Charlie Rose Brain Series 8 Damasio and the Role of Emotion in our Lives
Very enjoyable intelligent discussion with ideas clearly articulated. However an energy theory sees emotion in a different light. My main critique is that they miss the fundamental aspect of emotion, which is that it is a universal and monolithic “force” of attraction. And this means that there is no such thing as a negative emotion and why I don't believe that fear (anger or guilt, jealousy, fairness, etc..) cannot be emotion, rather such states result from the collapse of emotion. So where does emotion come from? A uniform sense of tension diffused through the whole body so that the body/mind is a displaceable medium actuated by sensory input. And where does this tension come from? From a dynamic state of conflict between the two brains, the Big-Brain seeks output to maintain stasis, the little-brain craves input in service to change. The resolution of this internal contradiction (towards what Damasio would call an “emotionally competent stimulus” but which I would call a preyful aspect) is a push/pull (tension=push/release=pull) of emotion toward such an object of attraction. The individual feels a push from the source of tension (-) and simultaneously a pull to the preyful releaser (+). Whatever a dog smells is such a preyful aspect; this grounds out emotion as a current of energy between the organism and its environment as it simultaneously reconciles the two brains.
Now if emotion were to be recognized as a “force” of attraction, it would quickly become clear that nature is not random, but is digitized into predatory (-) and preyful (+) aspects and that the flow of emotion proceeds according to a principle of emotional conductivity from (-) to (+). So the body/mind is like a semi-conductor designed to turn that which cannot conduct, into that which can conduct, by virtue of like-minded organisms aligning around a collectivized flow of energy. One wolf confronting a moose doesn't get the moose to move. Five wolves confronting a moose don't necessarily get it to move either. But five wolves emotionally aligned so as to approach in a synchronized way, can get the moose to conduct their emotional energies.
In the show the panel is very ambivalent about aggression which I suggest is because they are confused about its true nature. In an energy interpretation, aggression is blocked attraction, this builds up force in order to do the work of overcoming resistance. So if two things are alike, this creates a block that begets friction (misinterpreted as competition) and the purpose of the subsequent “heat” is to differentiate the two organisms so that they can complement each other (misinterpreted as dominance and submission) so that their emotional batteries can be coupled (high social virtues mis-attributed to the higher centers of the Big-Brain) so that they can overcome higher and higher forms of resistance (cooperation misinterpreted as intelligence). This capacity to merge batteries and align together (sexual/sensuality) to turn non-conductive objects of resistance into conductive objects of attraction is what allows the network to become more complex and continue to evolve by making more energy. In other words, the nutritive energy of the moose has been turned into information, i.e. how to align to get an object of resistance to conduct emotional energy.
In regards to fear, when we see a bear, our current state of resonance (an advanced form of attraction that has elaborated into a uniform sense of tension/release with everything in our surroundings) is collapsed and the intensity of the resulting sensations of collapse is what produces the physiological/neurological affects, not the fear per se. There is no fear without the collapse. And there can't be a collapse without a state of attraction/resonance. For example, if someone is hunting bear (therefore they are processing via their hunger/prey-making circuitry) the sight of the bear is an arousing stimulus by virtue of the same collapse, but in this context the hunter is grounded into bear-as-prey frame of reference so the sensations of collapse (the bear suddenly appears) into bear-as-prey are exhilarating. In another frame of reference when we go to the zoo, we (the non-bear hunters) are not frightened by the bear but are oddly awestruck. The sight of the bear, while shocking to our sense of resonance within our normal frames of reference, nevertheless we feel grounded into the place where we stand due to the high fences, thick walls, deep moat etc., so that our footing feels secure. We can in this context parse apart the state of attraction from the sensations of collapse so that these sensations can go on to elaborate into a feeling of resonance with the sight of the bear that we then apprehend as a feeling of awe given that our footing is secure. Whereas if we see a snake writhing on the ground, especially a multitude of harmless garden snakes, or a bunch of rats, which are small and therefore constitute preyful aspects, nevertheless because the ground is quite literally moving given the snakes/rats are the objects of attraction within that particular frame of reference, they therefore affect our balance circuitry and so we feel “queasy” hence the quasi motion sickness as the basis of our perception. We say they “disgust” us and are more violently repulsed by these harmless creatures than by the sight of the bear which can in fact truly hurt us. Unlike the very big bear, we’ve involuntarily imported the small animals into our gut given their smallness on the ground and we want to purge ourselves since we’re not in fact feeling on terra firma since we see the ground moving beneath us when we look down at them.
Charlie Rose asks a particularly insightful question about a soldier who acts both courageously and yet impulsively, which is actually in contradiction to the model offered in the show that the higher cortex region has to moderate the autonomic responses into more exquisite expressions of high social virtues. This in fact is the panel's prescription for social harmony and they are eager to use drug therapies to implement this Utopian ideal.
For example, a soldier throws his body over a grenade to shield his comrades and of course without taking the time to think about it. How then is this possible since according to the Big-Brain model as source of high social virtues, the sensory input of the grenade is a direct feed from the thalamus to the amygdala to the autonomic responses of paralysis or flight? And we should note that unlike the Secret Service infantry soldiers are not conditioned to use their body as a shield, they are taught to take cover when exposed to danger. Whereas in my model, when rage rises into the heart, (and the panel mistakenly labels rage a negative emotion) this allows the individual to act for the higher good in abject defiance of genetic encoding and a lifetime of built up habituated responses to terrifying stimuli and this is because of a highly evolved state of resonance that has elaborated over the course of his experiences and bonding with his comrades during boot camp and combat. He is more deeply bonded with his comrades by virtue of rage having been activated by the intensity of sensations of his combat experiences, then finding grounding into his combat unit, all that sensory input of warfare increases his attraction/resonance with his comrades, and then it ultimately rises to his heart if he believes in his comrades, or commanding officer or their mission. So the soldiers’ frame of reference includes all his comrades as one vibrating membrane so that the sight of the grenade inspires a desire to release its energy into his body so as to not disturb the overall membrane of tension encompassing the entire group, which is where his consciousness truly resides. It was the rage that took root in his heart that inspired him, and likewise this is the only way any deep seated unresolved emotion, and this is always tagged with fear, can be resolved. I argue against these drug therapies because I believe they numb the individual to their rage, which is a necessary component to a true feeling.
The show concludes with Rose asking each panelist for the top priority on their wish list to be solved. Damasio says he wishes to explore what makes a feeling either good or bad. I propose that where one feels connected to their group, in other words where on the circle does their temperament resonate, determines how they will subjectively feel, and then the extent to which they feel resonant and grounded into their surroundings determines whether the feeling is good or not. For example, a number of people are on a Ferris Wheel, but their perspective, their frame of reference, will vary dramatically by virtue of where they are on the circle when it stops. Everyone will have a different subjective perception, but it won’t be at random. Someone stuck at the top will become the most susceptible to fear, someone near the bottom can get off whenever they want simply by hopping to the ground. The latter is grounded the former is less grounded and so their state of resonance is most easily collapsed.
I believe the panel's error is that they don't recognize that emotion is a group (Temperament as a circle) rather than an individual phenomenon. They interpret emotion as a series of programs designed only to maintain the individual’s homeostasis in service to the genes propensity for survival and replication. This narrow perspective misses that emotion is the operating system of animal consciousness in order to effectuate a network. The homeostatic programs are really emotional ionization, the organism capturing physical energy. The group dynamic is emotional polarization, the harnessing of the energy that’s been captured. All of this is in service to a network so that physical energy can be turned into information, i.e. new energy, a.k.a. a feeling, or true consciousness.