Emotions: Their Importance and Control

In my previous article "Mind: Volition, Reason, Intellect", I explained the difference between the mind and the emotions and their relationship to each other. This article is concerned with the emotions themselves, primarily, why we have them, what determines them, and how the nature of the emotions is distorted and used by psychology in very damaging ways.

Why Are There Emotions

What we think of as physical pleasure and pain are indicators of the state of various parts of our bodies. Normally, pain indicates that there is something wrong, and pleasure is the reward for doing something right, that is, beneficial and required by our physiological nature, such as the pleasure of eating or sleeping.

One function of the emotions is similar to the pain and pleasure functions, to indicate when something is wrong, and as a reward for doing what is good or right, but the object in the case of the emotions is not physical states, but the state of our minds.

The emotions, however, provide a much more important function, because it is the emotions that enable us to fulfill the purpose of our lives which is to enjoy them fully as human beings. It is the emotions that provide the highest of human experience which we call joy, or happiness, or even ecstasy.

Because the emotions are the direct physical response of our bodies to the intellectual content of our minds, determined by our knowledge, our beliefs, our values, and our every thought and conscious choice, and because we are directly conscious of those emotions, they provide a direct and continuous conscious experience of our minds. We are conscious of our thoughts mentally, that is, as concepts, but we only experience them perceptually as emotions evoked in response to them.

In our actual experience, we do not usually distinguish between our thoughts and their accompanying feelings and experience them as units of, "thought + feeling." In that sense, feelings and thoughts are integrated into objects of consciousness which turn abstract thoughts into concretes which are directly perceived.

In my more technical article on, "Feelings," I wrote:

"The emotions are our nature's way of converting the abstract elements of conceptual consciousness, our ideas, values, and thoughts, into "physical" experiences. The emotions make our minds, as well as our bodies, sensuous."

Feelings and Psychology

Much of the quackery of psychology, and it is all quackery, is made possible by the failure of philosophy to identify the difference between the mind and emotions. People with so-called psychological problems are frequently referred to as having "emotional problems." [The other common expression is, "personality problems," whatever those are.]

Except for those cases that are directly caused by physiological anomalies, such as hormone imbalances or neurological pathologies, all such "emotional problems" are intellectual problems.

Psychology completely reverses or confuses the nature of emotions. As an example of that, as well as the fact that psychology is not a science, here are the five most common "theories" of how emotions "work." [Can you imagine chemistry being called a science if there were five theories of combustion?]

James-Lange Theory says an event causes physiological arousal first which interpreted causes emotion. EXAMPLE: You are walking down a dark alley late at night. You hear footsteps behind you and you begin to tremble, your heart beats faster, and your breathing deepens. You notice these physiological changes and interpret them as your body's preparation for a fearful situation. You then experience fear.

Cannon-Bard Theory says that we experience physiological arousal and emotional at the same time, without thought or attention. EXAMPLE: You are walking down a dark alley late at night. You hear footsteps behind you and you begin to tremble, your heart beats faster, and your breathing deepens. At the same time as these physiological changes occur you also experience the emotion of fear.

Schachter-Singer Theory says an event causes physiological arousal first, which is then identified as the reason for the arousal which can then be experienced and labeled as the emotion. EXAMPLE: You are walking down a dark alley late at night. You hear footsteps behind you and you begin to tremble, your heart beats faster, and your breathing deepens. Upon noticing this arousal you realize that it comes from the fact that you are walking down a dark alley by yourself. This behavior is dangerous and therefore you feel the emotion of fear.

Lazarus Theory states that a thought precedes any emotion or physiological arousal; one must first think about a situation before an emotion is experienced. EXAMPLE: You are walking down a dark alley late at night. You hear footsteps behind you and you think it may be a mugger so you begin to tremble, your heart beats faster, and your breathing deepens and at the same time experience fear.

Facial Feedback Theory claims emotion is the experience of changes in our facial muscles. In other words, when we smile, we then experience pleasure, or happiness. When we frown, we then experience sadness. it is the changes in our facial muscles that cue our brains and provide the basis of our emotions. Just as there are an unlimited number of muscle configurations in our face, so to are there a seemingly unlimited number of emotions. EXAMPLE: You are walking down a dark alley late at night. You hear footsteps behind you and your eyes widen, your teeth clench and your brain interprets these facial changes as the expression of fear. Therefore you experience the emotion of fear.

To paraphrase and old Groucho Marx joke about his principles, the psychologist says, "About emotions, I have my theory, and if you don't like it--I have others." So if you don't like any of these, perhaps you would prefer the evolutionary theory of emotions.

