Rewriting Psychology with Six Novel Hypotheses

Hypothesis #2: Rewriting Emotions

          Much about emotions has remained a mystery. Evolutionary psychiatrist and psychologist, Randolph Nesse (2014) recognized that evolutionary psychologists do not agree on why emotions exist, how they are regulated, and, even, how many emotions there are. He has stated that a general theory of emotions is neither necessary nor possible. Presented here, however, are two novel hypotheses that together do explain a general theory of emotions: 


          1. Emotional feelings are really beliefs. Simple feelings, according to dictionary definitions and common usage, are: opinions, viewpoints, thoughts, mindsets, beliefs.When we feel that something is true, we believe it to be true. Feelings in this sense are beliefs based on nonconscious mental constructs. Emotional feelings are also beliefs, but in the form of conscious, affective physical sensations. It is difficult to grasp the idea that emotional feelings are beliefs because to do so involves bridging two domains: feelings, which are nonconscious mental constructs, and emotional feelings, which are conscious, affective physical sensations. The emotional system, of which emotional feelings are an integral part, acts as a belief system: the EBS. The purpose of a belief system is to form beliefs, and the primary purpose of a belief is to determine behavior. The more complex the brain, the more that beliefs determine behavior. The less complex the brain, the more that instincts, which are naturally selected for, determine behavior. According to triune brain theory (MacLean 1990), reptiles’ instinctual behavior is based in the brain stem and cerebellum, mammals’ emotional behavior is based in the limbic system, and human rational behavior is based in the neocortex. Instinctual behaviors, which derive from genes that have been naturally selected for, are non-modifiable, whereas EBS’s beliefs and behaviors are modifiable by CBS’s beliefs and behaviors. 


          2. The EBS, like all body systems, is a security system. Security systems increase security. That an emotional feeling is a belief, whose one purpose is to increase security, mandates that there is only one form of emotional feelings: the emotional feeling of security. The emotional feeling of security and its variations are affective feelings (beliefs) that are determined by the state of the subject’s security, with happiness or joy determined by an increase of security, anxiety or fear by a threat to security, and depression or sadness by a loss of security. Emotional feelings are automatic responses to security concerns. Positive emotional feelings are experienced as pleasurable and desirable, and motivate the subject to seek security; negative emotional feelings are disagreeable and undesirable and motivate the subject to avoid insecurity. Emotions are named after their associated emotional feeling: anxiety, sadness, happiness, anger, etc. And because there is only one basic emotional feeling, the emotional feeling of security, to feel secure is the goal of the behavior that derives from EBS’s beliefs. 


          Emotional feelings are subjective and personal, so that the feeling of personal security is the core element of an emotional belief. Although happiness, anxiety, and sadness are basic emotional feelings that recognize an altered state of a person’s security, there are other emotional feelings that, in addition to having a core element of personal security, explain the basis for the altered state of security. For example, anger is an emotional feeling directed at the cause of the loss of, or threat to, security; hate is an emotional feeling of hostility aimed at the source of the threat or cause of the loss of personal security; disgust is a gastro-intestinal antagonistic reaction (It makes me want to throw up.) to a personal security issue. 


          The reader is probably surprised and skeptical, as I initially was, to find that emotional feelings are beliefs, and that there is only one basic emotional feeling: the emotional feeling of security. This is an epic breakthrough in the understanding of emotions, which, until now, as noted above, has remained mostly unsettled. Once it became clear that the emotional feeling of security is the basic belief that derives from the emotional belief system (EBS), it readily became apparent that there was a second belief system: the cognitive belief system (CBS). This led to the understanding that human behavior primarily derives from beliefs that originate from an interaction between the EBS and the CBS. This interaction suggests the following scenario: Belief in the form of the emotional feeling of security initially derives from the EBS in the limbic system and is then modified by CBS’s evidence-based reasoning in the prefrontal cortex to conform to truth or reality. Interactions between the EBS and the CBS primarily determine the beliefs that decide our behaviors, but they also determine our values, worldviews, and cultures.


          Both instinctual behaviors that are directly naturally selected for, and volitional behaviors that derive from beliefs that originate in belief systems, have personal security as their goal. Even the goal of evidence-based reasoning, which is the basis of CBS’s beliefs, is to increase personal security. It does so by finding reality. That is, understanding the reality of a situation enhances the ability to counteract threats to security. EBS’s beliefs seek subjective, personal security; CBS’s beliefs, seek objective, reality-based security. 


          The EBS, the first belief system to evolve, is the foundational belief system and is the default belief system that is activated in emergencies. When people’s security is threatened by an external threat, or by an internal threat, such as by the stress of sickness, fatigue, sleep-deprivation, frustration, or time constraint, they react emotionally, with the intensity of the reaction reflecting the perceived severity of the threat. In Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), thinking fast is an EBS function and thinking slow a CBS function.


          Emotions have three components: Component1 consists of the emotional feeling of security, which is a belief that results in behavior aimed at increasing personal security. Component 2 also consists of behavioral changes such as facial, vocal, and postural expressions, which convey behavioral intent and personal security needs to others. Component 3 consists of physiologic changes, as from increased sympathetic tone or from cortisol and norepinephrine increase, in response to a threat to security. 


          Beliefs from the EBS in the form of emotional feelings have no correlation with reality; they, instead, correlate with the state of personal security. CBS understandings, however, correlate with reality depending upon which aspect of evidence-based reasoning is used to produce the understanding. If the understood belief is merely a random guess that is not based on evidence or reasoning, there is poor correlation with reality; if it is based on reasoning there is a good correlation with reality, although a drawback with reasoning is the ease by which it can be twisted by rationalizations; and if it is based on evidence (knowing) there is an excellent correlation with reality because evidence determines reality. 


          All human behavior, including all social interactions, and even play, is security-seeking. Play in humans measures physical and/or intellectual competence and the more competent we are the more secure we feel. This applies to solving puzzles, to playing a musical instrument, playing card or board games, or playing ball games. Everything we do can be traced to increasing our feeling of security, as assessed by the EBS. 


          The reason that we desire to feel secure has been considered (Jaffe 2010) to result from the emotional feeling of security initiating the release of dopamine into the nucleus accumbens, thereby triggering pleasant, affective, emotional feelings from the brain's reward system, the same system that results in opioid addiction. The desire to feel secure is so strong that it is the primary motivator of behavior and even of the desire to live. Feeling secure is a good feeling. Feeling insecure is dreadful. Those, who feel severely depressed, who have lost security and feel very insecure, may lose their will to live, particularly when they recognize that death would release them from the dreadful feeling of insecurity. 


          Belief in a god provides a coveted feeling of security, and it is to that end that in primitive societies human sacrifices were offered to appease gods. Islamist fundamentalists self-destruct on behalf of Allah, who provides them a feeling of total security. Those, in whom the EBS is their dominant belief system, value, respect, honor, revere, glorify, consider holy, and worship that which makes them feel secure. Theists, whose EBS is dominant, worship God because God makes them feel secure, even when they are not secure, which is placebo deception. Placebos, a product of a security paradigm, will be considered next.