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Author Topic: Why do we have emotions?  (Read 6966 times)

Offline Tyke

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Why do we have emotions?
« on: 28/02/2011 19:30:03 »
David Andrew James  asked the Naked Scientists:
   
Hi Chris,

Why do we have emotions, laugh when we're happy, cry when we are sad, etc? 'Survival of the fittest' theory does not provide the answers. If it these things were necessary for survival why are humans the only ones who do it?

Explain.

Thanks,

D. James 

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 28/02/2011 19:30:03 by _system »


 

Offline Dasyatis

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Why do we have emotions?
« Reply #1 on: 28/02/2011 20:12:42 »
First and foremost, humans are not the only animals on Earth that exhibit emotions. Anyone who has a dog or cat at home can tell you that. Humans don't even necessarily display the most complex set of emotions. We are only just beginning to see the broad ranges of emotions in other mammals. Did you know that elephants bury and mourn their dead?

Probably the most simple answer to this question is that emotions developed as visual cues for social communication within populations (likely herding or pack-oriented groups). Think of it almost as a primitive language. Being able to understand these emotions (e.g. anger, fear, contentment, appeasement) allowed animals to form tight knit groups, which becomes highly beneficial in the long run. Being a part of a group ensures higher survival rates, and higher reproductive fitness. Thus, survival of the fittest does reasonably explain where emotions come from, although that is purely one aspect of it. 

Sorry to burst your bubble, but humans are not special in this respect.
 

Offline JnA

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Why do we have emotions?
« Reply #2 on: 28/02/2011 23:08:32 »
Did you know that elephants bury and mourn their dead?





I was aware of the mourning, but do they bury?  any footage of this? that would be very cool to watch.
 

Offline Dasyatis

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Why do we have emotions?
« Reply #3 on: 02/03/2011 14:27:48 »
Bury may have been a bit strong. They don't actually dig a hole, lay the dead in it, and shovel dirt over them. But they do take shrubs and tree branches to cover the dead, so in a sense it's a burial. I've been trying to track down some footage for you, but to no avail. Many researchers studying the african elephants, however, have noted this behavior of covering their dead when the resources are available to do so.

I first heard it from Richard Leakey at a speech he gave at my university. After he described the phenomenon that he had witnessed many times, he told a funny story about a man who was traveling back to camp from the wilderness late at night. Rather than try and navigate back to camp, he decided to stop and sleep under a tree. He awoke abruptly to find a small herd of elephants grabbing branches from the tree and laying them on top of him. The elephants apparently thought he was dead, and decided to hold a little ceremony for him  :D
 

Offline grizelda

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Why do we have emotions?
« Reply #4 on: 03/03/2011 21:12:57 »
Yeah, I once had a theory that Neanderthals communicated by reading the emotions expressed on their faces. The range of emotions that can be expressed this way is more than enough to correspond to language. This would be a way of explaining why they went extinct, as the modern humans they came in contact with had a more efficient language process. They find that we have some neanderthal genes, indicating interbreeding, so we may have inherited some emotional abilities from them, as well as, possibly, emotional problems such as schizophrenia and autism.
 

Offline JnA

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Why do we have emotions?
« Reply #5 on: 04/03/2011 03:21:53 »
Bury may have been a bit strong. They don't actually dig a hole, lay the dead in it, and shovel dirt over them. But they do take shrubs and tree branches to cover the dead, so in a sense it's a burial. I've been trying to track down some footage for you, but to no avail. Many researchers studying the african elephants, however, have noted this behavior of covering their dead when the resources are available to do so.

I first heard it from Richard Leakey at a speech he gave at my university. After he described the phenomenon that he had witnessed many times, he told a funny story about a man who was traveling back to camp from the wilderness late at night. Rather than try and navigate back to camp, he decided to stop and sleep under a tree. He awoke abruptly to find a small herd of elephants grabbing branches from the tree and laying them on top of him. The elephants apparently thought he was dead, and decided to hold a little ceremony for him  :D


very cool. Elephants seem to be quite intelligent creatures, it wouldn't surprise me if they is a process of 'hiding' their dead to discourage predation.
Elephants have been observed crossing 'roads' at a faster pace than normal, it seems they are aware of the dangers that a road can have with poaching etc.

Orange Utans do not have muscle control to produce facial expressions (that's why they always look sad) since they are primarily solitary animals, but that does not mean they don't have 'emotional responses'. 

fascinating area of study
 

Offline Tyke

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Why do we have emotions?
« Reply #6 on: 04/03/2011 07:47:00 »
Yet, Humans are the only beings that are aware that they exist. Humans are also the only beings that are worried about getting old and dying. Animals live, but do not think about life.
For instance, the fact that we are having this discussion, about the origins of life, etc, proves that we are different from animals. Why do people have to believe something. Why don't we just live like animals do? We have a thirst for knowledge about things that aren't necessary for survival.
 

