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Unread July 12th, 2006, 12:08 PM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 271
Default Re: Emotions versus Reason?

Alexandra, Thanks for the taking the time from your busy day to write such a thorough response. Sometimes, I write too much in a post because I expect that the reader will be looking for gotcha's so I try to protect my point ahead of time by being extra thorough. When you reply to me - rest assured I'm not trying to trip you up. I am very interested in your perspective. Be brief. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt - if I have doubt. And I'll ask for clarification if I need to. Expect me to do any heavy lifting here. I've got the time (usually) and you have better things to do.

I'll just pick one area of your last post for this reply - to clear this up. You said,
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 am not making a claim for what emotions ARE. I am using Damasio's definition which I think is useful. My thesis does not depend on his definition being true - or even accepted by a majority of brain scientists. I am saying that if we accept Damasio's definition of emotion - then here's how (that kind of) emotion fits into my hypothesis.

To be specific, as I understand Damasio he is saying that our awareness of our emotional state is not necessary for an emotional state to occur in us. The emotional state of being cold, such as might cause goose bumps, may not be consciously noticed. Yet, we may interrupt reading a book momentarily to pull a blanket over our bare legs without realizing why we did it - or even noticing that we did it.

Unless we notice consciously that we are chilled then we do not have the feeling of being cold according to Damasio - yet we still have the emotion and that emotion, that change in body state, caused a behavior. I think this is useful because it allows emotion to become a signal for corrective behavior whether or not our cognition is engaged. I think that's important. This hypothesis then covers the behavior of all animals who do not possess consciousness as well as humans who are too young, too old, too asleep, thinking about something else, etc. to be consciously aware of emotional signals. I like explanations that cover more than just special subsets of the world.

It seems that the greatest proportion of human behavior is not consciously controlled - as it almost never is with other animals, of course. Consciousness is a relatively new evolutionary phenomena. My hypothesis gives conscious thought a role as an important new layer in the human behavior decision process - a new input channel for emotional signals that can add to the signals coming from various sources that can affect a behavior decision.

The word emotion is related to the root motive. I believe the early philosphers that described emotion were accurately describing that force within us that compells us to do the things we do. Perhaps it is my physics background, but my mind likes definitions where some force causes an action. Where there is an action I look for some force for explanation. Emotions are correlated with the flow of neurotransmitters and increased neural activity in our brains and bodies on fMRI scans.

It is possible that the behavior control mechanism has evolved in humans so that our cognition has the ability to take full control of it - when we wish to have that voluntary control over our behavior. It is possible that just by thinking that we should refuse to stand and recite a pledge that requires us to acknowledge a god that we don't believe in - that we can make ourselves follow that course of action - for example.

But, many of us will stand and recite anyway. In my view they do that because the competing emotion of not wanting to be seen as unpatriotic by others was stronger than the emotion compelling them to be true to their own beliefs.

When I see this and many more examples like it, where we do the opposite from what we think we should do, it makes me doubt that cognition has the ability to control our behavior. Instead, I have proposed that this new cognitive layer has the ability to produce emotions that get summed with other emotions from other input channels during a behavior decision. These would be instincts, social forces and especially beliefs.

Our large human memories allow us to have elaborate belief systems covering many slight variations of the real world in our minds. I have wondered if this is the reason for the abrubt evolutionary expansion of the human brain - to hold our many thousands of beliefs as we became more capable of objectively discriminating between the many slight variations to be found in nature - and eventually capable of generalizing our beliefs and applying them to unrelated but similar phenomena.

Beliefs are relationships we believe to be true about the world. For example, dogs can bite, is a belief. As an infant we may be instinctively fearful of any large animal that approaches us. However, after a few such scary encounters - we learn (we develop the belief) that this particular large animal (the family dog) is not dangerous. Note that this can happen well before a child learns to speak or develops an ability to reason. Later, we may learn that some dogs do bite.

During our life we then consult our belief system about dogs whenever we encounter one. This is much faster than logically reasoning out the possibility for danger each time. It is also generally more accurate. We may have limited experience with dogs and therefore have limited data to evaluate this logically. Our belief system however, can instantly generate fear or love emotions when we see a strange snarling dog on the street or our beloved Taffy.

The good thing about beliefs is that they provide instant emotions for decisions - and that they can be modified as we have new experiences. We can even apply logic to our beliefs to help modify them and make them more refined. For example, we may learn from reading a book at age ten that rabid animals exhibit erratic behavior and may foam at the mouth - and are very dangerous. So, as we grow we add to our belief system and we edit it continuously to provide the most accurate predictive emotions about many things in the world that can affect our well-being or our survival.

Many animals have beliefs. They have the ability to learn relationships about the world that affect their survival. My cat, through instinct and trial and error, has learned (developed the belief) that sitting next to her empty bowl and whining will generally result in me filling it up. Human belief systems are much larger and can hold many nuanced variations of any belief.

Beliefs don't depend on reasoning for survival, even though a good ability to reason can help smart persons edit their beliefs and add to them creatively so that they represent an increasingly large and accurate data base of relationships about the world - always ready to produce an instant emotion for our decision-making.

Enough for now.


Last edited by Margaret McGhee; July 12th, 2006 at 07:20 PM.
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