Why talking about emotions? Because they are shaping our life and that of the society we live in. They are elusive, so unpredictable, at least that is what we think. We all have them, we are never without them, we all know what they do, in fact, they are essential to life as we know it. Some believe we can master them, may be, one better than the other, but they are there if we like it or not. We hardly ask why we have them particularly when we feel good, but when we feel miserable we do. So, do we really have control over them or do they rule over us?
Theorists still scratch their heads. None can claim their views are right, and it appears nobody is clear about what to make of them. Too many angles from which emotions can be researched, too many opinions trying to interpret them. The libraries are full of their works and if anyone is interested, they are all inviting to browse the papers, books and magazines. Naturally, Sozieternas have their own opinion and theory.
To find a definition already highlights the problem. Should we define them psychologically, physiologically, biologically?
One widely accepted definition is based on psychological, philosophical ideas, such as: Emotions are subjective, conscious experiences that have psycho-physiological expressions, biological reactions, and mental states.
That is a good summary of what the sublime Homo Sapiens, and to be precise also other mammals go through when an emotional event takes place. Much of the knowledge about emotions comes from animal research, and we should be truly grateful to them, because they suffered, and still do, in the name of science.
Sozieterna sees emotions as an integral part of evolution, ensuring survival in a very hostile environment initially, and later on adding the role as a social facilitator. They were and still are an essential tool, ensuring development and progress and, becoming more sophisticated themselves as the complex life forms evolve. They have their own evolution, not as a separate phenomenon like having an own DNA branch, but contained in the chains of our DNA.
It may be that only with the appearance of mammals emotional concepts started to emerge, but these are already advanced organisms. There were simpler life forms, predecessors that had at least rudimentary processes in place. We truly need to go back to the beginning of life, or close to it. Since the single cells started to cling together instead carrying on to live a singular existence, one cannot avoid the question if that was due to an accident or an incident. Neither, it was inevitable if we accept the laws of nature and physics. There were obviously benefits to be held by clinging together, or by not separating, abandoning cell division as a means to procreate. Either way, ‘biological intelligence’ must have been present to allow the continuation of such development.
It is necessary at this point to emphasize on the environmental conditions in which organisms appeared: It was truly a matter of bio-chemical reactions. Circumstance, (the stimulus), and response, (the reaction), are the unit that is the foundation of cognition and emotions. One is or means nothing without the other. Of course, the DNA being the first memory storage and reference center. Sozieterna has not come across evidence that suggests another conclusion is more logical or realistic.
Physiologically speaking, to experience an emotion, there needs to be a stimulus that arouses the nervous system, which then relates the information to the cognitive brain to decipher the message. Comparing it to past experiences the response that is the most appropriate (or the chosen), is then initiated and, our motor system obliges with action that is the reaction to that stimulus. So we tremble when we are scared, we cry when we are sad, or we smile when we are happy. Stimuli can be brought to our attention from the environment through our senses or internally, from our own thoughts for example. The sensorium had to be developed, but cognition was and is the accompanying factor, from day one so to speak. It is a unit not a single entity that produces emotions, initially as simple and basic as it may have been, right up to the sophisticated system that we have now.
Every basic reaction, every single thought, every emotion has a biochemical substrate that facilitates the process. One of the latest advances was the discovery of the neurochemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline that can modulate the brain’s activity levels and can be observed in the individual’s motoric expression, such as, for example, body movements, gestures, facial expression. The newer type of antidepressants on the market contain these substances in one form or the other assisting in the treatment of depression. They don’t bring happiness, but at least they can help a person to maintain a level of functioning if he has lost that capability.
Paul Ekman found in his research that certain emotions are universal and the same facial expressions are found in all cultures, no matter how civilized or how isolated the people from the rest of the world were. He sees emotions as discrete, measurable and, physiologically distinct. He classified these basic emotions as anger, happiness, fear, disgust, sadness and surprise. This is however already an elaborate development. At the very beginning of organic life it would be only necessary to have 2 components: stimulus and response, that are qualitatively experienced, and simplest described as ‘good, or bad’, or as positive or negative, to be more in standing with the laws of physics. That enabled the organism to survive and adjust, storing the experience as memory in the ‘DNA bank’ for later references.
In this context, the most basic emotions are pleasure and pain. One may argue that pain is a sensation not an emotion. However, nobody can deny that pain is a feeling not a stimulus. The stimulus may be of variable nature, but pain is what is felt, ergo feeling. Feelings, moods, affect, emotion are of the same construct. The major differences are the times involved. Moods are longer lasting and more diffuse, feelings may be short or long in duration, but are usually of a specific quality. Affect is used to describe the emotional events. It may be easier to picture the differences in terms of mood as the climate in which the weather (affect) takes place, which may be wet, hot, or chilly, (feeling) and emotions influence them all as the underlying current.
Our senses of smell, vision, taste, hearing, and touch are the true sensations but these are so intimately linked to feelings and are specific to the individual that one may also argue that all feelings are sensations. The senses were certainly crucial in the development of organic life forms with the sense of touch the first one to appear and the most important. Without touch, life would look very different indeed. We know that premature born babies need touch to improve their survival chance. We can be blind and survive, but having no touch sensation would make the environment for any creature a deadly risk. As interesting as it may be to follow the path of the development of the senses, this would exceed the scope of the blog, but any histology book would provide the appropriate information.
