Martin’s comment got me thinking… Do animals “get emotional?” I have argued with others that animals operate under a system of cause and effect – try something: if it works, do it again, otherwise, operate under instinct. There is no getting depressed about the meaning of life, to wonder about our purpose and be eager to fulfill it, to wonder about our origins, etc. There is simply survival, and stoically going about a life ensuring that it continues. I am not entirely sure this is true, and would like to see more research done on the subject. However, even Harris seems unsure of what goes on in the mind of animals in the area of conscious, and he’s close to a Ph.D in neurobiology, so I’ll take his word for it.
However, something tells me that the experience of emotions is one area that separates us from the animal kingdom. We are not merely acting for survival only, although life can be reduced to that way of living in some cases. I can understand emotions as a tool to spur one to action in order to survive, but I believe it is not their only purpose. I cannot understand why a person can cry over a beautiful painting or being moved by music with only a natural understanding of them.
Here’s my guess – That animalistic/naturalistic emotions are akin to an alphabet with only 4 letters. If we were to translate English into this limited language, we would have to re-use those letters a lot. Within our being, I believe there exists a higher, non-natural conscious which must express itself in its rich detail to our natural bodies via a more limited vocabulary – “feelings” – which manifest themselves physically as our adrenaline and endorphins acting. C.S. Lewis called this spiritual->natural translation “transposition.” Emotions serve many distinctly different purposes, but we see their differences in the richness of the higher, but cannot see such distinction in observing the lower. All we see there are endorphins and a release of adrenaline.
All this is to say that emotions, which can be used for survival in the natural world, have a far richer usage that we are all aware of, but make no sense from that perspective. We cannot interpret higher from the perspective of the lower. The richness of its nearly unlimited variety of experience originates in the higher language that far exceeds the utility of survival. It is one tiny part of something that exists outside of the natural universe: the enormously complex, beautiful, and mysterious entity called the “spiritual” being.