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"Emotions are tools of cognition."

william.scherk

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The topic of emotion in Randland has always interested me. My very first point of contact with Objectivish things online was the place of emotion in cognition. It is interesting to find myself in rough agreement with Michael all these years later. 

In the midst of a very intriguing conversation with my favourite South African Randian, this by MSK:

1 hour ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Emotions are tools of cognition.

It's not really fair to truncquote this bit, but readers can plunge back into the front porch thread to gain the flow of discussion, and the hinge-point of disagreement. But besides that, I think I can add a clarifying point in response to this (highlights added):

1 hour ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Here's a very simple example. Lobotomies used to be popular in America. Once the emotional centers were cut off by a gross pick that looked like a bent screwdriver being shoved into the upper part of the subject's eyes and scraped back and forth in their brain, some people (after recovery) were able to function perfectly in a rational sense. They just could not use the information.

This describes a similar-but-not-identical syndrome that I became aware of by reading the work of Antonio Damasio (whom I have mentioned a few too many times ...). Damasio worked with a neurological patient given the code-name "Elliot."  I mentioned 'Damasio,' 'emotion,' and 'Elliot' in one post five years ago:

The gist was this: "Here is a teaser from a popular article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Feeling our way to decision-- which I excerpted in the 2012 post ...

Quote

 

Elliot had a small tumour cut from his cortex near the brain's frontal lobe. He had been a model father and husband, holding down an important management job in a large corporation and was active in his church. But the operation changed everything.

Elliot's IQ stayed the same - testing in the smartest 3 per cent - but, after surgery, he was incapable of decision. Normal life became impossible. Routine tasks that should take 10 minutes now took hours. Elliot endlessly deliberated over irrelevant details: whether to use a blue or black pen, what radio station to listen to and where to park his car. When contemplating lunch, he carefully considered each restaurant's menu, seating and lighting, and then drove to each place to see how busy it was. But Elliot still couldn't decide where to eat. His indecision was pathological.

Elliot was soon sacked. A series of new businesses failed and a con man forced him into bankruptcy. His wife divorced him. The tax office began investigating him. He moved back with his parents. As neurologist Antonio Damasio put it: "Elliot emerged as a man with a normal intellect who was unable to decide properly, especially when the decision involved personal or social matters."

But why was Elliot suddenly incapable of making good decisions? What had happened to his brain? Damasio's first insight occurred while talking to Elliot about the tragic turn his life had taken. "He was always controlled," Damasio remembers, "always describing scenes as a dispassionate, uninvolved spectator. Nowhere was there a sense of his own suffering, even though he was the protagonist … I never saw a tinge of emotion in my many hours of conversation with him: no sadness, no impatience, no frustration." Elliot's friends and family confirmed Damasio's observations: ever since his surgery, he had seemed strangely devoid of emotion, numb to the tragic turn his own life had taken.

To test this diagnosis, Damasio hooked Elliot to a machine that measured the activity of the sweat glands in his palms. (When a person experiences strong emotions, the skin is literally aroused and the hands start to perspire.) Damasio then showed Elliot various photographs that normally triggered an immediate emotional response: a severed foot, a naked woman, a house on fire, a handgun. The results were clear: Elliot felt nothing. No matter how grotesque or aggressive the picture, his palms never got sweaty. He had the emotional life of a mannequin.

This was an unexpected discovery. At the time, neuroscience assumed that human emotions were irrational. A person without emotions should therefore make better decisions. His cognition should be uncorrupted. The charioteer should have complete control. To Damasio, Elliot's pathology suggested emotions are a crucial part of decision-making. Cut off from our feelings, the most banal decisions become impossible. A brain that can't feel can't make up its mind.

Damasio began studying other patients with similar brain damage. These all appeared intelligent and showed no deficits on any conventional cognitive tests. And yet they all suffered from the same profound flaw: because they didn't experience emotion, they had tremendous difficulty making decisions.

