For centuries, science has asked "What causes emotions?" The answer is revealed, when you view your mind as a pattern recognition network. Special organs within your limbic system recognize the patterns of events in your life and respond. Their signals trigger emotions, which instantly decide your attitudes and modify your behavior. Aroused emotions trigger restlessness, excitation, and agitation, preparing you for action.
Anger and fear are such emotions. Anger is blind to consequences and lashes out. Fear ignores successes and withdraws from confrontation. Despair envelops you in gloom, switching off pleasant avenues of thought. It is possible to still such negative emotions and be ruled by your common sense. Freed from fear, anger and despair, you can become calm and savor the positive emotions like joy and laughter. The Buddhists believe this state of mind to be one of the highest levels of consciousness.
Causes Emotions? - They Rule Your Behavior
If, suddenly, you need to walk on a plank a hundred feet above ground, your fear will kick in. That emotion will instantly suppress even your elementary abilities. Fear will stiffen you into immobility. Even slight movements will appear to be life threatening. Instead of walking, you will desperately want to lie down and grip the plank.
Within the blink of an eye, you will have lost your normal capacity to walk a few steps on a plank. Mysteriously, a single emotion will have modified your entire behavior. Every expression on your face reflects a specific family of emotions. Even blind and deaf children show similar facial expressions. Human behaviors and facial expressions are mirrored in the gentle caress of love, or the sharp scowl of anger.
What Causes Emotions? - The Mystery
Initially, scientists discarded emotions as being irrelevant to the rational modern mind, a throwback from primitive times. It was Charles Darwin, who first suggested that emotions have a real world existence, visibly expressed in the behavior of humans and lower animals. He suggested that the existence of an emotion could be derived from an angry face, or even a bad feeling in the stomach. In those days, science viewed emotions as essentially bodily and visceral responses.
What Causes Emotions? - Not Visceral Reactions
W.B. Canon disproved the idea that emotions were visceral responses. He showed that emotions did not follow artificial stimulation of visceral responses. Emotional behavior was still present when the viscera was surgically or accidentally isolated from the central nervous system. So, emotions existed, but they were not the churning in your gut, or the knot in your stomach.
What Causes Emotions? - Neural Signals Trigger Emotions
Excitation of certain parts of the temporal lobe produce intense fear in patients. When other neurons are stimulated, they feel dread. Excitation of other nuclei cause feelings of isolation, loneliness or sometimes of disgust. Electrical stimulation of the septal areas produced a feeling of pleasure for rats. The animals would self stimulate those regions, till they were exhausted, preferring the effect of stimulation to normally pleasurable activities such as consuming food. Emotions originate as distinctive patterns of nerve impulses, which also trigger neurochemical events.
What Causes Emotions? - They Have Primeval Origins
The Hydra was a primitive branched tubular animal. A net of neurons between its outside and its internal digestive cavity responded to any stimulus applied to any part of its body. That process enabled the animal to vary its length, and use its tentacles to push food particles into its mouth. Strong contractions expelled indigestible material from the same orifice. The stimulus, triggered by the recognition of touch, enabled those animals to approach, accept or reject food and escape. Over millions of years, nerve cells learned to recognize many more patterns, in addition to touch, to achieve more sophisticated survival goals.
What Causes Emotions? - Emotions Predict Danger
The early reptilian “nosebrains,” decided to avoid, or consume food, by analyzing smells. Fear was another early control system, triggered by the amygdala, an almond sized organ in the limbic system. It stores memories of unpleasant experiences and triggers fear, when it detects the possibility of a repetition of such experiences. Experiments show that just an awareness of the possibility of a painful electric shock activates nerve impulses from the amygdala for rats.
What Causes Emotions? - The Amygdala Effect
Fear has a huge variety of nuances - alarm, scare, worry, concern, misgiving, qualm, disquiet, uneasy, wary, nervous, edgy, jittery, apprehensive, anxious, trepidation, fright, dread, anguish, panic, terror, horror, consternation, distress, unnerved, distraught, threatened, defensive. Nature has added more emotions to fear, including sadness, disgust, contempt, curiosity, surprise, love, pleasure, embarrassment, guilt, and shame. The fear impulses from the amygdala increase adrenaline, produce shallow breathing, reduce blood pressure, increase heartbeat and inject acids into the stomach.
What Causes Emotions? - The Insula And Feeling Links
Your body has systems, which recognize a range of feelings, including sharp pain, burning pain, cool or warm temperature, itching, muscle contraction, muscle burn because of lactic acid, joint movements, soft touch, mechanical stress, tickling, flushing, hunger and thirst. These bodily sensations trigger impulses to the insula in the limbic system. This organ is also activated by social emotions - love and hate, lust and disgust. Thus, you experience a variety of feelings along with your emotions. Our literature describes those emotion/feeling combinations as cold calculation, hot temper, or warm love.
What Causes Emotions? - Emotions Direct Strategic Drives
Competing emotions are continually generated beneath your awareness. Each emotion initiates within your subconscious mind a drive, with a remembered strategy - an inherited or acquired way of coping with problems in life. Anger generates a drive, which navigates aggressively. Fear triggers a defensive strategy. Laughter achieves relaxation of the stresses of life. Jealousy makes the system attack competitors. Love makes it caring and protective. Each emotion focuses the system to take actions, which follow its strategy, These emotions compete with each other for the control of your mind.
What Causes Emotions? - A Single Family of Emotions Rules
Your moods shift because an intuitive decision making process, within your limbic system swiftly and continually switches control from one group of emotions to another. At any point in time, a single family of emotions rules, actively inhibiting conflicting objectives. Love subdues the onset of anger. These emotions micromanage the fluidity of your muscle movements, your facial expressions and the choice and tone of your words. They exercise subtle and relentless controls over the intensity and nuance of your every gesture and spoken word. The ruling emotion also controls the access of the whole system to its memories.
