Emotions are defined as: A mental state that arises spontaneously rather than through conscious effort and is often accompanied by physiological changes; a feeling: the emotions of joy, sorrow, reverence, hate, and love. (1) (Answers.com).
Hans Jonas (2)
Hans Jonas interprets emotion in a broader framework which he calls “a general theory of life” (2: p.101). There is a “linkage between motility and emotion” (2; p.100). “The appearance of directed long-range motility (as exhibited by vertebrates) thus signifies the emergence of emotional life. Greed is at the bottom of chase, fear at the bottom of fight.”(2:101). “Emotion has no external organ by which to be identified and to force its way into a physical account” (p.100). It cannot be localized or measured two prerequisites for a scientific study. For years emotions were regarded by neurophysiologists as uninteresting. Only recently emotions were rescued from anonymity by Antonio Damasio.
In a recent lecture (3) Antonio Damasio formulated the following definitions:
1.a . human emotions are largely unlearned programs of automatic actions and cognitive strategies aimed at management of life.
1.b. [animal] emotions are unlearned programs of automatic actions aimed at the management of life.
1.c. some of these actions (e.g. orienting behaviors and specific action tendencies toward objects) form a basis for the cognitive component of emotions
2. emotional programs are build from simpler programs (drives and motivations). Reward and punishment processes are integral components of all theses programs and include scaling of internal needs and prediction devices and their components execute homeostatic goals of varied specificity
3.a. the program is triggered as a package by emotionally – competent stimuli (ECS) (objects or situations, actual or in mind) acting on brain devices shaped by evolution.
(“emotionally competent“ means that not every stimulus will trigger an emotion)
3.b. some ECS are evolutionary, some are individually learned; the ECS are appraised by context.
4. the execution of emotions is carried out in the body-proper (changes in the state of internal milieu, viscera, skeletal muscle: and in the CNS)
5. the changes entail either a decrease in efficiency of homeostatic regulation (experienced as pain/punishment); or an increase in efficiency (experienced as pleasure/reward)
6. the changes in the CNS involve systems which control cognitive resources, e.g. attention, working memory, learning; and promote special cognitive strategies and the recall of certain memories (scripts)
Damasio distinguishes between emotions and feelings:
Feelings are composite perceptions of
1. a certain state of the body - actual or simulated
2. a state of altered cognitive resources
3. the deployment of certain scripts
The mechanisms to feel an emotion:
1. by changing the state of the body
2, by altering the transmission of body signals to CNS
3. by creating directly a particular pattern of body maps in the CNS
Emotions from the perspective of “A New Kind of Medicine”
Any phenomenon observed in a patient has to be interpreted from two perspectives: Mind and WOB. In other words an observed phenomenon is a couplet [mind-phenomenon, WOB-phenomenon). In our case we are interpreting the following couplet (Mind-emotion, WOB-emotion).
The emotion of a fly
We wonder whether a fly has a mind and what would be its mind-emotion? Or might the fly have only a WOB-emotion? According to Jonas: Plants, animals and the human animal display an ascending development of organic functions and capabilities. The emergence of the human mind does not mark a great divide within nature but elaborates what is prefigured throughout the life-world. The organic even in its lowest forms prefigures mind, and the mind even on its highest reaches remains part of the organic. In other words, the basics of the human mind are inherent in simple organisms like an ameba or a paramecium. However we lack the means to interrogate their mind.
A fly enjoys your meal and you decide to kill it. While sucking your meal its WOB takes care of all processes for maintaining its life which includes also digestion of the foodstuff. The fly’s compound eyes observe a static neighborhood. You raise your hand, which is sensed by the fly as change. WOB mobilizes programs by emotionally – competent stimuli (ECS)” (v. s. Damasio) and the fly escapes. In other words, change in the environment is an emotionally-competent stimulus. WOB has a repertory of actions which are triggered by ECS. Some are regarded as instincts, drives, or reflexes. Note that the term emotion is derived from “motion”. Indeed all emotions are manifested my a motion, of muscle, blood , sweat and so on.
Jonas maintains that the fly has other emotions as well. Like greed which drove it to your meal; or desire that drives it to seek a mate. “Fulfillment not yet at hand is the essential condition of desire” (2: p 101). “Emotion implies distance between need and satisfaction” (2; p.102).
WOB-emotions are processes that sustain your life. You are busy and postpone your meal. Your blood sugar level declines. It is a change which Damasio would regard as an emotionally-competent stimulus (ECS) triggering WOB to pour sugar into your blood. You continue working unaware of this emotion. Later on your sugar reserves are almost depleted, WOB is fails to maintain an adequate blood sugar level and sends to the mind a signal of hunger as if saying: “get me some sugar!” Once mind feels the emotion it looks around and directs WOB to the nearest sandwich.
As long as WOB succeeds mobilizing emotions to sustain your life it is silent. Yet when its resources are depleted it sends messages to the mind to get them. This is when we feel our emotions. WOB only sustains life and by itself it is unable to get resources. For this purpose it is assisted by the mind. This is why a fly has to have a mind, which spots your meal and directs WOB to get it.
Mind is a subset of WOB
It is designed to interpret the outer world. It is an interface between WOB and the outer world. Like the Greek God Janus, mind faces two directions. Inward it listens to WOB messages and satisfies its demands. Outward, it interprets the outer world and guides WOB to resources.
Damasio distinguishes three kinds of emotion:
(a) primary or universal emotions, namely happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust.
(b) secondary and social emotions, like embarrassment, jealousy, guilt and pride.
(c) background emotions such as well-being or malaise, calm or tension, fatigue or energy, anticipation or dread.
Social emotions are conveyed to the mind from the outer world and are therefore regarded as mind-emotions.
Universal emotions are couplets. For instance:
WOB-happiness (or well being) indicates that WOB is in control.
Mind-happiness indicates that the mind enjoys its environment, e.g. a friend, or neighbors.
WOB-surprise occurs when WOB spots an outward danger e.g. the change observed by the fly and conveys it to the mind. It is a WOB message.
Mind-surprise occurs when one is promoted to the presidency post without deserving it.
Background emotions are generally WOB messages asking the
mind to seek help. WOB-malaise is a message to the mind to consult
a physician. WOB-fatigue is a message to the mind like, “stop exercising
for a while”
Emotions and the Brain
Neuro-physiologists claim that emotions are controlled solely by the brain, and that are rather well defined brain regions responsible for emotion. The brain stem (at the top of the spinal cord) is involved in virtually all of them; the hypothalamus (a sub-cortical structure) and the ventro-medial prefrontal cortex are responsible for sadness, but never for anger or fear; and the amygdala (another sub-cortical structure) is mainly responsible for fear and for the recognition of fearful expression. Injury to one of these structure results in a change in the emotion which they are supposed to trigger. The patient with an injured amygdala loses the sense of fear.
Actually the brain nuclei do not trigger emotion as Damasio claims, they relay emotion messages from WOB to mind in the brain cortex. In the same way as thirst is relayed to the cortex by other brain centers. True, when stimulated these nuclei make us feel emotionally, and so does the thirst center which when stimulated makes us feel thirsty.
Is consciousness necessary for emotions? Not at all! Since WOB sustains life even during coma it actually controls emotions.
1. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2004, 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
2. Jonas Hans The Phenomenon of Life- Toward a Philosophical Biology
Northwestern University Press Evanston Ill 2001.
3. Damasio Antonio, University of Southern California: "Advances on the Neurobiology of Emotion: Taking Stock"
November 16, 2006 - Public Lecture Series - http://www.princeton.edu/WebMedia/lectures/