Our emotions are perhaps the most profound and important of all our conscious experiences. Life could have little meaning or purpose if we could never experience joy or happiness, if nothing ever made us sad or angry, if we could never know enthusiasm or inspiration about anything, or could not be filled with the pride of accomplishment or be overwhelmed with the ecstasy of love.
The kaleidescope of our emotions ought to be the means of our experiencing and enjoying our lives to the fullest, yet, for most people, the emotions are not a source of meaning, joy, and happiness, but a source of confusion, distraught, or event torment.
For most people, the nature of the emotions themselves are inexplicable and mysterious. Far from making the nature of emotions understandable, psychologists and philosophers have only added to the mystery of their nature.
The nature of the emotions are not mysterious, and not particularly difficult to understand. These notes will make that nature clear, and will sweep away mountains of mystical, pseudo-psychological, and superstitious notions about all human feelings.
What are Feelings?
By feelings I mean all of those things we usually mean by emotions, affections, sentiments, desires, and passions. I call them feelings, because it is these things as we experience them I want to deal with, not the ideas or concepts we sometimes associate with these same words.
All feelings are percepts. We are directly conscious of our feelings in the same way we are directly conscious of the things we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel, externally. What we are perceiving are states of our physiological being, our body's internal conditions and behavior. The idea of, "five senses," which are really percepts, not senses, ought to be expanded to six (perhaps more) to include that "internal" perception (technically called interoception) by which we are always conscious of our physiological state, such as feeling well, sick, hungry, tired, fearful, frustrated, or excited, for example.
Two Kinds of Feelings
There are probably as many ways of classifying feelings as there are different feelings. The two kinds of feelings I refer to make it possible to identify those feelings which we refer to as emotions and to distinguish them from other kinds of feelings. Not all feelings are emotions.
The two kinds of feelings are:
Notes On the Distinctions
- Biological/physiological Feelings—such as vertigo, nausea, fatigue, excitement, breathlessness, restlessness, feverishness, malaise, euphoria, including the physical, "desires," or what used to be called the, "animal appetites," such as hunger, and the "sex drive." All of these feelings are caused by the biological functions of the human organism, are shared by most of the higher animals, and are independent of consciousness (except that we must be conscious of them to have them, of course).
- Emotional Feelings—such as happiness, joy, ecstasy, fear, (and variations such as panic and terror) nostalgia, anxiety, sadness, grief, frustration, apathy, affection, antipathy, content, discontent, anger, hate, rage, confidence, enthusiasm, and pride. All of these feelings are caused by whatever we are conscious of at the time we have those feelings. Some are shared with the higher animals, but those associated with abstract concepts, like the past, (nostalgia) the future (anxiety), and values (humor, pathos, pride, and shame), for example, are experienced only by human beings.
The distinction between the two kinds of feelings is extremely important. The confusion between them has led to all sorts of philosophical and psychological mistakes.
When I say the biological/physiological feelings are, "independent of consciousness," I mean, no matter what we are conscious of, we will have those feelings. If we are sick and have a fever, we will feel hot, no matter what we see, hear, or think about, because the feeling is caused by our biology, the behavior of our physical bodies. Of course, the feelings themselves are conscious experiences, but our consciousness has no part in producing those feelings, only in experiencing them.
When I say the emotional feelings are, "caused by whatever we are conscious of," I mean those feelings that result from the way our bodies react to what we consciously perceive, either directly (what we see, hear, feel, smell, or taste, for example) or indirectly, (what we are thinking about, remembering, or imagining, for example).
The distinction is easily confused. One reason we confuse them is because we often use the same word to identify both kinds of feelings, and some of the same feelings can be either biological/physical or emotional. We call both the physiological feeling associated with the need for food, and that emotional reaction to thinking about something we enjoy eating hunger. The feeling of nausea can be caused by a physical condition, but it can also be caused by thinking about something particularly disgusting or offensive. The feeling is the same, but in the first case it is strictly a physiological reaction, in the second it is an emotional feeling, even though we may not usually think of nausea as an emotion.
Further confusion results from those things which have aspects of both kinds of feelings. The alcoholic and drug addict both feel cravings for their respective vices which are physiological in nature, but both also feel very strong desires simply from the thought of their chosen method of abuse. The "psychological" (emotional) aspects of addiction have to do with habituation, which I discuss more fully below and in the chapter on "Desires".