Offline Dasyatis

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Why do we have emotions?
« Reply #7 on: 09/03/2011 20:40:20 »
Now you're starting to get somewhere, Tyke. I cannot dispute the fact that Humans are different from all other animals, as it is patently obvious that we operate on a completely different level.

But again, I have to inform you that we are not the only animals to show self-awareness. Do a Google search for "Mirror Test" as an example of empirical evidence of self-awareness in other animals. All the Great Apes (our closest genetic relatives) display self-awareness. Dolphins and Orcas are self-aware as well (and likely other cetaceans, but due to obvious restrictions we cannot directly test them), and even Magpies recognize their own existence.

As for your statement that Humans are the only beings that "worry" about death, or that animals don't think about life, we cannot make blanket statments of this nature, because we honestly don't know. Do animals threatened with death (e.g. cornered by a predator) show fear of death? It is highly likely, based on behaviors such as fight or flight response. But if you're asking, does a rabbit think about death while it's chewing on foliage, then we can presume "No", but we do not actually know.

I'd like to make you aware that our fear of death and belief in God(s) are a learned behavior. We are taught to fear death, and to look for answers to life's questions. Humans that grow up with no parental care and no contact with modern society are no different than any other animal. This has been seen in cases where negligent parents lock their children in a closet or small room for the majority of their childhood. Deprived of human contact (aside from having food thrown at them every once in a while)these children do not develop the mental capacity to learn to speak, or process any thoughts more complex than basic survival. They likely do not pass the Mirror Test, either, as Human infants do not pass this test. Our increased capacity to learn and share information is what sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.

But even then we may not be that highly perched, in the grand scheme of things. Chimpanzees, if taken from their parents as infants, and raised by Humans will develop all of what we often consider strictly "Human" behaviors, and even build complex language structure through sign-language. They can even learn how to lie!

So to wrap up, we do have a thirst for knowledge, but it is not inherent in us to have that thirst. We don't live like animals because we are taught to not live like animals. Our way of living has evolved, and is still evolving. We are who we are now, because at some point in our evolutionary history, we learned how to farm, which removed the biggest selective pressure that impedes all other animals from thinking outside the box: starvation. This freed our minds to such an extent that we could spend more energy thinking and communicating about other things. We were then free to wax philosophical about our species, and develop a moral code couched in religion, and to question our very existence.

Anything else? I like where this is going  :)
 

Offline granpa

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Why do we have emotions?
« Reply #8 on: 10/03/2011 04:55:09 »
we think using
fuzzy logic
inductive logic
deductive logic

'emotions' or 'feelings' are the result of inductive logic.
animals have them too.
animals just dont have deductive logic
 

Offline Tyke

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Why do we have emotions?
« Reply #9 on: 12/03/2011 15:54:59 »
Yet, the theory of survival of the fittest does not provide the answer to why we question things. All my pets get sufficient food, care, etc, yet all they do is lie around all day, they aren't trying to figure out the meaning of life. All the dog does is eats, sleeps, poos and then whines the rest of the day to get a walk or to come inside.
Why are we interested in history, history of ancient civilizations, where we come from? Certainly not necessary for survival.
Yes, an animal might recognize itself in the mirror, yet they are not aware they are born, that they will one day in the future die, etc.
We too get an adrenalin rush when stressed or frightened. I hsave also never seen an animal laugh or smile.
Yes, there are animals that appear a bit more intelligent, but could they not have been created like that?
 

Offline grizelda

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Why do we have emotions?
« Reply #10 on: 12/03/2011 23:15:02 »
To consciousness, the universe is a cacophony of patterns which it can respond to, given  the wherewithal. Animals have hard-wired instincts to recognize the patterns necessary for their survival. People have developed an ego which leverages this by a process of matching the patterns it encounters to an original pattern it is initialized with. Since we have relatively no instincts, our emotions are a way of keeping score of how relevant a pattern is to us. Animals respond to their input because they have to (instinct): people respond because they identify with their stimulus (emotion).
 

Offline Dasyatis

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Why do we have emotions?
« Reply #11 on: 21/04/2011 21:47:10 »
I'm glad this discussion was kept fairly alive in my absence. I like the ideas that are flowing here! Hopefully we can keep it up.

@Tyke:
I think Survival of the Fittest actually explains our "ability to question things" quite well, how else would we be so successful and reproductively fit in this world? The ability to think on a higher level than other animals is why we are an evolutionary success, and likely why no other animals exist at our level, because we would (or have already) wiped them out of existence. You do know that there have been other species of human before us, right? Whether or not you believe we evolved from apes, we did evolve from other humans, humans that did not have what we have today. The evolution of our intelligence was a long, drawn-out process (or else we'd be waaaaay more advanced than we are now).

Evolution has no goal; we are not the end product. The fact that a Hominid developed excessive brain power is purely random. It could have just as easily been a reptile, or avian, or a mammal other than humans that suddenly evolved your definition of "intelligence" and "emotion".
 

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Why do we have emotions?
« Reply #11 on: 21/04/2011 21:47:10 »

 

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