What Is Unique about Human Feelings

The fact that animals have feelings has long been an unquestioned assumption of folk psychology (but this is not an assumption shared by all cognitive scientists). But folk psy chology also believes that only humans have the capacity to restrain the expression of their emotions. Philosophers for several millennia have speculated about the difference between animal and human emotion. As I noted earlier, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, the existence of free will is the feature that distinguishes human and animal emotion. He said, "Sheep flee the wolf because they judge it dangerous, but the judgment is not free but imposed on them by nature" (Aquinas 1264, p. 99). Aquinas believed that the immediacy of the animal's response indicates that they lack free will and therefore are not able to judge what is good, for only men have minds endowed with free will and with it the capacity to make moral judgments. Aquinas thought that our ability to reason and arrive at moral judgments explains our capacity for emotional delay. This idea is consistent with the age-old assumption that there is, within us, a fundamental opposition between our animal passions and human reason.

For Spinoza, our inability to moderate and restrain our emotions indicates a "human bondage." He wrote, "An affect which is called a passion of the mind is a confused idea, by which the mind affirms of its body . . . , which when it is given determines the mind to think of this rather than that. Man's lack of power to moderate and restrain the affects I call bondage. For the man who is subject to affects is under the control not of himself but of fortune" (Spinoza 1675, pp. 196-197).

Even Freud was influenced by the supposition that affects and reason are opposing forces, when he proposed a functional division of the mind into an irrational id and a reasoning ego. This functional distinction between feeling and reason continues to be maintained by some cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists who view cognition and emotion as entirely separate faculties of the mind.2 Damasio (1994), who emphasizes the unity of emotion and cognition, is an exception. Although there is this ancient tradition that separates "animal" passions from human reason, we also know that feelings and "reason" are inseparable in health, but can become separate in pathological states.

For example, there is a rare neurological disorder called Capgras' syndrome, where the victim of this illness will claim, "This person is not my wife. She's either an imposter or a double." Capgras' syndrome is a neurological, rather than a psychiatric, illness: the individual is suffering not from a delusion but from a brain lesion. The neurologist Ra-machandran offers the explanation that Capgras' syndrome reflects a brain lesion where there is a disconnect between the limbic system and the area in the temporal lobe that is activated when we recognize faces (see Ramachandran and Blakeslee 1998). To identify a person, it is not enough to recognize who they are: we must also feel who they are. In health there is always a feeling component in perceiving.

Darwin assumed that there are continuities between the expression of emotion in animals and the expression of emotion in human beings. Darwin noted that humans and animals are aroused by the same primordial emotions of fear and rage (1872). In addition, intelligent mammals, such as monkeys and dogs, share with us what he called more complex emotions, such as jealousy and curiosity. From this it may be inferred that evolution has preserved homologous brain structures that generate the expression of similar, if not identical, emotions.

Joseph LeDoux (1996) has shown that the amygdala mediates the emotion of fear in rats. Panksepp (1998a) describes a "fear circuit" in animals involving the amygdala, hypothalamus, and midbrain (PAG). The fact that the amygdala is fully developed in the newborn of many vertebrate species suggests that the emotion of fear is essential for survival—the newborn gazelle will automatically, and without instruction from its mother, flee from the lion. There is evidence to support the inference that the amygdala helps mediate fearful emotion in humans as well. Experiments using the noninvasive technique of fMRI with human subjects have shown that the amygdala is also activated as a response to the exposure of fearful faces, but not in response to neutral faces (Breiter et al. 1996). These experiments have shown that the amygdala responds not only to fearful faces but also to happy faces.

The amygdala may activate the emotion of fear in both rats and men, but again we must be reminded that metaphor and language interpret feelings, which results in a divergence between humans and other species. This is reflected in the distinction between anxiety and fear. Fear is a universal feeling present in all mammals, whereas anxiety can be aroused by means of metaphoric associations and is in this sense uniquely human. We share the emotion of fear with other species but only human beings experience anxiety. Freud adopted this linguistic convention of distinguishing the terms fear and anxiety. He believed that fear refers to real danger whereas anxiety is an internal signal of danger embedded in specified associations that can be symbolized. For example, Little Hans' phobia that a horse would bite him was based on the metaphoric correspondence between the horse and his father and reflected little Hans' peculiar life history.

Anxiety, unlike fear, can be metaphorically transformed into an erotic feeling, and an erotic feeling, in turn, can be transformed into anxiety. The singularly human cognitive capacity for creating metaphors enables us to conflate anxiety and sexual arousal. This is one of the reasons that we enjoy horror movies. Our capacity to transform "base" emotions into "higher" feelings Freud called sublimation, which he viewed as man's greatest achievement, an achievement that made civilization possible. But the nature of sublimation itself, as we shall see, remains particularly mysterious.

Our unique linguistic, imaginative, and symbolic capacities provide a degree of freedom from the exigent demands of our internal and external environments. Chimpanzees, our genetically closest relative, when emotionally aroused, cannot suppress their vocal cries. Jane Goodall writes, "Chimpanzee vocalizations are closely tied to emotion. The production of a sound in the absence of the appropriate emotional state seems to be an almost impossible task for a chimpanzee" (cited in Lieberman 1991). Goodall continues, "On one occasion when Figan [a chimpanzee at the Gombe Stream Reservation] was an adolescent, he waited in camp until the senior males had left and we were able to give him some bananas (he had had none before). His excited food calls quickly brought the big males racing back and Figan lost his fruit. A few days later he waited behind again, and once more received his bananas. He made no loud sounds, but the calls could be heard deep in his throat, almost causing him to gag."

The linguist Derek Bickerton (1995) believes that it is primarily language that enables the human being to go off line. He contrasts two basic modes of thinking that he calls online thinking and off-line thinking. On-line thinking focuses upon the immediate environment. On-line thinking can occur only in terms of the neural responses elicited by the presence of external objects. In contrast, off-line thinking, dependent on language, involves "computations" carried out in the absence of the object, utilizing an internal "representation" of the object. This internalization, he believes, allows us to go off line. He believes that it is language, and not our capacity for moral judgment, as Aquinas thought, that allows us to delay our emotional response to environmental inputs. Bickerton argues that it is not only language, but more specifically syntax, that allows us to go off line. He acknowledges that some primates and dolphins have protolanguages, but their languages lack the syntactic structure that would enable them to go off line.

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