The remainder of this chapter pertains only to emotions, our consciousness of the physiological reactions to the content of consciousness.
Emotions are Percepts
Perception is our only mode of consciousness, and all that we can perceive is physical existence. [See the chapter, "Perception."] The physical thing our emotions are the consciousness of is our body. Obviously emotion is not perception of our body as we perceive it in a mirror; the emotions are our consciousness of the internal states of our bodies, especially those states which are the result of whatever we are conscious of externally and whatever we are thinking about or are conscious of in any other way.
Like all percepts, in themselves they provide no knowledge beyond the fact that we have them. All our knowledge is about what we perceive. The emotions exist only at the perceptual level of our consciousness. Our knowledge of and about our emotions is exactly like all our other knowledge; we must learn to identify our emotions, discover what their nature and causes are, what they are related to, and how we ought to react to them. Our emotions no more tell us how we ought to react to them than seeing a tree tells us how we ought to react to it.
Uniqueness of Emotional Perceptions
For most perceptions, when we consider them, it is the thing being perceived we are interested in. When we talk about seeing a dog, it is not the perception itself we are interested in, but the dog that is being perceived. When we talk about the emotions, however, it is not what is being perceived, the physiological events of the body, we are interested in, but the perception itself, which we call "the feeling." When we feel anxious, for example, that, "feeling," is our perception of the bodies reaction to whatever future concern we are thinking about, which may be a certain feeling in the stomach, "nervousness," or even something more general, but it is not those things we are interested in, but how they feel to us as we are directly conscious of them.
That, "something more general," is another aspect of the emotions which is different from other percepts. Unlike the external percepts which are always explicit (even when they are blurred or not perfectly clear), the internal, emotional percepts are usually non-specific (not percepts of any particular thing) and general (consciousness of the entire general physiological state). It is this non-specific generalness that gives the emotions that almost "disconnected" or "ethereal" quality, which has led to so many confusing ideas about the nature of the emotions.
It is that quality of the emotions that gives the impression they are aspects of the mind, rather than perceptions of the physical. As percepts, they are mental, just as "the seeing" of the family cat and "the hearing" of a Puccini opera are mental events, but in all cases, what is seen, heard, or felt is physical. This is very important to understand, because both philosophy and psychology frequently mistakenly regard and treat the emotions as though they were some direct creation of the mind, as though the emotions were, "just feelings," without connection or cause.
[NOTE: Dr. Binswanger makes this mistake. On page 51 he writes: "The emotions one has and the thoughts that occur to one are generated by the brain (i.e. subconscious)." See the section, "No Subconscious," below.]
The fact that the emotions are percepts of the physical reactions of the body is the reason they are affected physiologically by certain drugs or physical conditions like fatigue or sickness.
Emotions Automatic and Involuntary
All percepts are automatic and involuntary. We have no choice about what we will see when we look at something. We can choose not to look or to shut our eyes, but so long as our eyes are open and we are looking around, what we will see is determined by whatever is there to see and how we will see it is determined by the nature of perception itself and the nature of the things we are seeing. What we hear is determined by whatever sounds are there for us to hear, whatever we smell is determined by whatever chemicals are in the air we breath for us to smell.
The emotions, as percepts, are automatic and involuntary in the same way all other percepts are. The feelings we have are determined by whatever our physiological state is, and how we feel it is determined by the nature of our perception of our internal states. But the emotions are complicated by the fact that the physiological states, themselves, felt as emotions are caused by the content of consciousness. The states themselves which we perceive as emotions are also automatic and involuntary, they are the automatic reactions to the content of consciousness which are, "built in," as part of our biological animal nature. We have no choice about how our bodies will react to what we see, hear, feel, or, more importantly, think.
[NOTE: It is not the job of philosophy to describe the physiological aspects of the emotions. That is the job of the physiologist and neurologist. Here I'll only note that it is those systems called the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system that contribute the most to producing the physiological reactions experienced as emotions.]
Animal vs. Human Emotions
While we cannot know directly what an animal experiences consciously, since all conscious experience is subjective, we infer that animal consciousness is essentially the same as human consciousness. We infer animal emotions from their behavior. When we see a dog lower its head, the hackle hairs on its back rise, and hear it growl, we attribute that behavior to the dog's feeling of anger or fear; when we see a cat lying in the sun and hear it purr we attribute that behavior to the cat's feeling of contentment. When we see a dog frolicking around its owner, barking, its head bobbing up and down, and its tail wagging, we attribute that behavior to the dog's feeling happy or joyous.
