Here is an interesting news bit on “non intrinsic stimuli”.
Scientific American 60 second - January 15th, 2008.
“ You’d think we enjoy something because of it’s intrinsic qualities, food should taste good because it molecules tickles our tongue. But it’s much more complicated than that. For example, one study shows that drinkers knowing the name brand and ingredients increase the drinkers pleasure. Researches at the California Institute of Technology investigated our neural response to non intrinsic stimuli, 20 subjects tasted what they thought were 5 different wines and they were give the price for each of these. In reality only 3 wines were used, and 2 were offered twice, once at a low price and once at a high price. Subjects consistently said that the wines they thought cost more tasted better. Functional MRI showed no difference in taste centers in brain, but revealed increased activities in brains pleasure centers. Somehow our brains combine both actual taste and what we expect about the taste. “
One can surmise the thought process inside these researchers heads “Hmm, why in the world would our perceptions or thoughts about something alter how that something effects us? I thought we were just robots and responded directly in pre-programmed ways to pre-programmed stimuli” Clearly we are not merely mechanical automatons who respond in exact ways to the same thing. Our emotions are, in fact, automatic estimations of stimuli based on our values and our understanding. The subjects of this study attached some value to the cost of wine, which is reasonable considering cost does roughly equate to quality in most areas. These researchers act surprised (this is news, after all) but this is in fact the only obvious way emotions would work. Do we all respond, emotionally to the same things in the same way? Obviously not. What makes me sad, might be irrelevant to you. And what makes you happy, might cause apprehension in me. Why is that?
Yet we do all share the same kinds of emotions, we all feel joy, sadness, apprehension, etc. These emotional reactions are obvious in everything from infants to tribes untouched by western conventions. The facial expressions and body reactions to emotional responses are almost identical. It is clear then that emotional responses are in fact automatic and nearly instinctual. In infants, the emotional reaction exists, but the values have yet to be formed or identified, so often reactions are disjointed from what we think they should be attached to, like crying for apparently no reason. As they grow, babies learn to value certain things and soon their emotional reactions come to align with their values. In distant tribes untouched by western conventions, the smile is still universally something of happiness and joy, the tear is still the response to sadness. Why is this not opposite in some cultures?
So if we have the same emotional capacities in response, why are our responses different? Do emotional responses come from our genetic code then? No, since identical twins can have diametrically opposed emotional reactions. So the answer is again clear, our emotional responses come from our values. What brings joy and sadness to those distant people will depend on their needs and their values within their social and environmental context. What brings joy or sadness to us similarly will be based on what we value. If there is something we value and we see that value furthered, our mind and body automatically respond to recognizing our values furthered within our understanding as something good, and so invoke a feeling of happiness. A new product at a lower cost which we find a lot of value in would invoke happiness in us, but to the workers who will be put out of business it may invoke apprehension or sadness. An elderly person in severe pain may find happiness at the prospect of their own death, while young healthy full of life person would feel deep sadness and apprehension at the prospect of their own death. Emotions are responses to what we value, if we value our life, then that which furthers it will bring us joy and things that harm our life will bring us sadness. If we value a quality of life for our friends and loved ones, than things which raise their quality of life will bring us joy. If we value our own accomplishments over those of others, than success by our friends would cause jealousy and anger. Emotions then are completely proper responses, but that does not mean they are automatically correct, because they are still based on our own values, which we choose and integrate into our lives, and also our assessment of a situation, which may very well be wrong. This is why it is always good practice to introspect and examine our emotional reactions.
The nature and purpose of emotions have been expanded by philosophers from Aristotle to Ayn Rand, and ought to be obvious with consideration and reflection to anyone. Yet mainstream science is still very confused about emotions, swinging them from being absolutely pre-programmed and determined (as is demonstrated by Richard Dawkins equating immoral people with broken machines) or purely random, since the things which bring about emotional responses appear so different from person to person. Studies like this demonstrate unquestionably that these “non intrinsic stimuli” exist, and that they in fact have a much more common name: Values.
Richard Dawkins “Let’s all stop beating Basil’s car”
“But doesn’t a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not? Any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused’s physiology, heredity and environment.”
My post - The Abdication of Volition
“When a person who is in love exhibits elevated levels of these opium like drugs, the scientists then interpret that to mean that they are in love because the brain has produced that drug! Which is ridiculous, of course, you do not fall in love because your brain produces a chemical, your brain produces a chemical *because* you fall in love. The difference is superficially subtle, yet vitally important to all of our conceptions of humanity and emotions. It is the difference between being a slave to your emotional whims originated in the mindless mechanistics of your biological chemistry and having your emotions be the logical consequences of the deepest values you choose. It is the difference between being a robotic slave and a thinking, feeling person.”