The Science News report, What do you see? is finally verifying something I’ve suspected for years. Namely, our needs and fears (1) generally dictate what we see (2), even though our mind may believe otherwise. Our perception of reality is essentially a subjective reflection of our emotion, as this research shows.
However, the researchers see emotion a little differently. For example, the article says:
Whereas emotions describe complex states of mind, such as anger or happiness, affect refers to something much more basic. Psychologists describe it as a bodily response that is experienced as pleasant or unpleasant, comfortable or uncomfortable, a feeling of being tired in the morning or wound up at night. These responses are the ingredients for emotions, but they also serve as less complex feelings that people experience even when they think they feel “nothing”.
This wants to have it both ways. For example, the words above, “pleasant or unpleasant, comfortable or uncomfortable” refer to common sensory experiences. Others include anger, empathy, anticipation, fear, hunger, need. Don’t these all fall under the category of emotion (3) in the broad sense of the word? Meaning, none of these sensations require a thinking “mind” to feel, as anyone who knows animals well enough can attest.
Note: Such parsing of meaning is symptomatic of our deep human need to see ourselves unique and superior. Consequently, “happiness” must be a human feeling and requiring a “complex state of mind” to be felt. Dumb animals, lacking that, can’t possibly feel “happiness”, right? Wrong! This is an example of how need and fear drive perception. I suppose we fear seeing ourselves as mere animals, which spawns a need to stake the deck in our favor. You could say our species-centric ego steers our perceptions to fit the story we wish to hear.
In the researcher’s view, “emotions describe complex states of mind, such as anger or happiness”. I’ve long thought of emotion as describing ‘feeling’ as opposed to ‘thinking’. Feeling originates in deep ancestral brain areas, e.g., feeling anger, content, anxious, sleepy, needy. Conversely, the thinking mind (cognition), originates in the recent surface cortex, of which we humans are highly endowed.
Saying that “emotions describe a complex state of mind” is comparing apples and oranges. Sure, they are both fruit of the brain, blending in our awareness and appearing to be the same. For example, thinking about earthquakes may arouse fear and stir up a need in me to live elsewhere. However, this lumping together of feeling and thinking obfuscates things which hinder self-understanding. Alternatively, regarding thinking and feeling as essentially separate issues can help put life in perspective. Just think of this as ‘dividing and conquering’ ignorance!
Emotion motivates life’s actions, in humans, in dogs, in bats, etc., and perhaps even virus and bacteria, if you loosen your definition of emotion. The so-called “complex states of mind” are more like shadows cast out from the firelight of emotion. “State of mind” is a result of emotions pushing and pulling thought this way and that. Consider awareness as a horse and cart. The cart is thought and the horse is emotion — and perhaps intuition too. The horse pulls the cart. That is why chapter 71 advises, To know yet to think that one does not know is best. One of the main themes in yoga (i.e., Bhagavad Gita) is the quest to put a driver in that cart. That’s an inspiring ideal with but one hitch… the horse is a wild untamable beast and doesn’t heed drivers (4) .
Apparently psychologist use the term affect to differentiate the so-called “complex states” from the “bodily responses”, which is probably a holdover from the old ‘mind versus body’ way of seeing life. This distinction arises from our ignorance of underlying inter-connectivity hinted at in chapter 56’s, This is known as mysterious sameness.
Our ignorance arises from the projection of how we prefer to see ourselves. The mind-body illusion allows us to believe we can do anything if we set our mind to it, mind over body — in a nutshell, free will. Ironically, the effect psychologist are attempting to explore is affecting their way of seeing that effect.
Feeling “pleasant or unpleasant, comfortable or uncomfortable” is integral to feeling fear, need, anger, contentment, etc. The idea that anger or happiness are complex states of mind and somehow separate from feeling “pleasant or unpleasant” is nonsense. The angry dog, rat, blue jay, elephant, or baseball fan are all feeling uncomfortable and unpleasant. Their homeostasis (i.e., the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent biological processes) is unbalanced. The anger response pushes animals (human included) to somehow resolve that tension. When it is resolved, stress is relieved and “happiness” returns. As chapter 46 notes, There is no disaster greater than not being content.
Knowing that perception is a reflection of need and fear rather than what is actually ‘out there’, is extremely helpful. This research (What do you see?) should be welcome for anyone wishing to embrace this point of view. Little by little, research is heading toward what Buddhist and Taoist have always known: Emotion (desire, need, lust, fear, worry, insecurity, pleasure, pain, attraction, aversion) determine the ‘reality’ we see. To fix ‘reality’ one must return to the moment. As chapter 64 advises, Deal with a thing while it is still nothing. As always, the simple elegant solution is also the most elusive. Chapter 63 and 71 nail it…
(1) I’m using the terms need and fear to convey, in the broadest possible sense, the primal biological driving forces of life. Meaning: Feeling need attracts us to what ostensibly facilitates survival; feeling fear repels us from what ostensibly impedes survival. Such need and fear are often subconscious, below the threshold of thought. They only evoke conscious thoughts once they pass some threshold.
(2) Broadly speaking, what we see also includes what we feel, hear, and think (the mind’s eye). These perceptions mirror the biological base out of which they are experienced. One outcome of this is the naturally compelling illusion that the reality we ‘see’ is objective.
(3) I’m using the term ’emotion’ as broadly as possible to differentiate feeling from thinking. This includes all that indistinct and shadowy junk we feel consciously or otherwise that lies outside our ability to adequately describe via words or names, or portray artistically via color, notes, taste, etc.
(4) Becoming one with ‘the beast’, rather than attempting to control it, is actually effective. Resistance only stirs the pot of emotion. How does one become one with the beast? Chapter 65 offers a helpful hint: