What's the difference between a feeling and an emotion?

What’s the difference between a feeling and an emotion?

I’m not sure what you mean by “a feeling”, so I’ll choose to interpret it in the sense of having a premonition or hunch about something for the purposes of this post, but feel free to clarify and I (or someone) can give a more appropriate answer.

But so…the brain is made of billions or trillions of neurons. Each neuron is connected to the neurons near it and every time a neuron receives a signal from a nearby neuron, it decides whether to increase or decrease the signal as it relays it on to the other neurons that it is connected to. Each neuron will start out life by choosing something random to do (i.e., increase or decrease the signal). If, over time, a particularly setting seems to work out well for the creature’s well-being, then the neuron will stick with doing that. If what it did seems to cause the creature to become unwell, then the neuron will try something else, until it lands on something that does work.

An example of how trying something and narrowing in on correct settings can be viewed here:

But so the question is, what is “well-being” and how does that get propagated back to the neuron?

The neuronal system is fairly mechanical. As seen in the video above, you can replicate it with something as simple as a box of matches. You can make computers that do the same thing and, if you’re aware of how they work, you won’t be worried at all about sentience or pain or anything, because it can all be reduced down to some basic math.

What the human (or animal) body does is adds a chemical layer that modifies how the neuronal system works, and other organs as well.

Let’s take the example of a baby creature. The baby’s neurons fire off random signals telling it to flail about and do things. Every once in a while, some particular random flails will prove to be more effective at beckoning the mom over and she’ll give the baby food or clean it or whatever. That satisfaction of having food in your belly, or not having your skin sticking to itself is hardcoded by evolution into the hormonal system to be valued as “joyous”. The body releases some endorphins or other hormones that tell the brain that whatever it was doing, that seems to be a good thing and if ever there is a sensation of hunger or stickiness that the neurons should fire in the way that they did again.

It’s the same thing as, in the video, a person deciding whether to keep or trash a particular color of bead from a matchbox. The mechanical system doesn’t understand good or bad, it needs a external party to decide that and to tell it to keep trying things or narrow in on a solution.

Happiness is what happens when our senses have detected that we have done something that is useful to evolution. We have eaten, defecated (cleanly), had sex, or slept.

But now let’s say that I’m doing everything right, and yet I’m not getting fed. Here, by “doing everything right”, I mean, we’re doing all the same things as we used to do to get mom to come over and feed us.

The world can change around us and the brain can accidentally think that it found a solution when it really didn’t. Maybe it was just happenstance that Mom came over and helped us twice when I did the same thing. We don’t want to lock our brain in on something that’s not correct, too easily.

So we also have stress. Stress hormones cause our brains to go back to doing things randomly. It’s something we get when we’re out of our depth or seem stymied by our situation and we devolve to just flailing about. While that seems bad - stress rarely helps out - but we know that the old way doesn’t work, so we need to loosen up our neurons and let them try random things and hope something will prove out.

The mechanical system is, by nature, completely logical. If you teach it to do math, then it will do math. So if you have taught it to do some accounting and given it some experience of life, then if you ask your brain whether it makes sense to have a baby, it will do some accounting and logic and determine that that’s a stupid idea. From a logical standpoint, children are costly, loud, take all of your time, and are just going to leave you by the time they start to earn their keep in any way.

Evolution wants us to produce babies, despite all logic, so it builds in extra special happiness (love) and paternal/maternal instincts along with strong sexual urges, so that we will create babies and raise them into new humans.

Evolution wants us to stay alive, so in a tense situation, it has the ability to short-circuit the brain and run everything through a separate structure that is more streamlined for rapid response and reduced sensation (i.e., the fight or flight response). It also sends out adrenaline to the rest of the body, quickening the heart, etc.

Overall, emotions are just our interpretation of what our bodies are telling us, through the chemical system, as it teaches our brain and messes with our body, in the aim of serving Mother Nature. If you were a crocodile that was sentient, you’d feel great joy at lying very very still and ambushing your food. You wouldn’t feel anything towards your young, and would simply abandon them to nature as soon as they popped out of your belly.

We interpret endorphins as good because we’re evolved to interpret it in that way. Starvation, pain, etc. make us instinctually want to change our situation and tell our brain to avoid such situations. That need to avoid is then pushed into our neurons in the same way that the people in the video take beads out of the box. It’s programmed in and then becomes the natural way for our brain to operate, since it has lost the ability to interpret those situations as anything but something to be avoided. (People with suicidal tendencies, for example, would be people whose hormonal system is off-kilter compared to the rest of us and left more options in the box.)

So that’s emotions.

A feeling - i.e., the sense that such-and-such might be the right answer to something - is probably an aspect of the fuzzy nature of the neuronal system, and the size of it in humans.

A very simple creature, for example, will have a very simple neuronal system. A fish, for example, might feel a sensation of movement on the left. There’s food that way. We need to turn to face it. This “logic” will quickly be programmed into the system and just as quickly as the sensation of movement is felt, the fish will turn that direction. And the stronger the sensation of movement, the harder the fish will turn to meet it.

There’s a direct one-to-one correlation of sensation and turn. And it’s operating as an analog device. More signal, more movement. Less signal, less movement.