Thoughts and Emotions

The physiological responses of the body to the content of consciousness is automatic and continuous, but that part of those physiological responses we call the emotions are those that are in response to the intellectual content of consciousness determined by our knowledge, our principles, our values, and our thoughts. Until we have learned a language, formed our ideas, and are capable of rational thought, there are no emotions, because there is no intellectual consciousness for the body to respond to.

All emotions depend on learning, how we think, and what we think about. If a young child is placed in a room with a lion, or tiger, or wolf, or a large snake, the child will not display any fear of those animals and may actually be attracted to them. It is only after one has learned that lions, tigers, and wolves can eat people, and sometimes do, and that some snakes are poisonous and bite people, that the appearance of such animals can evoke fear.

Most emotions, however, are not evoked by appearances or events, but simply from being conscious of and thinking about some idea or fact. Simply contemplating a pending interview may evoke a sense of anxiety, or, for another person very confident in himself, a sense of eager anticipation, so that even in thought, the emotion evoked depends on what is thought about an idea or fact, not merely the identification of a it.

Emotions Always Appropriate

If, when you were a child, you ever had what we called, the "giggles," which was an irresistible urge to giggle and laugh at times or in situations the adults, at least, regarded as most inappropriate, (concerts and funerals come to mind), claiming the emotions are always appropriate might seem questionable. By appropriate, however, is meant appropriate to that which evokes them, not necessarily reality itself, which is an important point.

The emotions will be appropriate to reality, if one's ideas and thoughts are consistent with reality. A feeling of fear is appropriate to thoughts of what is truly fearful or threatening. Feeling fear when thinking about a thug holding a gun on us is appropriate (especially if one actually is holding a gun on us), feeling fear when thinking about pending disasters resulting from global warming is not only wrong, but absurd, yet many people have just such fears.

While the emotions make it possible for man to experience the highest levels of human joy and happiness, the emotional experience of many is not joy, but suffering, and not happiness, but a profound and intolerable torment. Why should that which is the means to our most profound experience of life be found, for so many, to be a source of misery and unhappiness? What is the "cause" of emotional suffering?

How to Control Our Feelings

In the introduction to The Autonomist's Notebook I wrote:

"Until you hold the truth above all other things, above all feelings, all desires, all allegiances or commitments, you can never be free and are doomed to perpetual servitude to any irrational feeling, whim, or passion to which you are willing to sacrifice your reason and therefore your will. The beginning of freedom is to free yourself from all those emotions, which uncontrolled, are demons which possess and control you, but under your control become your servants, providing you strength, enthusiasm, motivation, pleasure, and joy in every aspect of your life."

The emotions however do not automatically provide enjoyment. Whether our emotions will be our tormentors, or our servants, providing us "strength, enthusiasm, motivation, pleasure, and joy in every aspect of your life," depends on the content of our intellectual consciousness that evokes those emotions.

"When the emotions are not a source of joy, but of suffering, it is an indication of something wrong. The thing that is wrong might 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."

We cannot directly control our emotions because they are involuntary and automatic. Though we have no direct control of our emotions, our feelings will unfailingly "fit" the content of our intellectual consciousness they are in response to. If our beliefs, our principles, our values, and all we think and choose contains no contradictions and is consistent with reality and the truth of its nature, all of its nature including our own, our emotional responses will be correspondingly positive, providing comfort, pleasure, joy, and that sense of self-assurance and worthiness to live we call "self-esteem," and happiness. If our beliefs, principles, values, and all we think are contradictory, an eclectic grab-bag of disconnected ideas and beliefs picked up along the way from our family, our peers, our teachers, or the media, our emotional state will be appropriately dominated by fear and uncertainty, and all those emotional torments called "depression," "anxiety," "manias," "phobias," and uncontrollable desires and impulses.

One of psychology's very bad practices is attempting to control emotions directly, as if emotions just occurred, all on their own, spontaneously or from some mystic so-called "subconscious", [the subject of a subsequent article]; but the emotions cannot be "controlled" at all, and if they could, it would be harmful. Bad emotions are an indication of bad thoughts or beliefs and covering them up with drugs, or "hypnosis," or by any other means, has the same bad result as covering up the symptoms of a serious disease, without treating the disease that causes the symptoms.

Emotional problems are intellectual problems, and the only way to fix them is to fix the wrong beliefs, the wrong thoughts, the wrong choices, the wrong values, the wrong principles, or wrong reasoning that is producing them.