An illustrated guide to our long forsaken Emotional GPS
Affective neuroscience and imagery
“As I agree with the idea that a symbol is the “clothing of affect in image” (Colman, 2010), in this appendix I explore some of the finer and more technical details of the innate emotional systems we all share in order to better understand how this may work neurobiologically; I include it here for specialists who want a more detailed account of the emotional systems of the brain that I discuss throughout the book. This section therefore assumes knowledge of brain anatomy and reviews several human and animal studies in greater detail than elsewhere in the book. You have been warned.
Affective neuroscience postulates that emotions derive from ancient, highly conserved regions of the brain, and include the SEEKING, PANIC, FEAR, RAGE, LUST, PLAY, and CARE systems. The SEEKING system (also see LeDoux, 2002: 246–252; and Solms and Turnbull, 2002) is a neurobiological system involved in motivating organisms toward exploration, curiosity, interest, and expectancy that is present in all mammals. This self-stimulatory system consists neurobiologically of mostly tonically active (as opposed to cyclically or flexibly active) dopaminergic paths of the lateral hypothalamic corridor, which runs from the ventral tegmental area to the nucleus accumbens–stimulation of these circuits in animals evokes highly energetic exploratory and search behaviors. This system corresponds to “intense interest,” “engaged curiosity,” and “eager anticipation” in humans, always recognizing that primitive emotional behavior in humans is likely to be overlain by all sorts of social and environmental modulation–but the driving circuitry remains the same. In humans, stimulating this area generates feelings that “something very interesting” is going on (Heath, 1963; Quaade et al., 1974), and is associated with intense “feelings of environmentally engaged aliveness” (Panksepp, 2005: 47), a fact further attested to by the observed effects of psychostimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine, which energize this system. The importance of this system in consideration of archetypal symbolism is its connection with higher brain mechanisms:
there are now many reasons to believe that forethoughts … do in fact emerge from the interactions of the SEEKING system with higher brain mechanisms, such as the frontal cortex and hippocampus, that generate plans by mediating higher-order temporal and spatial information processing. Indeed, circuits coursing through the LH can trigger a hippocampal theta rhythm, which … is an elemental signal of information processing in that structure. (Panksepp, 1998: 151, emphasis added)
The SEEKING system, then, is an innate, self-generated system involved with exploration and information gathering and processing – key aspects of symbol generation in cognitive terms, especially for a symbolically vigorous species such as Homo sapiens. This system has been linked to increased pattern finding activity in humans, and when abnormally activated is associated with delusional thinking in schizophrenia (Panksepp, 1998: 161–162). Working normally, however, it facilitates the recognition of patterns in the environment, which are closely linked with metaphor generation and hence symbol-making activity in humans – it is particularly active, notably, in dreaming. Furthermore, there is evidence that organisms work toward a homeostatis of SEEKING activity as measured through its link to REM sleep, that is, self-stimulation and SEEKING behavior increases in REM-deprived animals (Steiner and Ellman, 1972). It seems that a certain amount of SEEKING is endogenous, innate, and necessary for proper functioning in all vertebrates. The SEEKING system is primed to respond to evolutionarily derived mechanisms and orchestrates the “incentive-directed psychobehavioral ‘energy’ of the animal” (Panksepp, 1998: 168), which includes higher complex motivations in humans, translating evolutionarily important external and internal information into an appetitive, exploratory, and escalated information-processing response. Just to show how this is linked to human experience, it has been shown that when the SEEKING system is pharmacologically dampened, it is associated with feelings of anergia and dysphoria in humans (Voruganti and Awad, 2004). Being deprived of symbol-making activity, it seems, is strongly associated with depressive mood states. Finally, there are a number of correlates between the SEEKING system and mythic expressions such as the “wellspring of life” and the many descriptions of the various underworlds wherein energy, life, power, and other vague but important things emerge; I explore these in detail elsewhere (Goodwyn, 2010b).
Frustration of the SEEKING system, as well as pain and irritation, can also activate the RAGE system, which “we share from the neurodynamics of subcortical circuits we share homologously with other animals” (Panksepp, 1998: 187). This system, which elicits aggressive, angry attack responses, can be generated by stimulating the same brain regions, notably the periaqueductal gray, the medial, and ventrolateral hypothalamus and the amygdala electrically or pharmacologically in humans and all mammalian species studied (Miczek, 1987). Direct electrical stimulation of the RAGE system in humans results in reports of feelings of intense rage (Hitchcock and Cairns, 1973; Mark et al., 1972). Autonomic response to stimulation of this system results in elevation of heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and blood flow. The RAGE system directs, sensitizes, and activates implicit perceptual, judging, and memory systems, and brings anger and plans for revenge to the surface when activated by appropriate environmental conditions (Christianson, 1992; Stein et al., 1990). Like all affective systems, the higher cortical appraisal systems co-opt the older affective motivational systems that direct implicit perceptual, judging, and memory systems, and hence the explicit system that is built upon them. This fact is important to remember in our discussion of how human emotions work to generate affect-laden symbols. The SEEKING system is also closely linked to the LUST system, which has obviously evolved to direct mate-seeking behavior (Panksepp, 1998, 2005).
