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So you can think about a little infant brain as a set of neurons awaiting instructions on how to wire itself. And early experience really wires the brain.

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A brain is programmed, in a sense, to wire itself to the physical and social realities of the environment that it inhabits. The analogy I like to use is, just as a large company has a financial office that regulates the revenues and expenditures so it develops budgets for different accounts — your brain basically acts like the financial office of your body.

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It manages a budget for all the accounts in your body. For glucose, salt, water, temperature, all of these things. It requires caregivers to do that. This is how an infant learns how to do it themselves, and part of that learning involves not just the actions that a caregiver will take, but also the words that are spoken and the sensations that derive from those words and those actions.


Many illnesses are body budgeting gone awry. Your brain is predicting that you need this glucose. But when you go into debt, biologically into debt, then your immune system starts to get involved because your brain thinks that your body is sick. Going off your point about the brain constructing experience out of signals from the world and the body — how does interoception, or your felt sense of your interior, inform that process?

Does greater interoception produce some greater emotional granularity? Is this a lever in which we can become more, say, emotionally intelligent? That is certainly a hypothesis that people have. I think there are multiple paths to increased emotional granularity. So I think the more distinctions that you make, the more opportunity you have to make finer-grained categories and concepts. Meaning, the more variation you can detect, the more opportunity you have for making finer-grained categories and concepts.

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And you know, you can see this in everyday life. When people undergo treatment for cancer, for example, they have a huge variety of what we would call interoceptive sensations that they have no language for. And this is actually a huge problem in the treatment of cancer.

Wow, really?

In English, we have a fairly substantial vocabulary for emotion. Does it mean my treatment is working?

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What do I know? How does that fit in here? I think your body definitely is a source of wisdom.

Someone who only experiences positive emotions runs the risk of becoming complacent and ignoring the issues that really matter. Love has a lot more to do with chemistry than you might think.

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Those feelings of getting butterflies in your stomach or sweaty palms when you are attracted to someone actually have scientific explanations. Certain chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins are released and these have a big influence in the relationships that we choose.

The Science of Emotions

Certain parts of the body, especially the upper half, are heavily stimulated during emotions such as love, happiness and pride, whereas depression and sadness are linked to numbness. When you are happy you smile, right? But it works the other way, too. It's that simple. Microexpressions occur so fast that they are often not seen in real time, but when recorded and analyzed in slow motion they can provide a fascinating insight into a person's true emotional state.

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