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What are feelings: Just a chemical reaction?

  1. Mar 23, 2004 #1
    I've always wondered if our feelings have something more deeper then a simple chemical being released in our brain or chemical reaction taking place in our body. Are feelings of love and happiness simply a matter of how much seritonine we have, how much dopamine we release.. etc? Is there anything else to feelings asides from these chemicals? I feel as if everything we feel is associated with a chemical in our body and there are no "true" feelings. If I want to feel happy I could simply take a drug to produce more of this chemical in my brain. What is the difference between artificial happiness and true happiness?

    I always thought love and happiness were these mystical feelings. But it turns out there's an explanation of how they work. This kind of ruins all the fun of how things work... maybe there are things we shouldn't know as humans.. Next thing you know we'll be able to program ourselves with chemicals and nanotechnology to think and feel however we want!
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 24, 2004 #2
    Hello 99,

    Do not despair because this is the right place for you. I am a new comer myself and have seen in my short stay here a lot of heated debate on this very subject. Here is a useful site from a contributer of the Metaphysics and Epistemology Forum expounding the relevant issues from a scientific point of view.


    I hope you will enjoy it.


    P.S. do I sound like a chat-bot?
  4. Mar 24, 2004 #3
    Thanks! I'll check it out!
  5. Mar 24, 2004 #4
    Enquiries into the existence of existence belong in the field of ontology and in this forum. So I will try to illuminate.

    There are two aspects to existence. The subjective and the physical (some people can't agree on which is real). The atheist ignores the spiritual and focuses on the physical. Secular humanists and existentialists fall along similar lines. A transcendentalist or a romantic would tell you all men are essentially good and that THERE is something more. Someone of a certain faith will espouse their spiritual beliefs as true. There is truth to each of these philosophies yet not the whole truth. However, that is my opinion. Anyway one looks, there are many "truth's" (emphasis on the connotes)but maybe one of them is the absolute or none at all.

    The Universe is one big perception. Like all things, it requires faith to believe it exists and there are things even scientists have to have faith in, for certainty of existence. Sure, it is right in front of us or at least, some of it. I accept it as real, I accept the science that tells me it is real. However, others may not.

    Every individual has a world view and each one sees things differently. We agree on basic things, ex. that we breath and live. Yet all of us live in a realm of subjectivity.

    What is right for you is wrong for another. What is another man's trash is a treasure to the next. Yet each individual and ostensibly, groups of people promote related or exact philosophies about one worldview. In essence, one truth. A devout Christian or Muslim would have you see his truth as the one truth, regardless if they tried to force you to believe it.

    Thus when you make ontological enquiries and draw your own conclusions, bear in mind that if they do not fall into the realm of some form of proof (mathematical or physical), it is purely a matter of opinion. You will find things in life or in spirituality that you hold as true and immutable. Yet when you lay those standards down and present them to others, they will not be interpreted exactly the same. They may not even be listened to, in lieu of other "truth's".

    Thus, ending exactly where I started: there is physical and spiritual or as I have elaborated, concrete and subjective. Science tells us that the very physical fiber that makes us is an amalgamation of cells and organic systems, ones that process physical resources and pollutants to make us! Yet the basic physical nature of us is chemical in origin. If you look further it goes to the atomic level of ions, protons, neutrons and electrons. Essentially, all we are is the physical and we cannot quantify anything else. Thus, scientifically, feelings are merely physical in origin. They have no place or basis in the intangible, merely our fancies.

    However, that is merely scientifically. If you said any of the above paragraph to a man in the early first millenium, he would not even understand you. His world was explained by myth, faith, misconception and heresay. He did not have the microscope, telescope or scientific method. He had only superstition. Yet that was HIS reality and broadly considered the truth.

    I am trying to say is what we cannot quantify scientifically, we must quantify with some kind of faith. In my case, I believe in an afterlife, I believe in a God (a loving and wise one - or at least not an evil one) and a spirit or soul of some kind. I believe that there is more to feelings than chemicals and that maybe the physical world is merely an illusion.

    However, to go further in discussion about WHY there is more to feeling or existence (as in "IT'S A FACT JACK!"), is an interesting and stimulating but futile act. For, as I have said, everyone finds their own truth and draws their own conclusions. Yet that is just my opinion.

    It is as if God or nature has given us no recourse but to have faith in something more, no matter what.


    Artificial is merely a term humans have manufactured to describe natural events created by man. Thus, artificial is natural and therefore not fake in any way.

    There is no difference between "artificial emotions" and "real emotions". Both are caused by chemicals. If they were caused by the soul then that would not explain why drugs affect moods. However, nature has more or less perfected what man has only begun to do. If not regulated, using drugs to alter your mood can only result in some kind of negativity. Either through death or social and or physical damage to yourself and or others.