All of an animal's emotional reactions are to the immediate perceptual awareness, what it is seeing, hearing, and smelling at that moment. More importantly, the behavior of an animal, in response to its emotional experience is automatic. The dog excited at seeing its master cannot choose to suppress its exuberance, and will only do so, if it perceives something else it automatically reacts to, like it's master's strong command to "sit!" or "lay down!" What an animal will fear, desire, feel comfortable or uncomfortable about when perceiving something is determined by instinct. While instinct can be conditioned within the limits of a particular animal's nature (e.g. a dog can "learn" to fear particular people), what and how much an animal's instinctive reactions can be modified by experience is also determined by instinct, and animal, "learning," is always and only modification of instinct. The essential instinctive behavior is predetermined and predominates.
Human emotions are different from the animal emotions in two important respects. While human emotional reactions are also automatic and involuntary, human consciousness does not make emotions possible automatically. An animal's instinct determines what kinds of things it ought to fear, what kinds it ought to be curious about, what kinds of things it ought to seek. Human consciousness does not automatically tell human beings what to fear, what to avoid, or what to seek. These things must all be discovered and learned.
Human Emotions Learned
Most young children have little fear of animals. They are interested in anything that moves, and if the thing also happens to be warm, soft and fuzzy, they will like it. A child will not automatically be afraid of a big animal, such as a lion or bear. They must learn about the danger of such animals before they will be afraid of them. Nothing will cause us to have the emotion of fear until we have learned which things we ought to be afraid of, and which we shouldn't. (Most people do not learn this very well and therefore fear things which are harmless and do not fear some things which are really harmful or dangerous.)
Human emotions are not possible until we have learned to identify the objects of perception and their relationship to us, whether those things are desirable (for food or our comfort, for example) or undesirable (like poisonous berries or vicious animals, for example). We cannot fear what we have not learned is dangerous, we cannot be revolted by that we have not learned is evil or disgusting, and we cannot desire that which we have not learned is enjoyable or good for us.
Even after we have learned a great deal, our emotions do not tell us which things are good or bad, in themselves, because the emotions are only the reactions to whatever we believe is good or bad, what we have learned or failed to learn about the objects of perception. If our ideas are wrong, our feelings, reflecting our evaluation of things based on those ideas will also be wrong.
The other difference between human and animal emotion is that humans have no automatic behavioral reaction to emotions. Again, human beings must learn what feelings are and what they relate to; they must learn to identify the emotions and their significance and relationship to those things they are feelings about. We cannot just avoid everything that makes us feel afraid, and we cannot just indulge in everything we desire. How we evaluate our emotions and choose which to respond to and how to respond to them must all be learned. This is especially true of those particular emotions we call our desires or passions.
The Role of Emotions in Human Experience
—What are Emotions For?
The emotions provide a direct perceptual experience of the content of consciousness. While we are conscious of our thoughts intellectually, as concepts, the emotions provide a direct "visceral" experience corresponding to conceptual consciousness. Making plans for something good is accompanied by feelings of enthusiasm and anticipation; thinking or contemplating doing, or having done, something we think is wrong will be accompanied by feelings of guilt or regret; thinking about someone we admire, desire, and value very highly is accompanied by feelings of love and affection; considering something evil and ugly is accompanied by feelings of anger or revulsion.
In our actual experience, we do not usually distinguish between our thoughts and their accompanying feelings and experience them as units. The feelings and the thoughts are integrated into objects of consciousness which turn abstract thoughts into concretes which are directly perceived.
Our emotions, as automatic reactions to our immediate consciousness, are also like a running gage or evaluation of that which one is explicitly conscious. It is the way our human consciousness enables us to directly enjoy or "physically" experience both direct perception and our conceptual identification and evaluation of the things we perceive simultaneously.
The emotions are our nature's way of converting the abstract elements of conceptual consciousness, our concepts, values, and thoughts, into "physical" experiences. The emotions make our minds, as well as our bodies, "sensuous."
