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Unread July 17th, 2006, 07:26 AM
alexandra_k alexandra_k is offline
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 106
Default Re: Emotions versus Reason?

> The current paradigm asserts that we are the thinking animal. That we use our reason, our intellect, to make behavior choices. That if we make bad choices, that means we don't think good. Probably it also means that our emotions got in the way and prevented us from thinking clearly...

That used to be the case... But that is changing now. Frank, Damasio, Le Doux and others have been saying that there is a rationality to emotions and that without emotions we wouldn't be particularly functional.

> It is the paradigm of gods and devils, of Dr. Jekyls and Mr. Hydes, of yin and yang forces battling for control of the soul.


> My emotion-centric paradigm says that we are emotional animals just like all the others. We do the things we do because of the emotional rewards built into our CNS for pursuing behavior that generally increases our survival and well-being - and because of the emotional punishments we generally experience when we pursue the opposite behavior.

So you link positive valence to reinforcer and negative valence to punisher. Then you consider the 'valence' to be 'emotion'. Behaviourists are similar except they focus on the external rewards and punishers whereas I think you are more interested in the neural underpinning of reward and punishment. Cognitive-neuropsychologists would have sympathy...

Animals have two primary sources for the emotional rewards / punishments that guide our behavior - instinct which provides built in emotional responses to certain stimuli - and beliefs, which allow more highly evolved animals to learn things about its world through experience and attach appropriate emotions to those objects, events and relationships that could affect its survival.

Right. So some of the things we find reinforcing / punishing are that way because we have a biological basis for that (primary reinforcers). Other things we learn to find reinforcing / punishing (secondary reinforcers).

> Your resistance to provisionally accepting my definition (for when I use the term in my posts) tells me that you are feeling discomfort at being forced (by my definition) to consider this different paradigm.

It isn't about my resisting the paradigm so much as having difficulty understanding what you are saying because you are using terms differently from the norm. I understand what you mean by 'belief' now - learned expectation for the future. That can be non-conceptual and not belief-like (in the traditional sense) at all.

> Your preferred definition for belief is completely tied to intellect.

It is tied to the last couple centuries usage.

> I prefer my definition because it does subtly force the user into this new paradigm - to implicitly accept the possibility that intellect has a secondary supporting role in human behavior choice.

Le Doux and Damasio manage to write about how emotions are the basis for other kinds of conscious experience while preserving the traditional meaning (for the most part) so that they are better able to communicate their ideas / results to others. Nobody likes to feel 'forced' people like to be 'invited to consider'. It can be hard to follow when one has to translate most words into terminology one understands.

> Belief-mediated behavior choice is a very powerful adaptation.

Why? What does it offer us that emotions can't?

> However, the emotional forces of our old instincts are still largely intact.

Yeah, because they are innate.

> Civilization has greatly reduced the emotional intensity of our everyday lives. It has eliminated the extreme dangers that early humans faced every day.

Though there are modern stressors. Noise pollution etc. Greater prevalence of mood disorder etc... Obesity is a modern 'epidemic'.

> That has greatly reduced the need for instinctive response...

Does that mean it just goes away?

> it allows us to live our lives mostly according to our acquired beliefs. In fact, I'd propose that without this ability (to learn beliefs about the world and test them first logically and then empirically) society (beyond extended family clans where instinctive emotions can still be pretty useful) would be impossible.

You would need to look at anthropological data on the evolution of cognition and family structure to know whether that hypothesis is credible...

> Another problem is that our enlightened intellect is not as powerful as we like to believe. And, we may use it just as often to justify existing beliefs...

Sure. There is a literature on 'confirmation bias'.

> To me, the greatest just so story ever told is the one about how we humans in 200,000 years completely rewired our brains and evolved a totally differerent behavior control system from every other vertebrate that ever existed...

That is kinda my point, though. In order to tell the story in a way that is scientifically plausible one needs to learn something about the anthropological data that is available to us. There is evidence about when tools arrived on the scene, when fire arrived on the scene, what kinds of animal bones were found around campfires etc. People form very specific hypotheses as to the level of cognitive ability required in order to make / use certain kinds of tools etc. One needs to form hypotheses that are capable of being supported / disconfirmed by anthropological data (whether we have found the relevant data not not yet) if one wants to tell scientific stories as opposed to 'just so stories'. Otherwise... One just becomes one among many of the people saying 'it happened like this because thats just what seems right to me' and things don't progress very much at all...

Once again... I'd reccomend Kim Sterelny "thought in a hostile world: the evolution of human cognition". I'd also reccomend "sex and death: an introduction to philosophy of biology" for an introduction of scientific methodology when it comes to evolutionary hypotheses.

> I don't take offense at this put down because I think I understand why you feel compelled by your emotions to make it. I have questioned the whole framework of your understanding of human nature. No-one said science was supposed to be easy.

That isn't quite it... It is more about... Whether you are doing art or science. Sure science can be an art, but it needs to have some contact with the empirical world... I really don't see how you are calling for a radical overhaul of the current framework anyway because your thinking seems to be very heavily influenced by Damasio and Le Doux who write about how emotions have been forgotten and about how they play a more central role than we previously thought. They are writing in response to... How the behaviourists and people in the 60's and 70's ignored emotions because they were more focused on other matters. There has been a real surge of interest in emotions in the last 20 years so it seems to be you are jumping more on their bandwagon than anything. That is why I reccomended Prinz, because Prinz is a 'new and improved' version of Damasio and Le Doux. A version that is much more plausible because it accounts for the representational aspects of emotions as well, which is something that needs work with respect to the previous accounts. His book "Gut Reactions" came out just last year so it is about as 'new' as you will find. He is fairly hostile to cognitive accounts (as you are because you seem to allow that we can have emotion without conceptualised thought / conscious judgement". His ideas on valence needs to be developed... Also Sterelny's book... Does indeed focus on 'cognition' (or representation / thinking) more than 'motivation' (emotion or preference or desire). So his ideas could be developed too... But one typically has better luck extending / critiquing particular notions / arguments so people are easier able to understand what you are saying...
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