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Do feelings exist?

  1. Nov 12, 2011 #1
    Are feelings just biochemical-based illusions?

    Although we percieve ourselves as having emotions, and those emotional perceptions come from real chemical reactions, and those chemical reactions come from real stimuli, it is still the case that emotions don't "Exist"?
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  3. Nov 12, 2011 #2


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    "Feelings" most definitely exist. They, like the rest of our awareness, are thought to be an emergent property of our brain. Exactly how this works is currently unknown and is called the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_problem_of_consciousness" [Broken].
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  4. Nov 12, 2011 #3


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    This doesn't meet criteria for posting in philosophy, moved to GD.
  5. Nov 12, 2011 #4


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    Feelings exist in the same way the weather exists. The weather isn't a particle or an object, it's a phenomena that arises from particular configurations of particles and their interactions.

    In the same way, feelings arise from particular energy/matter configurations in your brain. They aren't objects but the phenomena of feeling is a property of sentient matter like you and I.
  6. Nov 12, 2011 #5
    While feelings will most likely keep existing, it seems equally likely that the definition of what a 'feeling' is, is going to change over the course of time, just as it has done in the past.
  7. Nov 12, 2011 #6
    I guess by analogy, pain, smell, taste do not exist either.
  8. Nov 12, 2011 #7


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    Explain and cite sources please. I have no idea what you mean.
  9. Nov 12, 2011 #8
    Feelings are not illusions and can literally cripple and kill people without any external stimulation required whatsoever. Newborn infants tend to die from what is called "failure to thrive" if not held and loved. In general, the more intelligent the animal the wider the range of emotions it displays.

    Antonio Damasio is a neurologist who has made a career of studying people who have lost the ability to emote. They tend to have extreme difficulty making even the simplest decisions such as whether to get out of bed in the morning or tie their shoes and rely extensively on memories from their past when they still had emotions to decide what to do any situation. The lights are on, but nobody is home adding to the evidence that it is impossible to be a person without ever having emotions.
  10. Nov 13, 2011 #9
    On the other hand, consider the paranoid schizophrenic who killed several people because the only way he could explain the fear they induced in him was to suppose they were embodiments of the Devil. We can easily conclude that his emotion was illusory. How do we know all emotions aren't just as illusory?

    While the phenomenon of experiencing emotions is real, is there any guarantee the actual emotion felt, and its intensity, is actually objectively appropriate? If so, by what standard?

    It is a tenet of Cognitive Therapy that "feelings aren't facts". The strength and character of an emotion is not a gage of its "reality" as we would all agree in the case of the devil-plagued schizophrenic. On the other hand, no one questions the intense fear of the person running from the murderous madman. We reckon them to be in authentic danger.

    Between those extremes there are a lot of pockets of gray mud where the appropriateness, the "reality" of an emotion can be seriously debated back and forth.
  11. Nov 13, 2011 #10
    Perhaps I was a bit unclear. What I meant was that while it seems likely that most people will continue to think of feelings as existing in some way or another, the definition of what exactly a feeling -is- has changed considerably over the years. This should not be surprising, considering the amount of progress we've made in psychology/neurology. Thus, we may find out some more about how the brain works, but this most likely won't make people say feelings don't exist. Rather, the definition of what a feeling is will change.
  12. Nov 13, 2011 #11
    Name one thing that exists. I hope it's me because my next installment payment on the car is due and I don't want to waste the money if I don't need to.
  13. Nov 13, 2011 #12
    That doesn't mean his feelings were illusory, it simply means his feelings are wrong or misplaced. There is no reason to assume that our feelings are somehow always right anymore then there is to assume any other knowledge or awareness we might possess is always right.

    I'd suggest that "reality" and "appropriateness" are less important then whether or not our emotions serve useful purposes. For example, there are "miracle babies" that have survived up to 10 days without food and water when trapped by earthquakes. For the first several hours they may cry, but when no one comes to save them they fall asleep and conserve their energy. An adult might feel so anxious they can't sleep making their emotions counter productive for that situation.
  14. Nov 13, 2011 #13
    You do. For eveything else, who knows, perhaps you imagine it all up. Or I do.
  15. Nov 13, 2011 #14


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    I think it's important to breakdown the word "feelings" into perception, emotion and thought. All exist but it is more meaningful to talk about whether or not they are illusionary one by one. Perception can clearly be illusionary, much of what we see and remember is just filled in for example.
  16. Nov 13, 2011 #15