Since it is the enjoyment of our lives which is the purpose of our lives, the emotions enable us to directly experience that most human aspect of our lives, our minds. When the emotions are not a source of joy, but of suffering, it is an indication of something wrong. The thing that is wrong can be physiological, but more frequently the thing that is wrong is an individual's view of life, one's values, one's thoughts, and one's choices, and the thing that is wrong with them is that they are contrary to reality and dominated by unrealistic views and desires.
Turning the Conceivable Into the Perceivable
The emotions, by giving us an immediate visceral experience of our abstract conceptual consciousness, provide an immediate recognition of that which, without the emotions, we would not generally be aware. Many of the relationships we identify conceptually cannot be known at all by direct perception. We can directly perceive most spatial relationships between entities, as well as size relationships. We can perceive the relative difference in the weight of most smaller objects, differences in texture, temperature, and hardness, as well. But many relationships cannot be perceived at all, and without concepts, could not be known. Familial relationships, such as uncle and second cousin, cannot be perceived. Relationships that can only be known by science or history, cannot be perceived: the relationship of the chemical elements to each other, their relative components, the relationship of one component of atoms, electrons, to electricity, the relationships between heavenly bodies, and the relationship between biological functions all require concepts to be known.
When we respond emotionally to our concepts of relationships, we are directly conscious of them, just as though we could perceive them directly. We cringe when seeing a "close call," such as when two vehicles seem about to collide, but manage to "just miss," almost as though we "feel" the event that never actually happens. But that same feeling can be produced merely by thinking about such an event.
Shock, incredulity, or even anger might arise when someone tells us something particularly outrageous, such as the exorbitant price of an object one intends to buy. The relationship between the object and its price could never be perceived, but when a price is exaggerated, it is that exaggerated relationship we recognize conceptually that our emotional reaction enables us to experience directly.
Control of Emotions Indirect
The emotions cannot be controlled, trained, or manipulated directly, because they are automatic and involuntary. Since the reactions we experience as emotions are determined by the content of consciousness, and we do have control over our thoughts, we can control our emotions indirectly, by controlling what we think and whatever we choose to make the content of our consciousness.
Dealing With Emotions Objectively
When examining the things we perceive directly, we examine the things perceived, not the perception of them. If we want to know why the red tomato we are perceiving is red, we examine the tomato to discover what there is about its nature that we perceive as red.
When examining the things we feel emotionally, we do not examine the thing being perceived, because what is being perceived are physiological reactions. We might examine these things if we are involved with clinical research and want to know what particular physiological events are particular feelings, but that is not examining the feelings themselves, because the physiological events do not cause themselves. It is whatever content of consciousness the particular emotions are reactions to that are their "cause," and it is that content that must be examined to objectively evaluate the emotion.
It is the nature of the thoughts, values, and perceptions that "cause" the emotion that must be examined, because it is their nature that is being perceived emotionally by means of our automatic physiological reactions to them.
[NOTE: I use "cause" in its correct colloquial meaning, here, that is as, "the explanation and reason for," the emotions, not as in the wrong view of "cause and effect". See the chapter, "Cause, Induction, and Mathematics."]
Our overall view of life and existence, that is, our philosophy, whether implicit or explicit, will determine the general tenor of our emotional experience, the kind of emotions our consciousness will be dominated by. But it is our learned habits of thinking that will determine our day-to-day emotional experience.
The habitual patterns are not emotional, they are habitual patterns of thought. The feelings might seem habitual, but that is only because the same thoughts will produce the same feelings. A constant overriding feeling is the result of a constant overriding point of view or intellectual evaluation, implicit or explicit; it is implicit if implied by all of ones other thoughts but never explicitly identified, it is explicit if identified and all other ideas are judged according to that view.
[NOTE: Habituated emotional reaction. There is a kind of habituated emotional reaction, resulting either from having the same reaction many times, or some very strong reaction one or two times. A person who believes all snakes are dangerous and slimy, will feel fear when they see a snake. The emotional "fear" reaction will occur even without the conscious evaluation. Someone might develop the same reaction from having a single very frightening experience with a snake, especially if that experience occurs when they are young. In these cases, the conceptual evaluation is implied, (snakes are horrid and scary), though it may never be made explicit. This is not a good mental state and is a "cause" for many irrational fears (phobias) or that state called paranoia.]
The more knowledge we have, the more our values conform to the requirements of our nature and the nature of the world we live in, the more we understand those natures, the more accurately we will evaluate and understand the things of the world, and the more consistently our emotions will be reflections of correct thinking, and the source of joy and inspiration.
