Thoughts vs Feelings

Although some people prefer to differentiate between the terms “feelings” and “emotions”, I tend to bundle them both together. For me, a feeling is generally an emotional response (e.g. I feel happy, in love, angry, excited, stressed etc), and generally have a physiological component, usually hormonal, such as serotonin, oxytocin, testosterone, adrenaline and cortisol (to match the list of emotions).

A thought in itself is purely mental with no physiological component:  for instance, you can think “I am happy” without actually feeling happy. Obviously if you do feel happy, then your conscious mind is just naming that feeling to make it easier for your consciousness to get a handle on what can be an entirely subconscious process. Which is where things get a little tricky.

A “gut feeling” isn’t necessarily a “feeling” at all – in other words, it doesn’t have to have any physiological / hormonal component (although it can) – it can be a subconscious thought that you haven’t quite brought into the light of conscious awareness. Saying “I feel that…” can simply mean that it’s a thought you are not quite certain of, or where it has sprung from. Perhaps you already know how much of our behaviour is based on subconscious thoughts and feelings, I just wanted to give you my rough-and-ready definition of “thought = mental , feeling (emotion) = physiological (hormonal)”.

The final level of this model is that of “beliefs” – these are strongly-held thoughts and feelings that structure how we perceive reality. Beliefs can be entirely subconscious and filter all of the trillions of bits of data (from our external and internal worlds) that we are bombarded with. We might not be aware of why we make certain decisions – or even that a decision was made – or behave in certain ways, but generally the subconscious self is aware of any decision we make long before our conscious mind:

“… in 2008 a team led by Dr John-Dylan Haynes of the Bernstein Centre for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, Germany, conducted a study to detect the same kind of readiness potential in the higher thought centres of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex and parietal cortex, which are associated with abstract thought and decision making. In one of his experiments, volunteers held a device in each hand that had a push button on it. The volunteers were also hooked up to machines that could detect their brain activity in these specific brain areas. They were told simply to push one of the two buttons whenever they were ready. The result was that the volunteers’ brains showed activity in these two centres 10 seconds before they actually pushed one of the buttons. That means their subconscious minds knew 10 seconds before their conscious minds which button they had decided to push! The effect was so reliable that the researchers could predict with almost 100% certainty which button would be pushed before the volunteer actually made the decision to push one button rather than the other. Ten seconds is an eternity in terms of brain activity. Processes in the body happen in milliseconds, even nanoseconds. So the fact that there was this much of a delay between brain activity indicating a decision, and the volunteer feeling they were making the decision and immediately carrying it out, was an astounding finding.”

Chris Walton MSc, The Gamma Mindset, 2014. pp 45-47 – in fact (if the offer is still on) you can get a copy for free from this link. The introductory chapters give quite concise, but thorough, explanations about thoughts, feelings, beliefs and the conscious/subconscious mind.

In closing, although I suggest that a thought is purely mental, with no physiological component, this doesn’t mean that thoughts cannot affect us physically: the prime example of this being the Placebo Effect, where a thought (i am receiving a potent drug) becomes a strongly-held belief (shifts into the subconscious structure of our mind) and affects our body – causing a relief of symptoms, or even a complete cure… even as strong as a remission from aggressive cancer.

[To make a slightly esoteric addendum to this post, if we were to consider the mind to be an iceberg, then the conscious mind is the bit above sea level. The 90% below the surface is the subconscious mind. The water that the icebergs float in (each of us being an iceberg) is the Universal Consciousness, or Jungian Collective Unconscious: the Unity to which seekers aspire… which would suggest that it is all around us, always, the very stuff of which we are made. So, rather than being “out there” somewhere to be found, perhaps all we need to do is sit quietly and get out of the way of what is already there.]

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One Response to “Thoughts vs Feelings”

  1. mixmage Says:

    In addition to the above, we can generally locate “thoughts” to the Neocortex – the human “higher” brain – and “emotions” to the mammalian / primate Limbic brain. It’s not cut and dried though, since feelings also reside in the intuitive, creative right brain, (as opposed to the logical, rational left hemisphere).

    I need to do more research to confirm, but I feel that it’s more the “I feel” type thoughts (mentioned above and demonstrated in this sentence) rather than true, physiologically-driven emotions.

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