Today we talked about the story of SM, a woman who was missing the part of her brain that instills fear in humans.
This suggests that fear, a distinct emotion, is in actual fact nothing more than an elaborate brain function, and, indeed, suggests that our other emotions are the result of the activation and deactivation of certain neurons. This is backed up by the readings in the ToK textbooks (Both Alchin’s and van de Lagemaat) where they say that emotion is, first and foremost, a physical process that happens within our bodies. An emotion, at its very core, consists of the physical process where neurons activate and certain hormones are produced.
This explanation of what emotions are probably as far as we have come in formulating a scientific explanation of our emotions, and is simultaneously the source of contention (and ire) of many other people. Even though I consider myself to be one of those very rational people that puts an inordinate amount of trust in science (being one of those people who dismisses supernatural and un-scientific notions with the phrase “there must be a reasonable explanation for that!”), I tend to look at scientific explanations about abstract, intangible, incredibly complex entities that are closely linked to the more “human” side of things, such as religion, and even emotion, with skepticism. It reminded me of what Mr. MacKnight said when we first talked about emotion as a Way of Knowing in this class – that although we see reason and emotion as two distinct Ways of Knowing, with the two seemingly completely opposed to each other, we tend to use reason to describe and explain emotion. Often, we find that reasonable explanations and descriptions of emotion are inadequate – that they are missing some elusive “human” element.
Why are we unwilling to see emotion as just a physical process, driven by evolution? Reason and science are slowly unveiling the mystery and abstractness of emotion, but we still prefer to think of it as something more. In my attempts to try an understand this, I came up with a couple of possible explanations: 1.)This theory is unappealing because it is blatantly reductionist. We like to think that we have special, emergent properties that are bigger than just the sum of our parts – which is why we want to keep emotion, something that defines our very existence, mysterious (and somehow more meaningful because of it). 2.) The theory feels incomplete – it doesn’t provide an explanation for that “human”, passionate, sentimental aspect of emotion that we seem to think exists.