Our emotional experience will be dominated by the kinds of things we fill our consciousness with, in all our pursuits whether serious business or simple pleasure. Since all of these are under our control, we can control those emotional experiences that these determine. This is discussed more fully below under "Emotions and Content of Consciousness."
Subjectivity of Emotions
All percepts are subjective in nature. When you and I both look at a red tomato, we may agree that it is red, but what I actually see, when seeing red, and what you actually see, when seeing red, could be, as we actually experience the seeing, very different, even the opposite. [This is only a thought experiment. There is no rational reason to suppose what we see is different, and there would have to be radical differences in out natures for that to be true.] Objectively, how we experience, "seeing red," is irrelevant, so long as it is red we are seeing and we can both identify it. When we talk about the "red" of a tomato, it is not the subjective experience of seeing red we are referring to, but that aspect of the nature of the tomato that "seeing red" is our means of perceiving.
When talking about the emotions, however, it is the subjective experience of perceiving our physiological states we usually mean, not the physiological states those subjective experiences are our means of perceiving. When someone says they feel "anxious," they do not mean the general physiological state the feeling of anxiousness is the awareness of, they mean the feeling itself, they mean, "feeling anxious," whatever that feeling is to them.
Some Specific Subtleties of Emotions
Emotions are constant reflections of "what is on our mind," but not always very accurate reflections. Since the emotions are physiological reactions, some tend to persist when the consciousness that caused them has ceased, because it takes time for the chemicals and physiological reactions to subside. Because they are perceptions of physiological states, anything else that effects those states (fatigue, infection, excitement, drugs, or activity, for example) will effect those emotions. One does not feel the same sense of enjoyment or desire when very ill, for example, as when one is very well.
There are a limited number of physiological reactions the body is capable of, and being conscious of different things frequently produce identical or very similar physiological reactions and therefore similar emotions. Some are very difficult to distinguish.
Often we are conscious of more than one thing, which separately produce different, even conflicting, physiological reactions or emotions. When such conflicts exist, it is the more fundamental (less abstract things of consciousness) that will produce the physiological reaction. Being with a person one adores will produce feelings of "love." Being in a house that one discovers is on fire will produce feelings of fear, emergency, or panic. When someone is with their lover in a house they discover is on fire, it will be the feelings of fear and emergency that will be felt, because the physiology cannot react in two different conflicting ways, and will react to the more concrete or "important" one, as determined by one's own values. When such conflicts arise for those who have never prioritized their values, the resulting emotional reaction will be indecision and confusion, which is rapidly replaced by panic and terror.
Emotions and the Content of Consciousness
Since our emotions are determined by the content of our consciousness, our emotional life is determined by what we have in our minds. This seems obvious, but most people do not realize how important it is, and spend most of their lives filling their minds with just anything, as though there were no consequence to what they put in their minds or what they spend their time thinking about. Those same people are bewildered by what seems to them an inexplicable emotional chaos.
Most people believe the mind is some kind of depository into which anything can be dumped without consequence, as though it had no nature or requirements which determined how it may be properly used. It never occurs to them that the mind is a faculty like all other human faculties with a specific nature that determines how it must be used if it is not to be damaged or destroyed.
People who fret and worry about what they put into their stomaches because they know the nature of their bodies cannot tolerate just anything, believe they can put just anything into their minds without consequence.
What we have in our minds is terribly important, and mostly determined by our own choices. We cannot remember what we never choose to learn or experience. We cannot develop habits of thinking about what we never or seldom choose to think about. Our minds and our thoughts will be filled with what we choose to learn and think about, and what we learn and think about is determined by almost every other choice we make.
What we see, what we hear, and what we do, all effect what we learn and think about. If what we see is mostly shallow television programs and cheap entertainment, our minds are starved for anything of real value. If what we hear is mostly popular music and jokes our minds will be as shallow as what we listen and pay attention to.
Since we can only think about what we know, and only evaluate things in terms of our values and experience, those whose minds are dominated by seeing, hearing, and experiencing nothing but the squalid, the cheap, the tawdry and the tasteless cannot possibly think and feel in the same way as someone who has learned to appreciate virtue, accomplishment, integrity, and take the time to pursue the highest possible values in all things, including their entertainment.
