We know that we feel an emotion by sensing something happening in our organism (Damasio 1999:279). When the sense of the feeling self is created in our minds through consciousness, then we can know that we feel an emotion. Our proto-self interprets activity patterns of changes to our organism and represents them as knowable patterns necessary for our core consciousness. Mental images arise from neural patterns representing biological changes in our body and brain (1999:280). Without this second level representation into knowable emotions these neural patterns would be simply noise.
Changes related to the body and cognitive states are related to different mechanisms in different sites of the brain although they are both constituted by a collection of neural patterns in a number of brain circuits and involve changes in the body’s chemical profile (1999:281).
Damasio summarizes this feeling an emotion,
[I] s the representation of that transient change in organism state in terms of neural patterns and ensuing images. When those images are accompanied, one instant later, by a sense of self in the act of knowing, and when they are enhanced, they become conscious. They are, in the true sense, feelings of feelings (Damasio 1999:282).
Damasio argues that this cognitive state, when we know we are feeling our emotions, allows us to plan specific, nonstereotyped responses to the emotive bodily state — to choose to pay attention or not to the biochemical changes in our organism. Damasio claims then that this endowment of consciousness of the knowing subject, provides a marked advantage in evolutionary terms over those creatures who have emotions but lack subjective knowledge and therefore the incentive or ability to solve complex problems of survival (1999:284-5).
Damasio distinguishes between core consciousness and extended consciousness. Core consciousness is only slightly above “other foundational capacities, such as action, emotion, and sensory representation, which we share with several nonhuman species (1999:311).” Consciousness begins with a ‘vague, elusive and yet unmistakable’ feeling, a mental image ‘like some kind of pattern built with nonverbal vocabulary or signs of body states.’ (1999:312). The transient core self, which emerges in core consciousness is ‘ceaselessly re-created for each and every object with which the brain interacts’ (1999:17).
Extended consciousness at its most complex and elaborate level provides the key to the examined life (Damasio 1999:5). I interpret this as meaning that extended consciousness allows us to nurture ethical relationships of mutual respect between ourselves and the other-I. The more traditional sense of self “linked to a notion of identity and corresponds to a nontransient collection of unique facts and ways of being which characterizes a person” is what Damasio calls the autobiographical self. The autobiographical self depends on systematized memory and organized recording of the organism’s unique biography.
The recognizable universal Darwinian core emotions are fear, anger, disgust, surprise and happiness. Damasio suggests that most of the time we do not experience these emotions or the secondary or social emotions but we do experience low-grade background feelings. Background emotions such as ‘fatigue, energy, excitement, wellness, sickness, tension, relaxation, surging, dragging, stability, instability, balance, imbalance, harmony and discord (1999: 286) are intimately linked to consciousness, moods, drives and motivations. Core emotions can be experienced as a burst pattern with a rapid onset-intensity-release pattern or a wavelike pattern. Sadness in some forms and background emotions are wavelike patterns. A particular background emotion that is fairly frequent or sustained over a long period of time is better described as a mood not simply a background emotion (1999:341). Damasio acknowledges resonance between his notion of background feelings and developmental psychologist Daniel Stern’s concept of vitality affects and the work of Susanne Langer.
Damasio uses the term image to refer to a mental image as synonym for mental pattern. He distinguishes between this mental pattern or mental image (as in feeling states) and the neural pattern or map of the processing of neural activities as studied in current neuroscience. Damasio’s notion of mental images refers to unconscious images and conscious images that are only accessible through qualia or first-person perspective. Consciousness is an entirely private, first-person phenomenon which occurs as part of the mind (1999:12). Neurologists are able to access neural patterns and maps through advanced technologies so that most individuals will never see this image of their own neural architecture (1999:318). The brain is constantly constructing mental images or mental patterns with a structure composed of ‘visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and somatosensory modalities’. So Damasio’s images are in no way limited to visual pictures.
For Damasio, the notion of the mind is as a process of continual flow of mental images that become conscious and may be logically interrelated. He uses the notion of thought to describe this flow of mental images that moves forward in time concurrently, convergent or divergent (1999:318).
