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III. Mind and Emotions  

Given that one of my objectives is to achieve and maintain happiness, I continue by discussing exactly what I think, believe and expect an emotion is and what science has to say about how emotions affect onesí health for better or worse. An emotion may be defined as "any agitation or disturbance of mind, feeling, passion; any vehement or excited mental state." I take 'emotion' to refer to a feeling and its distinctive thoughts, psychological and biological states, and range of tendency to act. There are hundreds of emotions, along with their combinations, variations, blends, and nuances. I do not have words to describe all of the many subtleties of emotion.

In seeking guidelines, I have come to agree with Paul Ekman of the University of California at San Francisco and others in thinking of emotions in terms of families or dimensions. The four main families are sorrow, fear, anger and joy. Each of these families has a basic emotional response at its core, with its relatives branching out from there in numerous variations. On the outer branches are moods. Moods are subdued and last far longer than an emotion. Beyond moods are temperaments. That is the readiness to evoke a given emotion or mood that makes people gloomy, shy, or gay. Still beyond such emotional temperaments are the disorders of emotion such as hysteria or unremitting anxiety. Under these conditions, someone feels perpetually trapped in a poisonous state.

The argument for there being a set of core emotions rests to some extent on the discovery that specific facial expressions for sorrow, fear, anger, enjoyment are recognized by people in cultures around the world. In research done with technical precision, Paul Ekman and others showed photos of faces portraying expressions to people in remote cultures cut off from contact with people of the outside world. He discovered that people everywhere recognized the same basic facial expressions. This universality of emotional communication modes was probably first noted by Darwin, who saw it as evidence of the forces of evolution imprinting signals in our central nervous system.

In recent years, a scientific model of the emotional mind has emerged that explains how emotions can drive our behaviors. The model helps explain how we can be so reasonable at one moment and so unreasonable the next and how emotions have their own reasons and their own logic.

The emotional mind is far faster than the thinking mind. It leaps into action without waiting even an instant. Its rapidity prevents the reflective, analytical deliberation that is characteristic of the thinking mind. In evolution, this rapidity most likely developed as a response to a need to make basic decisions about key elements in the environment. For example, once alert to the presence of another life form, the ability to make instantaneous decisions becomes critical: Am I prey or am I predator to this life form? Organisms that had to pause too long to reflect on the answer to such an important question lost in the game of survival and sacrifice.

Actions that originate in the emotional mind carry a particularly powerful sense of certainty. This certainty is a result of an efficient, simplified way of looking at things that can be positively mystifying to the thinking mind. After the fact, or even in mid-response, we may find ourselves thinking. "What did I do that for?" That is a sure sign the thinking mind is awakening to the moment, but not with the quickness of the emotional mind.

The period of time between an event that provokes an emotion and the expression of an emotion can be extremely short. In order to win in the game of survival and sacrifice, this appraisal of the need to act must be automatic, so rapid that it never enters conscious awareness. Researchers measure time between event and emotional response in periods of about one thousandth of a second.  Thus, tools used to appraise perception must be capable of great speed. Virtually before we even know what has happened, the rapid and raw kind of emotional response washes over us .

Paul Ekman proposes that the rapidity that causes emotional forces to overtake the mind before we are quite aware these have started is essential to these emotional forces being so highly adaptive. These emotional forces motivate us to respond to life threatening events without wasting a moment to ponder whether to react or how to respond. Using a system he developed for detecting emotions from subtle changes in facial expression, Ekman can track 'micro-emotions' that flit across the face in less than a half second. Ekman and his collaborators have discovered that emotional expressions begin to show up as changes in facial musculature within a few thousandths of a second after the event that triggers the reaction. The physiological changes typical of a given emotion such as shunting blood flow and increasing heart rate also take only fractions of a second to begin. This swiftness is particularly true of intense emotion, like fear of a sudden threat.

