Social Question

nebule's avatar

Is it is necessary to have a body to feel an emotion?

Asked by nebule (16439points) April 19th, 2010

This is linked to an essay question I’m doing but is by no means the question itself…

If you were a brain in a vat do you think you would still be able to experience an emotion such as anger, fear, joy or shame?

Is having a physical biological body attached to a brain essential for you to experience emotions do you think?

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23 Answers

shpadoinkle_sue's avatar

Hmm… It’s an interesting question. Emotions are controlled by the brain. But without a body, it’d be mighty hard to express or feel emotions. No eyes, ears, spinal chord, nerves. As much as I wanna say yes, I think the answer would be no.

JeffVader's avatar

Personally, I think all emotion comes from the brain. I see our bodies as a complex & mobile life support system, a machine. Yes it seems as if emotion can be felt physically sometimes, but you just try that without a brain!

nebule's avatar

@JeffVader The brain part isn’t the question…the brain is necessary in order to feel and emotion…but is the body necessary…can the brain be necessary and sufficient in order to feel an emotion?

@py_sue I think I’m with you on it tbh… William James stated that “a purely disembodied human emotion is a non-entity” but I’m intrigued as to what other jellies think too…thanks to the both of you so far xx

JeffVader's avatar

@lynneblundell Well….. actually it is. & Im pretty sure I answered that!

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

That depends. Does the brain have inputs? It is not necessary to have a body to feel emotions, but it is necessary to have one or a combination of the sensory inputs a fully able person normally has.

“Before my teacher came to me, I did not know that I am. I lived in a world that was a no-world. I cannot hope to describe adequately that unconscious, yet conscious time of nothingness… Since I had no power of thought, I did not compare one mental state to another.” – Helen Keller, 1908.

Without some form of sensory input, there can be no emotions. However once a brain has the capacity to observe and classify the world around it, it is able to discriminate between and react to those stimuli, and hence form emotions. Although you can sometimes experience intense emotional feelings elsewhere in your body, that is a secondary effect within the brain, and does not involve the rest of the body in any biochemical or mechanical manner.

kess's avatar

All things are within you and intangible.
The body is that tangible which recognises the things that are also tangible.

Notice that all the tangible things that pleasurable, the pleasure does not reside it that thing itself, but merely awaken or excites that which is in you. Food, sex, heat etc.

And the things you believe that complimentary to you you love, while hating the others.

Consider the reasons why you are happy sad, hateful, angry,etc etc… The things you allow or disallow, is governed by what you believe to be true about them.

If your belief were to change then the corresponding emotion will also change.

So all in all we may see that all things in a way are intangible and resides within us.

And all our desires are intangible, from which springs all our intangible emotions.

laureth's avatar

At this time, it would seem that only corporal entities can answer the question. This may skew the sample population. ;)

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

I think the pertinent question to complement this one is how do you know you aren’t a brain in a vat? We are all working on the assumption here that that is not how we are, and we are trying to imagine what it would be like if it were so. But how do we know that that isn’t the case? It is a perfectly plausible explanation for our state of existence.

Trillian's avatar

“Without some form of sensory input, there can be no emotions. However once a brain has the capacity to observe and classify the world around it, it is able to discriminate between and react to those stimuli, and hence form emotions.”
Exactly. I could not have said it better.

wonderingwhy's avatar

Well, if you consider the emotions you feel when you dream the same as waking emotions then yes. While sleeping the brain is not receiving, at least not to my knowledge, external input or stimuli that would be capable of eliciting similar emotions when awake, therefore it seems likely those emotions are being created by the brain itself.

This presumes many things of course, not the least of which, a brain without input at some point during its existence is capable of “dreaming”.

DarkScribe's avatar

If I was a brain in a jar, I tell you now – I’d feel pretty pissed off.

In a serious vein, quadriplegics feel emotion – but not their body.

anartist's avatar

So many of the things that cause strong emotions would be missing for a brain in a vat: love and sex issues, gender issues, work-related issues, etc. If a brain in a vat had emotions upon first awakening, it might lose them as it considers its situation, especially if it had no communication with people.
If it could communicate and retained emotion including any will to survive I would think its strongest emotion would be “PPPPLLEEAASSSSE—DON’T PULL THAT PLUG!”

kenmc's avatar

A brain in a jar would be unable to sense any stimuli because a brain by itself has no nerve endings, so no. Nerve endings would bring to the brain what to feel sad or happy about.

Maybe boredom would be a feeling a brain in a vat could understand, but then again, how would it know what boredom is with nothing to compare it to?

phoebusg's avatar

Provided that brain has not always been in a jar, yes. Through memory and reconstructions. In that kind of sensory deprivation I think the brain would go bananas with wild dreams to keep itself busy or disintegrate. The amygdala (emotional center) is a very simple yet robust system, it’s designed to work in most/any situation – though sometimes it’s hard to turn it off. It will still activate provided the brain is alive, and has some memory function. Absence of all stimuli and no memory function would probably also incur an activation – that of panic.

Something tells me you watch Futurama :P

evandad's avatar

We are brains in vats, so yes.

faye's avatar

I agree with @FireMadeFlesh‘s quote from Helen Keller but she still felt pain, anger frustration, pleasure etc. I think you need a body to give your brain the information. As a result of input you would get emotion.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@faye What would she have felt anger, pain or pleasure in response to? She had no concept of the world, objects or even other people, so how could she feel an emotion without it being in response to a particular event or concept?

faye's avatar

If she fell, she’d feel pain, if she bumped into something or tripped she miht feel anger. She wouldn’t know the word for pain but that wouldn’t stop a cut from hurting.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@faye Fair enough, I assumed you were talking about emotional pain since we were talking about emotions.

Jeruba's avatar

I’ve been thinking about this question off and on ever since you posted it. It’s a very interesting and rather complex question. I don’t have an answer yet.

faye's avatar

I don’t think I expressed myself properly. Yes, I think you need a body because, mostly, without it there’s no need for the brain to need the chemicals we interpret as important emotions. Pleasure has been listed- pleasure can only occur if the pleasure centre is stimulated. For most of us this comes from input from our bodies, eyes, ears, touch. Helen Keller would feel the warmth of the sun, cool sheets on her bed, the fragrance of lilacs.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Another thing we have not considered here is phantom limb pain. For those who believe you do need a body, is it enough to imagine you have a body and feel self-generated sensations?

@faye Thanks for clarifying. I agree with you on the Helen Keller quote – she would have just lacked the ability to express those emotions or analyse why she felt what she did. She still had some sensory input, which would be enough for basic emotion.

Garebo's avatar

Unless, I was Zeus-he’s the man-he was real you know, he felt all and was the ultimate decision maker and arbitrator for all bad emotions..

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