On Damasio and the Feeling Brain
I really like Damasio, but in the interest of time I’m going to be abrupt because simply put, the brain can’t feel a thing. With all due respect to Dr. Damasio: there’s a reason why we place our hand on our heart when we feel moved. We do not point to our brain and this is because our heart, not our head, is the seat of our feelings. This basic fact should be the lynchpin in any theory of emotion and feelings, the latest in neurological imaging and gene sequencing notwithstanding. (The canine equivalent to human hand-over-heart is also observable in dog behavior as I shall try to make clear with an upcoming sequence of photos.)
Our hand moves to our heart because the middle of our chest is the focal point in our body/mind as the place where we feel our projected physical center-of-gravity (our emotional c-o-g) that physically connects us to our surroundings. This is not a mental phenomenon, it is a visceral one. Physical organisms evolved complex nervous systems in order to render complex elaborations of simple physical phenomena (energy) as the invisible architecture of social structures. In a state of resonance with others or with our surroundings our heart becomes the epicenter of our emotional consciousness. Referencing our heart we are induced into a state of emotional suspension. One can only feel flow in a state of suspension. Flow is the perception of a virtual current of energy between the individual and the surroundings, not that it actually exists, but that it is an elaboration of the internal current (physical affects of emotional experience which Damasio interprets as integral to homeostasis) connecting the two poles in the body/mind. The feeling of flow softens the experience of the e-cog moving through the body after it has been projected onto external objects of attraction so that the movements and impacts of these external elements are likewise being apprehended as part of that overall sensual experience. And if the feeling evolves to be strong enough we feel “swept off our feet” because we are quite literally suspended by our heart (in our animal mind) in a field of mutual attraction.
Heart is where we feel potential energy. Heart orients us to the exact midpoint around which two entrained individuals achieve symmetrical alignment so as to turn their surroundings into a conductive medium. In other words, feelings evolve from emotion in order to turn the environment BACK INTO EMOTION, i.e. a field of mutual attraction that induces its constituents (via their feelings that make them feel conductive) to exploit their setting and thereby add new energy to the system.
The substratum of a subjective experience is not thoughts, but is due to one’s relationship with their physical memory, (the physical cog being the seed of all physical memory) which is simultaneously a feeling of where in the circle, or group, one feels connected. So one hundred people could be riding on a Ferris wheel and as it goes round, some are rising and some are descending and this universal spinning motion is nevertheless rendering a unique subjective impression within any given individual based on where on the circle one happens to find oneself in any given moment. The same energy, the same experience, depending on where in that frame of reference one is, determines the basis of a subjective experience and well before any thought or self-evaluation can ever take place.
It’s imaginable therefore that a subjective view of experience can be rendered far below any mental awareness and which will percolate up at some point, often slowly, until expressed in some kind of action and in the case of humans, can also potentially be grist for self-reflection (but not necessarily). Nonetheless whatever actions result will to some extent move the emotional momentum that’s been invested in the organism and this energy will run its course no matter what the human intellect might come up with as a means of interpreting what they are experiencing. This is because despite whatever thoughts are being pondered, there remains a thermodynamic reality to emotion in conjunction with the principle of conservation, with feelings being its means of implementation by way of syncing up with other like-minded beings, and these laws of nature will do the work they evolved to do no matter what a human being might think about what he is experiencing.
We can think about emotion in any way that we may choose, but nevertheless it will still act on us as if it is a virtual force of attraction, like gravity. We will have absorbed a charge of momentum and until it reaches terminus, it motivates us. And we may think about a state of suspension (feeling) in any way that we may choose, but it still affects us as if we’re suspended within a field of electromagnetism buffeted by arriving waves like a radio receiver and we will be differentiated in its course simply by virtue of our very nature. Our thoughts may distort or deny this energy but this can only serve to build up a charge and sooner or later, and nature has all the time in the world, it will come out on its own terms just as every drop of rain inexorably reaches the ocean no matter how many dams might be erected to hold it back.
So Damasio is studying the nuts and bolts of the neurological machinery by which this emotional dynamic is implemented into action and solely on the level of the individual; but he’s not actually studying the emotional dynamic, i.e. the heart. (To do that one must look at animals and their behavior as an expression of energy. There’s no other way.) We must remind ourselves that there is necessarily neurological machinery because heart can’t move a muscle and so it does indeed require nerve and a central coordinating apparatus to flex tendon, bone and muscle but this doesn’t therefore mean that the neurological mechanics is the source of the emotion or feelings. For example, I believe I could design (with the help of engineers) a doggy robot that could respond to other dogs and people in a way that would perfectly mimic how dogs respond and without any software or preprogramming whatsoever in regards to the core formatting of how the doggy robot would conduct itself and "know" what to do. My doggy robot would manifest complementary traits in response to the situation (or not if the moment was not conductive) and which would conscript other dogs and people into its “wave form” so that as an ensemble they could evolve into complex social actions and structures. The core computation would take place in real time and without preprogramming and would be based on states of energy evoked by batteries, magnetos, compasses, capacitors, and so on embedded in the robot. The process for robot dealing with an actual dog or person would be “written” on the spot in perfect compliance with the emotional conductivity and energetic parameters of the moment and yet even though this would be happening in the deepest recesses of the doggy robot’s “consciousness,” nevertheless I would still need a CPU and software layered on top of all this so that all these energy states could be fed into each other and then mirrored in the “higher” nerve centers in order that this underlying dynamic of “consciousness” could be executed into actual behavior via the hydraulics and appendages of the robot. This software/CPU “nerve center” would constitute the mechanics of implementation but it would not therefore be the source of the doggy robot’s core “consciousness.”