In his earlier book, Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason And The Human Brain, Damasio described trying to set up an appointment with an emotionless patient: alternative dates are suggested and the patient pulls out an appointment book and consults the calendar. For 30 minutes the patient enumerated reasons for and against each of the two dates: previous engagements, possible meteorological conditions, virtually anything that one could reasonably think about. "He was now walking us through a tiresome cost-benefit analysis, an endless outlining and fruitless comparison of options and possible consequences. It took enormous discipline to listen to all of this without pounding on the table and telling him to stop," Damasio wrote.

Based on these patients, Damasio began compiling a map of feeling, locating the specific brain regions responsible for generating emotions. Although many cortical areas contribute to this process, one part seemed particularly important - the orbitofrontal cortex, a small circuit of tissue sitting just behind the eyes, in the underbelly of the frontal lobe. If this fragile fold of cells is damaged by a malignant tumour or a hemorrhaging artery, the tragic result is always the same.

 

Back to Michael's post today ...

Quote

If they had to make a choice off a menu, for instance, they would take hours and starve until someone made the choice for them.This has been documented countless times. They even knew they didn't like some of the food on the menu, but could not make up their minds not to order it.

In a famous example that was talked about a lot, although I am not sure of the details (it's been a long time since I read about it), they sat a man on a railroad track. He was fully aware a train was coming at him, that he would splat all over the place if it hit him, and he would die. But he wouldn't get off the track because he didn't find it important. He was taken off the track if I remember correctly. But don't quote me on any of this since I am going on a vague memory. If I'm not mistaken, this was even a part of a major story in Time Magazine.

I'd like to find the famous example ... perhaps Michael can introspect hard and come up with the details. :wub:

Quote

So what use is cognition if you can't use the information? Can anyone really call that complete cognition? I don't. 

-- this is roughly what I began to think when I learned of the case of "Elliot." I won't belabour the point here, since my "too many times" link above shows the same kind of discussion points I would make this time.  Without emotion, one's thinking is crippled.

An additional knowledge point would be what "emotional intelligence" is missing in psychopaths (and here I plug the brilliant synthesis of research given in Ken Kiehl's book, The Psychopath Whisperer). Here is a brief extract from the 2010 Scientific American Mind article "Inside the Mind of a Psychopath."

kiehl01.png

-- imagine waking up to a world in which none of these bodily feelings were present in mind,  but were mostly inaccessible ... and try to figure out which emotional circuits are blunted to the point of disappearance in the "rational" mind of a psychopath.

Plutchik-wheel.png



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Spock-brain.jpg?format=750w

Thank you, Jerry.  Interestingly put.  A good locus of disagreement might be the plain-jane term "tool" ... or the more-fraught abstraction "cognition"

I know so little about the Vulcan ideal. I had assumed fictional Vulcans made a conscious effort to 'control' their (as deemed by them unnecessary or dangerous or disruptive) emotions.  But.

I think emotion research will over time add value to the Randian project, even if some folks remain doctrinally-trapped or mentally fenced-in by a slogan.

-- another interesting angle for research might be how Artificial Intelligence can become super-AI  -- by grasping and manipulating the full range of animal and human emotion. Maybe super-AI can be trained or raised the Vulcan way!

Snatched from the jaws of Google:

Quote
About 881,000 results (0.60 seconds) 

See also the current Skeptic, which has several articles on the dangers of AI:

 D1cVVty3DeWjtL6-hu0iSS0XVYbh-GcQ0uAp8vRj

SPECIAL SECTION: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE DANGER

Why We Should Be Concerned About Artificial Superintelligence
by Matthew Graves
Is Artificial Intelligence an Existential Threat?
by Michael Shermer
Artificial Intelligence: Simulation, Not Synthesis
by Peter Kassan
Edited by william.scherk

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1 hour ago, anthony said:

William - Jerry put the case very well, I thought.

