Why We Feel: The Science of Human Emotion

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9780738201092: Why We Feel: The Science of Human Emotion
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Why do we think some people are beautiful? Why do orgasms feel good? Why do we get angry? Anxious? In this intriguing book, biopsychologist Victor Johnston explores the origins of human emotions. Drawing on computer science, neurobiology, and evolutionary psychology, he shows us that emotions are not some strange accident of nature, but are instead the basis of learning and reasoning, and help us to adapt to a complex, rapidly changing environment. In the process, he offers a radical new view of reality: What we see, hear, smell, feel—even what we consider beautiful—is not an accurate representation of the world around us; rather, our feelings are illusions, shaped by millions of years of evolution. In clear and colorful prose, Johnston helps us navigate the intimate relationship between our private conscious feelings and our biological survival—and tells us what this means for human creativity, innovation, and free will.

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Review:

How did feelings evolve? How do they develop within us? What is their function, their use to us? How does our nervous system implement them?

These four questions, posed in somewhat different form by the Nobel Prize-winning biologist Niko Tinbergen, propel psychologist Victor Johnston's well-crafted examination of human emotions. Drawing on recent advances in psychology, biology, and the cognitive sciences, he looks into such matters as the role of the emotions in psychological well-being ("the failure to develop an early emotional bond with a single caretaker leads to slow development, withdrawal, depression, and a variety of later developing social problems") and the adaptive advantages--or, at times, disadvantages--of such deep-seated inner feelings as envy and joy. Where earlier scientists were much given to exploring the emotions as responses to external stimuli, Johnston shows that "input from the external world is really not necessary for conscious experiences to occur," as experiments in dreams, sensory deprivation, and hallucinations have shown. Instead, he considers the rich inner world of the emotions as a problem of evolutionary theory, a matter of adaptation and response that favors the survival of genes. Johnston's overview of the science of emotions makes for consistently interesting reading, and it points the way to further research. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Victor S. Johnston is a professor of biopsychology at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. His research on beauty has been featured in Newsweek and in "The Science of Sex," a Discovery Channel documentary.

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Victor S. Johnston
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