The Reign of Sadness - John C. Wunsch, P.C.
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The Reign of Sadness

Young people seem to be naturally drawn into the harmonics of happiness, finding joy in the smallest of pleasures, structuring their hours in exhilarating ways. Sadness, even momentary sadness, the young person believes, is to be repelled and resisted, as if sadness were an abnormal state, something akin to an illness or disease.

As one grows older, sadness becomes an old friend, devoted and reliable, present during summer and winter, making its veiled presence felt throughout the days and years.  Age permits sadness to be seen as innate and natural, no longer something to be shirked. In fact, in certain aspects, sadness lends meaning and significance to the texture of a life––and at times can be cathartic.

“When you first hear Mozart’s music, your first impression is that it’s very alive, but if you peel away the layers, you can hear sorrow and sadness behind it, and that’s what I try to be: multi-layered.” ––Park Chan-wook

In the context of music, there’s literature which seeks to explain this phenomenon. As the authors of one article recently pointed out: “Given that in most circumstances sadness is unpleasant, how then can it be associated with pleasure when expressed through music? Herein lies the so-called “tragedy paradox”, the seemingly contradictory idea that humans work to minimize sadness in their lives, yet find it pleasurable in an aesthetic context. The Athenian philosophers of the Pre-Christian era were the first to discuss this matter formally, proposing that art pertaining to negative emotions provides rewards that other art cannot provide. Aristotle, for example, spoke of how tragic theater allowed the audience to experience rapidly, and subsequently purge itself, of negative emotions, a beneficial outcome known as catharsis (Schaper, 1968). Philosophers and psychologists continue to explain the human attraction to sad art in terms of the psychological rewards that are associated with it.”[1]

The authors describe how sad music can in fact help to restore homeostatic balance: “The pleasurable responses caused by listening to sad music is a possible indication that engaging with such music has been previously capable of helping restore homeostatic balance. Given that various psychological and emotional rewards (e.g., emotional expression, emotional resolution, catharsis) are shown to be associated to a higher degree with sad music than happy music (Taruffi and Koelsch, 2014), it may be that sad music, in particular, is preferentially suited for regulating homeostasis both in general physiological terms and mental terms. This notion is further supported by the fact that listening to sad music engages the same network of structures in the brain (i.e., the OFC, the nucleus accumbens, insula, and cingulate) that are known to be involved in processing other stimuli with homeostatic value, such as those associated with food, sex, and attachment (Zatorre, 2005). This is not to say that these regions are unique to the processing of sad music or that other types of music may not be useful for homeostatic regulation. We believe that pleasurable responses to negative-valence music stimuli are best understood through their ability to promote homeostasis.”[2]

Lawyers should have an awareness of this: responses in the brain from negative-valence music stimuli can work to promote homeostasis. This phenomenon is a bit counterintuitive––one would think that positive music would restore homeostatic balance more effectively. The fact that it does not suggests the somewhat paradoxical way our minds seek to make sense of the world: we create our own sunlight to make up for an overcast sky.

Thus, in court, it will not always be the case that sad evidence will give rise to feelings of sadness or that sympathetic evidence will give rise to feelings of sympathy. The human mind is more complex than that. Sadness and sympathy must be arrived at obliquely, indirectly, logically rather than emotionally. This explains why the evidence that will generate the most sympathy in court is medical evidence from qualified physicians. People will draw their own conclusions based on fact––they simply need to be enabled to arrive there on their own.

[1] Matthew E. Sachs, Antonio Damasio, Assal Habibi, The Pleasures of Sad Music: A Systematic Review, Front. Hum. Neurosci., 24 July 2015 /

[2] Id.

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