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Your Brain: The Missing Manual by Matthew MacDonald

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Chapter 6. Emotions

In the early days of human civilization, the brain was (somewhat humiliatingly) overlooked. Despite a few physicians and philosophers who were on the right track, most people thought the heart was the seat of thought, morality, and intelligence. Aristotle suggested that the brain was nothing more than a portable radiator designed to cool blood. The Bible failed to mention the brain at all, instead stressing the three organs that Hebrew thinkers thought were most important to the human soul—namely, the heart, kidneys, and bowels (leading to charming turns of phrase such as “My kidneys shall rejoice” [Proverbs 23:16] and “My bowels are troubled for him” [Jeremiah 31:20]). To this day, the English language still bears the marks of this age-old heart obsession. After all, when was the last time you had a brain-to-brain with your significant other, described baby kittens as brain-warming, or implored an unfeeling cynic to have a brain?

Although our language is rooted in the past, today’s science recognizes that the brain is the center stage for emotion. If there is a competition between an intellectual calculating machine and an emotional core, it all goes down in the billions of neurons in the brain.

In this chapter, you’ll learn why you have emotions, how they work, and why the third piece of chocolate cake rarely tastes as good as the first. You’ll tiptoe through the minefield of chronic stress and hunt for the ever-elusive state of happiness. By chapter’s end, you’ll ...

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