This quick mode of perception relies on first impressions, responds to the overall picture or the most striking aspects and as such sacrifices accuracy for speed. It takes things in as a whole, at once reacting without taking the time for thoughtful analysis. Vivid elements can determine that impression, overpowering a careful evaluation of the details. The great benefit is that the emotional mind can read an emotional reality faster than the thinking mind can argue premises to a logical conclusion. In a moment, we can make intuitive snap judgments that tell where trouble is, what to be wary of, and who is a threat. If we waited for the rational mind to make some of these judgments, we might not only be wrong. We might be dead. The emotional mind is our radar for danger. The drawback is that because we make these judgments rapidly these judgments may be wrong or misdirected.

Ekman argues that the full intensity of emotion is very brief. It lasts for just seconds rather than minutes, hours, and days. His reasoning is that it would be maladaptive for an emotion to seize the brain and body for a long time regardless of changing circumstance. If the emotions caused by a single event invariably continue to dominate the mind after the event has passed, and regardless of what else is happening around us, then our feelings would be poor guides to action. Something must sustain the trigger for emotions to last longer, in effect continually evoking our emotion, as when the loss of a loved one keeps us mourning. When for hours feelings persist, it is usually as moods. Moods set an affective tone, but these are not such strong shapers of how we perceive and act, as is the intensity of full emotion.

There is also a second kind of emotional reaction, slower than the quick-response. It develops first in our thoughts before it leads to feeling. This second pathway to triggering our emotions is more deliberate. We are typically quite aware of the thoughts that lead to an emotion. In this kind of emotional reaction, there is a more extended appraisal. Our thought and cognition play the key role. These help determine the emotions we will evoke. Once we make an appraisal, such as 'that sunset is wonderful' or 'our child is adorable' a fitting emotional response follows. In this slower sequence, more fully articulated thought precedes feeling. Emotions that are more complicated, like embarrassment or apprehension, follow this slower route, taking seconds or minutes to unfold.  These emotions follow from thoughts.

By contrast, in the fast-response sequence feelings seems to precede or be simultaneous with our thoughts. This rapid-fire emotional reaction takes over in situations that have the urgency of survival. These mobilize us in an instant to react to an emergency. Feelings of the greatest intensity are involuntary reactions. We cannot decide when these will occur. For that reason, the emotional mind can offer an alibi. We are able to explain away our actions by saying we were in the grip of emotion because of the fact that we cannot choose the emotions we have. Because it takes the rational mind a moment or two longer to register and respond than it does the emotional mind, the 'first impulse' in an emotional situation is the heart's, not the head's.

Just as there are quick and slow pathways to emotion, one through immediate perception and the other through reflective thought, there are also emotions that come bidden. One example is the actors' stock in trade, intentionally manipulated feeling. When actors intentionally milk sad memories for effect, tears may come. Actors are simply more skilled than the rest of us at the intentional use of feeling via thinking, the second pathway to emotion. While we cannot easily change what specific emotions a certain kind of thought will trigger, we very often can, and do choose to think about a kind of thought that produces desired emotional responses.

 I stated at the outset, that my purpose is to devote energy, space, and time to a model of existence that enables me; to have the highest esteem of existence; and thereby to produce in my mind emotional balance that is conducive to happiness and health in my life. I use a foundation of truth and knowledge of theory based on scientifically reproducible discovery to produce a standard of conduct that is most likely to result in the most powerful physiological responses of health possible. To this foundation of truth and knowledge of theory, I add a framework of the most optimistic myth and fantasy based on mystery to produce in my mind a model of the existence of one totality that is most likely to result in the most powerful emotional responses of happiness imaginable. Therefore, I change my emotions through this slower path mechanism of reflective thought.

Is there an element of acting involved in this? Absolutely, from the earliest days of our lives we learn how to act.  Good behavior generally produces pleasant consequences. Bad behavior generally produces unpleasant consequences. Eventually as individuals, we learn from this type of conditioning to converge upon a range of behaviors that produces desirable results. In general we learn to act in a manner that is pleasant and socially acceptable. I believe that devoting energy, space, and time to the most optimistic thoughts, beliefs, and expectations about the existence of one totality leads to positive consequences and that the benefits of devotions are directly proportional to the quantity, quality, and longevity of energy, space, and time I devote.



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