Two Minutes with Dr. Yahya: Was Freud Right? Emotions: the Iceberg of the Brain?
There is no such thing as an “emotion” facility in the brain, wrote Joseph Ledoux, Professor of science at New York University. And no single system dedicated to this phantom function. If we want to understand the various phenomena we call emotion, we have to focus on specific types.
Here how does emotion work, each system evolved to solve different problems that animals face and each has a separate neural basis. The system we use to defend against danger is different from the one used in procreation; the feelings we get when these two activated – fear and sexual pleasure—do not have a common origin.
Brain systems that generate emotional behaviors are rooted deep in our evolutionary past. All animals, including humans, have to do certain things to survive as species. At the least they have to eat, defend themselves from danger, and reproduce. This is as true of insects as it is of fish and humans – and the neural systems that achieve these ends are fairly similar in all species with brains. This suggests that if we want to know what it is to be human, we should find out how we resemble animals as well as how we differ.
No one knows if animals are conscious and so no one knows whether they “feel”. Certainly, it is not necessary for animals to have conscious feelings for emotional systems to do their job, and it is not necessary for the functioning of basic emotion systems in humans either. Emotional responses are for the most part generated unconsciously. Freud was right on the mark when he described consciousness as the tip of the mental iceberg.
Therefore, conscious emotion is in a way a red herring: the feeling and behavior it prompts are surface responses the initial mechanism orchestrates….. Emotions are things that happen to us rather than things we make happen. We try to manipulate our emotions all the time but all we are doing is arranging the outside world so it triggers certain emotions – we cannot control our reactions directly. Anyone who has tried to fake an emotion knows how futile it is. Our conscious control over emotions is weak, and feelings often push out thinking, whereas thinking fights a mainly losing battle to banish emotions. Why? This is because the wiring of the brain favors emotions — the connections from the emotional systems to the cognitive systems are stronger than the connections that run the other way. (430 words) www.hasanyahya.com
– Rita Carter, Mapping the Mind , 1998, P.155, ISBN: 0753810190
– The writers books: Al-Wai-Wal-Wai-Consciousness-unconsciousness (2010)/and Stress & Personality Types (2009)