Understanding Emotions through Art and Science - Part 1

Art and science approach and explain emotions differently. Scientists don’t ask the ‘why’ we feel the way that we do, but rather focus on ‘what’ or ‘how’, proceeding with scientific method. When it comes to emotions, a scientist will look at what is going on in the brain, valuing measurable and logical patterns within the brain and behaviour. Artists are more interested in emotional expression, more willing to trust personal experience. Considering this, some may be led to think that emotions have no place in the realm of science. However, I have a difficult time accepting that emotions can ever responsibly be discussed while neglecting some scientific analysis.  

Emotions such as happiness, sadness and anger could be assessed through brain activity, as certain areas of the brain light up from neurons firing and the body responding accordingly. While it would be correct to describe happiness as neurons firing in the brain, there is something about just feeling the deep, sparkling warmth of happiness. When it comes to the experience of hugging somebody that you love or tasting a delicious meal, the scientific explanation would fall short. Science and art may both be ‘correct’, but don’t always satisfy the entire truth.

Candace Pert, an American neuroscientist (candacepert.com) explains that emotions are not as simple as ‘just chemicals in the brain’. Rather they are electrochemical signals that affect every cell of our body. She refers to people as ‘vibrating tuning forks’ that send out vibrations to each other, both broadcasting and receiving frequencies. While I am not qualified to supply an in-depth analysis of energy and vibrations, my understanding is that our emotions are an energy exchange. And if we were to borrow the definition from the field of physics, we would say that energy is ‘a property that is transferred in order for something to move or be heated’. The law of conservation of energy states that energy is something that is converted, rather than created or destroyed. 

I have noticed the that we use the word ‘energy’ in a variety of ways. We talk about ‘feeling energetic’, ‘feeding off other people’s energy’, as often as we pay our energy bills and recharge our phones. Furthermore, we often use language about our moods and emotions as being categorised as high or low energy.

What we view as ‘good moods’ are often filled with energy, and feeling ‘low energy’ is often associated with less desirable moods. When we are with people that we feel good around and enjoy their company, we feel energised by them. Nobody has ever talked about enjoying somebody that they feel drained around. Similarly, when our phones are fully charged, they become available and full of potential for us to use. When a phone’s battery life is drained, it is no longer able to fulfil its intended function. So already here we can see there is an established relationship between our energy and the way that we view our emotions, and having energy is good.

In some contexts, energy is often discussed in a way that makes it seem as if it were a resource that can be drained and requires refilling. When our mobile phones begin to run low on battery, they are plugged into the wall and left to recharge. This framework is often translated to the way we view our personalities. We diagnose ourselves with introversion and extroversion, using these labels to describe the way that we ‘recharge’. Introversion is used as a label to describe a person who requires time alone to feel renewed, and an extrovert is somebody who feeds off of social energy. 

But is that really how we work? If we are to assume that social energy has any correlation to this concept (we are using the same word, aren’t we?), then what would this mean for the way that we take care of ourselves? What does it really mean for us to ‘recharge’?

I’ll be diving into the topic further next time.... 

Stay tuned.