Since our emotions are largely determined by our thinking, and knowledge is all we have to think with or about, the richness of our emotional experience is directly determined by the richness of our knowledge, and of course by the kind of knowledge we have. If one's knowledge is limited, the scope of their emotional experience will be equally limited. Only those who have attempted to learn all they possibly can about everything they possibly can will ever know the limitless emotional experience possible to an individual.
The syndromic nature of emotions is seldom mentioned or described. It is a frequent cause of emotional problems, but is not a problem in itself, and is very important to normal emotional functions.
A syndrome is a self-generating or self-enhancing mechanism or process. Those who are familiar with what are now old fashioned analogue electronic oscillators like those used in earlier radio transmitters know what a syndrome is. An analog oscillator is actually an amplifier with something called feedback and a "tuned circuit." An amplifier without specific input just amplifies whatever random "noise" might affect the input. Feeding that randomly amplified noise into a "tuned circuit" filters out of the amplified noise everything except the frequency the circuit is tuned to. If the output of the tuned circuit is used as the input to the amplifier by means of "feedback," instead of random noise, the amplifier will amplify the specific frequency supplied by the tuned circuit. The entire circuit now oscillates at the frequency of the tuned circuit, because the input to the amplifier is the output of the amplifier tuned to the desired frequency. What makes that a syndrome is that fact the output of the oscillator feeds or enhances itself. Some emotions work in exactly this way.
The emotions are our perception of physiological reactions to the content of consciousness, but those percepts themselves, as we feel them, are also content of consciousness. In some cases, there is a further physiological reaction to that content of consciousness which is the emotion, which causes the emotion itself to become stronger. Those kinds of emotions form a kind of, "feedback loop;" initial mild emotional reaction to some thought or percept, which is perceived, produces a stronger emotional reaction to the emotion itself, which is perceived, producing a still stronger emotional reaction. There is obviously a physical limit to how strong an emotional reaction can be, but syndromes do produce very strong emotional reactions.
Bad and Good Syndromes
Emotions which are syndromic in nature can be both good and bad.
An example of a bad syndrome is anxiety. Sometimes, something that worries or concerns us produces the emotion we call anxiety. If we dwell on some particular worry very much, the anxiety emotion can become quite strong. Anxiety is not a particular pleasant emotion. It is possible, and frequently happens, to begin worrying about the feeling itself. That worry increases the feeling of anxiety which of course is still more worrisome. It is very easy for the original cause, the original concerns that start an anxiety reaction, to be forgotten, or at least minimized, because one knows, that particular worry is not as bad as what they are feeling. Even that can cause the feeling to become stronger, because it says, "I have this terrible feeling of dread, and the only thing I could attribute it to could not possibly be responsible for this terrible feeling. There must be something wrong with me."
An example of a good syndrome is enthusiasm, when the enthusiasm is for a thing one has identified objectively as a worthwhile objective. The emotional response to thought about some objective one anticipates achieving also energizes the individual to take the action necessary to achieve the goal. Being conscious of that energizing emotion reinforces the determination to achieve the goal, and increases the emotional enthusiasm for that achievement.
Control of Emotional Syndromes
Controlling emotional syndromes is more properly a subject of psychology than philosophy, but has philosophical implications. Obviously something must stop or control emotional syndromes or we would all be in a constant state of anxiety and excitement, (although, this does seem to describe the emotional state of some people.)
How does an emotional syndrome get, "stopped," once it gets, "started?"
In the case of emotional syndromes involving desire, the usual way is for the desire to be fulfilled or sated. Both the physiology (by shutting off the physical component of the desire, if there is one) and mind (beginning to thank about other things) are instrumental in stopping the syndrome. In some cases involving desire, the syndromes simply, "wear out," because continuing them produces fatigue or even pain, the consciousness of which causes the emotional reaction to change.
Painful emotional syndromes are much more difficult to control or stop, because they are already discomforting and more discomfort simply reinforces them. It might be thought that since pain can stop a pleasure syndrome, perhaps pleasure might stop a painful one. In some cases that is possible, but usually the discomfort of a painful syndrome, like anxiety, precludes or limits the amount of pleasure that can be enjoyed, which is itself worrisome.
