Re: [xmca] Emotion at Work

From: Steve Gabosch <sgabosch who-is-at>
Date: Fri Jul 27 2007 - 19:13:31 PDT

Hi Andy. I have a couple questions from your posts.

My first question is about the quote from page 58 in Michael's
article, which you agree with. "Because emotions are an irreducible
aspect of activity, they cannot be claimed to be the cause of other
aspects of the activity." (p. 58) I haven't been able to decipher
this particular passage - it just plain puzzles me. Perhaps you
could explain it. I don't get why being an irreducible aspect of
activity means emotions cannot be claimed to be the cause of other
aspects of activity. I just may be missing something.

My second question is about your reference to Damasio. What is your
take on his distinction between emotions and feelings? Below is a
Scientific American interview in April 2005 that asks Damasio his
thoughts on this.

- Steve

Scientific American Mind
April 2005 Issue

Feeling Our Emotions
According to noted neurologist Antonio R. Damasio, joy or sorrow can
emerge only after the brain registers physical changes in the body

For centuries, the fleeting and highly subjective world of feelings
was the purview of philosophers. But during the past 30 years,
Antonio R. Damasio has strived to show that feelings are what arise
as the brain interprets emotions, which are themselves purely
physical signals of the body reacting to external stimuli.

Born in 1944 in Lisbon, Portugal, Damasio has been chair of the
University of Iowa's neurology department since 1986. He and his
wife, neurologist Hanna Damasio, have created one of the world's
largest databases of brain injuries, comprising hundreds of studies
of brain lesions and diagnostic images. As profound as some of the
damage is to Antonio Damasio's patients, all of it informs his
understanding of how emotions and feelings arise and how they can
affect mental illness.

In recent years, Damasio has become increasingly interested in the
role emotions play in our decision-making processes and in our
self-image. In several widely popular books, he has shown how certain
feelings are cornerstones of our survival. And today he argues that
our internal, emotional regulatory processes not only preserve our
lives but actually shape our greatest cultural accomplishments.
--Interview by Manuela Lenzen

MIND: Professor Damasio, why are you so fascinated by the nature of
human emotion?

Antonio R. Damasio: At first I was interested in all types of
neurological injuries. If one area of the brain would lose its
ability to function, the patient's behavior could change either
dramatically or only subtly. One day I asked myself, What is missing
in a person who can pass an intelligence test with flying colors but
can't even organize his own life? Such patients can hold their own in
completely rational arguments but fail, for example, to avoid a
situation involving unnecessary risk. These kinds of problems mainly
occur after an injury to the forebrain. As our tests prove, the
result is a lack of normal emotional reactions. I continue to be
fascinated by the fact that feelings are not just the shady side of
reason but that they help us to reach decisions as well.

MIND: You differentiate between feelings and emotions. How so?

Damasio: In everyday language we often use the terms interchangeably.
This shows how closely connected emotions are with feelings. But for
neuroscience, emotions are more or less the complex reactions the
body has to certain stimuli. When we are afraid of something, our
hearts begin to race, our mouths become dry, our skin turns pale and
our muscles contract. This emotional reaction occurs automatically
and unconsciously. Feelings occur after we become aware in our brain
of such physical changes; only then do we experience the feeling of fear.

MIND: So, then, feelings are formed by emotions?

Damasio: Yes. The brain is constantly receiving signals from the
body, registering what is going on inside of us. It then processes
the signals in neural maps, which it then compiles in the so-called
somatosensory centers. Feelings occur when the maps are read and it
becomes apparent that emotional changes have been recorded--as
snapshots of our physical state, so to speak.

MIND: According to your definition, all feelings have their origin in
the physical. Is that really the case?

Damasio: Interestingly enough, not all feelings result from the
body's reaction to external stimuli. Sometimes changes are purely
simulated in the brain maps. For example, when we feel sympathy for a
sick person, we re-create that person's pain to a certain degree
internally. Also, the mapping of our physical state is never
completely exact. Extreme stress or extreme fear and even physical
pain can be dismissed; the brain ignores the physical signals that
are transmitting the pain stimulus.

MIND: The differentiation between emotions and feelings brings to
mind 17th-century philosopher Rene Descartes' idea of dualism--that
the body and mind represent autonomous systems. But you reject that
idea, as you explain in your book Descartes' Error. How should we see
the relationship between mind and body?

Damasio: To me, body and mind are different aspects of specific
biological processes. Philosopher Baruch Spinoza supported views
similar to mine, regarding the body and soul question, shortly after
Descartes' time. In his Ethics he wrote: "The object of the idea
which constitutes the human mind is body." Spinoza thereby
anticipated the findings of modern neurobiology.

MIND: Indeed, in your latest book, Looking for Spinoza, you describe
the man as "a mental immunologist developing a vaccine capable of
creating antipassion antibodies." So is only a life free of passions
a good life?

Damasio: Spinoza fascinates me not only because he was ahead of his
time with his ideas on biology but also for the conclusions he drew
from these ideas about the correct way to live life and set up a
society. Spinoza was a very life-affirming thinker. He recommended
contrasting the negative emotions such as sadness and fear with joy,
for example. He understood this kind of practice as a way to reach an
inner peace and stoic equanimity.

MIND: What are some of the other functions that feelings have, in
addition to helping us make decisions?

Damasio: My interest now extends way past the question of decision
making. In our lab, we are working more intensely with social
feelings such as sympathy, shame or pride--they form a foundation for
morality. Neurobiol-ogy doesn't simply help us to better understand
human nature but also the rules of social interaction. Yet to really
grasp this, we need a broader research approach: along with cognitive
and neurological sciences, many of the humanities could contribute,
especially anthropology and sociology.

MIND: It seems your research also extends into defining
consciousness. What role do emotions play? What role does the body play?

Damasio: Consciousness, much like our feelings, is based on a
representation of the body and how it changes when reacting to
certain stimuli. Self-image would be unthinkable without this
representation. I think humans have developed a self-image mainly to
establish a homeostatic organism. The brain constantly needs
up-to-date information on the body's state to regulate all the
processes that keep it alive. This is the only way an organism can
survive in an ever changing environment. Emotions alone--without
conscious feelings--would not be enough. Adults would be as helpless
as babies if they suddenly lost their self-image.

MIND: Animals also must possess consciousness, then?

Damasio: I do believe that animals develop a very basic
self-concept--what I refer to as "core self." But to have a broader
self, such as we do, requires an autobiographical memory.

MIND: Do you believe that we will someday be able to create
artificial consciousness and feelings?

Damasio: An organism can possess feelings only when it can create a
representation of the body's functions and the related changes that
occur in the brain. In this way, the organism can perceive them.
Without this mechanism there would be no consciousness. It is unclear
that this could ever develop in a machine or whether we really want
machines with feelings.

MIND: Will research on emotions help lead to better forms of therapy
for psychiatric illnesses?

Damasio: Without question. Emotional disorders form the core of most
psychological illnesses--a good example of this is depression.
Specific treatments will be developed in the future, such as new
types of medicine that target distinct cellular and molecular
systems. Other forms of therapy are also sure to benefit, from
traditional psychotherapy to social intervention.

Manuela Lenzen is a philosopher and writer in Bielefeld, Germany.
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