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Unread July 10th, 2006, 10:11 PM
alexandra_k alexandra_k is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2006
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Default Re: Emotions versus Reason?

> It seems so obvious to me that emotions provide the values that are weighed in behavior choice - for all sentient creatures.

Okay. I'm wondering how loosely you are intending to use the word 'emotion'. There are pleasures and pains. There are likes and dislikes. There are urges and goals and desires. Are you subsuming all motivational states under the rubric of 'emotion'?

The 'value' stuff is interesting... William Seager (Toronto) has a paper on Emotional Consciousness that you can access from his homepage. He talks about how emotions represent value. He also talks about how perceptions can represent value, however. Something akin to salience. If you are looking for some kind of tool because there is something you want to do and you are going to have to improvise... Then if you go out to your garage your eyes will just pass over the things that are unsuitable and the things that are more likely candidates will pop out. Here the thing you want to do with it influences your perception. I agree that emotion (and more in particular) mood can alter the values of perceptions... But seems to be that desires and drives and urges and pains and tickles and itches are distinct, though related phenomena.

In terms of evolutionary history... I think pleasure and pain are likely to be basic... And more complex drives are layered on top... And emotions are layered on top of those... And of course simple detectors evolved into the 'decoupled representations' (beliefs) that we have now.

Seager is interesting because he likes the line that emotional consciousness is more basic than cognition and perception. He maintains that perception and the cognitive capacity needed to process information from perception only came about because of emotional consciousness. But then Seager also grounds emotions in pleasures / pains.

> LeDoux implies this mechanism when he mentions downward causation, but neither he nor any other psychologists explicity describe how this intellectually-based decision-mechanism works. Neither does he offer any evidence that my emotion-based decision mechanism would not be valid - where intellectual downward inputs may affect causation.

Okay I think I might be getting a little lost. By downward causation are you referring to his observation that there are more connections from amygdala to cortex than from cortex to amygdala? The 'downward causation' are the neural pathways from cortex to amygdala? Pays to remember he is studying fear in rats... But lets grant him his observation and lets grant him his generalisation from rats to people...

Have you heard of Frank? Economist from Cornell. He tells a bit of a 'just so story' about emotions... More in particular he is interested in the evolution of altruism and the like. He considers how emotions like anger may have evolved: (I'm going to have to reconstruct)

Lets say we are both stomping through the forest and we come across a cookie jar with 10 cookies in it. You grab the jar and say that you will give me one cookie and you will keep the rest. You are much bigger than me. If I try and fight you for it it is likely you will hurt me. It is more rational for me to accept an unfair bargain (and come up one cookie better off) than to not accept the unfair bargain and risk my life trying to fight you for my share.

But what happens? I feel outraged that you would offer me such an unfair bargain and thus my heart begins to race and my body prepares for me to do my jolly best to knock the shit out of you.

Why? Because in the long term... You are less likely to offer me (and other members of society perhaps) unfair bargains. Even if I hurt you just a little... You are less likely to offer me an unfair bargain in the future. And with anger... sometimes you just need a convincing display where the other person thinks you are committed to action and then they will back down.

Emotions evolved as solutions to the committment problem (if you offer me an unfair bargain I display emotion which committs me to damaging you up best I can). His story of the evolution of romantic love has been seriously criticised but the overall approach is interesting. He thinks that emotions are designed to circumvent or interrup simple means-end rationality (that would have you accept one cookie). When we act on these irruptive motivations... Well... We act on more long term interests, however. Thus emotions are rational in a sense.

But there are still plenty examples of 'irrational' emotions. Phobia. Recalcitrant emotions more generally. Fear that persists despite the judgement that the object can't hurt. Fear that is triggered by a garden hose which hardly looks like a snake at all! Sexual jealousy that persists EVEN WHEN there isn't anything wrong (could even evolve into delusional jealousy). Or depression... When we know we should get up and go for a run or keep scheduling activities as normal yet the mood overrides the best of intentions... Or anxiety... When we know we should take deep breaths and relax but our cortex just doesn't seem to be able to connect well enough with the amygdala to make that possible. I got the impression that that is what he was getting at. That these kinds of emotional disorder that are resistent to cognitive therapy because the dog / person just can't 'tell' the amygdala that tone will no longer be followed by shock. Well... If there were more connections from cortex to amygdala then we might have better cognitive control over some of these quick and dirty responses... Especially... When they get things wrong. I think that is more ideal than having rationality completely trump emotion. I think it is more about... Some of the pathological cases...

> Would 200,000 years be nearly enough to completely change over this basic control system in humans? I doubt it.

I actually have a lot of regard for mindfulness meditation and how it strengthens the muscle of attention so we are better able to have control over our brains (if you like). I think that people well practiced in mindfulness meditation have been found to have increased control over things we normally can't control. E.g., heart rate, SGR, low level emotional responses etc.

> This seems like the kind of psychological question that a philosopher would find especially interesting. Or, does philosophy depend so intrinsically on the human-intellectuality paradigm (that makes philosphical contemplation possible) - that any contradictory hypothesis is too unsettling to consider?

Philosophers used to hail rationality (aristotle: man = rational animal) as the ideal and emotions got a bad rap the way most traits that were considered 'feminine' did... But there has been a surge of interest in recent years. Especially in terms of ethics. Some people think that emotions are important for ethical behaviour / morality. I'm more interested in the role of emotions in our mental life more generally (to compare contrast them with perceptions, beliefs, desires, bodily feelings like tickles pains etc). In general philosophers have focused on beliefs and perceptions. There is a lot less out there on bodily feelings, desires. Pleasures and pains there is some on, but mostly with respect to trying to reduce them to beliefs and perceptions. People try and reduce bodily feelings and desires too. And emotions. Cognitive theories of emotion consider that to be angry is to judge that 'there has been an demeaning offence to me or mine' for example. They are trying to reduce emotions to beliefs.

But there is some interesting stuff now on the evolution of emotions. And some stuff now on the role of emotions with respect to beliefs and desires etc.
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