The Wonderful Way Shmurak Faces Emotion


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The Wonderful Way Shmurak Faces Emotion

by Michael Stuart Kelly

There are very few times in life when you can completely overhaul your thinking in a positive manner. How precious these moments are! The blinding impact of a religious conversion is the most common experience. Others are reading Atlas Shrugged (or other Rand books) for the first time, seeing your newborn infant and knowing it came from your loins; acquiring a huge sum of money; the spiritual surrender in giving up an addiction; finishing a major work or project and knowing you are now a master (and even being acclaimed as such) and falling deeply in love.

Life goes on after you adopt a new way of thinking, but what a rush! You never forget that overpowering sense of, “YES, THIS IS IT!” If only life provided more opportunities like that.

Well, I felt it again and I have an extraordinary man to thank for it, Steven Shmurak. I don’t mean that I now have a whole new body of works to replace Objectivism. What happened to me was the relief of filling in some missing pieces in Objectivism that had been seriously bothering me ever since I first read Rand’s works.

These missing pieces are in the area of emotion. Rand constantly bombards us with the phrase “Emotions are not tools of cognition.” Yet we cannot help but observe the mess emotions can make of our “tools of cognition.” Emotions don’t always “act right” and can undermine the most rational of plans. Rand got so impatient with trying to understand emotions that she finally postulated that she could program the source of every emotion in her own subconscious through rational intent. This sounds nice in theory, but it never rang true to me; not even in my Randroid phase.

Everybody agrees that emotions are highly complex mental events. But what about for newborns and very young infants? What if there were basic emotions from which all the higher emotions sprang, similar to the way higher concepts are made out of simple concepts, or even percepts? We know that emotions are not tools of cognition. What if emotions were very special mind-body tools of awareness? What if emotions opened the way to cognition?

In The Virtue of Selfishness, “The ‘Conflicts’ of Men's Interests,” Rand wrote:

In choosing his goals (the specific values he seeks to gain and/or keep), a rational man is guided by his thinking (by a process of reason)—not by his feelings or desires. He does not regard desires as irreducible primaries, as the given, which he is destined irresistibly to pursue. He does not regard “because I want it” or “because I feel like it” as a sufficient cause and validation of his actions. He chooses and/or identifies his desires by a process of reason, and he does not act to achieve a desire until and unless he is able rationally to validate it in the full context of his knowledge and of his other values and goals. He does not act until he is able to say: “I want it because it is right.”

But what if a certain category of desires (emotions) were “irreducible primaries,” “the given?” What if there is a basic level where "because I want it" or "because I feel like it" actually is a “sufficient cause and validation of his actions”?

In The Virtue of Selfishness, “The Objectivist Ethics,” Rand further wrote:

Man is born with an emotional mechanism, just as he is born with a cognitive mechanism; but, at birth, both are “tabula rasa.” It is man's cognitive faculty, his mind, that determines the content of both. Man's emotional mechanism is like an electronic computer, which his mind has to program—and the programming consists of the values his mind chooses.

What if Rand was wrong about this? What if she got the cognitive part right but the emotional part wrong? What if a set of “affects” (basic emotions) were already wired in the brain at birth and they developed according to both the cognitive faculty and according to their own inherent nature divorced from the cognitive faculty?

These are crucial questions that Steven Shmurak asks, and frankly, his work is brilliant in answering them. I should say: his work and that of psychologist, Silvan Tomkins, the giant on whose shoulders he stands.

Steven sent me a video CD of a lecture he gave in June, 2004 at The Objectivist Community Center (now defunct) in New York City. It is the basis for an article which will appear in the next issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (scheduled to appear in November).

I am presenting below an overview of that lecture, while trying not to spoil the article for you. My excitement is such that I will probably give more information than I should. Still, I am purposefully leaving out some items in order for this report to be a teaser for the article. I sincerely believe that this work will be a turning point in Objectivist epistemology, so I will be including some of my speculations and comments on the implications as I go along.

The lecture is called The Many Faces of Emotion and subtitled “Where Objectivism got it right and where it didn’t.” The overwhelming emphasis in the lecture is on the nature of emotion and what happens non-volitionally in human consciousness.

A brief overview of Silvan Tomkins is in order at this point, because it is Tomkins’s work that provides the profoundly powerful means to understanding emotion that corrects and fills in the gaps in Rand’s theory. For those interested in more information than given here, link here to a Wikipedia article on him (which includes further links).

