A molecular biologist offers a meditation on the different ways in which we can know ourselves.
“There is endless wonder in the images of neuroscience. Yet they do not cover the entire breadth of an emotion,” writes Frazzetto, a founding member of the European Neuroscience and Society Network. He probes how we can combine the “incredible amount of information about the brain at our disposal” with our own intimate knowledge of our feelings. The author cites Darwin's seminal research on emotions expressed by animals and the cross-cultural universality of the human expression of emotions. “Feeling is emotion which has been rendered conscious,” he writes. “Although emotions develop as biological processes, they culminate as personal mental experiences.” Frazzetto finds fault with the current overemphasis on genetic determinism at the expense of ameliorative social and environmental determinants. Similarly, he suggests that emotional responses tested in a laboratory miss the essential social cues that determine our real-life responses to specific situations. “When your emotions are being measured inside a scanner you are often asked to perform distinct tasks [that are]…convenient substitutes for authentic fragments of life,” he writes. The author offers a stringent criticism of the marketing of pharmaceuticals to treat depression as “an economic success [that] is not matched by improvements in the population's overall mental health,” and he relates his own experiences of grief as a way to keep the deceased alive in memory. In the last sections of this intriguing book, Frazzetto references measurable vocalizations of pleasure heard when adolescent rats play and his own euphoric experiences of falling in love and composing a sonnet. As might be expected, he is critical of online dating, which “substitutes calculation for intuition.”
An enjoyable illumination of “that most private and shadowy territory, our emotions.”