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Interesting article on the psychology of emotion and how little the brain really cares about what causes a sensation.

One of the best-written pieces I have read in a long time.


“The scientists knew the fear in the men’s bellies would be impossible to ignore, and they wanted to know how a brain soaking in anxiety juices would make sense of what just happened. […] When they compared the stories the subjects made up about the illustration, they found the men on the scary bridge were almost twice as likely to come up with sexually suggestive narratives.”

“This isn’t the action-roll-out-of bed-feeling you get when a fire alarm snaps you out of a deep sleep. No, arousal is prolonged and total, it builds and saturates. Arousal comes from deep inside the brain, in those primal regions of the autonomic nervous system where ingoing and outgoing signals are monitored and the glass over the big fight-or-flight button waits to be smashed. You feel it as a soldier waiting to see if the next mortar has your name on it, as a musician walking on stage inside a sold-out stadium, as a crowd member elevated by a powerful speech, in a group circling a fire and singing and drumming, as a member of a congregation swimming in the Gospel and swaying with hands raised, in a couple at the center of a packed dance floor. Your eyes water with ease. You want to weep and laugh simultaneously. You could just explode.”

“It is easy to pinpoint the source of your contorted face and toothy grin if you took peyote at Burning Man and are twirling glow sticks to the beat of a pulsating lizard-faced bassoon quartet. The source of your coursing blood is more ambiguous if you just drank a Red Bull before heading into a darkened theater to watch an action movie. You can’t know for sure it if it is the explosions or the caffeinated taurine water, but damn if this movie doesn’t rock.”


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    I find the misconcepted notion of “You always know why you feel the way you feel.” really strange because most of the time I simply do not, and I have to actively make guesses. Is it really a common belief among people?