Tomkins was born in 1911 died in 1991. He set out to be a playwright, but became more interested in the motivation of real people than in artistic creation. So he switched to psychology, then to philosophy (with an emphasis on the theory of value) and then back to psychology. He earned two Ph.D.‘s, one in philosophy and one in psychology. He was a professor of psychology at Harvard, Princeton, CUNY and Rutgers. Throughout his career his work was motivated by the questions, “What do human beings really want?” and “What will make them as happy as possible?”

In 1955, the birth of his son was a turning point in his thinking. It provided the occasion for his seminal insights into the nature of emotion. He observed his newborn son for hours at a time, focusing on the emotional expressions he was displaying. This allowed him to understand the essential roots of human emotion, which in turn provided a clear, well-founded, empirical base on which he could anchor all his subsequent theorizing.

So, what was it that Tomkins saw that so profoundly altered the present-day understanding of the nature of emotion? As Steven stated:

In a nutshell, he was able to identify the basic building blocks of emotion because they are so nakedly displayed in infants.

These building blocks combine with other aspects of consciousness to create our psychic lives, much as the elements of the periodic table combine to form the myriad of chemical compounds. He called these basic building blocks of emotion “affects.”

An affect is an unlearned, built-in, automatic bodily reaction (involving muscle movements, glandular secretions, and a particular facial expression) with a particular feeling quality. An example is fear. Tomkins identified eight others. Since each affect (except surprise) has a feeling quality that feels either good or bad, it serves as a fundamental, built-in valuer—it is an inherent signal to keep doing what one is doing or to change something.

Steven told me that there will be a twelve minute video CD of babies displaying the nine affects included with the JARS article so that you can see for yourself the raw data that Tomkins saw. My “eureka” moment came only after I had watched the video of several of the affects while listening to the lecture. I have always seen infants act like that, but I never thought of their acts the way Steven was explaining them—as the building blocks of future normative abstractions.

When you are faced with a common chunk of reality like that, with someone explaining detail by detail what it means—and you have a store of your own memories where you have seen it all in your own life and even lived it, but never gave it any special intellectual notice—you not only cannot deny it, you have to admit it is true because it is right there in front of you. You have a feeling of things suddenly falling into place and making sense. That is what I felt.

Steven correctly notes that the nature of these unchosen bases of evaluation is not covered in the Objectivist literature. Still, I was reminded of a couple of passages by Ayn Rand where she actually did observe affects and wrote about them, but typically filtered the descriptions to have a moral meaning. The first is about the infant experiencing the affect joy, the second the affect interest. She was aware that there is a mind-body reaction to experience that is automatic and all-encompassing. Her descriptions were accurate. The first passage is from “Requiem for Man” (The Objectivist, July-August-September 1967, and later included in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal).

I will ask you to project the look on a child's face when he grasps the answer to some problem he has been striving to understand. It is a radiant look of joy, of liberation, almost of triumph, which is unself-conscious, yet self-assertive, and its radiance seems to spread in two directions: outward, as an illumination of the world—inward, as the first spark of what is to become the fire of an earned pride. If you have seen this look, or experienced it, you know that if there is such a concept as “sacred”—meaning: the best, the highest possible to man—this look is the sacred, the not-to-be-betrayed, the not-to-be-sacrificed for anything or anyone.

The second is from “The Comprachicos,” (The Objectivist, August- September-October-November-December, 1970, later included in The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, which was even later changed by others, inexcusably, to The Return of the Primitive). She is talking about the basic skills infants develop as they grow: focusing eyes, acquiring muscle movements, etc. (She calls it volitional learning, “but not in the adult sense” of volitional, whatever that means, as if something like an automatic volitional act were possible.)

These achievements are not conscious and volitional in the adult sense of the terms: an infant is not aware, in advance, of the processes he has to perform in order to acquire these skills, and the processes are largely automatic. But they are acquired skills, nevertheless, and the enormous effort expended by an infant to acquire them can be easily observed. Observe also the intensity, the austere, unsmiling seriousness with which an infant watches the world around him. (If you ever find, in an adult, that degree of seriousness about reality, you will have found a great man.)

Affects have certain characteristics other than just involving both body and mind, and massively taking over the infant’s being. They are short-lived and they change rapidly. When you see the video of the infants, you see a series of affects, one right after another. As the infant grows, affects become integrated with other contents of consciousness. They even become integrated with each other. (As a funny example, on the video CD, one child showed “interest” plus “distress,” then “joy” when he came close to Steven.)

