Feeling Scientifically

From the Feb. 12 New Yorker’s wonderful profile [pdf] of Paul and Patricia Churchland by Larissa MacFarquhar [pdf]:

One afternoon recently, Paul says, he was home making dinner when Pat burst in the door, having come straight from a frustrating faculty meeting. “She said, ‘Paul, don’t speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren’t for my endogenous opiates I’d have driven my car into a tree on the way home. My dopamine levels need lifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and I’ll be down in a minute.'”

I’ve actually come to think and talk a bit like this, though not to this degree. I believe it is true, as MacFarquhar writes of Paul Churchland:

The new words, far from being reductive or dry, have enhanced his sensations, he feels, as an oenophile’s complex vocabulary enhances the taste of wine.

As anyone who has had the misfortune of being my girlfriend/primary oxytocin source knows, I have an annoying habit of microanalyzing my physical/subjective states. I only wish I had access to some kind of biofeedback machine so I could better calibrate my physicalist vocabulary. There are detectable qualitative distinctions between different kinds of positive and negative states, and there really is no reason why we should be so dumbfounded, inarticulate, or (usually our best) cleverly metaphorical when it comes to describing the character of our inner lives. Further, I think that once one gets a subjective grasp of the difference between the effects of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, adrenaline, glucocorticoids, prolactin, testosterone, etc., monistic conceptions of pleasure and happiness become almost self-evidently false, and a kind of pluralism comes to seem almost inevitable as the trade-offs between different kinds of physical/qualitative states become apparent.