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PHYSICS AND THE ROOTS OF EMOTION

May 12th, 2011 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 390 views | Print this Article

By Robert DePaolo

Abstract

This article proposes that emotion can be understood in terms of physical laws, particularly energy dynamics. In so doing it offers a possible link between the pre-biotic world and the evolution of life forms.

Over time a variety of explanations have been offered regarding the true nature of emotion. One of the earliest was proposed in the 19th century when William James and Carl Lange described emotion as an interpretive, post-arousal process. Although dismissed subsequently, the idea that cognitive appraisals and interpretations guided emotions resurfaced through the work of Lazarus (1984), Ellis (1994) and Ellsworth (1994).

Another description, provided by Walter Cannon (1929) held that emotion could be defined in the context of fight-flight behaviors and emergency reactions (Friedman & Silver 2007), (Sapolsky 1994). Still another, championed by Freud (Kennard 1998) and post analytic theorists such as Jung (1970) viewed emotion as resulting from a bio-cultural clash within a compartmentalized psyche. Following this came phenomenological interpretations of emotion as exemplified by Carl Rogers (Farber 1998) who viewed emotion (most especially anxiety) as emanating from incongruities within the self concept. A more recent theory derives from the field of evolutionary psychology and holds that emotion is most essentially an orchestration-oversight mechanism of mind (Cosmides &Tooby (2000).

Research has yielded valuable information about the physiological correlates of emotion. For example it appears that through its regulation of hormones, the limbic system is the source of pleasure, rage, aggression and fear, and that neurotransmitter mechanisms are instrumental in creating depression and other pathological states. (Papez 1937) Bruce & Neary (1995). Yet while these studies offer a building block assessment of how emotions occur they do not explain how they originated or why they occur in the first place.

Some theoreticians have addressed the question by suggesting that emotion first evolved with reptiles, whose limbic system produced the neuro-chemical wherewithal to aggress, flee, maintain vigilance and thereby enhance predatory, escape and avoidance behaviors. McLean’s notion of the triune brain is one example of that idea (1990).

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