Matrix: Reloaded Explained
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Matrix: Revolutions Explained
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Lamb Chop Versus The Almighty

03 Nov, 2008 | Brian

"You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!"

- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

I cooked a fantastic lamb chop last night. The consumption of said chop was sublime. The flavor, texture, and aroma from the cooking and the eating blended with the lasting (albeit minor) euphoria that comes from the pleasurable digestion of a high-quality meal. As the crispy flesh settled in my stomach and my eyes drooped a bit, I felt a blooming positivity toward the world, an emotion of happiness and security. Unable to not dissect the moment, I settled into a post-ingestive meta-analysis of the feelings that I was feeling. What does it mean to feel an emotion? What is the experience of an emotion?

It is a surprisingly hard question. One way to think about it is to take inventory of several emotions and how I can tell I am feeling them.

  • Embarrassment - Skin turns red, a cold flush on the forehead and chest, clammy palms
  • Happiness - A lifting sensation going up through the core of the body, a warmth across the torso
  • Nostalgia - A knot in the throat, a contraction of the stomach, an ache at the sternum

The thing of interest is that it is impossible to describe the experience of an emotion aside from its physical manifestations. That is, because I cannot discern any difference between an emotion and its sensation, the bodily sensation and the emotion are functionally the same thing.

That's just the experience though - the cause of emotions is not the same thing as their effects. There is considerable debate on this subject (and probably you will see why after I explain this a bit more). One causal path for emotions is for a person to arrive at a mental configuration and experience the bodily sensation of an emotion as a result. For example, when I am looking forward to speaking in front of a group, and I imagine myself making a giant gaffe, I experience the set of sensations associated with embarrassment. I didn't actually speak in front of anyone, and I consequently didn't make a mistake in front of anyone. Yet I still experience the emotion of embarrassment exactly as if I had. Emotional production stems from mental configuration.

There are other paths. Remember, all that has to happen to have an emotion is to stimulate those changes in the body. I can be elated by chocolate as much as by a compliment. So food is a path. Food is part of a more general class, though, which is anything that introduces new chemicals into the body. Some chemicals are more well-known for producing emotional states than others. Depending on what type of person you are, the scale of your emotional response to certain chemicals might be quite extreme. Mental configuration is superfluous here; ingestion of the chemical is a sufficient cause for emotional production.

Suppose it was possible to stimulate nerves directly and fabricate the bodily sensation of anger. How would you know whether you are angry or simply being artificially stimulated? The truth is you would not be able to tell the difference. You would be angry. If the nerve stimulation - the real cause of your emotion - was done in secret, you would never guess it. What is most likely is that you would search your mind and discover something you could call your reason for being angry, or blame an event going on around you, or make up a reason out of nothing. This is the reverse of the first causal path that I described. An emotion is felt, and then a mental configuration is built up to give it purpose.

I do not want it to seem as if I am suggesting something imaginary. It isn't. I'm still describing the chemical path. Restedness, hydration, and exposure to sunlight all have non-trivial chemical effects on the body, which is to say they directly stimulate your sensations, causing you to feel emotions that are ascribed to...probably anything else.

This is Scrooge's logic. The senses are so easily manipulated. I had communion in a lamb chop. Don't be too sure about the "evidence" of what you have felt.