In a new book, Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, Keltner weaves together scientific findings with personal narrative to uncover the innate power of human emotion to connect people with each other, which he argues is the path to living the good life.
Quoting from Charles Darwin's Descent of Man,
“For firstly, the social instincts lead an animal to take pleasure in the society of his fellows, to feel a certain amount of sympathy with them, and to perform various services for them. … Such actions as the above appear to be the simple result of the greater strength of the social or maternal instincts than that of any other instinct or motive; for they are performed too instantaneously for reflection, or for pleasure or even misery might be felt. In a timid man, on the other hand, the instinct of self-preservation might be so strong, that he would be unable to force himself to run any such risk, perhaps not even for his own child.”
Darwin’s Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals also have detail descriptions of emotions such as reverence, love, tenderness, laughter, embarrassment and the conceptual tools to document the evolutionary origins of these emotions.
Scientists at U. C. Berkley has done a lot of research on the vagus nerve which may be the physiological system that supports caretaking and altruism. The activation of the vagus nerve is associated with feelings of compassion and the ethical intuition that humans from different social groups (even adversarial ones) share a common humanity.
People who have high vagus nerve activation in a resting state, we have found, are prone to feeling emotions that promote altruism—compassion, gratitude, love, happiness. Arizona State University psychologist Nancy Eisenberg has found that children with elevated vagal tone (high baseline vagus nerve activity) are more cooperative and likely to give. This area of study is the beginning of a fascinating new argument about altruism—that a branch of our nervous system evolved to support such behavior.
The beauty of the curiosity and persistence evidence-based investigation have led us away from the thousand year old books written by ancient men whose superstition and unfound belief in a god is now outdated and, quoting Chris Hitchen, is poisoning everything.