Members in the Media
From: The New York Times

What Emotions Are (and Aren’t)

The New York Times:

OUR senses appear to show us the world the way it truly is, but they are easily deceived. For example, if you listen to a recorded symphony through stereo speakers that are placed exactly right, the orchestra will sound like it’s inside your head. Obviously that isn’t the case.

But suppose you completely trusted your senses. You might find yourself asking well-meaning but preposterous scientific questions like “Where in the brain is the woodwinds section located?” A more reasonable approach is not to ask a where question but a how question: How does the brain construct this experience of hearing the orchestra in your head?

Read the whole story: The New York Times

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I’m glad to see this change. Emotions are the result of a comparison between your current thought and your highest potential realized self that act as a GPS system letting you know if the thought you’re thinking is 1) moving in the direction of greater realization of your potential self (feels better than last thought), 2) neutral – no movement toward or away from realization of your highest potential self between the this thought and the one that preceded it (feels the same as the last thought), or 3) moving in opposition to realization of your highest potential self (feels worse than last thought).

The more # 1 thoughts a person has the happier and more successful the individual becomes. These types of thoughts reduce stress. The more # 3 thoughts an individual has the less happy and less successful (than potential) the individual experiences. These types of thoughts increase stress.

Since emotions are comparing to a “Thought Form” or “Higher Self” a physical location for the origin won’t be found in the body. The effects of prolonged positive or negative emotions are found in the body.

Constructivist thinkers, from philosophers to quantum physicists, had already defended that we actively construct the reality we live in (e.g, Maturana, Varela, von Foerster, Piaget, Kelly, to name a few).

Good article. But it’s not an argument against essentialism. If two states are judged to share the same emotional character, then they necessarily have something identifiable in common, namely, an essential property. The author merely wants a better measuring device to find this essential property, not to abandon the search.

Darwin did update the idea of essences by giving us many more to work with. The finding of transitional forms in the fossil record helped drive this point home. He also showed that whatever their center of “essential mass” was, it definitely wasn’t immutable as many had speculated before him. By explaining speciation through gradual change, Darwin showed us that every species’ core is in flux.

For John Dewey (who famously wrote about the impact of Darwin on philosophy), this meant that the concept of a fixed and eternal essence in biology was then metaphysical baggage. But Dewey jumped the gun a bit because he was writing before any understanding of genes. Nowadays, genetic essentialism is an indispensable notion in biology, since it is mostly only by sharing in some genetic core of what a species is that enables two tokens of that species type to interbreed productively.

As for the article, I gather that one of the author’s primary aims was to discredit the theoretical basis of practices like profiling, lie-detection, and such. She also wanted to show that localizing emotions in one part of the brain is a fool’s errand, which she did to great effect. And while her point about the statistical nature of reading each other’s emotions is valid, it’s certainly not a stroke against the idea that all feeling states of one kind have something in common. After all, if they didn’t, then we’d constantly be unsure whether it’s hunger or xenophobia we feel when we smell pancakes in the morning.

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