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Fred H. July 19th, 2006 04:11 PM

Re: Emotions versus Reason?

Alex: Also I appreciate that I can't see your manner / tone of voice. It might be that you are joking / being tongue in cheek. I have no idea. But I'm determined not to rise to what sometimes seems to be 'baiting' in the absense of any real issue.
Yeah, well, I’m tall, handsome, humble, pretty much every woman’s dream, and I suppose I may be guilty of baiting at times, but I really do have a low tolerance for half-ass longwinded BS. I realize none of us are rocket scientists, and I can appreciate your own time limitations, but it seems to me that if we have any respect at all for each other’s time and efforts, then we have at least some responsibility to be intellectually honest, rigorous, consistent, and somewhat concise.

As I’ve noted b/f, verbosity typically seems to be inversely proportional to actual understanding and knowledge, and also is often indicative of the author’s self-importance and/or disrespect for his/her audience; and back when we were discussing the objective truth/math thing, I conclude that that was more or less you. But your recent ramblings suggest that you do have some actual interest and appreciation for the whole emotions/consciousness thing and related issues—so do yourself and me a favor (and Tom too, if you care about his POV, since I think he’s also bitched about your rambling . . . although MM probably prefers your rambling b/c it more or less enables her own circular ramblings), and at least attempt to reduce the unruly verbosity, pretty please.

alexandra_k July 19th, 2006 11:41 PM

Re: Emotions versus Reason?
> For example, unless you’re actually doing real neuroscience research, I’d not be terribly concerned about “giving away for free stuff that [you] might be able to get published (and properly acknowledged) for”.

Neuroscience research isn't the only kind of research that one can get published for. I don't want people to connect between my posting name and my RL identity thus I don't want people connecting between my RL academic work and what I post on boards. As such I don't want to spend too much time polishing arguments on boards, I'd rather polish the arguments into a paper for a publication / for my thesis.

It is up to you whether you read my posts or not...
I'm sorry you didn't like my pointing out that Platonic Realism about numbers is fairly much a discredited theory (went out with Plato's realm of forms).
If you find my posts too long then it is up to you whether you read them or not...

I'll try for shorter.
But we might just have to do some accepting of each other the way we are...

I'll respond properly to the pain / perception thing over the next couple days...

alexandra_k July 20th, 2006 01:18 AM

Re: Emotions versus Reason?
>> Alex: The problem of focus is why perceptions seem to refer to the state of the world whereas pain seems to refer to the phenomenology.

> When you ask why “perceptions seem to refer to the state of the world whereas pain seems to refer to the phenomenology,” I guess you’re referring to emotion versus pain...

No I'm distinguishing between perceptions and pain. The problem of focus is why claims about perceptions refer to the state of the world whereas claims about pains refer to the phenomenology (experience).

When I ask 'are emotions more like perceptions or pains' I'm asking whether statements about emotions refer to the state of the world (like statements about perceptions) or whether statements about emotions refer to the phenomenology (experience) like pains.

Prinz cites Jackendoff (I think) who conducted a survey. Jackendoff found that the folk consider phenomenology / felt quality to be more central to emotion than bodily state changes, behaviour, or cognition. That seems to suggest that for the folk emotions are more like pains than perceptions. James and Lange and Damasio and Le Doux treat emotions more like perceptions, however. I guess they don't want a theory of emotion to be derived from on a theory of consciousness. Being good scientists and all they would rather study the physiology... Being a philosopher rather than a scientist I don't mind taking consciousness seriously and considering that it is still an open question how much physiology is helping the study of consciousness progress. I'm not so much interested in how emotions are as a matter of contingent fact (in our world) as I am interested in how emotions are as a matter of logical necessity (in all possible worlds).

> I’d agree that the pain system certainly seems more “primitive” or “simple” when compared to the not quite as primitive subcortical, subconscious emotional neural systems.

I think that the positive / negative weighting (aka the 'hedonic quality' of emotion) has been derived from the positive / negative weighting of pleasurable and painful experiences. I'd like to tell a story from pleasure and attraction (in terms of behaviour) and pain and aversion (in terms of behaviour) up to the affect program responses that Ekman talks about... Up to the more distinctively human emotions like sexual jealousy, embarrassment and shame, up to the higher cognitive emotions like awe and reverence...

Fred H. July 20th, 2006 09:35 AM

Re: Emotions versus Reason?

Alex: When I ask 'are emotions more like perceptions or pains' I'm asking whether statements about emotions refer to the state of the world (like statements about perceptions) or whether statements about emotions refer to the phenomenology (experience) like pains.
Well, I’d say that emotions, typically being more complex and abstract than pain, dealing with potential dangers (or, of course, potential pleasures in the case of the few “positive” emotions out there), are about both perception and phenomenology. Perhaps that’s what causes confusion among the “folk”—pain results in unpleasant, albeit more or less straightforward, feelings, telling us simply that damage is done; while emotions, OTOH, also result in feelings that are unpleasant (in the case of the “negative” emotions anyway) telling us something more complicated and less certain—that there is a threat, that there is potential damage, potential pain, potential loss, etc.