As Steven stated:

As the infant grows, more integration takes place: affects merge with a growing body of cognitive knowledge, i.e., experience, evaluating it. As he grows further, this will merge with purely mental events like making choices and deductions. As these integrations occur, they become what we normally call emotions.

An important point is that affects are the source of empathy. Think about how contagious laughter is, or how an extremely rude and vicious comment puts everyone in a bad mood, or how crying distresses us.

I even see the enjoyment of dancing as an outgrowth of affect. We used to beat our arms and legs around as infants in an automatic expression of excitement and joy. Why would this not have developed into an adult counterpart? The speculations are staggering when you start thinking about them.

Steven discusses many, many more things than what I listed (like the evolutionary reasons for affects, temperament, Rand’s “preverbal sense of life,” the emergence of values and so forth). All this and much more will be included in his forthcoming article in JARS. I think all Objectivists will find it not only interesting, but vitally important.

I would like to congratulate Steven Shmurak for such a marvelous achievement—integrating Silvan Tomkins work in Objectivist thought and fleshing out the nonvolitional part of human valuing. I predict a strong negative reaction from the orthodox branch of Objectivism, but I also predict that his work will be included in the future as a crucial part of the philosophy.

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Thanks for the expansive post, Michael. I look forward to the whole package in the next JARS.

In the meantime, have you already requested the PDF of listmember Marsha Enright's earlier article in JARS. It is a good grounding in Rand's view and opinions. I have been studying it and its references for over a month.

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She is talking about the basic skills infants develop as they grow: focusing eyes, acquiring muscle movements, etc. (She calls it volitional learning, “but not in the adult sense” of volitional, whatever that means, as if something like an automatic volitional act were possible.)
These achievements are not conscious and volitional in the adult sense of the terms: an infant is not aware, in advance, of the processes he has to perform in order to acquire these skills, and the processes are largely automatic. But they are acquired skills, nevertheless, and the enormous effort expended by an infant to acquire them can be easily observed. Observe also the intensity, the austere, unsmiling seriousness with which an infant watches the world around him. (If you ever find, in an adult, that degree of seriousness about reality, you will have found a great man.)

Change the word "volitional" for "proactive" and things tend to make a little more sense: infants proactively focus their eyes. "Focussing eyes" and piecing together the specific conscious actions that will latter become automated behaviour-- eg: the process of learning to crawl, or later, to ride a bike, are proactive behaviours. They are proactive at any age, even if we cannot say they are volitional at any age. They are actions for which the impulse starts from within, not without. Proactive behaviour is how we first create the actions that will become programmed actions. Proactive behaviour is more fundamental than volition but is a required element of volition. It makes volition possible in principle. A worldview based on proactive entities can account for volition. A worldview based on reactive entities cannot and must assume volition to be either an illusion or the action of another type of stuff.

Proactive means simply the energy for action resides within the entity rather than without. It means a fundamental property of entities is kinetic energy as opposed to inertia. Inertia is just a special state of proactive entities. (Special Relativity mathematically describes how proactive entities are converted into inert ones through the process of integrating into a higher scale entity. That is, it describes how a deeper proactive causation is converted into the higher scale reactive causation we observe everyday. It describes how proactive entities that behave in the strange ways that create the quantum world are converted into the reactive entities that shape the classical world.) Proactive entities and proactive causation can integrate the strange behaviour of the quantum world with the strange behaviour of volitional consciousness without claiming certain evidence to be unimportant and without falling into the traps of dualism.

The idea of proactive entities can solve problems (admittedly, problems Dragonfly says don't exist) from the level of quanta to the level of consciousness without rationalizing the problems out of existence. If you seriously are convinced volition exists, in its traditional meaning rather than a meaning twisted to mean programmed, then understanding the foundations of volition requires exploring the concept of proactive causation.

Paul

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Paul,

The way I see all this is as a seed. A tree can be found in a seed over time, but it needs to grow and develop. Would you call that growth and development proactive? I'm curious.

What I see in man is that in terms of the volitional faculty, he certainly is "tabula rasa" at birth - except for the "seed factor." The infant will grow a volitional faculty whether he wants to or not. (Egad! What a statement!)

I do not think his mind is "tabula rasa" though. There are a lot of innate "seeds" in it - seeds that develop into innate value judgments, like Steve's affects.

