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Mens Sana Monogr. 2011 Jan;9(1):113-28. doi: 10.4103/0973-1229.77430.

The neuroendocrine system and stress, emotions, thoughts and feelings.

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1
Harvard Medical School, 1249 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02215, USA.

Abstract

The philosophy of mind is intimately connected with the philosophy of action. Therefore, concepts like free will, motivation, emotions (especially positive emotions), and also the ethical issues related to these concepts are of abiding interest. However, the concepts of consciousness and free will are usually discussed solely in linguistic, ideational and cognitive (i.e. "left brain") terms. Admittedly, consciousness requires language and the left-brain, but the aphasic right brain is equally conscious; however, what it "hears" are more likely to be music and emotions. Joy can be as conscious as the conscious motivation produced by the left-brain reading a sign that says, "Danger mines!!" However, look in the index of a Western textbook of psychology, psychiatry or philosophy for positive emotions located in the limbic system. Notice how discussion of positive spiritual/emotional issues in consciousness and motivation are scrupulously ignored. For example, the popular notions of "love" being either Eros (raw, amoral instinct) or agape (noble, non-specific valuing of all other people) miss the motivational forest for the trees. Neither Eros (hypothalamic) nor agape (cortical) has a fraction of the power to relieve stress as attachment (limbic love), yet until the 1950s attachment was neither appreciated nor discussed by academic minds. This paper will point out that the prosocial, "spiritual" positive emotions like hope, faith, forgiveness, joy, compassion and gratitude are extremely important in the relief of stress and in regulation of the neuroendocrine system, protecting us against stress. The experimental work reviewed by Antonio Damasio and Barbara Fredrickson, and the clinical example of Alcoholics Anonymous, will be used to illustrate these points.

KEYWORDS:

Limbic system; Positive emotions; Spiritual; “Right-brain”

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