What Damasio terms homeostasis, which he sees as being in service to an individual agenda of survival and overall well-being, I recognize as “emotional ionization” which is in service to an interconnected network agenda, a networked-intelligence. These physical affects of emotional experience are in actuality capturing energy and then later during encounters with others, ultimately converting this captured energy into a “wave form” i.e. social energy.
When two dogs encounter each other, the friction between them will polarize them toward preyful or predator poles so that they differentiate from each other in a complementary way. This immutable tendency towards variability, Damasio misinterprets as homeostasis, when in fact it has nothing to do with stasis but is wholly concerned with flow and renders for each individual a distinctive subjective perception of what it is experiencing. But in the overall one dog has transmitted energy onto the other (predator - - > prey), and sure enough months if not years later the one that manifested prey-like traits (generally mislabeled “submissive”) and which absorbed the energy, then as if out of nowhere becomes predator-like (generally mislabeled “dominant”) in deference to this underlying template which prejudiced each other’s subjective impression of what they’ve experienced, and recruited them in the overarching dynamic by which the network moves energy through the environment to suit its purposes. Meanwhile behaviorism/biology says that respect, appeasement, dominance and submission has happened between A and B. And so while we all observed an obvious transfer of energy when A first met B, we then assume that all this energy somehow went into a mental ether; a psychology, and so we therefore miss that two to three years later that internalized energy in B has then finally emerged in some vigorous expression of action. A spring inside dog B was coiled, energy captured, and then released, energy returning to the flow.
Differentiating into complementary traits in order to turn environmental inputs into social energy; causes individuals to affect their environment so as to capture new energy. Feelings are not subjective (unique to that individual) in terms of being dependant on introspection or self-reflection, experience is subjective and unique to an individual because it is immutable that individuals will manifest these primary traits, two beings cannot experience the same moment the same, and then at some point exchange them if they create a true social framework.
The problem Damasio runs into with a top down, thought-centric model is how then to bring animals into the emotional fold because if they aren’t thinking, then they aren’t experiencing a feeling. And so we end up with a bifurcated model with body split from mind, animal from human; and human culture falling outside the domain of natural evolution.
An animals’ sense of its “self” derives from its relationship to its physical center-of-gravity which via Pavlovian conditioning evolves into an emotional center-of-gravity that is then “projected” onto complex objects of attraction so that given the bipolar, two-brain makeup of an animal, complex stimuli can be broken down into simple energetic conductors (what Damasio terms “emotionally competent stimuli”), and this then serves to help the projecting individual become the equal and opposite to such a complex object of resistance/attraction. This means that an animal can’t experience its “self” except through an external source of displacement, in other words, the animals’ identity depends on the external environment affecting it physically rather than via mental thought, or via an impression or reference of its “self” as something distinct and separate from its surroundings and then relative to its surroundings.
Damasio treats fear as an emotion, and as an irreducible aspect of experience, when with but a little introspection one can see that fear can’t possibly be a basic element on the periodic chart of emotions, but rather a compound construct several steps removed from emotion. For fear to be experienced, first there must be a state of attraction (emotion) as well as a sense of flow (feeling) that then collapses by an interrupting agent (construed by animal as predatory aspect) and the resulting sensations of falling (instinct) in the absence of grounding render the composite experience we understand as fear. All one has to do to verify this thesis is simply take note of what they experience when seeing a trooper suddenly looming in the rear view mirror.
A theory of stasis is a two-dimensional linear system that cannot explain the infectiousness of emotion. We can see that if someone laughs or vomits, others (because they involuntarily project their e-cog into the forms of their fellow persons) experience an involuntary reflex to emulate such behavior. Yet a supposition of maintaining stasis would suggest the opposite. How is vomiting in the absence of an actual toxin in the body returning the observing individual to a state of stasis? Rather it is upsetting an individual already in a state of stasis. That would be like riding a bike in a group and upon seeing someone fall off their bike then having to resist an overwhelming compunction to fall off in kind. But emotion is about flow rather than stasis, and so we emotionally project our e-cog into others in order to maximize flow, which is why we feel a simpatico infectiousness with laughter/vomit as an irresistible feature of our emotional nature, and then simultaneously we experience no urge to fall off our bike if our riding companion were to founder. The fundamental purpose of emotion is flow rather than stasis.
The basis of a “self” is resistance to acceleration, the degree to which when some force acts on a self, that self is capable of reflecting that energy back at that acting agent. This services the network’s impulse for complexity. Without that sense-of-self, then a feeling can’t elaborate from the underlying and fundamental state of mutual attraction that is the substratum of all consciousness and which compels organisms to differentiate into complementary traits.
The problem with a mental approach to emotion is that it leads to a sterile and bifurcated model because it is always preoccupied with the machinery of emotion rather than the emotional dynamic itself, which is the inculcation of virtual states of energy (gravity/electromagnetism) in consciousness, perception and experience. So Damasio sees culture as distinct and apart from nature, the brain as distinct and apart from the body - - and so then where is the role of the heart, the physical center-of-gravity, the symmetry of the skeletal arrangement, the tension between the dynamic demands of internal organs - - in the role of the mind?
A mental model of emotion is mechanical and ultimately denaturing and it will logically follow that taking drugs to numb an individual to what they are feeling will be seen as therapeutic since the mental machinery is always reducible to chemicals.