I disagree with Rand on her interpretation of the act of learning how to see. I am even having difficulty wrapping my brain around "proactive" here. As I understand it, an infant with healthy eyes at birth will automatically develop the skill of seeing and cannot choose otherwise. The "seed" and the growth and development are entirely innate. Only after a certain level has developed, and his volitional faculty has developed, can he start making choices about that skill.

I am very excited about the affects and their role in normative abstractions. I will do some quality thinking on the proactive angle and your comments.

William,

Sorry to get to your comment so late. Did you get Marsha's article from her or is it online somewhere?

Michael

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Michael,

I started to write on affect and realized I would need several hours to write what was coming together in my mind. I've put it aside for now.

As far as the seeing goes though, don't think of the act of seeing so much as the act of focussing. There is something I do from time to time (maybe because I'm just strange). I focus my eyes on some object in front of me, and then focus my attention on the information contained in my peripheral vision. This little game demonstrates a number of things. First, focussing is not just about what the eyes do. Second, there is something else inside that can focus on specific information. Third, regardless of what it says about how strange I am, it is something I do by choice, with no outside antecedent action. The act of focussing my attention is proactive.

Normally, the eyes follow the focus of awareness. In infants, there is no choice in the matter. The eyes necessarily follow the focus of awareness because, while the action is proactive, it is not yet volitional. The development of the child's intuitive perspective is required before volition begins to emerge.

This is something I would also focus on in a discussion of emotions. Emotions must be understood in relation to the developing intuitive perspective. The intuitive perspective informs the emotions in a number of ways, resulting in the development of emotional complexity from some basic emotional elements. Our intuitive perspective provides the meaning of our relationships to the stimuli we respond to. Also, emotions need to be understood in terms of this thing inside that can focus on specific contents of consciousness; what could be referred to as the core of consciousness. The distinction needs to be made between the experiential/responsive (incoming causal chains) side of our core and the creative/assertive (outgoing causal chains) side of our core. The first is based on the experience of pleasure and pain; the second is based on the experience of passionate action and frustrated action.

Also note that NB’s model of self-esteem reflects these two sides of our being: self-respect– am I worthy of positive experiences/responses; self-competence– am I confident in the positive results of my creative/assertiveness. I often find with people that I may not like what they do but I can always care about what they experience. I tend to pay more attention to what people experience than what they do. I find it makes for a more benevolently slanted social universe. I guess that’s what makes me “gentle” as you have referred to me. I tend to be far less gentle when I switch my focus to what people do.

Paul

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Paul,

The way I see all this is as a seed. A tree can be found in a seed over time, but it needs to grow and develop. Would you call that growth and development proactive? I'm curious.

The simple answer is, yes, I do see growth and development in proactive terms. Its not growth and development itself but the underlying causation that I see as proactive. We can view the causal connections that integrate our understanding of the underlying picture as reactive or proactive. Our intuitive picture of that underlying reality will be different depending on which concept of causation we work from.

What I see in man is that in terms of the volitional faculty, he certainly is "tabula rasa" at birth - except for the "seed factor." The infant will grow a volitional faculty whether he wants to or not. (Egad! What a statement!)

I do not think his mind is "tabula rasa" though. There are a lot of innate "seeds" in it - seeds that develop into innate value judgments, like Steve's affects.

I tend to think of being born with certain simple innate emotional, cognitive, and assertive programs, a "blank slate" intuition, and a proactive centre of consciousness. As the intuition evolves under the guiding hand of the proactive centre of consciousness, the innate programs increase in complexity.

Paul

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Proactive means simply the energy for action resides within the entity rather than without. It means a fundamental property of entities is kinetic energy as opposed to inertia. Inertia is just a special state of proactive entities. (Special Relativity mathematically describes how proactive entities are converted into inert ones through the process of integrating into a higher scale entity. That is, it describes how a deeper proactive causation is converted into the higher scale reactive causation we observe everyday. It describes how proactive entities that behave in the strange ways that create the quantum world are converted into the reactive entities that shape the classical world.) Proactive entities and proactive causation can integrate the strange behaviour of the quantum world with the strange behaviour of volitional consciousness without claiming certain evidence to be unimportant and without falling into the traps of dualism.

Sorry, but this is complete gobbledygook to me. Proactive means that the energy resides within the entity rather than without? So all devices with batteries are proactive and devices connected to the mains are not? The rest of the paragraph doesn't make sense to me at all, I can't make head or tail of it and I'm sure no one else can...