Tony,

I don't (although I can see how he arrived at his conclusion).

If reason is man's tool of survival (as per Rand) and when you deny emotion from cognition, you can't use it for survival (as demonstrated by the lobotomized folks), what the hell kind of tool is that?

I'll tell you what. Crossword puzzles. 

Try surviving doing crossword puzzles and nothing more.

:) 

Michael

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"If emotions are not tools of cognition, what are they?"

Nutshell: Signals of values.

(which can equally mean, of one's dis-values also).

Enright's essay would be appetizing. Is it available in full, William?

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33 minutes ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Tony,

I don't (although I can see how he arrived at his conclusion).

If reason is man's tool of survival (as per Rand) and when you deny emotion from cognition, you can't use it for survival (as demonstrated by the lobotomized folks), what the hell kind of tool is that?

I'll tell you what. Crossword puzzles. 

Try surviving doing crossword puzzles and nothing more.

:) 

Michael

I did reply to the lobotomizing scenario. I said more or less, it precisely and elegantly plays into Rand's insights. Since, remove the pleasure-pain "mechanism", there can't exist value.

Choices? Cognition? Survival? Life-value? Never. There will be all the same dullness...

For more, I just remembered Rand's "indestructible robot" - in her writing about value. It can't feel and is immortal, therefore cannot experience values, while man can and does.

I must add, that Rand obviously wanted it to be understood, that ~alignment~ of reason-values-emotions is the goal - and such is attainable. She would have named that integration, probably. Absolutely then, there should not be denial (self-repression, contradictions, and so on) of emotionality. IF, one is rational and has rational values.

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1 hour ago, anthony said:

Enright's essay would be appetizing. Is it available in full, William?

Yes, at the link. It  is necessary to register an account with JSTOR, in this instance, and you can only read it online (no copy-pasting or local storage). I will check around to see if it is available more directly, through the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies ... I will add a link here if it is available without registering. 

[Added] Tony, Marsha has the full text of her journal article at her website: http://fountainheadinstitute.com/121/ ... it is not in the published format, but we/you/I can copy-paste extracts from it, unlike with the format at JSTOR.

[+] See also a neat semi-introduction to her thoughts on emotion -- here at OL during her time commenting here:

 

Edited by william.scherk

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It's not whether emotions are tools of cognition--for they aren't. Introspection is a tool of cognition. Introspection studies the data and emotions are data.

--Brant

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Know thyself ...

6 hours ago, Brant Gaede said:

Introspection is a tool of cognition. Introspection studies the data and emotions are data.

Interesting angle. A nice tight theme for a longer piece.

I wonder how a psychopath might introspect successfully, given that their emotions-as-data are abnormal. Could they come to useful conclusions about, say, their callous disregard for other living things? 

Introspecting myself, I sense that I want to drag in Howard Roark's psyche for discussion.

Quote

Roark left the room. He walked slowly through the long halls, down the stairs, out to the lawn below. He had met many men such as the Dean; he had never understood them. He knew only that there was some important difference between his actions and theirs. It had ceased to disturb him long ago. But he always looked for a central theme in buildings and he looked for a central impulse in men. He knew the source of his actions; he could not discover theirs. He did not care. He had never learned the process of thinking about other people. But he wondered, at times, what made them such as they were. He wondered again, thinking of the Dean. There was an important secret involved somewhere in that question, he thought. There was a principle which he must discover.

 

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From Marsha Enright's article (available in HTML format here):

Quote

Branden’s early views had much influence on Objectivist thought, although he later changed some of his positions.
However, in “The Comprachicos,” Rand revealed a somewhat different approach to emotions:
“Animals, infants and small children are exceedingly sensitive to emotional vibrations: it is their chief
means of cognition. A small child senses whether an adult’s emotions are genuine, and grasps instantly the
vibrations of hypocrisy.” (Rand 1971, 197; boldfaced emphasis mine)

Later in the essay, she discusses the experiences of a hypothetical young child in a Progressive nursery school:

“He gets the nature of the game—wordlessly, by repetition, imitation and emotional osmosis, long before he can
form the concepts to identify it.

