Panksepp, Natural Dog Training, Part Two

Panksepp, Natural Dog Training, correlations and distinctions.

The interesting thing about writing this article which I initially thought would be pretty simple and straightforward, is that in order to make correlations, I have to at the same time draw distinctions. I hope this doesn’t detract from conveying how much I respect Panksepp’s work. Step by step he is doping out how emotion works…….in the brain. He has determined that neurologically there are seven affective systems and what I find most compelling is how one affective system telescopes into another so that a simple system elaborates into a more complex one, for example, the LUST system elaborates into the CARE system. As Stuart in a comment on my blog put it: it is a “bottom-up nested hierarchy.”

From my point of view, learning theory is not consistent with this modular kind of structure as it focuses on interpreting behavior in terms of context and learning by way of reinforcements and therefore is always injecting a psychology. At 06:55 in the video Panksepp asks: What are reinforcements? and in answer he says (I want to point out that this is a rough transcript and I’ve included time marks in this article so anyone interested can check my paraphrasing for accuracy.) “The learning mechanisms operate with the feelings. Psychologists had to use words before they understood these things and they used words like reinforcements. No one knows, then they said well there are good, positive reinforcements and there are negative reinforcements……to this day no one knows.”

Well no one knows because there is no such thing as a reinforcement per se. There are those things that absorb the projection of emotion, and then conduct to varying degrees the movement of emotion so that it is brought to “ground” and this is what “reinforces” behavior if we need to use such a word, which we do for intellectual expediency, but it is the intrinsic principle of emotional conductivity rather than an external material outcome that is guiding the learning phenomenon. This distinction may be subtle, but proves overwhelming in its affects and effects. NDT is the only system of behavioral analysis which doesn’t rely on human psychological principles, which even by the way, means we cannot use the notion of survival and reproduction as internal motives for an animal. Organisms survive and reproduce that is very true, but that doesn’t mean we can attach a psychological precept to the motive of an animal that is successfully survives a given encounter, or successfully reproduces with a mate. In other words, the very notion of intention, such as survival or reproduction, should not be mixed in with the behavior of animals or even with their genes, as in a drive to proliferate.

As to a nested hierarchy, I would extend the principle an order of magnitude further. I would argue that the seven systems are interconnected via an even more primordial dynamic that has evolved from the oldest relationship between self-regulating organisms, one that runs through the entire spectrum, from the amoeba to human beings, and this is the predator/prey dynamic. Even bacterium seek, and even protozoan avoid noxious environments. The predator/prey duality will prove to be the ultimate bottom-up hierarchy into which all functions of the mind are nested. But again, we must excise intention from these impulses, the predator is not trying to kill and eat the prey, and the prey is not trying to escape from the threat of a dangerous predator. There is a deeper flow principle at work that is being expressed through the predator and prey dynamic.

It’s also striking to hear Panksepp recount the struggles he and others have gone through to justify the inclusion of emotion in a scientific approach to behavior, how much time they’ve had to spend wrestling with the question as to whether or not animals have emotion, and how that internal discord is still ongoing today. But since 1978 when I first began to construct a model based on emotion as a simple “force” of attraction, which step by step reveals its principle of conductivity, I have not been distracted with such a burden. One might say I was playing a hunch or making an educated guess, but while I was making an assumption without technically speaking a formal scientific basis for what I was coming to believe, nevertheless the logic was and remains sound, and not convoluted by the question as to whether or not animals experience emotion. It was axiomatic to me that animals act from emotion, the same emotion that human beings experience, there is no other assumption that is reconcilable with the phenomenon of evolution and understanding the behavior of animals as a contiguous whole, once that is one strips away all human conceptual thought from an interpretation of behavior. It’s now clear what direction mainstream science is going to go, Panksepp is fortunately going to win the debate because his research is irrefutable. The next step in my view however, will be that we will begin to look deeper than the brain because ultimately, after we have successfully taken it apart neuron by neuron and neurochemical by neurochemical, we will not find emotion materially embodied therein. We will just discover that emotion makes us incomplete, and that we need to connect not only with others, but to the larger flow systems of nature that render us all, as Darwin put it: “netted.”

(00:43) At the beginning of the interview the $64,000 question is asked:

What are emotions? (note the plural) “Emotions are the way we feel in a certain way. It’s not a sensory feeling like the pleasure of a wonderful cake, or the pain we feel when we step on a stone. On top of that we have these emotional feelings, very large bodily and brain responses to the world and they tell animals what is important to survival inside the brain. They are the needs of the brain, such as someone taking valuable resources from you and you get angry. Or an animal wants you for a meal and you’re scared and run away. This is important because these are the types of things that we are actually built around, the emotions are very deep value systems in the brain. Mind means subjective experience, at a fundamental level, some kind of volition, the system wants to do something, emotional systems want to do something, hit, run away, care for a child, laugh.”