He describes the limitations of our minds to attend to all the mental images constructed by our brains. He offers the metaphor of a multiple layered subterranean underneath the conscious mind of unconscious mental image, those that our minds did not attend to, a layer of neural patterns and relationships among neural patterns which subtend all conscious and unconscious mental images and a layer of neural machinery which holds records of neural patterns in memory (1999:319).
In spite of his status as leader of thought in consciousness studies, Damasio adopts a humble stance. He reminds us that as science helps us understand consciousness better and ravel some of the mysteries of the mind, there is still enough awe at nature to keep us modest for the foreseeable future (1999:28). It is not through neuroscience, psychology or biology that we will explain the origin of the universe or the meaning of life.
BibliographyDamasio, Antonio R. Descartes’ Error.
Damasio, Antonio R. 1999. The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York: Harcourt.
Langer, Susanne. 1942. Philosophy in a New Key: a Study in the Symbolism of Reasons, Rite and Art. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Stern, Daniel. 1985. The Interpersonal World of the Infant: a View from Psychoanalysis and Developmental Psychology. New York: Basic Books.
April 21, 2007
Consciousness begins when brains acquire the simple power of telling a story without words using a nonverbal vocabulary of body signals about the living organism constantly altered by internal and external adjustments of the life process. The self appears then as the feeling of a feeling. Knowledge of those feelings emerge as a response to a question never asked (Damasio 1999:30-31).
Consciousness is, in effect, the key to a life examined [...] At its simplest and most basic level, consciousness lets us recognize an irresistible urge to stay alive and develop a concern for the self. At its most complex and elaborate level, consciousness helps us develop a concern for other selves and improve the art of life.” (Damasio 1999:5)
Damasio calls these two phases of consciousness core consciousness which engenders and is engendered by a core self in the here and now, and extended consciousness, the zenith of consciousness, which is dependent on and built upon the foundation of core consciousness. Extended consciousness has many levels and grades with a unique autobiographical self and autobiographical memory (Damasio 1999:16-18).
In describing the course of events from emotion to conscious feeling, Damasio argues that there is no central feeling state before the emotion occurs and that expressing an emotion precedes feeling. To illustrate this Damasio paraphrased E. M. Forster words as “How can I know what I think before I say it?” 1
Damasio’s (1999) perspectives on emotion, feeling and knowing is unorthodox. Neural patterns or images arise in changes related to body state and changes related to cognitive states. Through chemical and electrochemical messages the body landscape is changed. Having a feeling and knowing a feeling are not the same. Knowing a feeling requires a knowing subject endowed with the faculty of consciousness (Damasio 1999:283-4).
Damasio, Antonio. 1999. The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company.
Zimmerman argues that‘How can I tell what I think till I see what I say? is from E. M. Forster’s (1879-1970) essay Aspects of the Novel (1927) written when he was forty eight years old and after he completed his final novel, A Passage to India. It was first delivered as part of a series of Clark Lectures given at Trinity College, Cambridge. In it Forster reveals his own unique perspective on literary history, style and form from Defoe to Joyce including a criticism of Henry James’ The Ambassadors.
“Another distinguished critic has agreed with Gide–that old lady in the anecdote who was accused by her niece of being illogical. For some time she could not be brought to understand what logic was, and when she grasped its true nature she was not so much angry as contemptuous. ‘Logic! Good gracious! What rubbish!’ she exclaimed. ‘How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?’ Her nieces, educated young women, thought that she was passée; she was really more up-to-date than they were.” (Zimmermann, Heiko . 2005. citing Forster, E. M. 1976. Ed. Stallybrass, Oliver. Aspects of the Novel. Harmondsworth: Penguin. p.99 )
Aspects of the Novel (1927) was written when Forster was forty eight years old and after he completed his final novel, A Passage to India. It was first delivered as part of a series of Clark Lectures given at Trinity College, Cambridge. In it Forster reveals his own unique perspective on literary history, style and form from Defoe to Joyce including a criticism of Henry James’ The Ambassadors. Childs. 2001. Aspects of the Novel.