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Proactive means simply the energy for action resides within the entity rather than without. It means a fundamental property of entities is kinetic energy as opposed to inertia. Inertia is just a special state of proactive entities. (Special Relativity mathematically describes how proactive entities are converted into inert ones through the process of integrating into a higher scale entity. That is, it describes how a deeper proactive causation is converted into the higher scale reactive causation we observe everyday. It describes how proactive entities that behave in the strange ways that create the quantum world are converted into the reactive entities that shape the classical world.) Proactive entities and proactive causation can integrate the strange behaviour of the quantum world with the strange behaviour of volitional consciousness without claiming certain evidence to be unimportant and without falling into the traps of dualism.

Sorry, but this is complete gobbledygook to me. Proactive means that the energy resides within the entity rather than without? So all devices with batteries are proactive and devices connected to the mains are not? The rest of the paragraph doesn't make sense to me at all, I can't make head or tail of it and I'm sure no one else can...

Dragonfly,

I didn't expect it to make much sense to you. As much as I truly respect your intelligence and knowledge, you cannot make sense of proactive causation using a reactive causal lens. You see the world through a reactive causal lens and are resistant to trying on another pair of glasses. I would be interested to find out if anyone else can make heads or tails of it though. I think Michael might be starting to get some idea of what I am saying. If anyone is interested, including Dragonfly, I will try to make these ideas clearer.

Paul

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William,

Sorry to get to your comment so late. Did you get Marsha's article from her or is it online somewhere?

Michael

Marsha sent me a PDF a couple months ago, but has since made it available on her website.:

http://www.fountainheadinstitute.com/Emotions.pdf

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Dragonfly,

Referring back to your "gobbledygook" comment, you're right. I got carried away talking about things I have laid no groundwork for. With no context, it makes no sense. Put my bad judgement down to tiredness. I think I also exercised poor judgement by rambling in a thread, or in a number of threads, that had a different purpose than my personal ramblings. My foul. I will now excuse myself to go and have a nap.

Paul

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:D:D

Michael,

Thank you so much for this wonderful preview.

I hope you are but the first of many in the objectivist community who will benefit from the profound insights into the nature of emotion that Tomkins's work provides.

I do indeed stand on the shoulders of a giant here and to underline that please refer to the affects as "Tomkins's Affects" not Steve's!

There is much more to say about his work than it's possible to include in a lecture or the introductory article that will appear in November, but I hope the article (and accompanying video CD) will spark some interest for further learning, which I would be more than happy to help with.

My intellectual foundations have been shaken twice in my life -- once by Rand (when I was 19) and once by Tomkins (when I was 54 and believed them to be too old for shaking!) -- they have both changed my life fundamentally -- and they complement, not contradict each other!

Paul -- Tomkins has a wonderful concept he labels "image" -- the most basic category of consciousness -- one can have varying degrees of awareness of them -- and they are always involved with affect. He has a wonderful explanation of why we become conscious of some things and not others -- involving the relative strengths of the affects attached to each one. The reason I'm bringing it up to you is because I think it sheds light on the nature of the "implicit" which you refer to.

Steve

Edited by Steve Shmurak
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Paul -- Tomkins has a wonderful concept he labels "image" -- the most basic category of consciousness -- one can have varying degrees of awareness of them -- and they are always involved with affect. He has a wonderful explanation of why we become conscious of some things and not others -- involving the relative strengths of the affects attached to each one. The reason I'm bringing it up to you is because I think it sheds light on the nature of the "implicit" which you refer to.

Steve

Thanks Steve. It's not much to go on but it is cause to read more on Tomkins. Is there anywhere online I can find an overview of his perspective and some of his terms defined? Also, I don't recall using the word "implicit." Are you referring to what I termed "the intuitive perspective?"

Maybe I'll have to wait for your article.

Paul

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Paul,

Yes, sorry, "intuitive perspective" is what I should have written.

There are places online you can read about Tomkins (eg the Wikipedia article Michael referenced).

However, I recommend you wait for my article because the accompanying CD shows the actual referents from which the ostensive definitions of the basic affects are formed.

Without those referents, I don't think it's possible to grasp the essence of what Tomkins is writing about and therefore it's not possible to get what's so unique and powerful about his ideas.

Steve

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  • 2 months later...

