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Are emotions vestigial?

  1. Jan 1, 2017 #1
    I mean, we live in a current technological era where knowledge and intellect surmounts. I can see why emotions were important in the caveman era. Anger/jealousy/rage etc are all emotions that clearly backfire more often than not in the modern era, but for cavemen who's tribes were probably always trying to backstab and kill each other, being rash can be very useful.

    But at the same time, I can see how even today, some emotions can help the brain save energy. For example, logically reasoning why one must do a task is very computationally intensive, when on can just do it because they think it's fun.
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  3. Jan 1, 2017 #2
    Do you really want to be an automaton with no emotion? Emotions are synonymous with being human. They are not vestigial and they'll never go away. We'll create robots in our likeness one day and we may imbue them with emotion or we may not. This is my field of research. But there will never be a biological animal/human that lacks emotion. It just won't happen, emotion is the foundational framework that the brain is built upon:

  4. Jan 1, 2017 #3


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    From a strictly Darwinian point of view, if my wife and I hadn't formed a strong emotional bond with my daughter, she'd likely have died from neglect (as would any other offspring), thus making it far less likely for our emotionlessness to be passed on to future generations. So far from being vestigial, human emotions (or the lack thereof) seem to exert some pretty strong selection pressure, the absence of which would have to be compensated by an at-least-equally strong competing selection pressure to ensure the continued survival of that genetic line (e.g., some other parenting instinct, or perhaps the evolution of less altricial human newborns). Not to mention sexual selection of mating partners with positive emotional traits.
  5. Jan 1, 2017 #4

    jim mcnamara

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    Think of us as a big bag of many, many simultaneous biochemical reactions. Controlling, dampening, and enhancing some of those reactions requires special molecules to communicate to other parts of the organ or brain. - One way to think of emotions - chemical switches or messengers, perhaps.

    This is oversimplified, but this is in fact how you need to consider your question. @DiracPool said the same thing in effect - to 'lose' emotions would require a complete rework (or rewiring) of a lot of organs in your body. When the levels of these special molecules change abnormally as in illness, physical trauma, or drugs, the consequences are often devastating for the individual.

    An example is people taking synthroid (Levothyroxin); read massive warnings about about side effects including death if the patients abuse the medication. Levothyroxin is the human hormone (hormone == correct name of one type of the messengers I mentioned). It is produced by your thyroid gland.: https://www.synthroid.com/what-is-synthroid/definition

    So, No. Emotions are not vestigial, they are integral to our being alive.

    If posters decide to take this thread deep into pure psychology it will run the risk of being locked by the mentors. Fair warning.
  6. Jan 2, 2017 #5


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    We live in an era where political thinking and human relationships are paramount. These are the dominant forces in human society.

    For example, Facebook and Twitter are successful not because of the technology, per se, but because they align with human behaviour.
  7. Jan 2, 2017 #6
    Following up on this, even if tangentially: As a newcomer to PF, I have strong misgivings about threads of this sort on a forum that is otherwise so clearly aimed at supporting learning & discussing actual science. If we were at a dinner party or in a bar, or what have you, fine; we could ask & debate a question such as "are emotions vestigial?" without requiring any sort of science framework; we could toss out our opinions, make jokes, etc. But in a forum devoted to science, what is the scientific framework for this particular question? It has to do with emotions; and emotions are studied in fields such as psychology (a field which includes evolutionary psychology and cognitive science), anthropology, sociology, etc. Emotions are not studied as such in either "Biology" or "Medical" which are the two topics stipulated in this subform. So what is this thread doing here?

    I suppose I'm particularly sensitive on this point because I myself have read a great deal in the areas of modern behaviorism, cognitive science, and evolutionary psychology. So it's not just that this doesn't seem an appropriate topic for the forum; it's also that the question is being asked in such an unscientific manner. To me this goes against the spirit of the "Global Guidelines" as contained in the following excerpts:

    I may come across as nit-picking; but to me it matters. We live in an era of "fake news," poor public education, and growing distrust of science; it's to our advantage to behave as responsibly as we can in response. If this were a forum with dedicated sub-forums for cog science, anthropology, evolutionary psychology, etc., then we'd have a pretty deep pool of knowledge that could appropriately be brought to bear on the OP's question. But as it is, should't questions of this sort be better taken elsewhere? I'm sure w/ some Googling a good evo. psychology forum could be found where, like here, laypersons & experts mingle & asking such a question would be welcomed.
  8. Jan 3, 2017 #7


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