The FEAR system, which involves the periventricular gray, central, and lateral areas of the amygdala, the anterior and medial hypothalamus and the lower brain stem and spinal cord, can invoke elevated heart rate and blood pressure, the startle and freeze response, and elimination and perspiration in mammals (Panksepp, 1998: 212–213). Electrical stimulation of this area in animals is associated with profound escape and aversion behavior (Panksepp, 2005).
The PANIC system evolved from early reptilian pain circuits and mediates feelings of social isolation, and separation distress in infants. It motivates the organism toward reestablishing broken social bonds. In fact, the mammalian brain contains a highly integrated emotional system involved in maintaining attachments, likely as a result of longer development times and the need to maintain much greater parental care behavior. This system, preceded by brain systems involved in thermoregulation, pain sensation, and avoidance, as well as rudimentary reptilian mother–infant parental bonding, mediates separation distress behavior when animals are socially deprived (associated with reduction in opioid activity in humans, see Zubieta et al., 2003), and social comfort when satisfied (and associated with endogenous opioid release; see Keverne et al., 1989). The PANIC system involves the dorsomedial hypothalamus, ventral septal area, preoptic area, and sites in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (which are also heavily involved in the sexual and maternal behavior circuitry). Persistent social isolation and loss appears to activate this system to produce panic, anxiety and later depression in all mammals (Panksepp, 1998: 275–276; Panksepp, 2005; cf. Dickinson and Eva, 2006). Social contact appears to be required for survival as abandoned animals exhibit anaclytic depression and usually die (Panksepp et al., 1991), and social environment has been shown to modulate affective responses to pain and increase behavioral indices of pain in humans and animals (reviewed in Panksepp, 2005).
Finally, the PLAY system creates an impulse in all mammals to engage in rough-and-tumble activity that arises spontaneously early in development– this behavior is sensitive to deprivation and animals deprived of play activity will increase play activity once allowed (Panksepp, 1998: 281). The need for play is contingent on satisfaction of basic needs; hunger and fear can inhibit play (Siviy and Panksepp, 1985). With respect to this system,
The systematic nature of the results … affirms that the urge to play is an intrinsic function of the mammalian nervous system … the evolutionary roots probably go back to an ancient PLAY circuitry shared by all mammals in essentially homologous fashion. (Panksepp, 1988: 282; Thor and Holloway, 1984)
This source of exuberant joy, useable as an independent reward in humans and animals, then, appears to be hardwired into our neurobiological makeup rather than being solely explainable on the basis of nurture (Panksepp, 2005). This system is distinct from the more serious SEEKING system and in fact appears to operate in opposition to it.
Interestingly, the PLAY system appears to extend into tickling responses, which are observed in all mammals (Panksepp, 1998: 287; see also Panksepp, 2005, 2006), and “play sounds,” which resemble laughter in a variety of independently observed ways. Play sounds accompany “tickling” stimulation when applied to conserved areas of the body such as the nape of the neck and upper flank regions, and appear to be a mammalian birthright that promotes social bonding across species (Panksepp, 2005: 55). Note also that laughing is observed in blind and deaf children (Eibl-Eibesfelt, 1989). The play system is also likely to be the neurological substrate for the “theory of mind” ability (Panksepp, 1998: 289), and is mediated by activity in the parafascicular and posterior thalamic nuclei, which are, not surprisingly, associated with human laughter (Sterns, 1972) and unrelated to neocortical regions (Pellis et al., 1992). Overactivity of the PLAY system has been implicated in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and mania (Panksepp, 1998), and opioids have been shown to increase activity of PLAY circuits in humans and other animals (Panksepp, 2005).
Neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert starts from a surprising premise: the brain evolved, not to think or feel, but to control movement. In this entertaining, data-rich talk he gives us a glimpse into how the brain creates the grace and agility of human motion.
The Principles of Neural Design
Can the mystery of subjective experience and meaning be better understood from an ontological mathematical perspective?
