Thursday, October 09, 2003

Breaking Down Elementalism

Scientists have detected a neurological signal in the brain when a human experiences an emotional pain. The big news? This signal occurs in the same area of the brain that senses physical pain. That fact caused the science writer for ABC to state "emotional and physical pain are more closely related than was previously thought." My reaction? DUH.

This story represents an outstanding example of how elementalism in thinking can affect perception. Our language distinguishes between the "emotional" and the "physical" and because of that, we find it remarkable when they overlap. Even though science has never found evidence of a soul, or any other mechanism for the existence of emotions or thought separate from the physical brain, our language encourages us to see a split where none exists.

A similar split occurs between the terms "cold" and "heat". These "two" "entities" have no physical equivalents. In the physical world, a material experiences more or less agitation of its molecules due to one or another of the thermodynamic effects. Depending on the circumstances in which we find this material, we might call it "hot" or "cold" when in fact, its temperature falls somewhere on a single spectrum from "warmer" to "not so warm".

If you start with terminology that recognizes the more "true-to-fact" "organism-as-a-whole" nature of the human body, you would probably expect the result of this study, rather than finding it noteworthy. Pain registers in the brain, in an area of the brain devoted to registering pain. End of story.

News in Science - The anatomy of a broken heart - 10/10/2003

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