“He learns not to question the supremacy of the pack. He discovers that such questions are taboo in some
frightening, supernatural way; the answer is an incantation vibrating with the overtones of a damning indictment,
suggesting that he is guilty of some innate, incorrigible evil: “Don’t be selfish.” Thus he acquires self-doubt, before
he is fully aware of a self.

On the other hand, she acknowledges both that animals and infants use their emotions to figure out things about the
world (“chief means of cognition”). By her own theory, how can this be? Don’t our emotions stem from our chosen
values and premises? Don’t we choose values and premises with our reasoning minds? What if we don’t have a
reasoning mind yet? Further, she holds that emotions aren’t tools of cognition, but she also says that feelings of
contempt and rebellion are proof of self-esteem—proof of our judgment that we are valuable, competent and worthy
persons.

[...]

To clarify our exploration, let’s examine the meaning of “cognition.” I have not been able to find a straight definition
of this idea in Rand’s work.

The closest I can cobble together is this: “Reason is the faculty that identifies and
integrates the material provided by man’s senses” (Rand 1971, 20). And: “The ability to regard entities as units is
man’s distinctive method of cognition” (Rand 1967, 12). In The Psychology of Self-Esteem, Branden (1969, 91)
says: “The basic function of man’s consciousness is cognition, i.e., awareness and knowledge of the facts of
reality.” In Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, knowledge is described as “a mental grasp of a fact(s) of reality,
reached either by perceptual observation or by a process of reason based on perceptual observation” (Rand 1967,
45).
 

 

Edited by william.scherk

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On 8/21/2017 at 1:20 PM, william.scherk said:

Know thyself ...

Interesting angle. A nice tight theme for a longer piece.

I wonder how a psychopath might introspect successfully, given that their emotions-as-data are abnormal. Could they come to useful conclusions about, say, their callous disregard for other living things? 

Introspecting myself, I sense that I want to drag in Howard Roark's psyche for discussion.

 

His psyche is Ayn Rand refined to sublime by basically excluding human kind except as defined by her as exceptionable. It's Rand wondering about what made people tick, at least philosophically, but leave her heroes out of it psychologically. In Roark's case, he's even too good for that: he doesn't do much philosophy/psychology until he hits the courtroom. After that Rand gins up the philosophy leaving the psychology completely behind in her magma opus. In AS philosophy is turned into implicit tyranny by the exclusion of most of humanity. Millions starve and are destroyed in the name of ideological and philosophical purity? Rand overcame communist tyranny by suggesting a greater and more powerful one, removing the sanction of the victim. Let evil impotence itself away. This made a hell of a lot of sense 50 or 60 years ago. Objectivism is a reactive ideology--reactive to communism. Think Stalin was a communist? What's communism ideologically? He snorted "communism" out of every portal but he was a tyrant. Now, in a hundred or so years we may have Branden Gaede--my grandson (I need to breed), tyrant, snorting "Objectivism" out of every portal while killing hundreds of millions.

Not going to happen, of course (and I'm not planning on breeding). Why? Technology. Social media. Things we don''t know about yet.

--Brant

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I think emotions are tools for valuing, and they can give you something to think about but aren't tools of cognition themselves.  The problem occurs when an emotion conflicts with a person's values, in which the emotional antecedental chain, causal chain, influences, assumptions, etc. might not have came from a conscious process of thought, but if someone were to think about it, they could change their value premises and correct their emotional response.  So I see the need for a primacy of reason, to properly think about emotions and values.

People are supposed to have both a reason and emotion faculty, both a necessary for proper human functioning.  So when Rand stresses a primacy of reason, reason is man's tool of survival, and that emotions aren't tools of cognition, what I don't think she is saying is that emotions are unnecessary.  In VoS she says emotions are the basic barometer for a person to indicate whether something is for him or against him.  So taking the example of Elliot, when he is presented with a simple task he is unable to readily determine whether that is for him or against him, so he doesn't readily know what to do.

