2.0 Emotions as an Evolved Biological System
What if emotions are more than a stimulus for song, poetry and drama where poets bend and sway their audiences’ emotions up and down, as a roller coaster excites and thrills for the pleasure, or dismay of its breathless riders? What if emotions are an evolved biological system – like the muscular, skeletal, or nervous systems – and are closely related to the sensory systems?
Is it possible to think of emotions as being separate from the evolutionary process of the human species? If emotions have been run through the evolutionary mill, i.e., not separate from the evolutionary process, what would some characteristics of the resultant design be? Is it possible to use the ideas and concepts found within evolution to form logical deductions and conclusions about emotions and feelings as they pertain to biological functions?
The notion that species develop by naturally selecting attributes that are advantageous for survival is the cornerstone of the theory of evolution. If any human is to live or even thrive to maturity where offspring will continue the survival of the species, might there be an evolved link or correlation between emotions and an individual’s cognitive activities and the body’s physiology? The following is a discussion to put forward the types of correlations that must exist.
The Mind/Body/Emotion Correlation
If feeling good correlates with a well-balanced and physiologically-vital body then feeling good while climbing a tree to gather food or while balancing on slippery rocks in a rushing stream to fish may not be hazardous. But if feeling good were to correlate with a weakened and lethargic physiology, such challenging actions would tend to be deadly. Such a false/positive correlation between emotions and physiological vitality would be disadvantageous to survival.
How would a genetic line survive if feeling good correlated with a cognitive knowing of strength and vigor, and adeptness with an actuality of weakness and ineptitude? Such a correlation has a limited survivability when climbing trees or foraging across the savannahs in search for food or, in a modern example, when in an inebriated state, a person confidently gets behind the wheel of a car to navigate through rush hour traffic. And where is the motivation to act when there is an actuality of vitality, vigor and strength but emotionally there is a feeling of illness, lethargy and weakness? Therefore, evolutionarily speaking, feeling good correlates with vitality, vigor, and strength and feeling bad correlates with illness, lethargy, and weakness.
Imagine that such basic life behaviors as breathing or eating were so emotionally painful – or the lack thereof were so pleasurable – as to bring about suffocation, starvation and death. Such an emotional/ physiological correlation would lead to the demise of an individual and his or her genetic line. Whether this was a genetically predisposed or inherited condition, or whether there even existed a genetically developed predisposition to learn such a behavior, such a false/positive correlation between emotions and physiology would hinder personal and genetic survival. Therefore, there is a natural correlation between feeling good with healthy physiological behavior and the way the body functions.
From an evolutionary perspective, feeling good means a positive correlation between the neural networks that activate (1) a cognitive awareness of strength, vigor, and well-being, (2) an actualization of a physiology of strength, vigor and well-being, and (3) the neural networks associated the emotions of pleasure. Biochemistry, both at the molecular level and the neural network level, must sustain the correlations between (1) the cognitive knowing of, (2) the feeling of, and (3) actualization of strength, vigor and well-being. Simply put, if these correlations did not exist in this way a person would have a low probability of survival.
How would a genetic line survive (1) if the body’s need for water did not stimulate the mind’s imagery of obtaining water or (2) if this imagery of obtaining water correlated with negative emotions? If the body needs water, this must correlate with the mental act of imagining water and correlate with positive emotions. That is, there is a correlation between imagining the necessities of life and positive emotions. If, instead, there was a correlation such that the imagery of food, water, and shelter brought about negative emotions, then these basics of life would be avoided, leading to an evolutionary dead end. So, for the survival of the species, there is an evolved correlation between the evolved neural networks of the cognitive brain of imagination and the neural networks of the emotional system such that it feels good when the individual’s imagination dwells upon the food, water, and shelter, which is wanted and desired by the body in order to survive. A person dwelling upon that which is wanted triggers the emotionally positive neural network that activates an emotionally positive response.
How would a genetic line survive if the idea of not obtaining food, water, and shelter correlated with feeling good? Or, how would a person (and his or her genetic lineage) survive if cognitive imagery dwelt upon that which is not wanted and this mental activity did not correlate with negative emotions? A person dwelling upon that, which is not wanted, triggers the emotionally negative neural network that activates an emotionally negative response.
A vast array of the mental activities of cognition and imagination pertain to human existence. Specific correlations between these mental activities and emotions are essential to the survival of the species. Just as there is a correlation between positive emotions and biologically necessary actions, there is also a correlation between the mind’s conscious mental activities, the brain’s biochemical neural network and the perception of positive emotions when dwelling upon that which is wanted. There must have been an evolutionary development that resulted in these correlations or we wouldn’t have survived as a species.
When factoring in evolution, emotions become an integral part of the brain’s neural network for maintaining the body’s health, strength and vigor. Emotions bring another attribute of awareness to a person’s consciousness as to the nature of his or her cognitive and physical activities. For simplicity, emotions can be divided into two areas of awareness: those emotions that feel good and those emotions that feel bad. Feeling good or feeling bad has biological health significance. How? Because of these evolved mind/body/emotion correlations, cognitively activating an emotional positive neural network also triggers a corollary activation of the physiological neural networks pertaining to strength, vigor, adeptness, and well-being. Cognitively activating the emotional negative neural network is a warning signal that the continuation of such cognitive and physical activities may have a negative impact on the health and genetic survival of the individual.
The simple arguments above are constructed to illustrate how evolution brings about specific relationships between the mind, body, and emotions. Many more complex scenarios can be developed for the variety of relationships people have with their physical and social environment. Also, the element of time and the relativity of strength and vigor are not discussed but can be easily factored in for added layers of complexity.