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Unread July 12th, 2006, 12:53 AM
alexandra_k alexandra_k is offline
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 106
Default Re: Emotions versus Reason?

Okay. I started this thread because I was hoping you would summarise your thinking, so thanks for that. I'm sorry I didn't get to the writing you sent me earlier. There is a lot there, so I'll have to be selective as to what I respond to (sorry about that, but I need to get to doing some work today).


> 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.

Okay. Damasio (and Le Doux) both buy into what was originally known as the James-Lange theory of emotion. They have updated it in light of some neurophysiological details, but the theory is very much in line with the James-Lange theory where emotions are the feeling of certain kinds of bodily changes.

> Feelings are another thing. They are our conscious awareness of our emotions.

Okay. So that is a point of difference. May seem picky but if you are interested in what emotions ARE then you are looking to make an identity. IF emotions are FEELINGS OF BODY STATE CHANGES then body changes in the absence of feeling would not consititute an emotion (and hence unconscious emotions would be impossible. IF emotions are CERTAIN KINDS OF BODY STATE CHANGES then surely the body changes can occur in the absence of feeling (and hence unconscious emotions would be possible).

I can't remember who conducted the survey (Jackendoff I think, though I could be wrong). He surveyed first year students and asked them 'which of the following three aspects seems most central to emotion?: Bodily state changes, feelings / phenomenology, cognition? By far the majority of people said that feelings / phenomenology is the most central. (The only exception was the philosophy majors who thought that cognition was the most important!). What does this mean? I guess it depends on what you want your theory of emotions to do... If you want to know what emotions are as people typically use the terms then it seems that people think that phenomenology / feeling is most central. Thus... If you are going to make an identity it would be more in line with folk inutition / common sense to identify emotions with FEELINGS / PHENOMENOLOGY rather than with the bodily state changes. But then if you are more interested in developing a science of emotions... There would seem to be better prospects for studying bodily changes than for studying phenomenology.

I'd really reccomend the following book. Griffiths is a philosopher of science who is interested in developing a theory of emotions that is a SCIENTIFIC theory of emotions. He ends up concluding that Ekman's affect program responses (I think there were six of them) are natural kinds, whereas the other emotions (the more paradigmatically cognitive emotions) don't seem to constitute scientifically interesting natural kinds of phenomena. He offers an extensive review of the scientific literature, criticises surveys which amount to little more than 'conceptual analysis by numbers' and he says that if one wants to know about the real nature of water you need to ask the chemists not the folk and hence if you want to know about the real nature of emotions you need to ask the psychologists / biologists not the folk.

> 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.

It is controversial what is and is not sentient. Are snakes sentient? How about fish? How about oysters? There are bacteria that exhibit approach / avoidance behaviour to certain chemical concentrations, does that imply that they have the conscious experience of pleasure / pain? I'm not at all sure that it does... Do snakes have emotions? How about other reptiles? While there are analogues of some emotional responses in the higher mammals (most notably of Ekman's affect program responses) do animals other than adult humans have emotions such as... Awe? Reverence? Wonder? Angst? These 'higher cognitive emotions' seem to be more distinctively human. They also seem to involve cognitive capacity that is simply lacking in other mammals. They also seem not to have distinctive patterns of bodily change associated with them. People are doing work on trying to scaffold sexual jealousy, embarrassment, and shame onto Ekman's basic affect program responses (to show how these emotions evolved out of them due to social / environmental factors). The higher cognitive emotions? It would be nice to build a bridge to them... But I don't know how far an evolutionary approach that focused on patterns of bodily changes would get us...

Who was it that talked about the 'as if loop'? That is an interesting idea... Typically emotions seem to go like this:
Properties of the object that bear on persons welfare -> Unconsciously 'perceived' by amygdala -> Which sends signals to both: Motor production (to initiate pattern of bodily change) and Cortex (so we may become consciously aware of the property we are responding to). Now... If emotions are bodily state changes or feelings of bodily state changes then what does this entail for people who are paralysed (ie people who can't undergo the requisite body state changes and also couldn't feel them were they to occur?) The data is mixed... Seems most plausible that paralysed people DO have emotional responses comperably to non paralysed people thus that suggests a problem for the theory.

If you are interested in the bodily changes / feelings of bodily changes model then I'd reccomend this book (in a way even more so than the previous one. The previous one is better written / argued to be sure, but this one will extend your current line of thought quite nicely.