In my model, there is one emotion and it arises from the confluence of the hunger and balance systems. Thus, no matter what the animal experiences, it will always find itself attracted to an object or a place (hunger) or repulsed from an object or a place (balance) and then an infinite combination of the two so that it can be selectively attracted and repulsed depending on the emotional conductivity of the moment. However even the state of repulsion is but the inverse form of attraction, which is why we observe that animals are compelled to investigate that which scares them. So working out this complex gradient of hunger and balance relative to the external world, and this brings us into the realm of feelings, is the entire scope of the learning phenomenon.

(04:48) Question: “How can we define emotion if we cannot even define the redness of a rose? A definition of these primitive psyche processes is impossible with words. They are so primitive and they are shared across all mammals, that they  have to be defined neuroscientifically. They are brain processes. we have to identify how do we develop a language to talk about them clearly? The language is symbolic, higher order symbolic things and because of the nature of language many many people right now interested in emotions go directly to the language level but the foundation of our emotional mind is primitive and it’s preverbal, it’s pre-symbolic, it’s symbolic in the sense that these are tools for living that enhance survival. There are sensory affects like pain or taste, bodily affects, there are within brain affects, the emotions. All mammals share the same emotions.”

(04:11) So what then about the redness of a rose? Panksepp says “Gifts of nature built into our brain as tools for living.” But this is where I believe the idea of behavior and emotional systems as being fundamentally in service to survival and genetic replication, begins to fall down. In this view of evolution, nature is a realm of limited resources and life is a competitive struggle to get one’s share. But appreciating the redness of a rose is not a tool for living although I suppose it could be said to be so from the rose’s point of view by way of inducing human beings to cultivate and propagate them, but I would have to believe that there was no pure aesthetic appeal to a human being millions of years ago when the redness of a rose was first evolving. The specific colors of a flower do of course attract bees and birds in service to pollination and gene replication and that pays a direct material benefit for both plant and pollinator, but the human capacity to find red appealing is because this aesthetic not for a tool for living per se, but as a tool to make living worthwhile, and this would be in service to emotion’s largest agenda, i.e. to enable a networked-intelligence, and expanding the network is more important than an individual’s survival because this adds new energy to the system. The guiding principle is emotional conductivity. So, the quality of a thing has an emotional value in terms of its conductivity. At the root of all emotion is the nature of energy itself, the essence of a thing. If the redness of a rose becomes affiliated with the essence of the rose and helps us feel flow, then that quality of redness becomes a strong aesthetic value upon which our appreciation of a rose is centered, and subsequent feeling for a rose goes on to elaborate little by little motivating an intellectual being such as a human, to experience and learn more about the rose so that one’s feeling for its essence is constantly expanding by acquiring more and more nuance with every interaction or contemplation of a rose. A dog is not going to experience a conductive value for a rose, its apprehension of its essence will not be in terms of its redness, and probably doesn’t show up on the emotional sonogram since the rose has nothing to do with its emotional subjective experience of the world. In fact for a dog, the essence of the rose is likely to be divined by way of its thorns and so this bristling quality would accord it a non-conductive, low level predatory value. Whereas in contrast the rose aficionado is going to incorporate even the thorn into their appreciation of the a rose’s redness given the comprehension that the thorn is how a rose preserves its beauty. So even the thorn becomes integrated into the process of elaboration by which the rose is apprehended emotionally as every aspect of it is integrated into higher psychological processes.

This is precisely where the Constructal law should be applied because it shows how the human aesthetic is built around a flow architecture. All flow systems are integrated into nature as one overarching flow system. The human aesthetic is not a tool for living, it is a highly advanced way of reconciling human activity with nature as a whole. When we stack rocks into a wall, the juxtaposition of their isolated shapes which when taken individually seem hard and cold, acquire a fluid and warm aesthetic, the molten essence of the rock contained within its form is released to our emotional senses. Thus in the case of industrialized nations, the more affluent the society, the more clean air and water is valued, the more resources are devoted to maintaining national and municipal parks, open lands and watersheds. The human aesthetic wants to preserve heritage so that the overarching flow spanning the past, present and future can be apprehended. Emotion gives us the tools to enhance the network and this is what makes life worth living.