I want to announce here that I just received the Fall 2006 issue of JARS. Steve's article is the first one in the issue, it runs 18 pages and it looks magnificent. It is called, "Demystifying Emotion: Introducing the Affect Theory of Sylvan Tomkins to Objectivists."

There is a CD in a plastic sleeve glued to the last page called "De-Mystifying Emotion: The 9 Innate Affects - Sylvan Tomkins."

Congratulations, Steve. I think this will open a whole new chapter in Objectivist epistemology.

Michael

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Thank you very much, Michael.

I hope the article generates some interest and am looking forward to peoples' reactions.

I'll be more than pleased to answer any questions people raise here.

Steve

PS I would be especially interested in a discussion of how this better understanding of the nature of emotion

will influence objectivist epistemology.

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Ok, I understand that Ayn Rand said that human emotions and human's cognitive abilities are tabula rasa (which after a google search I found means clean slate) and are developed after birth.

Would anybody like to explain the rest of this to me? So far I've gotten that Rand thinks people, if they start at birth, can basically preset their emotions and that Shmurak disagrees.

Aside from that...well I'm a sixteen year old. I'm really trying but it's not working here.

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Danneskjold,

The subject of emotions is an explosive one for Objectivists. Rand had some illuminating insights into emotions, but she made the mistake of saying that her insights were valid for ALL emotions and that ALL emotions were limited to her insights. She also set up emotions as if they were a threat to conceptual volition and developed a rationalized theory that ALL emotions were the result of conceptual thinking or the evasion of conceptual thinking as applied to values.

She also tried to set up two poles for emotions: joy and suffering.

From Atlas Shrugged (p. 938)

Just as your body has two fundamental sensations, pleasure and pain, as signs of its welfare or injury, as a barometer of its basic alternative, life or death, so your consciousness has two fundamental emotions, joy and suffering, in answer to the same alternative. Your emotions are estimates of that which furthers your life or threatens it, lightning calculators giving you a sum of your profit or loss. You have no choice about your capacity to feel that something is good for you or evil, but what you will consider good or evil, what will give you joy or pain, what you will love or hate, desire or fear, depends on your standard of value. Emotions are inherent in your nature, but their content is dictated by your mind. Your emotional capacity is an empty motor, and your values are the fuel with which your mind fills it. If you choose a mix of contradictions, it will clog your motor, corrode your transmission and wreck you on your first attempt to move with a machine which you, the driver, have corrupted.

This fits neatly within the idea of valuing and deriving ethics from survival and reason. Something is either good or evil because it promotes life or death. Thus emotions are subconscious appraisals of good and evil. Neat and pat.

There is an enormous hole in this standard, though: that is the biological nature of the mind itself. As Steve documents, there are 9 affects pre-wired from birth that have nothing to do with learning. We are born with them, just like we are born with our genes, and we have no choice about that. They do not reflect the thinking of newborns. They are automatic reactions that are innate and develop over time. They are not "tabula rasa." The content of them is there from birth.

The implication of this for orthodox Objectivists is that they see this as a smear against volition, conceptual integration, reason and ultimately man's power to control his own mind. For the Rand-worshipers among them (which is, unfortunately, most of the orthodox Objectivists), it gets worse. This means that Rand was wrong about a fundamental issue and they vehemently reject that as blasphemy--as a metaphysical impossibility.

The reality, of course, is that the implication of Steve's work (based on that of Tomkins) provides an accurate description of the non-controllable elements within man's mind (directly by the will), thus it actually gives man more control over his mind than before (indirectly). As the saying goes, knowledge is power. Nature to be commanded must be obeyed.

Here is where the traditional Objectivist position breaks down. It postulates that experience is needed for emotional content to develop. That is true up to a point, but it is not the whole story. It is true that an infant has a much more sophisticated emotional reaction to the world at 6 months than it does at 1 day old. Traditional Objectivism (especially where Rand writes about developmental psychology) claims that this is proof that emotional reactions are learned, that they are the result of integrative (conceptual) thinking, or evasion, as the case may be.

What gets completely left out of the picture is what I call the seed factor. A tree is inherent in a seed. All it needs to do to have branches and leaves is grow into a tree. Likewise for affects. They develop automatically as the infant grows.

