Correlations between the research of Jaak Panksepp and Natural Dog Training
The debates I’ve had on various forums with modern learning theorists ultimately revolve around my claim that emotion shapes learning through a process that is far more fundamental than any system of reinforcements. I argue that reinforcements aren’t instrumental, a template comes first and is also the final standard by which any given action is assayed by an animal as having been effective or not.
Invariably in these discussions the work of Jaak Panksepp, perhaps the world’s foremost expert on the neurobiology of emotion is invoked in rebuttal to my emotion-centric argument. I have to admit I’m a little punchy so that my first reflex is to think in terms of debunking Panksepp as I’ve mistakenly assumed that, because there is one fundamental and overwhelming point of distinction that needs to be made between what his research has determined versus what an immediate-moment manner of analysis has revealed, that therefore in the final analysis Panksepp’s findings stand in abject negation of my theory. However in reality my debating opponents are just trying to refute something, anything, and everything, I have to say and they’ve turned to Panksepp to take on my claim that there is but one emotion that functions through neurology, physiology and even anatomy as a virtual force of attraction.
Panksepp, an impeccable and fair minded scientist says there are seven primal emotions, SEEKING, RAGE, FEAR, LUST, CARE, PANIC/GRIEF, PLAY, each to be found in a specific region of the brain and he has conducted the research that verifies this. I don’t see how any reasonable person could doubt his findings. So to an outside observer who doesn’t take the time to give my ideas a fair hearing, it must appear that I’m railing against the entire scientific world since my understanding of a universal, monolithic emotion common to all animals and the basis of animal consciousness, means distinctions need to be drawn with every other interpretation of emotion and animal behavior which have not yet arrived at that conclusion. Yet the truth is that science is the biggest ally of my theory and I want to take the time to make this point inescapably vivid. I also believe that this particular discussion will help frame the theory more clearly when I return to fleshing out how the animal mind composes a sense of its “self” in the body language section. So in this vein I will review a video interview conducted with Panksepp which quite nicely summates and clearly articulates his research.
This review will probably take two or three articles to cover in full. I’m heartened to say that the more I learn from Panksepp, the more I realize how much in common we share and that he has just as big a beef with Skinner and modern learning theorists as do I. In the video he tells of writing a long letter to Skinner only to receive a weak response.
However, at the same time I remain convinced that there is but one emotion. As far as the brain is concerned, Panksepp is right, there are seven affective systems in the brain that implement emotional states. But I’m arguing there is a mechanism deeper than these neurologically rooted systems, and it is observable when one interprets complex behavior in terms of the immediate-moment (sans projection of thoughts). The seven affective systems he’s identified are not primal emotion because no matter how deeply embedded they may be in the neurology of vertebrates, they still had to have come from somewhere, just as Panksepp argues some of the more advanced mammalian affective systems likewise arise from more basic ones found in lower vertebrates, such as fish.
My theory is that there is one emotion, an undifferentiated, monolithic “force” of attraction, and in order for two individuals to connect and emotionally bond, an individual must “devolve” below the level of instinct, as well as below a lifetime of acquired values and habits of mind, so as to access this level of pure primal emotion composed from the hunger and balance circuitry. It is on this level that an emotional connection is made so that two individuals might possibly go on to become emotionally entangled by way of feelings. This process of emotion elaborating into feelings is predicated on the predator and prey duality (projection of emotion and absorption of emotion) and the flipping of these roles so that an emotional charge is passed back and forth in a process of elaboration wherein they will ultimately come to differentiate from each other in a complementary, mirror-like way. This process of elaboration is the most basic architecture of the animal mind upon which sexuality and even personality sits. It includes not only an organism’s neurology, but also its physiology and anatomy. I can envision that Panksepp’s seven affective systems are emotion’s means of implementation given that the brain is the executive organ, so that while these seven systems are not fundamental, they may very well prove to be where emotion interfaces with the brain’s most basic executive processes. I still believe that the seven affective systems do not articulate the role that the body, and especially anatomy, play as the substrate of emotion and in the creation of a emotional bond and the capacity for a purely adaptive response to a change that falls outside the scope of a preexisting pattern. So while it is true that a particular region of the most primal regions of the brain can be electrically stimulated and evoke such states as FEAR, LUST, RAGE, PLAY, PANIC, NURTURE and SEEKING, in my view these are emotional states, hardwired effective systems so that things can run automatically and instantly in order to deal with a predictable pattern, but that these are not enough to integrate the individual coherently into the larger flow systems that transcend its individuated consciousness and which are the current with, and against which, it must swim.
My argument is that emotion arises from the integration of neurology, physiology and anatomy as co-equal partners as these basic systems reconcile the hunger/balance problem. If you stay put, you starve. Then again, if you move, you may be knocked down and eaten. Satisfying hunger, relative to maintaining equilibrium, generates a substrate as a frame of reference for the mind, a platform by which aspects of the brain, even deeper than the seven affective systems, focus internal energies so as to physically move the body from point A to point B in reconciliation of the fundamental conundrum of life on earth, move or die, move too much and die.
In order to seek, in order to express lust, rage or nurture, in order to play or to escape, the body must move. The body is moved by focusing on an external object of attraction while simultaneously subliminally focusing on the specific location of the physical center of gravity within the body, with the anatomy in motion symmetrically aligned around this specific point that is always in flux. This is the platform from which feelings elaborate into complex, intelligent and creatively adaptive responses to external events. This is a precise auto-tuning/feedback dynamic that causes an animal to perceive and interpret change according to a principle of emotional conductivity so that the various subsystems in the brain aren’t firing randomly, and so that the organism will be precisely nested into the larger flow systems of nature. In this auto-tuning/feedback dynamic an organism’s anatomy is every bit as important to the generation of a frame of mind as is its neurology. (We should note that the centralization of the nervous system and a bilateral symmetrical anatomy evolved either simultaneously, or the former after the latter. At any rate the two are inextricably linked.) I believe that the affective systems are not the true source of emotion, because emotion is an internal metric that leads the organism to find an emotional “ground” by integrating its “self” with what it is attracted to. Two nervous systems in two separate heads and bodies become integrated into one mind. The body is integral to this process. It doesn’t exist just to carry the head around.
So based on my understanding of Panksepp to date, and I welcome critique from those more informed, this series of articles is about correlates that can be drawn between Panksepp’s research and the core principles of emotion that underly the philosophy, theory and method of Natural Dog Training. I close with a quote of Pankepp’s which occurs at the end of the video and which I find especially inspiring given what those of the Natural Dog Training persuasion frequently find themselves dealing with when debating other experts, i.e termination. I was surprised to hear of his own personal travails in the marketplace of ideas. His open mindedness and perseverance is the true stuff of science.
(57:20) “Can you imagine that scientists would close the book on talking about things; talking about the possible nature of the world. But this is what happened historically. We have brilliant men of extreme arrogance telling us what we could talk about and what we couldn’t talk about. Even to this day most psychologists have left the organism outside the door and they study the concepts that they have.”