I have heard a lot of spiritual teachers attempt to claim that emotions are ‘astral’ or ‘spiritual’ in nature. By ‘spiritual’ in nature,’ they usually mean ‘pertaining to ‘spirit’ as traditionally understood, namely, as a nonphysical substance separate and distinct from matter.’
However, we know from the findings of affective neuroscience, neurobiology, and neurophysiology that this is simply not the case. Emotion is totally physical–or more specifically, neurochemical and neurobiological–in nature. Emotions are subjective experiences of neurochemical changes in the limbic system of the brain, which arise in response to either:
- (1) internal stimuli (e.g. thoughts, memories, fantasies, imaginings, daydreams, etc.)
- (2 ) environmental stimuli, or
- (3) both.
Studies by Papez (1937), MacLean (1952), as well as more recent studies suggest that emotions are pleasant or unpleasant mental states largely organized in the limbic region of the brain. If distinguished from the reactive responses of reptiles, human emotions are more complex “mammalian elaborations of general vertebrate arousal patterns in which neurochemicals (for example, dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin) step-up or step-down the brain’s activity level, as visible in body movements, gestures, and postures.”