They don't do this in isolation. Yet if you ever argue this issue with an orthodox Objectivist, you will get stuck on this point. He will claim that it is either-or--either emotions govern the rational mind or the rational mind governs emotions. If you claim that man has an automatic emotional capacity that grows to maturity (just like any organic thing in the universe) and it has a specific nature wherein a part of it operates independently of reason, he will try to push you into claiming that this is all there is to thinking in your view, and then denounce you as a whim-worshiper and subjectivist or intrinsicist. When you explain that despite this capacity being separate from reason, it also interacts with reason as it develops, he will claim that you are contradicting yourself, that you are basing your ethics ultimately on emotions, that emotions are not tools of cognition, etc. (You probably know the drill by now.)

In the orthodox position, there is actually a mind-body dichotomy between reason and emotions. In order to "integrate" reason and emotions properly, they claim it is necessary for the mind to dominate emotions--to program them. Otherwise they will undermine reason. One would never need to dominate them if there were no warring parts making up the dichotomy. But accepting what exists, even when that means identifying automatic content of the mind, is just as essential to conceptual integration as the human will is.

The tabula rasa idea is wrong at the core. The mind is not blank at birth. It is like a seed that will develop automatically and man has no choice about that. What is tabula rasa at birth is man's volitional capacity, his conceptual faculty and the conceptual content of his mind. This takes shape as he grows and the automatic parts of his mind become developed enough to let this happen. Even man's memory is not blank at birth. He has memories of things from the womb before he draws his first breath. Tabula rasa is a gross oversimplification as presented by Rand and orthodox Objectivists and it is one of the weak theories of Objectivism.

But, as with other things in Rand's writings, there is truth involved if you remove the "all-inclusive" label. Thus some parts of the mind are tabula rasa at birth and others are seed-like, with innate content that develops automatically. Rand claimed that you can program all of your emotions. That is wrong as stated (and she paid a very high price in life for maintaining that position come hell or high water). But if you remove the "all-inclusive" part, you can say that it is true that you can program many of your emotions. You can, but you can't program all of them. Rand claimed that faulty thinking is the cause of all out-of-control destructive emotions. The same observation goes. Faulty thinking is the cause of many out-of-control destructive emotions, but certainly not all of them.

And so on.

Did that help?

Michael

EDIT - I forgot to mention the grab bag for when emotional conflicts become unexplainable. Rand took the easy way out and simply invented a theory that fit her basic position. She claimed that this was due to emotional repression. The right or wrong emotion got repressed, so the conflict developed. Note that repression is another act of will. With Rand, it always boils down to volition.

But once again, we don't have to throw out the Objectivist position, merely restrict it to not being all-inclusive. Then it becomes true. Repression is true of some unexplained emotional conflicts, but not all.

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To follow up on what Michael said, writers affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute lean heavily on the dichotomy between reason and emotion. And infant emotions are an obvious source of trouble for the ARIans.

This can be seen in Peikoff's book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. Peikoff denies the existence of innate value structures (which innate emotions would require, on his view), then tries to weasel out by claiming that emotions of various animals, or of human babies, are not matters of concern for philosophy, which is strictly about human beings insofar as they are rational.

In Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics, Tara Smith repeatedly ties virtuous actions to reason and vicious actions to emotions.

Meanwhile, "emotionalism" (a word rarely used by Rand) has become a favorite denunciatory epithet at ARI.

Robert Campbell

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Michael,

Excellent explication.

I have just a couple of quibbles.

You state:

"The reality, of course, is that the implication of Steve's work (based on that of Tomkins) provides an accurate description of the non-controllable elements within man's mind (directly by the will), thus it actually gives man more control over his mind than before (indirectly). As the saying goes, knowledge is power. Nature to be commanded must be obeyed."

My Quibble:

Affects are indeed automatic non-volitional, but not necessarily non-controllable aspects of mind. (e.g. one can, at times, with difficulty, force oneself to stop feeling something - which is not to say that's a good thing).

Also they are not necessarily the only non-volitional components. I believe they are extremely influential parts of consciousness, as they are the basis of all valuing, but neither I nor Tomkins maintain they are the only non-volitonal parts.

You state:

"There is an enormous hole in this standard, though: that is the biological nature of the mind itself. As Steve documents, there are 9 affects pre-wired from birth that have nothing to do with learning. We are born with them, just like we are born with our genes, and we have no choice about that. They do not reflect the thinking of newborns.They are automatic reactions that are innate and develop over time. They are not "tabula rasa." The content of them is there from birth."

My Quibble:

In the next to last line, you write: "They are automatic reactions that are innate and develop over time."