With the human brain, with trillions of neurons, that signal is going through a lot of stops. Each neuron can receive signals from a variety of directions and send them in a variety of directions.

And so, obviously there’s a need to respond to some signals in a speedy and direct way. If my hand is burning, I should probably pull it back right now. That’s pretty hard and fast. We can link that signal to that motion just like the fish does.

But where that sort of speed isn’t necessary, then what the brain seems to learn to do is to condense and abstractify its experiences into something that is an analog interpretation of what it has encountered before.

I’m attacked by a dog as a child, for example. Being a child, the dog is large. Large, in this situation, would be defined by the total percentage of my field of vision being taken up by the moving thing and the arch in my neck to look up at it.

Great percentage of field of vision + Looking up = Large

“Large” is a useful abstraction of these specific signals that I am receiving. Adults are also “Large”. Furniture is also “Large”. Large things are beyond my control. If I can learn the concept of “Large”, then I am able to react to those things more intelligently than if I simply think in terms of field of vision and angle of neck.

The neuronal system is, fundamentally, a pattern recognition system. If something is similar between situations, then shunt the data off in that direction. The junction at which the signals from my eyes and neck come in might be tens of thousands of neurons. All of those neurons, putting together all possible combinations of the analog signals from those two inputs will be able to find a lot of sub-patterns - large things, small things, etc. just whatever combinations seem to be useful for navigating the world and gaining happiness and/or avoiding discomfort.

Once that little bundle of tens of thousands of neurons has decided that the combination matches previous patterns, it will send the signal off in a particular direction (conceptually - that’s probably not quite how this works). That intake and shunting we can call a “concept” which in this case was “Large”. Once “Large” has been processed, the section of the brain that Largeness heads into will also be composed of tens of thousands of neurons, and some signals from the eyes, skin, ears, etc. will have swooped its way around to come in and enhance the situation. This is the “Large” processing section of the brain and we also hear sharp, fierce barks.

Barking is the next most prevalent signal after Large. It is a useful signal for processing, so this subset of neurons will learn to deal with it.

Pain on my arm might then be the next signal.

Righto: Large + Barking = Pain

Our neuronal system has developed language. The fact that the world is a bundle of signals and those signals travel together - i.e. a dog along with its smell, visual appearance, noises, etc. - means that the brain is going to learn to recognize and respond to all of those signals at the junction of where all of those stimuli meet up in the brain. The object-oriented nature of reality causes localization of concepts in the brain and specific handling for them.

“Concepts” aren’t a function of higher brain function, it’s just the mirror of the world in a system that is built to adapt to the realities of the world.

Which now means that we have “Concepts”. A concept like “Large” is useful for lots of different purposes. If “Large” has always lead to situations where I am unable to affect change on something, then if I encounter my first boulder, my brain will see the great percentage of my field of vision being taken up and the angle of my neck as I look up at the boulder, and it will be able to imagine up what chances I will have at moving the boulder. Probably, none or little.

This is an aspect of neuronal systems. We can flash a signal through and see what the output will be, without having to actually receive that stimulus.

Think of it like, because I have a set of several thousand matchboxes that have been trained to play chess, I can always send in a next move, without actually intending to make that move, just to see what previous experience would say. The training has already happened and the tuning is all already there. All I have to do is to be able to send mock stimuli in - visualizing a chess board or a boulder - and the machine will tell us what it would do in that situation.

And so that’s what intuition is - i.e., having a feeling about something. We’re envisioning some situation, passing it into our brain, and our brain ends up chucking it back down the pathway that the real stimuli would go. If the situation is something you have actually done before, then your brain will respond with an answer that is simply the way that you should do things. If it’s a stimuli that is new to you, then it will end up getting handled by whatever the closest concept was - based on the mock stimulus - and it will go down that path as far as it can, until it hits a region that doesn’t resolve to something. You’ll get back a partial or semi-random answer that’s based on how well the signals translated to previously trained concepts.

You’ll get a feeling for how it will turn out and what you should do.

:smack: I should have been more specific.

When I write ‘feeling,’ I mean in the sense of someone saying, “I feel angry/sad/happy” because (insert something that occurred). not in the “I have a sixth sense/hair on the back of your neck” type of feeling. Does that clarify things?

There’s not a bright line distinction, they’re probably mostly synonymous.

If I had to distinguish, I’d say feelings are more specific “I’m happy that I won the race” and emotions more general “I feel happy today”

I think of “feelings” as a category that includes both emotions and sensations. Sunburn pain and the texture of kitten fur are feelings but they aren’t emotions.

Well, the “becase” part of it is interpretation. But other than that, yeah, feeling, emotion, same diff in this case.

Talking about emotions is a lot like talking about colors. Some people think in terms of there being about six of them in existence, total. Other people are aware that there are far far more emotions than there are words for them.

There’s not a bright line distinction, they’re probably mostly synonymous.

If I had to distinguish, I’d say feelings are more specific “I’m happy that I won the race” and emotions more general “I’m happy today”

Then ignore the second half of what I wrote.

I chose the alternate definition because emotions and feelings are just synonyms.

Yes, in that sense, they are just synonyms. No difference in meaning.Feeling comes via Germanic etymology. Emotion via French. There’s lots of word pairs like this in English.