Fitzgerald claims that this is the source of the citation:
The little girl had the making of a poet in her who, being told to be sure of her meaning before she spoke, said, ‘How can I tell what I think until I see what I say?’ Graham Wallas The Art of Thought (1926) [ODQ & B16] cited by Fitzgerald (2006).
Essayist and poet Matthew Arnold (1822-12-24 – 1888-04-15) wrote in ”St. Paul and Protestantism” (1870),
“Below the surface stream, shallow and light,
Of what we say and feel — below the stream,
As light, of what we think we feel, there flows
With noiseless current, strong, obscure and deep,
The central stream of what we feel indeed.”
Alan Greenspan: “I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
“I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” Robert McCloskey. U.S. State Department spokesman at one of his regular noon briefings during the worst days of the Vietnam War. Marvin Kalb in TV Guide, Mar. 31, 1984.
Alternative: “I believe that you think you understand what I said, but I fear, that you don´t realize, that what I say is not always what I really mean.”
John Weakland: “‘The meaning of any communication is the response that it gets.”
January 31, 2007
The words of Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquino, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mills are unleashed from their exclusive, leather bound, Victorian-book-shelves tumbling into our homes via the impressive printerless, pressless, Gutenberg-like Internet worlds of full-text-online versions open to all Internet users. Their language is infinitely more readable than their 20th century counterparts. Web 2.0 tools such as Gnosis ClearForest, provide readers with hot links sprinkled throughout their essays, contributing to making their arguments even more accessible.
But it is in the language of novelists gifted in putting words to varied, shape-shifting, complex, unconscious states, qualia who are able to weave philosophy into fiction, to describe not only material culture through time and space but succinctly provide words when we ourselves are speechless.
From my local library I have free access to the entire series of West Wing. So with my morning coffee I watched as the fictional US President Bartlett with his fictional Nobel Peace Prize and the West Wing staff attempted to articulate specific words for a state of the economy that was not a recession − since the word was forbidden as a bad omen in the West Wing ─ but a state that encompasses a bit of moderate, albeit divergent economic viewpoints, in other words a lexicon of economics within a highly, textured, nuanced dialogue.
I watched as they tried to stretch the meaning of freedom so it could encompass the 18th century Founding Fathers right through to negotiations with North Korea in the 21st century and all that is in between. I also learned from the episode that the word Han in North Korean ─ the name of the 22-year-old North Korean protegé ─ pianist who chose to return to his own country rather than defecting, to protect a higher state of freedom,means a state of profound sorrow with a touch of hope.
Before I turn to my PC and my blogs, I read a paragraph from the new stack of library books recommended on-line by the New York Times, this one entitled Eclipse by John Banville. This sentence evoked a multi-layered state of synethesia with a full orchestra of fragrances, textures, images and sounds reminding me of my own experiences like this one described in the opening paragraph,
“Then a slight thickening in the air, a momentary occlusion of the light, as if something had plummeted past the sun, a winged boy perhaps, or falling angel.”
The entire book seemed condensed into this one phrase revealing the extent to which the speaking, writing and reading of words can also be experiencing. These are the things we do with words.
|Number of Words:||457|
Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. A momentary occlusion of the light: a Review of Banville, John. 2000. Eclipse. London: Macmillan Publishers.
November 8, 2006
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I really need to get outside and dig deep into my garden with my bare hands, pulling out weeds that are uprooted so easily in the good black earth. It is oddly calming for me.
I have learned too much technology this morning and I need to relax in the real physical world. There is nothing quite as physical as black earth under your finger nails. When I come back I want to consider the catalysts that led to my ongoing inquiries into the positive presence of absence, memory work, social exclusions, museology . . . Perhaps my inquiry is instantiated in the embodied Sarah Ekoomiak. I need to share what I have already gathered on her contributions but I cannot do this legitimately in the social sciences. So this will perhaps be in the form of a Flicktion. I will examine why in regards to these key words:
tarmac ethnology Sarah Ekoomiak Google News customized brain imagery Away Iqaluit airport Adobe Photoshop anthropology sociology cyberdelirium del.icio.us ethical topography of self everyday life Flicktion forgetting folksonomy taxonomy communal memory reconciliation RCAP geotagging Road to Nowhere hospitality qualia reflexivity methodology social sciences wikipedia