Why do we have feelings?

david-detailGrowing up I used to watch Star Trek.  Both the original 1960s series and the 1980s Next Generation series feature main characters who supposedly have no emotions: Mr Spock and Mr Data.  Spock considers emotions to be a weakness and actively suppresses them so as to be more logical; meanwhile Data has an apparent desire to fulfil his creator’s wish to build an android that is as human-like as possible, so Data seeks to have emotions.  While as entertaining as these characters are, the series never actually explored emotions, what they are, why we have them, and what their meaning is in any depth.  Rather, one gets the impression at times that the sole purpose of emotions, as far as the creators of Star Trek are concerned, is for personal amusement; they make life interesting but we don’t really need them.  However, emotions are far more important than just mere novel reactions of our nervous systems to particular stimuli; they are what makes life alive beyond the organic/material level.  Consider that each individual cell in your body is a living organism in its own right, additionally, the collective activity of the billions of cells that make up your entirely body is a secondary level of life, and finally the thoughts and feelings that make up what we call, for lack of a better term, “our mind” is a third tier of life built on top of the previous two tiers.  But why do we have feelings at all? Continue reading

The Neuroscience of Motivation

DopamineLack of motivation is a common complaint in the 21st century. Many people talk about feeling a lack of motivation. There are many factors that control how motivated a person feels: incentives, deterrents, personal interest, cognitive dissonance, past childhood traumas, and dopamine levels all rate highly. Each of these topics deserves an article in its own right, but for this topic, however, this article will concern itself merely with self-esteem and dopamine levels. Furthermore, it will act simply as an introduction to the topic of dopamine and its relationship to motivation. If you are interested in this topic, you are urged to do your own further research, as this article will not be an in-depth academic piece. There are a few links at the bottom to get you started.

Dopamine is a chemical produced in the brain that appears to be strongly connected with motivation. People who lack dopamine have difficulty getting up to do anything. In fact, Parkinson’s disease, a condition that gradually paralyses its victims over time, does so by killing off the neurons responsible for producing dopamine.   Without dopamine, we are simply brains trapped in jars. This raises some interesting questions about the nature of depression: is depression actually about sadness at all or just about motivation? If we pull happiness and motivation apart from each other, we can arrive at four distinct states:

  1. Happy and motivated.
  2. Miserable and unmotivated.
  3. Miserable, but motivated.
  4. Happy, but unmotivated.

Continue reading