As I’ve previously indicated, pain is a relatively simple system that essentially is only triggered by, and deals with, damage that has/is being done to the organism (while providing a reasonably universal “feeling” of pain, although of varying intensities, into consciousness); while, OTOH, emotion(s), e.g. fear and anger, deal with something more complex and abstract—potential damage/threats (and of course emotions are impacted by concurrent and/or memories of pain, as it may relate to any potential damage/threat, in the quick and dirty way that the emotional systems do such things), while providing various “feelings” of varying “meanings” and intensities into consciousness (which then may be subject to various interpretations by our cognitive consciousness).

Margaret McGhee July 29th, 2006 08:13 PM

Re: Emotions versus Reason?

I'm offering a clarification here because I have felt for a while that my use of the term emotion is being misunderstood (no doubt due to my failure to clearly describe my use of the term).

When most people think of emotion they are thinking of feelings - our awareness of things that we describe as joy or pain or cold or sadness.

I am using the term in the way that Damasio uses it: to mean a physiological change of state in our body. That change of state can include many measurable changes such as heart rate, perspiration, breathing rate, dilation of pupils, blinking eyes, squinting eyes, - and also different blood flow patterns in the body, especially in the brain, and the release of various neurotransmitters and other chemicals in our CNS.

So, I am using emotion to very broadly refer to any physiological reaction of our bodies to environmental events or changes. The environment in this case includes events and changes that happen inside our bodies too - such as diseased or injured tissues and organs and the mental images that we might produce in our minds.

These physiological state-changes (emotions) are usually signals that something has happened that can possibly affect our well-being or our survival. Our bodies are designed to generate these automatically - as are the bodies of all living things including plants and viruses.

These emotions are the first stage of a response (sometimes a response that we classify as a behavior) that can mitigate any potential damage that is being signalled or that could cause us to take advantage of some beneficial situation that may present itself.

The emotions I am referring to happen continuously in our bodies, often several at the same time, and we are almost never consciously aware of them.

If you think of emotions in the narrow sense as merely feelings that we experience like joy or sorrow - then my hypothesis won't make any sense.

Behavior Choice

One of the responses that can be triggered by these emotions is a conscious or unconscious behavior choice. When we choose a particular behavior from a set of choices - I am proposing that we do so as the result of a subconscious reckoning of some of these emotional signals that resolve at a particular place in our brains where we make behavior choice decisions.

One of the most important sources for these behavior choice emotions is our belief system - which holds all the various cause and effect relationships we have learned about the world that can affect our well-being or survival. Things like flames can burn us and Pistachio ice cream tastes best. Our beliefs are typically based on some combination of real world observation and testing - and folk intuitions. Often different parts (compartments) of our belief system depend more on one of these than the other.

We use our intellect to examine and edit our beliefs. Using our intellect we sometimes update our beliefs (or create temporary new beliefs) at the time that we are making a behavior choice to make sure they are based on the most current data.

In the most basic sense, every behavior choice is a de facto belief - at the emotional level of knowing - that we will benefit from that choice more than from any alternatives.

But, we all have an aversion to editing our strongly held identity beliefs. To edit those we are effectively editing our personality - and that can be difficult and even painful.

For important decisons - where we most depend on our existing identity beliefs - we are highly dependant on prior editing to assure that those beliefs are as congruent with reality as possible.

I hope this is clearer.


Margaret McGhee August 2nd, 2006 04:57 PM

Studies That Support Margi's Model of Behavior Choice
I have been trying to come up with something worthwhile in this direction since Carey challenged me to do this. One problem I have is that I don't have access to a University Library. This should change in a year when we plan to move back to Seattle for awhile.

For now, I'll just have to make do. Fortunately, studies are coming out every week or so that seem perfectly designed to support my hypothesis - that we make behavior decisions as the result of a weighing of emotional signals from various parts of our brains. Also, that our intellect only participates in these decisions occassionally - and then only according to the emotional weight we subconsciously give to any particular intellectual conclusion.

One prediction of my hypothesis that I have stated many times in these threads in various ways - is that we tend to believe what feels good to us, what resonates with our existing beliefs. We then use our intellect to justify that belief, to shore up credibility for that belief in our own minds, which reduces negative feelings associated with any doubts we might have.

Here's a WaPo report of such a study. I'll let you read it without my comments.


How the Brain Helps Partisans Admit No Gray

By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 31, 2006; A02

President Bush came to Washington promising to be a uniter, but public
opinion polls show that apart from a burst of camaraderie after Sept.
11, 2001, America is more bitterly divided and partisan than ever.