All emotional syndromes, including painful ones, like grief, fear, or anxiety, can be mitigated or stopped by something that causes a stronger overriding emotional reaction. People suffering from anxiety syndromes often discover their suffering disappears if there is a dramatic or traumatic event that completely gains their attention. The reason is obvious. The entire content of consciousness is consumed by something other than the emotional syndrome and becomes, at least for that moment, the sole source of one's emotions. Often the effect is only temporary and lasts only as long as the dramatic event lasts.
Control of syndromes, like all emotions, is restricted to controlling the content of consciousness. Some methods are discovering something that causes a stronger, more fundamental emotional reaction than the syndrome; distraction is another method, such as intentionally concentrating on some subject or perceived event or object. Indirect control is sometimes possible by physical intervention which works by temporarily changing or preventing the physiological reaction itself, with drugs or various kinds of "physical" treatments.
A Sense of Self
By a "sense of self" I do not meant one's identity of themselves as an individual. An individual's self is an individual's consciousness, their ego, or what they mean when they say "I."
A person's "sense of self" is a kind of self-evaluation, experienced as a general emotional state. For the fully rational the evaluation will be explicit and intentionally considered; for most it is implicit and by default. It includes an individual's evaluation of how well he understands his own nature and the nature of the world he lives in; how competent he is to live his life successfully; how well he is able to deal with others; the degree of his integrity and his worth as a human being, first to himself, and second to those important to him; his confidence in his ability to deal with whatever lies in the future; and his certainty, that all his choices are made in terms of values and principles that insure his happiness, both short term and long term.
The Emotion that says, "I Am Worthy"
A "positive sense of self" is sometime referred to as self-esteem. Self-esteem is that general emotional state arising from the recognition of one's own moral integrity, virtue, and competence for living successfully in this world. The term, in popular usage, has been greatly corrupted. As used here, the term only means one understands one is worthy of the life they enjoy, that they deserve it, because they have earned it. A person's self-esteem is his inviolate certainty that his mind is competent to think and his person is worthy of happiness, which means, is worthy of living. Everything else is a fraud, a fraud one can perpetrate against everyone except himself.
Man's emotional structure precludes his ability to enjoy what he has not earned and does not deserve. He can gain wealth without earning or producing it, but if he gets wealth that way, he knows his wealth is a lie, that the wealth that ought to be the concretization of his productive effort, is only loot, the evidence of his crookedness or his pandering to the weaknesses and vices of others. He can have pleasure he does not deserve, but can never enjoy the sense of human integrity that knows, "I am worthy of this pleasure and my enjoyment of it is both a reward and affirmation of my virtue." Instead of providing the kind of fulfillment and satisfaction a pleasure which is a reward for virtue produces, the stolen pleasure only produces a sense of being a cheat and thief, who wrongly believes he "got away with something," but ends up being empty, meaningless, and unsatisfying.
Self-esteem is the emotional reward of integrity. One cannot violate one's own integrity and have genuine self-esteem, or true human happiness.
Integrity requires that one's knowledge be fully integrated, not compartmentalized, not harboring contradictions or evading truth.
Integrity requires one's values to be based on reality, all of reality, one's own nature and the nature of the world he lives in.
Integrity requires one to act consistently in accordance with one's knowledge and values. Contradictions are disintegrations.
Worthiness and self-esteem come from knowing one is competent to live one's life successfully in this world and that they are living it non-contradictorily, consistent with their knowledge, values, and nature, and that all they have and all they enjoy they deserve, because they have earned it and have achieved it by their own effort. All that is less than this is experienced as the emotion of guilt, and ought to be.
The Scientific Versus the Philosophical View of Emotions
Physiology, particularly neurology, identifies the sense of the physiological condition of the body as interoception. In addition to the state of the body in terms of its health, scientists also consider interoception as the source of those feelings we call the emotions.
Interoception is the entire complex of conscious experience of the behavior of the body controlled by the autonomic nervous system, including the changes caused by the endocrine system. The interoceptive system even has a unique sensory (afferent) nervous system. Unlike the large, heavily myelinated fibers of most afferent nerves, the interoceptive nerves are small diameter fibers.
William James, one of the authors of the hypothesis called the James-Lange theory of emotion, wrote: "that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur IS the emotion."
The Cannon-Bard theory of emotion says that when we see something exciting, like a snake for example, we become afraid and that fear causes the physiological reaction which is the emotion we feel.