What Causes Emotions? - Act First, Inform Later
The famous experiments of Benjamin Libet showed that your awareness follows a system decision. He studied subjects who voluntarily pressed a button, while noting the position of a dot on a computer screen, which shifted its position every 43 milliseconds. The exact moment of conscious awareness was the noted moment of depressing the button. Each time, Libet had also timed the beginning of motor neuron activity in the brains of his subjects. Libet discovered that awareness occurred 350 milliseconds AFTER the beginning of motor activity. The system always acts and then informs you. When angry, you will act in anger, before you become aware of your action.
What Causes Emotions? - Massive Inner Wisdom
The DNA codes in your body contain codes, which instruct your living cells to construct your fingernail, or your eyelash. Scientists reported that if those codes were packed into 500 page books, those books will fill the 450 kilometer long Grand Canyon fifty times over! Over millions of years of evolution and a lifetime of experiences, your system has acquired an immense cache of knowledge. The system also provides such massive stores of inherited wisdom to the nerve cells, which manage your emotions.
What Causes Emotions? - They Record And Recall Memories
Emotional impulses trigger myriad finely controlled patterns of behavior. They access from memories the exact knowledge needed for survival. An animal lurking in the bush carries the memories of its encounters over a lifetime. If it feels uneasy, the system extracts memories of the sensory indications of danger. If it is fearful, it gathers memories of escape routes from the battle zone. Its anger extracts memories of muscular responses to battle. By controlling system access to a focused set of memories, emotions restrict your vision and control your response. When you are angry, you will feel convinced that you have every right to be angry. Fully justifying itself, the system blinds you to any other viewpoint.
What Causes Emotions? - Lower Levels of Consciousness
The mammalian organs in the limbic system generate partisan emotions. They carry you into troubling levels of consciousness with blinkered views. Which one of these levels represents the real you?
A fundamentally rational intelligence, your human heritage, occupies your prefrontal regions. They generate the viewpoints of - the “Real I” (RI). RI has a wise, common sense viewpoint, untrammeled by emotions.
The Buddhists have experienced this perspective. “You will not see something is good or bad, whether it is a beautiful picture or a very ugly picture, a sweet sound or an ugly sound. When you act like this, your mind will stay calm.”
What Causes Emotions? - Noble Urges Too
With the calm freedom of RI in charge, searing emotions cannot hijack your system. Free of troubling competition, you can benefit from special purpose circuits, which generate pleasure from a flawless line, the fragrance of a flower, or from harmony in music. When you are calm, nature adds to your delight by not inhibiting the innate surges of neural impulses to your pleasure regions, which enable you to cherish a work of art, or enjoy a lilting song.
What Causes Emotions? - Practice Of Positive Emotions
The Buddhists added value to their lives by cultivating noble emotions. They practiced the experience of compassion for nature by imagining the feelings of a bird, or an animal. Great actors invoke a range of emotions on stage. If you glare at a person, your words will sound hostile. Try it. You can learn to cultivate positive emotions. Amazingly, if you look at an opponent with compassion, his faults will suddenly appear to be pathetic failings.
What Causes Emotions? - Nature's Masterpieces Too
Nature has coded sophisticated emotional behaviors into your neural network. The incredibly specific behavioral outcome of each emotion is recorded in our culture and literature. Love transforms your behavior as it seeks to cherish and protect. Love is patient and kind. Love suppresses the emotions of anger, irritability, jealousy and rudeness. Your needs are subdued to give way to an awareness of the needs of your loved one. Love forgets and forgives past wrongs. Love persists in spite of problems, keeping faith in the loved one. Love does not gloat over injustice and is happy in the victory of truth. Nature's pattern recognition processes have crafted an incredibly high standard of behavior within the codes of a single emotion, to impel the best in mankind.
This page was last updated on 02-Jan-2014
For my peace of mind, I earmarked 20 minutes for meditation on the terrace. With my eyes closed, I sense my hands on the chair and feel the numbness in my feet.
I feel my breath flowing through my nose, my throat, my chest and my stomach. I can hear the chirping of birds, the phut phut of auto rickshaws, the occasional roar of a truck and the insistent hooting of horns.
The wide sky and the treetops come to my attention, when I open my eyes, I see a pale moon over two hundred thousand miles away. I see the nuclear fires, blazing for millions of years in the pale globe of the setting sun. I see a single star millions of miles away in space.
I can see green shoots coming up on a tree, watch the dives and swoops of birds, the great circles of the hawks and flocks of birds flying home for the night.
Diffused light from the sun reflects off a parrot on the tree and enters my eye through a pinhole opening. I sense the bustling mood of the bird, even though it is smaller than a drop of water in my eyes.
All these things are seen and felt by me in a few brief minutes. In the distance, is the head of a man seeming to be no bigger than a pea. Yet, that head too sees and feels such things. Ten million people in this great city see and feel in ten million ways.
My mind wanders to a misty view of postwar London; an exciting glimpse of Disneyland. An awed view of Tiananmen Square. The looming Himalayan ranges. My mind takes me to distant galaxies.
It carries me into the heart of millions of invisible neurons, where electrical charges flash thousands of times a second powering my contemplation. I see the campaigns of Julius Caesar and Alexander. I feel the longings of Jehangir.
Already my mind has taken me to palaces, battlefields and even the stars. If I lost everything, but can just see and feel, in just a few brief minutes, my mind can travel the world, or imagine the cosmos.
While my thoughts wandered far and near, the thought "20 minutes is a long time" also kept floating in. And yet, life has already blessed me with over twenty million waking minutes! I have an infinity of time on my hands. Have I a right to expect more from life?
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