The Science of Emotions link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65e2qScV_K8
Emotion: a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships, with others.
Project Nim, a film documentary, focuses on the events and experiment surrounding a chimpanzee named Nim. The men and women in charge of the experiment were curious to possibly determine the origins of our own speech but also to try and learn what the chimpanzee, Nim, thought and felt on a day to day basis through sign language. Nim underwent many hardships over the course of his life, from being put into an animal testing facility, to losing all the friends he had ever known. On another note, Dr. Jaak Panksepp, a leading researcher in animal emotions over the past 50 years, takes a unique interest in the science and usefulness of emotion in animals, and Dr. Panksepp believes “Taking the emotions of animals seriously may yield more rapid understanding of human emotion and thereby promote progress in psychiatric medicinal medicine.” In this way, the emotions exhibited by Nim and those around him are a powerful driving factor in their actions, so how are our emotions central to every aspect and part of our lives?
When Nim was young, he was raised like a human. He experienced life as a child would, eating, playing, and sleeping. Nim learned sign language and was able to do basic communication with his human caretakers. Nim would constantly learn new words every day, and several reoccurring themes continued in Nim’s actions, such as how Nim would ask for hugs all the time. Dr. Panksepp experimented with social bonding actions, such as hugs, and discovered that such actions can be addictive to our brains, alleviate pain, and send signals in our brains that calm us.
In other words, the reason Nim wanted to be held all the time is because he desired to feel the emotions associated with the hug. Similarly, Nim would also ask to hold other animals like cats which also create the same connection and promote the same addictive process in our minds and give Nim the emotions associated with care and love. Nim experienced all the emotions that primal and intellectual animals experience, as shown by the photo below.
Nim’s emotional desire drove him to continue asking for such basic emotions as they were all he knew and wanted.
Nim made great progress over the course of his early adult life, but the project eventually lost funding, resulting in hardship for the chimpanzee. Herb, the scientist in-charge of Nim for most of the movie, declared that Nim was a “good beggar,” rather than an intelligent and thoughtful being. Nim ended up in a spot just like other chimpanzees: in a cage at an animal testing facility.
Nim felt sad after being separated from everyone he had ever known in his life and was visibly defeated. He wouldn’t eat much and still continually asked the scientist around him for hugs and to be freed from his cage, desiring the basic emotions he had experienced all his life. Nim was denied the positive emotions he had felt, but began to feel fear and sadness become a constant emotion in his life. When Herb came to visit him one day at the testing facility, the happiness in Nim was uncontrollable. Nim jumped and ran straight to Herb, hugging him and screaming with joy. The emotions Nim felt at that time were some of the most uplifting he had felt for months since he had been given away and caged. These feelings continued until Herb left, and then the pain started again but worse. Nim began to understand that he was being left at the facility for the foreseeable future and fostered anger in his mind against those who abandoned him.
Eventually, support from Nim’s friends allowed for Nim to be freed from the animal testing facility and sent to a small farm to live out the rest of his days. Nim was free, but alone, and thus sad. One day, Nim’s old family that he had grown up with came to see him after years of abandoning him, and Nim’s emotions showed in full force. When one woman entered his cage, he attacked her and threw her on the ground repeatedly. Nim’s anger pushed him to attack those who had hurt him. The emotion Nim felt prompted Nim to attack those who he used to call friends since he connected his feelings of sadness with those who had abandoned him.
Nim eventually got two other chimpanzees to live with him, allowing him to have friends once again who he could play with. Similar to Dr. Panksepp’s research, the emotions Nim felt while playing helped to reduce Nim’s depression.
Nim, finally having friends who would play, hold, hug, and be with him allowed for Nim to feel all the primal emotions he had been deprived of through his adult life in a cage. So, once again, how are our emotions central to every action of our lives?
Dr. Panksepp elaborated that the reason we have feelings is because they tell us what supports and detracts from our survival. Our emotions can push us to do things that we could never do otherwise, make us feel ways we want to feel, and help us deal with certain situations. Furthermore, research into such emotions are helping to create new medicines that help those with depression and a multitude of other mental illnesses. Dr. Panksepp talks about his research of the gene GLYX-13 which was derived from the emotion of play in animals, something Nim prized more than anything, and found that this gene was able to reduce depression in 6 out of 7 patients.
Our emotions drive our actions and can even be used to heal ourselves and those around us. Emotion may even be the key to healing destructive illnesses such as depression, thus emotion is at the core of all our actions in life and may even be at the core of healing mental illnesses. Dr. Panksepp understands that humans and animals are similar in their primal desires and that the more we understand emotion, the more we can use it to our advantage in science.
Nim’s emotions very clearly drove his actions throughout his life. Every time Nim wanted to play, wanted a hug, or wanted to scream, his emotions were driving him. The scientists around Nim wanted to know what Nim thought, but they should have tried to understand what Nim felt. Then, they could truly understand who Nim was, what he wanted, and communicate with Nim on a much deeper level, thus completing their experiment.
Project Nim. Dir. James Marsh. Perf. Nim Chimpsky. Red Box Films, 2011. DVD.
TEDxTalks. “The Science of Emotions: Jaak Panksepp at TEDxRainier.” YouTube. YouTube, 13 Jan. 2014. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.