What Emotion Is, And Isn’t

“Most people, including many scientists, believe that emotions are distinct, locatable entities inside us — but they’re not.”

Lisa Feldman Barrett   Professor of Psychology Northeastern University


If you have been following NDT theory then you are not among the “most people” referenced above. My study of dogs through the lens of the immediate-moment revealed in the late seventies that emotion is a system’s phenomenon, not an individuated one. Emotion is a network dynamic, not a self-contained one. While I’m all for reductionist research given that neurons, neurotransmitters, hormones, and brain structures are indeed involved in emotional experience, (as are the gut, muscle cells, organs, tendons and anatomy as well), and we need to know how the nuts and bolts work, nevertheless one must always remain cognizant that one is being reductionist. One is only looking at nuts and bolts. In other words, the internet is not to be found inside the computer; WABC is not inside the radio. Emotion is not in the brain.

A dog learning, dogs interacting, personalities in a pack shifting over the years, these illustrate how emotion’s energetic properties and principles of movement unfold. The outside is a reflection of the inside. Even behaviors that take a long time to develop within an individual dog’s mind are still a function of emotion as an immediate-moment phenomenon driven by a systems logic. This immediate-moment dynamic becomes visible when one resists projecting thoughts into the mind of the dog. The starting off point is the assumption that an action is a function of attraction rather than intention.

Attraction renders a principle of conductivity whereas Intention always broadens out to a human psychological rationale of context. “Design In Nature” gave me the means to root my theory into a hard scientific treatment à la the Constructal Law. It allows us to say something definitive about the animal mind, to wit:  Input (perception)—-Throughput (processing) and Output (behavior) is a function of the locomotive rhythm; an optimal waveform of motion that sets a standard of efficient bodily performance through which the mind constructs a view of reality, a metric of well-being and a sense of Self.

Emotion means Motion. Motion invokes the Constructal Law because movement does not occur at random. There is a physics to motion. It proceeds through an organized transfer of forces. Anatomy, physiology and psychology therefore evolved to conduct natural energies. Every aspect of the body evolved in conformance to an individual’s locomotive rhythm in order to overcome resistance, and so every aspect of the mind must do so as well. This is the most conservative thing we can say about behavior. In twenty to thirty years this statement will be axiomatic, not radical.

It’s a simple exercise in logic. If one thinks about it, no one believes that one has ever felt anything unique to themselves, that the particulars of emotional experience, no matter how nuanced or personally overwhelming, are confined to their personal experience, that never before, or somewhere else on earth at that moment, someone else has felt or is feeling exactly the same way. Every person’s experience is unique in the sense that it’s never been felt in that particular time or place before, but millions of people, and animals, have felt that particular range of sensations, sense impressions, blended feeling since time immemorial. We dip into a timeless and universal emotional spectra when we’re having an emotional experience. This is logical.

The next research shoe to drop, although it may take another thirty years, and is the most logical extension of all of the above, is that there aren’t emotions plural, fear separate and distinct from joy, separate and distinct from pride, separate and distinct from Love, etc., etc.. There is only ONE emotion, a monolithic universal “force” of attraction that invests the individual with an inherent motive to move, and invests the body with a physical momentum through that motive. If I may propose a title for this future article:

“What Emotion IS, and ISN’T.”

Published August 4, 2015 by Kevin Behan
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