Emotional Thought of Thoughtful Emotions?

Valery Gray Hardcastle

The anatomical circuits for emotion are straightforward: prefrontal cortex, ventral striatum, and the amygdala. However, neurophysiologists have not yet uncovered any robust neurophysiological differences among what we perceive to be as radically different emotions. Nevertheless, they believe that someday, they will be able to discover local anatomical or physiological differences among our different emotional states. However, it might be the case that part of what determines what an emotion is is a higher-order cognitive interpretation. An activated amygdala-frontal lobe circuit under circumstances of duress could either be inter-preted, and hence experienced, as fear or as anger or even as surprise or joy, depending upon which cognitive schema was active at the time. Which interpretation we chose or use depends upon our own cognitive histories, and the particular environmental circumstances surrounding the event. Neuroscience can gesture towards the areas in the brain in which interpretations of our autonomic reactions occur, but it cannot tell the full story, for that will require a much richer story concerning what our activated and dynamical brain circuits refer to in the world than they now have. Our best theory of emotion will be a non-reductive one.


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