It is however necessary to mention instinct, though it is not considered to be an emotion, but an inherent pattern of behavior of a living organism without the need of previous experiences, meaning, it does not have to be learnt. It is a motivator to the extreme, a drive to be precise. No doubt that is a matter of inheritance. Instinctual behaviors may not have to be learnt any longer, they sure had to be learnt before they could become the inherent trait. It is like learning a poem, driving a car, or even walk, we have to repeat it so often to make sure we can recite it, drive, or are able to walk. A poem we might forget, if we don’t refresh the memory, with walking we don’t because we do it all the time. It is as automatic as can be. Thanks to the plasticity of our brain, the neuronal circuit for walking is imprinted to last for our convenience. Instinct of course is that we try to walk in the first place. Now there is a lot of time involved since the four legged mammal started to walk on one pair of limbs. This change cannot be due to instinct. There was however motivation to make survival decisions and since it proved to be advantageous being upright it was repeated until the repetitions turned into the inherent inclination, now instinct, hence we walk and birds fly, being the same process. And whom do we have to give the honor? Recognition of a positive experience and DNA, of course, with the genes being the ultimate memory plate encoding instructions, like being set in “stone”. Species will adhere to their genetic information, but information can be added and adjustments can follow as required.
Charles Darwin was convinced that emotions served a purpose for humans being an aid to survival and communication. Sadly as he observed this to be applicable also to animals, contributing to them emotions, he opened the gates for research on emotions using animals in experiments. The cruelty of such experiments, as all cruelty to them, can make a sensible person weep. Knowing that they have emotions, but harming them anyway, how can that ever be justified?!
Instinct was mentioned above as a motivator. In fact, feelings, emotions are the original motivating tool. We want to feel good, isn’t it? So we strive for it. We certainly don’t want to feel bad. So we avoid it. Either we run away in fear or we spit out the food being unpalatable, whatever we do is linked to how it makes us feel and how we can get a positive result.
Sadly, the more complicated a machine is, the more problems can arise. Anywhere in the system of our emotional circuitry failure can occur and then it becomes clear that we do not necessarily have control. People who suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, or mood disorders can testify to that. The good news is that these disorders are not the most difficult to treat, because the brain allows reprogramming and change of modus operandi, (the way we do things). There are techniques that can be taught, and medications are available that can restore a person’s functioning. It becomes far more complicated when there are organic or emotional deficits present. It will take a long time and a person’s determination, besides the motivation, to succeed in replacing lost brain cells and their role of functioning. Despite the possibility to retrain the brain after a loss of brain tissue it may not be possible for everyone and if, recovery may be not as good as hoped.
It is however unlikely, that brutalized children can ever reach the emotional level as an adult that will give them a similar emotional richness of life that others can enjoy. The biggest hurdle to overcome is their fear and mistrust in general and in people in particular. Their coping as a child was forced upon them due to circumstances and parental failure. They survived, and it is proof to them that their skills are reliable, no matter how dysfunctional it may be and how unhappy they are. Why would they trust therapists who are just other adults? Adults hurt them and no adult helped them!
Monkeys raised without touch, appropriate nurturing and care have shown developmental problems, lower intelligence, aggression towards their peers and inability to raise their own offspring, just to name a few problems they had as they grew up.
There is no need to point out that the same consequences apply to humans. Prisons are full with the emotionally distorted. Intentional cruelty to animals in childhood is one of the first warning signs that something is awfully wrong, and of things to come. To properly care for children is every person’s and every society’s duty for the sake of the child and their own. If a society does not care, the prize to pay is too high though that should not be the only reason why we ought to care.
However, even the most nurtured person may sometimes struggle with emotions that are sheer overwhelming. The good news is, none of them will last if we have to suffer. Sadly, the same applies for the good ones too. That’s why people always chase happiness, (usually looking for it in the wrong places).
Or we may find, we act emotionally despite being better off to listen to our rational. If this is a regular occurrence learning control is a must, except one wants to make it a habit, and that may not serve you well. Sometimes people’s emotions get triggered by stimuli that are associated with unpleasant memories from the past. If the person is aware of it, he can overcome it. If not, to uncover the connections is probably more useful than not, but there are techniques that may be enough to reset the brain’s wiring that are useful for both groups without stirring up the past.
Obviously humans have the most complex system of cognition and emotion. No other species has come that far. This harbors unfortunately an imminent danger. It is still a matter of survival. But now it needs a careful balancing act between the both. Intelligence lacking emotions is as destructive to the point of being deadly as it is when there is emotional overload but lack of cognitive capability. If the human race does not find the balance between the two the outcome is certain. The warning bells are already ringing. If they are not heard the human race may disappear and with it many other creatures. May be that is not the saddest aspect, but it would be if it meant to have to say: Good bye Mother Earth! Good bye beautiful world! Good bye Blue Planet! Hope alone will not make the difference, only action will. It is anyone’s guess what it will be.