Book editions Updated to 2018
Emotions and Feelings eBook

Emotions and Feelings eBook

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Emotions and Feelings

a Book by Stephen Gislason MD


Everyone has some idea what emotions and feelings are but their exact nature is elusive. We can begin by noting that emotions and feelings are not the same. The first issues to be discussed are semantic, not trivial by any means. There are many words that refer to emotions and feelings. There is no standard use of terms.

We recognize that brains bring information about the outside world together with information from inside the body. Images of the outside tend to be detailed and explicit in consciousness. Monitor images from inside the body tend to be vague and variable. Generally, humans are ignorant of internal processes and invent all manner of imaginary and irrelevant explanations to explain feelings.

The term “emotion” is best used to point to animal and human behavior. There are a small number of primary emotions and variations that involve mixtures of emotional displays with other behaviors. Joy, anger, fear and pain are pure emotions. Other, more complex and derivative experiences act as interfaces to emotions. Love, jealousy and hate are not emotions. These are descriptions of complex interactions and evaluations that involve a range of feelings and interface to true emotions some of the time. For example, lovers experience a range of feelings and display different emotions at different times. Euphoria is the benefit of being in love. Sadness and anger are the cost of being in love. Jealousy, like love, is another complex of cognitions, feelings and emotions that exist to monitor and regulate close relationships.

The best way to understand emotions to appreciate that the brain acts as a multi-channel mixer that combine many different incoming signals with a variety of responses that indicate needs, intentions, social status and inner states of the sending animal. Signals that indicate social status are important for social animals. The emotional components of behaviors indicate degrees of dominance or submission. Abject submission is indicated by crouching, kneeling, cowering, covering the face with arms and hands, making high pitched noises, heavy breathing, laughing and crying. Dominance is indicated by standing tall, staring, leaning forward, raising arms, speaking boldly or shouting with aggressive gestures such as foot stomping and hand clapping. Subtle emotions such as shy behavior indicate degrees of submission in otherwise emotionally neutral circumstances.

The absence of emotional display is highly valued in polite society. Humans have advanced toward civil and productive social environments that are emotionally neutral. Emotional neutrality is a requirement for acceptable behavior in school and work environments.

While our descriptive terms suggest that there are a large number of discrete feelings, there are only a small number of primary feelings flavors that can me mixed in a variety of ways. You can imagine several tracks in the brain mixer that converge as feeling monitor images in consciousness. What are the primary flavors? The range of feelings is from euphoria, a pervasive feeling of well-being to dysphoria a pervasive feeling that all is not well.

The term “affect” is used as a category that includes emotions, feelings, mood and cognitive-emotive complexes that are seldom properly described. In psychiatry, “affective disorders” is a diagnostic category. I do not find “affect” to be a useful word; it tends to conceal rather than reveal what is really going on. I suggest retiring the term “affect.”

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