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How the brain works, and emotions

Some time ago I was listening to this lovely podcast „How the brain works“, hosted by Lex Friedman.


And this triggered me to buy the book from Lisa Feldman BarettHow emotions are made„.

Here are a few summary statements which I took as take aways.

Prediction machine

The brain is a huge prediction machine.

Just after birth (or even earlier) you start with storing your experiences. Experiences are based on the one hand on the sensual input you are getting from the outside world. On the other hand there are also plenty of inputs from your inner body like stomach, heart etc. And you perform some action. The environment around you also performs some action. Now these experiences from the different sources are stored in your memory/brain.

Live goes on, and the next time you are in a quite similar situation. Now the brain says, „Ok, cool, last time I acted like that, and the result was like this“. So it’s predicting what will happen based on the experiences stored in the brain. In that actual situaltion you are performing in a specific way, and you compare your prediction with that what is really happening. Based on that you (hopefully) correct and enhance your experiences.

Humans specifically are having the quite enhanced possibilty (compared to other creatures, as far as we know) to inform the outer world about the inner state of their mind and also about their experiences. So they can tell other people about their former experiences and also what they think and feel. In that way we are all influencing the world around us and the people we communicate to. That is also very nicely described in the book „Virus of the mind„.

Creating emotions

Now coming to the emotions. The legacy view is that there are preprints for every emotion world wide and the signs of emotions are visible and detectable like finger prints. Lisa shows convincingly that this is not true. Emotions are concepts, that differ heavily between cultures. And there are also no norms, but variation is the norm. We ourselves are creating these concepts, based on our predictions. To be able to communicate with other people about e.g. emotions you must have the same concept in mind, e.g. when you should be angry. Emotions are your constructions of the world and you can control and construct emotions as you can control your thoughts or perceptions or beliefs or memories. This is how the brain works. It constructs concepts all the time.

How the brain works

Construction of memories

That leads to the next aspect. You construct your memories. It’s not like something has happend, you store it in the brain, you recall it later and it’s exactly as it happend. You are making a story out of it that makes sense to you. And you cannot only loose memory over time, but you are also modifying the constructed memory you have over time.

Now think of the legal system, where witnesses are asked about a case. They can just recall what they think, has happened. They are recalling their contructed reality. And this reality can differ from the objective reality quite a lot.

I hope, I have inserted now a virus into your mind 😉