Re: the origin of subjective 'feelings'

From: Durant Schoon (
Date: Fri Feb 07 2003 - 13:32:52 MST

Delurking, mostly becuase I have a free moment or two...

Greetings to people who know me (and those who don't)!

> Return-Path: <>
> From: "Jonathan Standley" <>
> To: <>
> Subject: the origin of subjective 'feelings'
> Date: Thu, 6 Feb 2003 17:26:42 -0500
> I posted this on the wta-arts yahoo group today, I was wondering what your
> thoughts were on the topic it addresses. the >'ed paragraph is part of the
> post I was replying to...
> > As an example, I hear people speaking of there being "new"
> emotions. So
> > how can the viewers identify with the hero's "plubertness" if
> niether they
> > nor the actor nor the director has the faintest idea what it means
> to feel
> > plubertness or what it is? Be interesting, in a dramatic
> presentation, to see if
> > anyone could handle an invented "new" emotion in a reasonable way.
> interesting idea...
> I realize this is tangential to the point of your post, but:
> I have serious doubts as to the possibility of 'new' emotions
> (without radical changes in the brains architecture). Not that
> there is an unsurmountable technical barrier as such, but rather
> that we already posess the full range of emotions 'possible' for a
> system that is similar to our brain. As such, I think 'new'
> emotions would only be a possibility once one's mind was 'running'
> on a structure quite unlike that of the natural human brain.

Let's think about emotions functionally, that is, how they affect us.
If you are hungry, your behavior might change to include seeking food.

If someone asks you out on a date, your emotional response will be
quite different if you are attracted to that person than if you are

I think of emotions as putting people into states, like we're big fuzzy
Finite State Machines, and in these states, the likelihoods of various
behaviors are increased or decreased. Emotions may be compounded where
various states might exist simultaneously with varying degrees of

In this framework, new emotions could either come from new structural
additions to one's mind, or perhaps a novel combination of already
known emotions could be considered a new emotion. Or perhaps there
are emotions you haven't felt yet.

I know that post-puberty and pre-puberty, my emotions were quite
different and I'll hazard that so are everyone elses. If you agree,
do you think we gained extra structures for them? I'm just curious.

> My reason for making these statements is my beliefs as to the nature
> of emotions. ask yourself: what is the cause of emotional responses
> in the human brain? The answer is rather simple in concept, though
> the details of it are still largely unknown.
> this isn't the place IMO for technical discussion of neuroscience,
> so I'll cut to the chase :) I believe that when one
> subjectively 'feels' emotions, what you are feeling is changes in
> the dynamic information patterns that is 'you'. SSRI's make
> you 'feel' mentally balanced, but how can you feel a chemical? what
> you feel is the changes in neural activity that the chemical induces.

For information on the origin of emotions, the evolutionary psychologists/
authors: Cosmidies and Tooby, Steven Pinker, and Matt Ridley have all
been mentioned on this list. I've read Pinker and I just received a
copy of The Adapted Mind for my birthday. Ridley's

The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation

was recommended by Eliezer and after reading it, I have to say I
found it very informative and interesting. Pinker's

How the Mind Works

has some great discussions of us as being emotional time bombs. It's
been a while since I've read the book, but I remember finding it

Minsky's next work is supposed a book called _The Emotion Machine_.
It will probably be similar in style to _The Society of Mind_. This
will probably provide lots of intensely interesting, theories of the
functions of emotions.

As for the subjective "feeling" of emotions. I have them and I find
them difficult to express, only because I'm fairly certain that the
other person I'm talking too, might not know exactly what I'm feeling.
I don't know what all the fuss about qualia are. I just avoid the
debate. Even my own feeling of hunger has changed. Now that I'm older
I distinctly feel faint and weak, whereas when I was younger, I recall
a strong desire building to go find food.

> The gross architecture of neural activity patterns is similar
> in 'normal' people; schizophrenics and others who are mentally ill
> show significant deviation from baseline neural patterns. If you
> accept my arguments of the previous paragraphs, then it follows that
> emotion is not intrinsic to the chemicals in your brain. And that in
> turn suggests a certain universality of emotions...

Hmm, if you really don't want a technical discussion of neuroscience,
this might not be a good paragraph :) I read The Chemical State of
Consciousness and from hearing about things like Prozac and other
"mood altering drugs" I'm sure there's a correlation with chemicals.
I saw a documentary about alcohol delaying the synapse fining in the
brain, so there is evidence (if it is right) that chemical and
electrical activity are both involved in mood regulation.

Durant Schoon

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