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Unread July 11th, 2006, 01:39 PM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 271
Default Re: Emotions versus Reason?

Alexandra said,
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'?
From reading over your reply several times, I believe I have become lazy with my terms and that I am using the term emotion loosely. Let me correct that.

I really like Damasio's (mostly) explanation that emotions are changes in body state - in response to changes in our environmental that can affect our survival.

Feelings are another thing. They are our conscious awareness of our emotions. Emotions happen - whether we are aware of them as feelings and whether or not we are even consciously aware of the percieved dangers or rewards in our environment that caused them.

It seems obvious to me, after reading Damasio and LeDoux (among many others) very carefully - that our emotional responses, our changes in body state, form the intiating disturbance signal in the closed loop feedback system that provides basic behavior control for all sentient creatures. All sentient creatures exhibit emotional responses to their environment. Only a very few have an ability to reason.

Ultimately, this closed-loop-control-system can be observed in the operation of the pleasure - pain mechanism that you mention. This is now being directly observed by fMRI imaging by many brain scientists. My hypothesis is that all behavior is mediated by this mechanism. This is the closed loop feedback system that directs our lives - just as it does for all sentient creatures. We have no choice but to seek the pleasure and avoid the pain - to seek the emotional payoff (the pleasurable change in body-state) that is inherent in every behavior decision we make in life - to close the loop and correct for the intiating disturbance.

This is in opposition to the existing paradigm that we are the <i>thinking animal</i> - and that we therefore make our way through life by making intellectual decisions and following our reason except for those unfortunate times when our emotions get in the way. In this model of the mind, Mr. Spock from Star Trek represents the Platonic ideal.

I see intellect as simply an additional source for the emotional signals that are resolved in our pleasure/pain decision mechanism. This allows humans to be human - to use our intellects as an additional source for the decision-mediating emotions that guide us through life. A Mr. Spock is an existential impossibility. Without emotions to translate environmental changes that could affect our survival in some way - into physical values (emotions) - there could be no decision-making. There would be no reason for a sentient creature to choose any one behavior over another.

I believe we automatically resolve (convert) our intellectual conclusions to emotional signals that can be weighed (considered) by this mechanism - along with other inputs such as from basic instincts, memories, social instincts and especially our beliefs. Our actions will ultimately be determined by a summation of those emotional inputs on any considered behavior.

LeDoux seems to imply that humans have the ability to direct our behavior from the cortex down to the amygdala as you mention (downward causation). Or, at least, some believe that's what he was saying.

I disagree. I think cortical conclusions (thoughts representing a possible course of action) must first be weighted (according to our confidence in the conclusion) and then resolved along with other emotional forces from other sources. I suspect these are manifested in our brains though the release of various neurotransmitters and other chemical signals, in concert with synaptic activity - and resolved in someway as a go / no-go decision for some contemplated behavior. (Possibly in the amydala, but where is not important to me.)

I believe these chemical signals are far more than a response to cognition as they are often characterized in psychological brain models. I believe that they cause cognition to start with (by selectively activating various brain regions) and that they are the signals that get resolved, the values that get weighed, in all behavior decisions. This is the elaborate evolved closed-loop system that controls our behavior, IMO.

Thinking about something is relatively useless in itself - much as dreaming is useless in terms of behavior choice. Thoughts must first be resolved to values (emotions) that can have some effect on our survival, the chemicals that flow through our brains that can cause a change in the body-state of our minds before they can affect our behavior decisions.

In practice, I believe that our intellectual conclusions are vastly over-rated as sources for our important behavior decisions. Instead, I believe that we use our intellect for more utilitarian behavior decisons, like what route to take to Home Depot, or what size peanut-butter to buy for the best value. I suspect this is because our intellect has evolved to be incapable of generating strong emotions. That translator that converts an intellecual conclusion to an emotional value just doesn't have much horsepower. (That's good - our intellect has a very limited ability to accurately predict the outcome of our behavior decisions.)

That leaves our intellect useful for more mundane decisions - but almost useless for affecting crtitical decision that could have a great effect on our survival. Instead, our more ancient emotion sources such as instincts and beliefs provide those stronger signals.

Important decisions, those that are called up by strong emotional signals, require strong emotional inputs for resolution. I believe these strong emotional signals typically come from our beliefs - in humans and other creatures that have more complex intellectual activity. The stronger the belief, the stronger the emotions that bind it to our cognitive identity and the stronger the emotional signals it provides to our decision mechanism.

When we are making an important decision - we use our intellect for another purpose - to justify our strong beliefs that would bear on that decision - and/or to justify the behavior choice that those strong beliefs led to. I have used the Supreme Court as an example for how this works. Even justices highly committed to objective interpretation of the law will consistently make behavior choices that align with their ideology. Every 5-4 decision proves how strong are the emotions of their beliefs and how weak the emotions produced by their intellects are.

Almost every post in forums like these also provide evidence of the strong emotions at work in our behavior choices (defending our beliefs is the behavior that these forums provide an opportunity for). Every strong (esp. emotional) disagreement here provides evidence for the use of our intellects to logically justify and defend, rather than logically examine, our beliefs.

We all like to believe that we personally apply the purest logic to our conclusions - and that those who disagree with our well-reasoned conclusions are just not very smart. They lack critical thinking skills. Actually, we all spend far more intellectual energy justifying our existing beliefs - than opening our minds to any evidence that could possibly contradict them. Changing important (identity) beliefs is a very rare occurrence in a human adult. Those beliefs provide the emotions for all our important behavior decisions.

(My purpose is not to denigrate the thinking ability of anyone here. It is to discuss how our minds actually work, and how we apply our intellect, which IMO isn't nearly as enlightened as existing models of the mind propose. That certainly goes for my mind too.)


Last edited by Margaret McGhee; July 11th, 2006 at 01:54 PM.
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