiritual, or emotional growth does not occur until we step out of our comfort zone. Within our comfort zone we do not want to change usually. We are simply not motivated to change. For most of us, we usually do not step out of our comfort zone of our own free choice. Instead life and circumstances throw us out, usually kicking and screaming. This goes back to the old saying, "no pain, no gain," which in my experience is true.

I have indicated a low emotional intensity comfort zone above in Fig 1 where the emotions are all around 1. As one grows personally, spiritually, and emotionally, our comfort zone tends to enlarge, meaning we can tolerate a wider range of emotions and the situations that generates them.

Of course, a lot of people do not grow. Their comfort zones remain small, or even shrink. As we move into our elder years, you can see that a lot in the elderly. Their lives become more and more restricted as they desperately fight to stay inside their comfort zone. Yours truly being an exception of course.

Neurotransmitters and the Brain

We are learning that the various emotions we feel are physiologically based on their own set of specific levels of neurotransmitters released into specific regions of the brain. Underlying our emotional hyperspace then is a neurotransmitter hyperspace for the various neurotransmitters that determine our emotions.

Let us first step back to the primordial emotional system as discussed on our "Emotions" page...

The primordial emotional system Fig 2

Figure 2 below represents graphically the primitive "emotional hyperspace" system found in simple animals and plants. The two primordial "emotions" (more like pre-emotions) are avoidance and approach. It is not that a simple amoeba, for example, actually has emotions per se. Rather they have two responses to a stimulus, well actually three: approach, avoid, or neither. In the latter case, one could argue, "Well, then, it is not a 'stimulus', if it does not respond to it." Good point.The primordial approach-avoidance emotional system

The serotonin-dopamine-acetylcholine system

In humans with their vastly more complex neurosystems, their emotional hyperspace is much more complex. The neurotransmitter dopamine can be thought of as controlling the "approach" part of a response to a stimulus and adrenalin the "avoidance" response. (See Neurotransmitters, coming soon.) This is an oversimplification, but will suffice for our discussions here.

Figure 3 below is a graphical translation of the serotonin-dopamine-acetylcholine system shown on our Depression webpage as a Zenn diagram. The comfort zone here depends on the right amounts of each of these three critical neurotransmitters. Nor-adrenalin is another name for nor-epinephrine. Physiologically, this comfort zone is known as homeostasis.neurotransmitters

Homeostasis is defined as a state of steady state equilibrium or a tendency toward that state. Organisms try to maintain their various biochemical and physiological processes within those homeostatic bounds.

In the 3-dimensional model above I have again scaled it in a 1-to-10 relative scale, not an absolute scale.


There are other neurotransmitters and hormones that play a role in determining our emotional hyperspace. Most notably here, I just want to mention a very a very important class, the neuropeptides. As discussed on the Neurotransmitters webpage (coming soon), the neurotransmitters above are fast acting and belong to a class called monoamines, meaning one amine. Amines are closely related to amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Some of the amino acids themselves function as neurotransmitters, e.g. glutamate.

Neuropeptides are made up of short chains of amino acids. They are slower acting than the smaller monoamines, but very powerful in their effects. This group includes the endorphins, the natural opiates of the body and brain. There are a large number of these thus far identified, 50 or more now, and they also play an important role in determining our emotions.

OK, let's move on to discussion of the emotional hyperspace model, and how it can help us understand such things as ....

Multi-dimensional aspects of emotions

The emotional hyperspace model helps us to visualize and understand the multi-dimensional aspects of our emotions and to scale these to each other if desired. We can track, for example, several feeling levels graphically together as opposed to one at a time. If we work with up to three emotions at a time, these can be drawn out graphically and we can follow how or if they co-vary together. It can also help us to pay closer attention to our emotions by co-tracking them. These can add insights into what is going on with us.

Comfort zone

The major usage of the emotional hyperspace model as I can see it now is in relation to your comfort zone. The model introduces the conceptual "comfort zone" in a form that is in relation to our overall emotional landscape. We can actually map out our emotional comfort zone by paying attention to our emotions and rating them even when low when we are within our zone.


Our behaviors and thoughts can move our position in and out of our comfort zone/homeostasis. When we are depressed, we are outside our comfort zone. Being outside our comfort zone is not necessarily always bad or negative as discussed below. But with prolonged depression, we are pushed pretty far out of the comfort for an extended time. This is very hard on the body, including the brain. It can even cause us to lose brain tissue as discussed on the Depression page.

So how can we move ourselves toward our comfort zone--adjusting our behaviors and thought patterns. For example, increasing our exercise and working on our dysfunctional thoughts (as in Cognitive-Behavioral therapy).

We can graphically map out how depression moves us out of our comfort zone.

Anxiety and Stress

Likewise for Anxiety and its kid brother, Stress. Track yourself, see how anxiety and stress move you out of your comfort zone.

Personal Growth

We could also use this to track how our comfort zone expands (or contracts) through the years. If you are in a pretty good place right now, for example, that is in your comfort zone, map it out in a journal for a baseline. Do it for several months to establish your baseline. Then at various times in your life, you can compare this baseline level in emotional tolerance to where you are then.


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