“There are two “realities”, one true and one false (episteme versus doxa). True reality is based on necessary syntax and semantics, and concerns nature’s language: mathematics (numbers). False reality is based on contingent, arbitrary syntax and semantics, and deals with man’s languages (dealing with emotive, non-analytic words rather than non-emotive, analytic numbers).”
“A second way of talking about mathematical semantics concerns information carrier (syntax; form) versus information carried (semantics; content). A mathematical sinusoidal wave of a specific frequency may be experienced as the color blue, but it is never experienced as a numerical frequency, as a mathematical waveform. In this view, empiricism is the semantic level of mathematics, while rationalism is the syntactical level of mathematics.
The empirical meaning of something is how it is experienced, not what it actually is. Our phenomenal experiences shield noumenal reality from us. The world is pure math, but we don’t experience it as math: we experience it as feelings, perceptions, intuitions, desires, and so on, all of which belong to the level of information carried and experienced rather the level of the information carrier and transmitter. We experience content, not form. In Platonist terms, we experience the sensible aspect, not the intelligible aspect.
With mathematical semantics, the task is to overcome the unreal, abstract, purely syntactical terms in which mathematics is so often treated, and instead to show that all of our experiences, and the whole way in which the universe is evolving and in which our minds are evolving, relate to the ontological, semantic reality of mathematics.
This is a universe of information agents (monads), which are getting better and better at interpreting information. Eventually, they will be so good that they are able to understand that all information is carried by mathematical waves, and that they themselves are made of waves and carry wave information.
The semantic universe of our experience, from which we derive meaning, is sitting directly on top of a syntactical universe of sinusoidal math derived from Euler’s Formula. The mathematical form is the noumenal level of reality, while the mathematical content (information carried) is the phenomenal level. Humans are attuned to phenomena, not noumena. Only our reason and logic can access the hidden noumenal level that defines existence, and which provides the answer to existence.
The domain of mathematical form (syntax) is the intelligible, rational, explicable aspect of reality. The domain of mathematical content (semantics) is the sensible, irrational, mysterious, mystical, acausal (in terms of appearance), experiential aspect of reality.
This is a universe of information waves, organized within monads (autonomous mathematical wave containers), which are able to interact with each other via wavefunctions (generated by Fourier mathematics).
Another way of looking at things is to say that we are seeking to turn the wavefunction of quantum mechanics into an ontological, semantic reality rather than an unreal, probabilistic mathematical abstraction (as science absurdly claims it is).”
“We are dealing with a dual-aspect ontology, a two-sided coin. If your perceptions are attuned to heads, you will never see tails. If a coin always lands heads up, you will never see tails, but that doesn’t mean tails doesn’t exist. In terms of the dual-aspect ontology of the information carrier and the information carried, you always perceive the information carried and never the information carrier. A rationalist works out that the information carrier must exist. An empiricist, such as Hume, does not. He maintains that anything that cannot be perceived does not exist. He denies his own soul, his own self … simply because he cannot perceive it. It is not something that can be perceived … it is the perceiver himself! A perceiver’s mind is full of perceptions, but none of those perceptions can be of the perceiving mind since the mind is the collective perception carrier, not the individual perceptions it carries. You cannot perceive the perception itself as well as what carries the perception since that would require two independent perception systems, one for each side of the “coin”. A human cannot see heads and tails simultaneously. You would need an entirely different way of perceiving reality to see both sides of the coin at once.”
“In our system, signifier is the syntax, and the signified is the semantics, i.e. the meaningful experience – whether a feeling, perception, sensation, intuition or thought – that accompanies the syntax. This is a dual aspect system reflecting a syntactical carrier (a mathematical wave), and a semantic experience associated with it (the information carried by the mathematical wave).
Humans assign meaning and significance to the experience, not to the carrier of the experience, which is typically treated by science as an unseen, unreal, noumenal abstraction … a quantum mechanical “wavefunction”, which does not become “real” until it is “collapsed” by an observation (i.e. an experience). In our system, the quantum mechanical wavefunction is real, hence has no need of any arbitrary and unexplained collapse mechanism. It is always associated with an experience, with observational and empirical semantic properties. Observers are not required to confer properties upon the wavefunction: it possesses them necessarily.”
“The universe is a giant living mathematical organism made of energy waves which is relentlessly solving itself to establish its optimal symmetry, the symmetry of perfection, the symmetry that produces God.”
“Simple waves are the letters of the ontological alphabet, and, when we put them together, we produce ontological words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, verses, poems and novels written not onto paper but onto the universe itself.”
Stark, Dr. Thomas. Euler’s Formula and Special Relativity: The Deep Origin of Space and Time (The Truth Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2391-2739). The Ontological Mathematics Foundation. Kindle Edition.