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    Dearly Missed

    Does "a table" exist?
    Or is it mostly empty space, just like everything else?
    Or as Marvin put it:
    "But even if it matters, does it matter that it matters?"
  17. Nov 13, 2011 #16


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    i find it difficult to discuss things like this. i become unsettlingly uncertain of what it is i know, and even less certain of what you (the abstract all y'all out there) know, and to what extent we can agree on what we have in common.

    i know, for example, that my senses lie to me: there is sense-data being recorded by my retina, for example, but that's not what i see (for example, the world is actually up-side down, if i understand the optics of the eye correctly). so there's neurological processing going on that isn't necessarily faithful. we experience a lot of what i call "frog-vision": we only actually focus on a small percentage of the data coming in, and pretty much fabricate the rest.

    and then there's the problem, of what a "thought" is. i'm not talking about a series of voltage-gated transmissions along the neural network, i'm talking about the information encoded by the transmissions. where does my own internal dialogue come from? and why is language so effective, when most of what we know about it, is entirely in undefined terms?

    i dimly recall first learning to talk. it was as if a box opened, and all this stuff started unpacking itself. there was an intent to communicate, with a full knowledge of what that meant, far before i had the means to do so.

    of course, i do not know if the "redness of "red" is quite so red for others, as it is for me. in fact, short of some kind of brain-transplantation, i don't think anyone can. and yet, even in our total ignorance of the actual subjective state of other beings, we still mange to interact, in ways that make it appear as if we understand each other, it's a bit mystifying to me.

    of course, the chemical basis of a great many feelings is well-known. certain kinds of organo-phosphate poisonings have been known to trigger irrational rage, and the mood regulating effects of certain neurotransmitters is exploited in a dizzying array of anti-depressant medications. but, yeah, the chemistry doesn't do justice to the glory of love, or the harshness of abject terror, never mind the subtle shadings of "micro-feelings", like the ambivalence i feel about what i'm writing, even as i write it.

    what i'm certain of is this: there's something going on besides what we can capture in data. something fluid, subtle, almost impossible to put into words. it's like the black layer they use in 4-color printing, to increase definition: it's not actually a color, and it ought not to make a picture look more "realistic" (RGB values, or magenta/yellow/cyan should take care of that), but it does.

    yeah, consciousness is a problem. i seem to have some, but then...well, my brain has lied to me before.
  18. Nov 13, 2011 #17
    Something has to be defined. It's like everyone's talking about a different inertial frame in a discussion of Relativity.

    I like the way it's parsed in Cognitive Therapy. Perception leads to thought which leads to emotion. Any emotion a person feels is actually a reaction to a thought, and the thought may or may not be appropriate to the perception that triggered it. The perception, itself, might be inaccurate, as you said, but what's more likely to get someone in trouble is a distorted thought i.e. "those people are possessed by the devil". If you actually believe a thought like that intense fear and the urge to kill them is actually an appropriate emotional response. What's distorted and inappropriate is the thought. (In the case of a paranoid that thought might be triggered by an hallucinated perception - a disembodied voice telling him the people are possessed.)

    Take something less extreme: a person gets a C on a test. If he reacts to that by thinking "I'm an academic failure," the emotions that thought triggers will be very negative. If he reacts by thinking "I'm going to study harder and do better next time," his emotions won't be so bad. If his thought is "Wow! I thought I was going to fail altogether," his emotions will be upbeat. The perception is the same in each case. What's different is the thoughts that follow.

    So, it's not the perception that generally matters, but the train of thought the perception engenders, that triggers the emotion. Cognitive Therapy aims itself at the thought and asks "Is this thought realistic?" To the extent it isn't ("I'm an academic failure!") the emotion that follows is an unnecessary illusion. Hence "Feelings aren't facts."

    That doesn't mean the experience of that emotion isn't an authentic physiological phenomenon. In that sense, as an experience, they're quite real.
  19. Nov 13, 2011 #18


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    Very good points :smile: I don't have much to add to it except to also point out that some emotive responses are inappropriate due to biological conditions like those seen in hormone imbalances.
  20. Nov 13, 2011 #19

    I like Serena

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    Agreed! I haven't seen "feelings" defined so rigorously before! :approve:
  21. Nov 13, 2011 #20


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    Feelings. This should end any doubt.

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