Where do emotions come from?
Our thoughts on the source of emotion are full of contradictions. On one had, we are accustomed to thinking of the mind – by which we mean emotion, imagination, reason, and other conscious and unconscious processes of the brain – and the body as distinct and separate. The former seems at first to comprise an intangible realm of dreams and imagination, whilst the latter involves solid reality – what can be seen, held, and measured. If this were the case, it would be harder to properly assess from where emotion derives. This mind/body debate has a long intellectual tradition, and is discussed in much more detail in the section on reason.
On the other hand we also associated emotions with different parts of the body. Love comes from the heart, anger from the spleen, fear is something we feel in our spine, and recognizing that something is right is sometimes described as a ‘gut feeling’.
The truth is generally agreed to lie somewhere in between these two views. As the discussion on the mind/body debate demonstrates, there is very little support for the ‘dualist’ school of thought, which holds that the mind is separated from our bodies. And of course no serious psychologist or physician would argue that the emotions are the product of the different organs of the body. But emotion is believed to be generated from a physical source, and the part of the brain responsible for it is the limbic system of the brain, which is made up of several structures located in the cerebral cortex. These structures register the levels of chemicals – called neurotransmitters – being manufactured by the body in response to certain conditions the person is experiencing. To give an example, a much greater level of serotonin is produced when a person is in love, eating chocolate, or taking ecstasy, than normal. The brain registers this increase in level, and the resultant feeling is one that we associate with happiness.