    - Josh Lam, Highschool Student Extraordinaire
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2004
  6. Mar 24, 2004 #5
    (From "Ride the Tiger" by Jefferson Starship)

    It's like a tear in the hands of a Western man
    Tell you about salt, carbon and water
    But a tear to a Chinese man
    He'll tell you about sadness and sorrow or the love of a man and
    a woman.
  7. Mar 25, 2004 #6
    Wow PsYcHo_FiSh I am enlightened :)
  8. Mar 25, 2004 #7


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    science tells us how the feelings are physically produced in our brains, but science does not tell us where the motivation to produce these feelings comes from...just like the chemicals in your brain tells you to walk, gives the instinct to eat, etc, feelings are the reaction from another motivation within you...you WILL is what is behind the feelings, and this is completely random and unpredictable because you are an individual...yes, i agree with Polly, there is heated debate about how much of a biological robot we truly are, as this is a science forum...but many members here-and very prominent ones-forget the flip side of the coin...science is extremely useful in understanding the material world we live in, and continues to help us understand, however there are many why questions it has yet to answer, such as why does life have a will to exist?
  9. Mar 25, 2004 #8
    Life has a will to exist because the other life that didn't have a will to exist died out. The more appropriate question to ask is, why are we here? Why does the Universe exist? What is the purpose of life? As we progress on such a line of thought, the questions only become more numerous and complex.

    The nearest I can figure is something or someone created the Universe. Whether it is God or a scientist in a lab coat running a computer simulation, something started it. After all, everything is merely information and part of a mathematical formula. The Universe, existence, is math. It has a pattern, it is simply to complex for us to grasp at this time.

    As for our purpose, we have a biological one. But what of the mental one? The spiritual one? Since there are so many answers to those two questions, we have to assume that life is what you make of it. That maybe there is no absolute answer. However, if you believe in God or some higher divine purpose and plan, then it is more certain; clearer.
  10. Apr 1, 2004 #9
    This is a typical naturalist vs romanticist discussion!

    The naturalists believe there is nothing more to us humans than flesh, cell tissue and that we are non-unique and perishable. The romanticists believe there is something spiritual, something that decides your own self and that you are unique from everything else, not just a product of inherited talents and and environmental influence. I am a romanticist, but I do not deny the chemical functions that are a part of our emotions. I want there to be something more than just the dry science about us humans and I believe there is.

    If you walk around thinking that you are like everyone else, not special at all and that we are 'only cell tissue and chemistry' that will definitely make you depressed. I had serious problems with it for a long while and then I came to think differently.

    I believe in a mental purpose and that we have our own unique minds. I don't care if science cannot prove it, I will not trust science in everything it has to say. That's what I feel about this, and because I feel this, I believe that is a reason to say that we are something more.
  11. Apr 1, 2004 #10


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    I am much more impressed by the naturalist explanation.

    What is more impressive, a million tiny sensory details, most of which we never conciously notice generating little blasts of chemicals inside of us in just the right way so that we fall in love, or some invisible force shooting us with a magical mind-control arrow so that we fall in love. In the latter case, I would feel like a victim, not a lover.

  12. Apr 1, 2004 #11


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    instead of naturalist vs romanticist, how about an equal balance of both? it is impressive how intricate our biology is, yet why can't the spark that keeps our biology going be considered divine that our science cannot yet explain?
  13. Apr 1, 2004 #12
    It is my opinion that the spiritual and mental are the causes of the biology, chemistry and physics not the other way around. Our bodies react naturally to our feelings, moods and state of mind. Of course scientist can detect the change in brain activity and hormone and chemical releases in our bodies and the introduction of those chemical and stimuli to our brains produce similar feeling or perceptions. Why would we expect it to be different.
    The question is which comes first, which is the cause and which the effect. I say that it is our mental and emotional states that cause the physical and chemical changes in our bodies. It is rather simple really. Just ask yourself if you are responding to your body or is your body responding to your mind and emotions.
    Who is in charge. Our bodies can become excited, aroused, or completely turned off by mental images or imaginations alone without outside influences. Can our body cause and create within our mind these images or imaginations? I don't think so.
    Of course our bodies can tell us that we are hungry, thirsty, hot, cold etc. and has needs and urges that demand our attentions and actions, but can it control our thoughts, emotions and mental images?
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2004
  14. Apr 1, 2004 #13


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    I fail to see how it becomes it any clearer if you postulate the existence of an intelligent creator. All that does is beg the question - Where did he come from and what is his purpose? You can do this in infinite regression or you can simply stop with yourself and let the rest of the universe take care of itself.
  15. Apr 1, 2004 #14


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    That's all fine and dandy, but your personal opinion has little bearing on what is true. Isn't that what we are trying to get at here?
  16. Apr 2, 2004 #15
    Nor does yours. This is the philosophy sub-forum. My opinions and philosophies are just as relevant and valid as yours or anyone else's. There is no way to prove that any of these speculations are true or false. Alternate views, thoughts and beliefs are what we are after here as none of this is science nor empirical. My opinion may be true. There is as yet no way to know or prove or disprove any opinion on this subject.
  17. Apr 2, 2004 #16


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    This is where you and I differ. I would prefer not to state any opinion; ideally, I would prefer not to hold any opinion. Chemical and electrical manipulations in the brains of test subjects can leave no doubt that it is the reactions that cause the feelings, so that matter is already settled. The only place a dualist can really turn after that is to speculate that there exists a non-physical locus of consciousness that exerts control over the reactions themselves. Despite what you say, I do think this is testable. If it can be shown that all conscious controls over the brain are biochemical in nature, then any theory of dualism is completely superfluous and be discarded. If, however, it can be shown that there exists no such discernible mechanism by which conscious control can have a strictly neuronal basis, then you have a case, I would say a very strong case. But it is pointless, and in fact impeditory to further research, to come to any conclusions now, before the problem has been properly studied.
  18. Apr 3, 2004 #17
    The matter is hardly settled. You are confusing the cause for the effect and assuming that there can only be a physical cause for subjective phenomena rather than it is the feelings that cause reactions in the brain so that our bodies can respond appropriately to our feelings. This is a typical response for a materialist. There can be no other way for they ignore and refuse to see the obvious truth and make up all sort of convoluted physical causes to explain subjective events. What makes the chemicals and electrical stimuli occur in the brain naturally in the first place? Feeling, thought, intent. The brain and body respond to these causes not the other way around.

    It has been shown numerous times that our consciousness can and does control our body and our brains but this is continuously ignored and rejected by physicalists, to use Sleeth's term. Bio feed back is just one of several methods of changing the physical state of our bodies by will alone. Various methods of meditation and mental conditioning can and does cause and enable people to perform amazing feats of strength and control that are beyond normal people. Simple imagination or mental imaging causes our body to respond in any number of ways, fear response, sexual arousal etc. These are just a few obvious example of pure subjective mental control; of our brains and bodies. Of course it is and must be interactive the physical state of our bodies can and do cause changes in mood and feelings as well. It is however a two way street. It works both ways not just the one that you materialist espouse.
  19. Apr 3, 2004 #18
    And yet what is it about being alive that's not accompanied by a sense of uniqueness? Almost as if that supercedes or, transcends the mechanics? Therefore, is it possible that there might be one Great Will, from which all other wills spring?
  20. Apr 4, 2004 #19


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    I don't think you're understanding what I'm saying here. You can be made to feel a certain way through the use of chemicals introduced into your brain, or even through electical stimulation, external to your own consciousness. The feelings have a physical cause - they are being caused by whatever agent is being tested.

    If the materialist is right, then meditation itself is a result solely of chemical reactions and your will is an illusion. The fact that the mind, and even the body, can be tricked, and even tricked by itself, proves nothing. If it were that easy, there would be no debate. Now quit acting like the matter is settled and join in on a meaningful discussion. I'm sure you have plenty to add, but not if you come in here acting like you already have the answers and everyone else is wrong to question you.
  21. Apr 5, 2004 #20
    Of course we can be made to feel a certain way and even see or feel certain thing by stimulating the brain by chemicals or electrical probes. Why would anyone expect anything else. Those experiments or demonstration do nothing but demonstrate what we already know. The brain reacts to stimuli and this reaction can and often does make us experience subjective feelings and subjective events.

    My point, opinion, belief, understanding, whatever is that our physical brain and subjective mind interact, that one can and does cause changes in the other. It is a two way interaction and not strictly a one way action caused by physical processes alone. As you point out below if it were caused by the physical processes alone it would do away with free will and we would be physical robots completely controlled by our body chemistry etc. We are not robots but creative reasoning beings of limited free will, purpose and intent and are just as much controlled and influenced by our mind as we are by our chemistry. This has been proven time and time again by numerous means such as monitoring our body chemistry and physical reaction caused by our thinking, feelings and moods at the time.

    My opening statement in my previous post was that the matter is far from settled. I am beginning to think that we, you and I are far closer to agreeing or in our thinking than either one of us realizes. I was under the impression that you were saying that consciousness is a purely physical phenomenon and can have no subjective immaterial cause. I say again that that thinking is wrong as it has been empirically proven that purely subjective phenomena can and does cause physical changes in our physical bodies, mind over matter if you will.

    It is my position that our purely subjective, immaterial minds cause and control the physical, material reality of our bodies and through our bodies the physical material world just as the physical material world effects and changes our mental states. I don't know the actual processes how this happens, I only know that it does happen.
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