So yes, emotion solves the problems of survival and reproduction, but these are not problems number one and two to be solved, and neither are they separate problems to be solved. In a network approach to emotion, preserving the individual’s integrity (survival) and saturating the network with a current (replication), is synonymous with integrating the individual into the network. The problem of survival is solved, at least as I should add, up to the point at which it no longer enhances the network. Eventually the prey must be eaten by the predator, but even so this doesn’t mean prey and predator are  in an arms race, rather they are co-evolving in service to a larger flow architecture.

(09:30) Where are emotions in the brain? (11:50) Panksepp: Anger and Fear deepest in the brain and therefore the oldest.

In NDT model, Fear is as close to pure emotion that the brain can get. Fear derives from the sensations of falling when a state of attraction collapses. Whereas what Panksepp terms as Anger, would be in my model a projection of Fear (via p-cog) onto an external object, so that the sight or sound of said object triggers sensations of disequilibrium. The animal relates to the form of the thing and internally processes it via its balance circuitry. It seeks to maintain stasis by achieving an emotional “ground,” either by getting the offending form to stop moving, or better yet by bringing it to ground, and if either of these are overwhelming, then the animal will search for higher ground or a place of more stable footing. Meanwhile a protection trainer would call what Panksepp refers to as anger: “defensive/reactive aggression.” Whereas in my model “Anger” is the projection of Fear onto objects of attraction so that the animal is responding to the form of the thing, and is not apprehending the essence of the thing.

Panksepp: “Emotion comes from the visceral nervous system. These basic systems of the viscera, along with the emotional state of anger, can be activated with electrical stimulation, which is how they were discovered by Hess in the 1930’s.” But according to Panksepp “it is just energy without any information.” However, in NDT model this leaves open the door to my theory that hunger circuitry is integrated into the balance circuitry so that the most basic autonomic functions, viscera, blood pressure, heart rate, et. al, can integrate with the balance mechanism so as to render emotion as the confluence of these two primordial systems and thus to create the framework for an emotional experience and the activation of the appropriate affective emotional system in the brain.

It seems to me that Panksepp is using the term Anger and RAGE interchangeably, but in my model a distinction can be drawn between “Anger” or defensive/reactive aggression, and true Rage. When an individual is emotionally projected into another being, with his body anatomically configured around an emotional midpoint between them, i.e. they are perfectly aligned and synchronized within a high energy flow configuration, then the last .01% (Deep Inner Stress) is released and focused in the midpoint, and the individual relives through the power of physical memory the feeling of weightlessness. In this emotional state, Rage is held in the heart so that the shoulders are loose and fluid, and yet smoothly transferring all the dog’s momentum in any given direction (angle of deflection) so as to instantaneously respond with how all relevant counterparts in the system are moving. All true feelings arise from a state of emotional suspension and this is frame of mind that a police dog eventually achieves in its work which is why it can bring a criminal to ground, but it’s not emotionally overloaded and can live sociably in the world of man. Another word for Rage-of-the-Heart? Courage.

(Next article will discuss SEEKING, PLAY, LUST and CARE)

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Published March 16, 2013 by Kevin Behan
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4 responses to “Panksepp, Natural Dog Training, Part Two”

  1. wetnosewarmhearts says:

    Panksepp on the emotions and feelings of animals. A shorter version, less than 20 minutes summary.

  2. Ben says:

    So, you are kind of redefining Rage here, no? The typical definition of Rage is “violent, uncontrollable anger”.

    Could you elaborate more on how you are defining Rage?

  3. Kevin Behan says:

    Yes, I believe this is a different way of looking at Rage. In my model Rage is merely the most tightly bound layer of stress with the p-cog, and because it has to be triggered by stimuli of great intensity, and because it has to emerge through so many layers of previous experience (physical memories) its arrival at the surface is often powerful and explosive and so it has been branded incorrectly as an anti-social energy. But these tendencies are due to instincts being activated because the emotional carrying capacity of the individual has been surpassed. Whereas when the emotional capacity of an individual is high enough, then rage is information how to move appropriately through a highly charged and complex situation, it’s the opposite of violent expression. For this reason I have imagined that rage-de-la-couer, rage of the heart, translates into courage. So unlike anger or guilt which are people-goal-time oriented, rage is truth oriented and the most courageous act one can do is to tell the truth. I have come to believe this is all true because of my feeling that at the root of all behavior is Attraction, even Rage and this understanding allows one to make such distinctions through a non-judgmental observation of animal behavior.

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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