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 ...
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 ...
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.
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."
-- 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.