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If we assume cognition to be "identification", there's a whole raft of mis-identifications one can make about other people (specifically) when reliant on emotions: E.g. the way they look, dress or speak - appearances - leads one to a presupposition of "what" they are which can be prejudicial, when colored by an emotional response only. And what you "heard" about them can already color your emotional reactions in advance. It looks like Rand - amongst the rest of wrong identifications -  had in mind, "justice", to others and for oneself. One commits an injustice to another individual by making superficial judgments. (Judging the book by its cover, how often I've found myself wrong later). The appearance (/others' emotional 'take') of a person is an inessential characteristic (and second hand).

And one commits injustice to oneself too, when one allows wrongful or "mixed" emotions, which don't reflect one's values, to go unchecked. (Thanks, Korben). Joe leaves on a trip across country with an old friend, lasting several days. His wife willingly stayed behind (looking after things, or children or working or whatever). Joe feels the exhilaration of the journey and catching up with his buddy--he feels free and adventurous again. Then his guilt sets in. How can he be feeling so good to be away from her? Secretly, it means he wants to be free and permanently single, surely? Etc. The conflicting emotions are likely to spoil any pleasure in the trip if he doesn't take stock. If the value in his wife is uppermost, and not chosen arbitrarily and subjectively, he can and should take value in other things and people - at the same time. If then, with his values hierarchical and objective, for the long term of his life, his emotions will align with them all. To not squeeze every ounce of pleasure from the trip, Joe sacrifices some happiness, and commits injustice to his values and so himself. Guilt is usually the pay off for not being explicitly conscious of values - guilt, fully deserved when one casually or deliberately sacrifices (doesn't defend, uphold, etc.) the values one has chosen.

"...to enjoy yourselves and live..."

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4 hours ago, anthony said:

If we assume cognition to be "identification", there's a whole raft of mis-identifications one can make about other people (specifically) when reliant on emotions: E.g. the way they look, dress or speak - appearances - leads one to a presupposition of "what" they are which can be prejudicial, when colored by an emotional response only. And what you "heard" about them can already color your emotional reactions in advance. It looks like Rand - amongst the rest of wrong identifications -  had in mind, "justice", to others and for oneself. One commits an injustice to another individual by making superficial judgments. (Judging the book by its cover, how often I've found myself wrong later). The appearance (/others' emotional 'take') of a person is an inessential characteristic (and second hand).

And one commits injustice to oneself too, when one allows wrongful or "mixed" emotions, which don't reflect one's values, to go unchecked. (Thanks, Korben). Joe leaves on a trip across country with an old friend, lasting several days. His wife willingly stayed behind (looking after things, or children or working or whatever). Joe feels the exhilaration of the journey and catching up with his buddy--he feels free and adventurous again. Then his guilt sets in. How can he be feeling so good to be away from her? Secretly, it means he wants to be free and permanently single, surely? Etc. The conflicting emotions are likely to spoil any pleasure in the trip if he doesn't take stock. If the value in his wife is uppermost, and not chosen arbitrarily and subjectively, he can and should take value in other things and people - at the same time. If then, with his values hierarchical and objective, for the long term of his life, his emotions will align with them all. To not squeeze every ounce of pleasure from the trip, Joe sacrifices some happiness, and commits injustice to his values and so himself. Guilt is usually the pay off for not being explicitly conscious of values - guilt, fully deserved when one casually or deliberately sacrifices (doesn't defend, uphold, etc.) the values one has chosen.

"...to enjoy yourselves and live..."

cognition also includes inference and modification of likelihood estimates based on perceived evidence.  The mathematics of Bayesian Inference is the logic of cognition used inductively. 

Please see:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayesian_inference

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