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Do “emotions” really exist? |
We know that there is nothing supernatural about the human brain. What you see inside is a bunch neural nets that code for behaviors, like software programming. Software does different things as a consequence of other internal programs and environmental input.
Let’s consider the so called human emotion of “anger”. This emotion does not really exist. Rather, programming exists in the human brain that guides the actions of the human when presented with a perceived threat. For example, let’s say that the member “BigWang” hears news that the West has launched a new Freedom of Navigation mission into the South International Sea using an aircraft carrier battle group. Well, BigWang’s memories hold the belief that this action is a threat to the reproductive success of China.
The brain has a two-way highway to the “anger” module in the limbic system: one from the cerebral cortex to the anger module, and vice versa. So, BigWang’s cerebral cortex is in constant communication with the “anger” module. The cerebral cortex sends a signal to the “anger” module that a threat is present. The “anger” module then sends a signal to the cerebral cortex and other brain structures to carry out the behavioral and physiological aspects associated with “anger.” The brain stem increases heart rate and breathing and prepares the body for Fight or Flight.” And the cerebral cortex guides behavior that is required for BigWang to attempt to neutral the threat. The “anger” module is now in control and forcing the other parts of the brain to activate and carry out what is required to neutralize the perceived threat.
In BigWang’s case, his only option is to post hostile threads against the West in China Daily forum. Of course, the cerebral cortex can analyze the perceived threat rationally and then send a signal down to the “anger” module to reduce its signal if the perceived threat is not so severe or is a false threat. But if the “anger” module is producing too strong a signal, then BigWang’s cerebral cortex will become too suppressed to stop his actions to neutralize the perceived threat. The “anger” module often shuts down the cerebral cortex and forces the organism to immediately neutralize the perceived threat, which often results in regrets later for taking actions that were not warranted.
So, during all of this, no such thing as “anger” ever existed; rather, various brain programs simply instructed and coordinated various actions to neutralize a perceived threat. This same situation exists with all the other so-called “emotions” such as “fear”, “depression”, and “jealousy”. None of these are “felt” since there are no such things as “feelings”; there are only algorithms coded in neural nets, not “emotions.”
So, why do humans say they “feel” emotions? Why do I myself “feel” these things? This is the paradox. Emotions don’t really exist, yet we all “feel” them. Maybe the illusionary “feelings” are an emergent property common to the human brain.
But, what we now can learn from the fact that “emotions” don’t really exist and are just algorithms guiding human behavior is that we can program these human behaviors in artificial intelligence. We can write similar neural net codes that tell a robot to observe the environment and reference events to their memory banks of known threats. If a threat is recognized, then a program written in the robot, the “anger” program, would be activated and guide the Fight or Flight program. If the robot’s brain program included all the human programs in the limbic system and a sufficient cerebral cortex program, the robot would also say it has “feelings” and can “feel” things. But just like in humans, this would be just an illusion.
What we can also learn here is that "free-will" does not exist. Programs in our limbic system guide all our behaviors. Whatever actions we take or not, whatever thoughts we have or not, are all controlled by programs and by limitations of the cerebral cortex. As such, the "self" does not exist; the "Soul" does not exist. Our lives are meaningless.