(I should also say that both authors have shorter papers available for download from their homepages which are easily accessed if you google their names)

He makes a big deal of the 'as if loop'. Here the idea is that while emotions are typically perceptions (or feelings) of bodily state changes there can be emotion in the absence of bodily state change. How so? The notion is that the area of the brain that is typically associated with bodily state change is active even though there is an absence of bodily state change. As such his theory is more that emotions ARE brain states that typically function to register bodily changes where those bodily changes represent core relational themes (properties in the world that bear on the persons welfare). Kinda complicated... But interesting theory... You can sort of consider there to be a progression from James-Lange to Damasio and Le-Doux to Jesse Prinz. He patches up some of the difficulties that the other theorists had. Most notably the problem of 'if emotions are feelings of bodily state changes then how is it that emotions can REPRESENT properties of the world rather than merely representing the fact that ones body has changed?'.

I think the notion of the 'as if loop' is that while emotions are TYPICALLY caused bottom up by perceiving (unconsciously) features of the world, emotions can also be caused top down by thinking about / remembering things. Consider... Some circumstance in which you have felt wronged in the past... If you really reflect on that and think it through soon enough... Your body will start entering into the body changes associated with anger. While Prinz argues that bottom up is necessary for the circuits to develop (he is an empiricist rather than a rationalist) he also allows that we have 'calibration files' where things (including thoughts / words) can be added to those files. Consider fear... We have innate calibration files (the probability of feeling fear to heights, insects, etc) and during development other things can be added to that calibration file (such as people yelling 'fire!' or the sound of a tone). We can perceive things in the calibration file, but we can also remember things in the calibration file. Hence there are top down and bottom up routes to emotional responses even though bottom up is primary.

Prinz reports... Now he could be wrong... But my understanding is that valence (the pleasant / unpleasant weighting of emotion) is an aspect that scientists are struggling with... They are having trouble finding brain regions in common to pleasant emotions, they are having trouble finding brain regions in common to unpleasant emotions. This has suggested to some that valence is folk nonsense... I wouldn't quite go that far... But there is difficulty...

We have more of a capacity to initiate emotions top down than other creatures with less cognitive capacity. We have more of a capacity to add things (like words, images etc) to our calibration files than other creatures.

> Our actions will ultimately be determined by a summation of those emotional inputs on any considered behavior.

The philosophy model typically looks something like this:

genes + natural / social environment -> representational states + motivational states -> behaviour.

The notion being that ones genetic inheritance and ones social / natural environment determines what mental states we will have. Indeed... We have representational states that function to represent the world truely (when all goes well). Beliefs (about the world) are representational. Perceptions (when all goes well) are representational. One could consider that emotions are representational in the sense that they represent the world as being a certain way (that there are properties in the world that bear on my welfare). One could consider desires to be representational (where they represent ways we would like the world to be). Emotions and desires also seem to be motivational, however. If one had representational states without motivational states then one would have no REASON to act. But if one had motivational states without representational states one would be a simple reflexive mechanism (though arguably even the bacteria that swim away must detect / register / represent the world before they can act on their motivations). I'm just meaning to say that representations and motivations may be kinda like two sides of the same coin... I don't think either one is fundamental. Kim Sterelny in 'Thought in a Hostile World' (well worth a read if you are interested in the evolution of representation / motivation backed up with good anthropological data)... Kim maintains that when the organism isn't very complex there isn't really a meaningful distinction between representation and motivation. We have a simple reflexive response like an eyeblink or a kneekick. I'm not sure that one side is more fundamental than the other... Though it is fair to say that philosophers have tended to not focus on the motivational side. I think that part of that is that representation has an interesting logical structure and people are interested in the logical structure that is common to thought / language / the world. Motivations don't seem to have that interesting structure... More like a bunch of people where little groups shove up their hands every now again and say 'drink! drink! i vote that what we should do next is drink!' while another neurone population shove up their hands even more insistantly to say 'mate! mate!' and whichever population is most 'vocal' gets control of motor production...

Back to the philosophical model... The notion is that beliefs (or representations) are states that are designed to fit the world... desires (or motivations) are states that are designed to fit the world to it. Fantasy... Does neither. The notion is that an organism will act from its strongest desire on the assumption that its beliefs are true. Without belief one wouldn't know what to do in order to achieve ones desires... Without desire one wouldn't want to do anything... Both are kinda important...

I think you might be overestimating the value we give to hedonistic pleasure... I give quite high weighting to hedonistic pleasure, but then I have trouble with impulse control (and most consider this a defect). People are able to forgo short term high for longer term wellbeing... Activities such as saving money etc... Don't underestimate how much people do those in their daily lives as well. While deliberative reasoning isn't something we undertake for every decision it seems to be a strategy that we employ when the decisions really matter. It isn't so very important to be whether I buy the cheapest jar of peanut butter, I know what kind I like, and I consider the saving to be negligible. When I am considering which university to attend, however, then I weigh pros and cons because that is what it takes to make it more likely to achieve my desire (of attending the place that is best for me in the following respects ____ because those are the things I desire / value).
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