Both these hypotheses recognize that what we feel as emotions are the physiological reactions of the body to whatever we are conscious of. If Cannon and Bard meant by "afraid" one's conscious evaluation of snakes, it would be very close to a correct (though simplistic) explanation of what emotions are.
Neither physiologists nor psychologists are philosophers, however, and what they are describing is what can be learned about the physiological behavior of the body related to emotional experience. As scientists, that is all they can describe, or ought to. It is not philosophy's job to describe the physiological aspects of emotion. It is the philosopher's job to describe the nature of the emotions in terms of human nature as conscious rational beings and their role and purpose in human life. That has been the purpose of this chapter on feelings.
The idea of a subconscious originated by Anna and Sigmund Freud, has plagued all thinking about the nature of the human mind since. Ayn Rand herself used the term, and Dr. Binswanger uses it as well:
The term, "subconscious," was invented by the Freuds as an explanation of, "repression," the idea that one can simply "hide" in some sub-basement of the mind feelings and desires (or the cause of them) one does not like, and yet those hidden things still somehow affect one's feelings or thinking. The meaning of the term in psychology today has many different and conflicting variations, but retains the idea of there being things we are not conscious of that, somehow, affect our consciousness.
There is no subconscious. What we are conscious of we are conscious of, and all that we can know, identify, think about, or experience is what we are conscious of. Nothing "affects" our consciousness we are not conscious of. The only way anything can "affect" out conscious is by our being conscious of it—it can exist for us to be conscious of, but otherwise has no relationship to consciousness at all.
One example of the so-called "subconscious" is the pseudo-concept, "repressed memory." We can certainly have memories that we have difficulty recalling because we have intentionally ignored them for a long time, or had no interest in remembering them. A memory we cannot recall cannot have any effect on consciousness, and cannot affect our emotions or thinking because only things we are conscious of affect our emotions or can be thought about. If memory affects consciousness it is because one is conscious of that memory, otherwise it has no effect whatsoever.
There are things which we are not conscious of that have potential "effects" on consciousness, because we are able to be conscious of them. There are four things which are mistaken for the subconscious: memory, emotions, desires, and learned patterns of behavior (habituation), both physical and psychological.
None of these are some kind of paraconsciousness lurking just under the surface of real consciousness just waiting to burst onto the scene or subtly influencing our thinking and feelings without our being aware of them, like the man behind the curtain. They are mistakenly called subconscious because they are real aspects of the human organism, whether or not we are conscious of them, and, under the right circumstances, we can be and frequently are clearly conscious of them.
Memory is all that we have stored and can recall to consciousness. How memory works is not known. It is known it is a function of the brain under the control of consciousness, and we know we can recall almost anything we have remembered (learned), with varying degrees of difficulty, but what we remember (become conscious of from memory) is always related in some way with what we are currently conscious of. Memory does not spontaneously push "memories" into consciousness. The reason memory is mistakenly included in the pseudo-concept "subconscious" is because everything that can be recalled is in memory but we are not conscious of it until it is recalled and it has no effect on consciousness until it is recalled.
What we are not conscious of has no effect on our thinking or feelings. If subconscious only means what we can be conscious of but are not presently conscious of, it must include the entire perceivable existence. It does not matter if they are things external, internal, or from memory, what we can be conscious of has not effect on consciousness unless and until we are actually conscious of them.
The other aspect of human nature which are mistakenly included in the pseudo-concept "subconscious:" emotions, desires, and habituation, do not exist at all unless we are conscious of them. We already know that emotions are our consciousness of our physiological reactions to the content of consciousness. There is nothing mysterious or "subconscious" about them. Except for the most basic biological desires, all other human desires are developed and learned (See the chapter, "Desires.") and do not exist except as we are conscious of them. The reason habituated actions are included in the idea of the subconscious is because they sometimes seem to proceed without our being conscious of them, such as when we are typing, or driving a car, or even reading. Nevertheless we are conscious of those actions, and when necessary can take immediate conscious control of any of those behaviors.
The idea of the, "subconscious," is a very dangerous one that has enabled psychologists and sociologists to put over no end of deceptions. There is only consciousness and that which we can be conscious of. What we are conscious of is all that we can have any feelings about or can think about, and what we are not conscious of, if it exists, is only what we can "potentially" be conscious of. There is nothing else. There is no subconscious pushing (brain generated) thoughts and feelings into our consciousness such as Dr. Binswanger describes.