How Does Neurobiological Processes Explain The Intensity Of Our Emotions?

How Does Neurobiological Processes Explain The Intensity Of Our Emotions?

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(1) The late neuroscientist Francis Crick once quipped: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.” His words reflect a dilemma both neuroscientists and many a cigar-wielding college student have grappled with – namely, if all of our actions can be reduced to a series of neural maps in the brain, what room is there for understanding the subjective experiences that help us define who we are? How can neurobiological processes explain the intensity of our emotions? The latter question is foundational to LeDoux’s (2002) and Damasio and Carvalho’s (2013) work; both texts attempt to explain emotions and feelings within the framework of neuroscience. A cursory reading of both papers may lead one to think that LeDoux (2002) and Damasio and Carvalho (2013) are in agreement as both distinguish between emotions as unconscious physiological responses to stimuli that allow us to survive and feelings as conscious experiences that stem from emotions. However, a closer reading exposes two apparent contradictions: first, while both write about the process by which people learn to adapt in response to certain stimuli as a means of survival, they differ on whether emotions or feelings drive the evaluation of such stimuli; and second, while both include fear in their lists of emotions, only LeDoux (2002) considers love to be an emotion. I argue that neither contradiction holds – LeDoux’s (2002) definition of emotion and Damasio and Carvalho’s (2013) definition of feeling are complementary as they serve to explain the motivations behind our actions in terms of survival. After accepting their respective definitions, love ought to be defined as both an emotion and a feeling.
(2) In order to understand the limits of LeDoux’s (2002) definition of feelings,...


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...s distinction is also null as the only difference Damasio and Carvalho (2013) outline between a drive and an emotion is that drives are responding to interior changes whereas emotions respond to external changes. If they strongly believed love should exclusively be defined as a drive, they could only be referring to self-love. In addition, LeDoux (2002) separates attachment and the conscious activation of memory as different components of love, entailing that he may agree that attachment is a drive but also recognizes the other complexities of love. While we may just be a pack of neurons, one thing is clear – LeDoux (2002) and Damasio and Carvalho (2013) are, in essence, supporting the same idea: our body learns over time, through conscious and unconscious processes (feelings and emotions), how to respond to familiar stimuli in a way that keeps us healthy and alive.

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