We'll leave the pundits to pontificate on the politics, and instead
explore a more interesting phenomenon: People who see the world in black
and white rarely seem to take in information that could undermine their

Psychological experiments in recent years have shown that people are not
evenhanded when they process information, even though they believe they
are. (When people are asked whether they are biased, they say no. But
when asked whether they think other people are biased, they say yes.)
Partisans who watch presidential debates invariably think their guy won.
When talking heads provide opinions after the debate, partisans
regularly feel the people with whom they agree are making careful,
reasoned arguments, whereas the people they disagree with sound like
they have cloth for brains.

Unvaryingly, partisans also believe that partisans on the other side are
far more ideologically extreme than they actually are, said Stanford
University psychologist Mark Lepper, who has studied how people watch
presidential debates.

Although it is satisfying to think that your side is right and the other
side consists of morons, the systematic errors that can be documented in
partisan perception suggest something deeper than deliberate tunnel
vision. (Last Monday, this space was devoted to the curious phenomenon
of the "hostile media effect," in which pro-Israeli and pro-Arab
partisans shown the same TV clips both came to the conclusion that the
news accounts were heavily biased in favor of the other side.) What
explains these distortions in perception?

In an experiment that pols may want to note closely, researchers
recently plopped 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats into scanners that
measure changes in brain-blood oxygenation. Such changes are thought to
be linked to increases or decreases in particular areas of brain

Each of the partisans was repeatedly shown images of President Bush and
2004 Democratic challenger John F. Kerry
<> .

When Republicans saw Kerry (or Democrats saw Bush) there was increased
activation in brain areas called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex,
which is near the temple, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which is in
the middle of the head. Both these regions are involved in regulating
emotions. (If you are eating an ice cream cone on a hot day and your ice
cream falls on the sidewalk and you get upset, these areas of your brain
remind you that it is only an ice cream, that not eating the ice cream
can help keep those pounds off, and similar rationalizations.) More
straightforwardly, Republicans and Democrats also showed activation in
two other brain areas involved in negative emotion, the insula and the
temporal pole. It makes perfect sense, of course, why partisans would
feel negatively about the candidate they dislike, but what explains the
activation of the cognitive regulatory system?

Turns out, rather than turning down their negative feelings as they
might do with the fallen ice cream, partisans turn up their negative
emotional response when they see a photo of the opposing candidate, said
Jonas Kaplan, a psychologist at the University of California at Los

In other words, without knowing it themselves, the partisans were
jealously guarding against anything that might lower their antagonism.
Turning up negative feelings, of course, is a good way to make sure your
antagonism stays strong and healthy.

"My feeling is, in the political process, people come to decisions early
on and then spend the rest of the time making themselves feel good about
their decision," Kaplan said.

Although it seems paradoxical that people would want to make themselves
feel poorly, Kaplan said partisans have a strong interest in feeling
poorly about the candidate they are not going to vote for as that
cements their belief that they are doing the right thing.

"Democrats looking at Bush may have some positive feelings about the
fact he is their leader, so the process of convincing yourself this is
someone you don't like when you intend not to vote for him makes sense,"
he said.

The result reflects a larger phenomenon in which people routinely
discount information that threatens their preexisting beliefs, said
Emory University psychologist Drew Westen, who has conducted brain-scan
experiments that show partisans swiftly spot hypocrisy and
inconsistencies -- but only in the opposing candidate.

When presented with evidence showing the flaws of their candidate, the
same brain regions that Kaplan studied lighted up -- only this time
partisans were unconsciously turning down feelings of aversion and

"The brain was trying to find a solution that would get rid of the
distress and absolve the candidate of doing something slimy," Westen
said. "They would twirl the emotional kaleidoscope until it gave them a
picture that was comfortable."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company


One particular statement that jumped out for me was this:

"My feeling is, in the political process, people come to decisions early on and then spend the rest of the time making themselves feel good about their decision," Kaplan said.

TomJrzk August 3rd, 2006 08:14 AM

Re: Studies That Support Margi's Model of Behavior Choice

Originally Posted by The Washington Post Company
"They would twirl the emotional kaleidoscope until it gave them a picture that was comfortable."

Surely, a picture of Fred accompanied this quote. Could you please forward that picture so that I might take some artistic license?

Great article, thanks! This gives a clear indication of why these conversations are so hard, and why it's better to describe philosophies for the sake of 3rd parties who might not yet have such ingrained opinions.

James Brody August 6th, 2006 06:40 PM

Re: Emotions versus Reason?
Get rid of the "versus" and you may have fewer problems.

Kevin MacDonald gave a nice talk at ISHE on "Conscientiousness vs. the Modular mind."

Check, conference proceedings. His email:

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