Strictly speaking, the affects do not develop over time, they are what they are. What does develop is the way they become part of our personalities, emotions (affects plus imagination, or memory or thought, or action, etc), i.e. how they are integrated into who we are as we live our lives.

For example, one might have grown up in a home where enjoyment was punished and so might have learned to not display enjoyment, and perhaps not even to allow himself to feel it. Similarly for the other affects. Or one might have grown up in a home where enjoyment was encouraged, sometimes appropriately, sometimes to cover over other feelings. The number of possibilities is enormous.

The main point is that the affects are biologically wired-in programs, present at birth. They are what they are. How we handle them and what life deals us are very influential in how we become who we are. But it is the person who develops, not the affects.

Steve

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Steve,

I probably wasn't being clear (and, incidentally, I am pretty sure we agree).

To better explain what I was saying and using a very crude example, the fact that we are born with legs, but need to grow before they can be used for walking, is similar to what I was talking about with affects. Affects are there in a "seed-like" form in a newborn, just like legs, eyes, and so many other things are. But a newborn can't use them yet. I doubt a 1 day old newborn shows much differentiation between the 9 affects. Growth is needed first.

So it is not the affect's existence that develops, but the expression of it as it matures. Such growth and development are automatic in young infants, if I understood all this correctly. Orthodox Objectivists say the ensuing expression comes from learned experience. In my understanding, the expression of affects (like widening eyes, etc.) develop automatically as the infant grows. It is a maturing process, not a learning one.

I am only talking about the affect in itself here. Obviously, learning is also involved as the infant grows. The way I see growth is that at the beginning of life, most development is pre-wired and unfolds over time automatically. As learning starts and then kicks in, pre-wired automatic development starts losing space as volitional development starts gaining space. This continues until adulthood with automatic becoming less and volitional becoming more. Then after a biological peak, automatic growth turns into automatic aging. When a person has not developed his conceptual volition too much, it seems like affects start coming back into his life in old age in a more pure state. That results in what people call a second childhood.

I see a huge difference between Barbara Branden and some elderly people I know, for example. They are all about the same age, but the difference is like night and day. The people I know are getting emotionally more childish and more uncontrolled as time goes on, and Barbara merely gets wiser. I attribute this to developing conceptual volition correctly.

Also, in your first quibble about control, you are talking about a time when affects are intermingled with volition and many learned experiences. At that stage, I agree that they become increasingly controllable, but they are also increasingly not pure affects anymore. They have merged with other things. The non-volitional aspect I was trying to get across is that a person has no choice about having them in the first place (and the ensuing manners of expression that develop). He can modify them, but he cannot erase them from his history as if they never existed. He was never tabula rasa in that sense.

Actually, on control, my position is that once you understand what an affect is and that it is part of your mind, even though it is non-volitional, you can start to control what to do with it using volition and thus modify how it impacts your thinking and valuing.

One last point, I did not claim that affects are the ONLY non-volitional components of the mind. I don't hold that at all. There are many automatic operations in the brain. Paradoxically, even the nature of the volitional faculty itself is non-volitional. A person doesn't choose to have one or not. He simply has one.

I guess your impression that I held such a view came from my style. I was a bit emphatic on the non-volitional component of emotions because I object to the "decree" method that sometimes arises in Objectivism, where Rand decrees that "all" of something is like what she says it is (like "all" emotions are the result of thinking or evading, etc.) and her orthodox followers genuflect.

I find that removing the "all" allows her genuinely penetrating insights to be appreciated without listening to the loud noise coming from her detractors who go about "disproving" her claims. Their method is that if you disprove the "all" by showing an exception or a part not covered, you also disprove the entire insight as pure fantasy. The orthodoxy's method of defense is actually the same, but comes at the issue from the other end and tries to uphold the "all." I think both ends are silly, but they can get pretty nasty in their silliness. That nastiness is what causes me to be so emphatic.

Michael

PS - Happy birthday! :)

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Steve,

Now I have to figure out how to go about getting a copy of JARS. You are deep in one of my favorite areas of thought.

One quick question. You said:

Affects are indeed automatic non-volitional, but not necessarily non-controllable aspects of mind. (e.g. one can, at times, with difficulty, force oneself to stop feeling something - which is not to say that's a good thing).
Can one stop the feeling as such-- i.e.: stop the emotion-- or can one only deflect one's awareness away from the emotion? Does the emotion remain but out of conscious awareness? If an emotion continues to exist but remains beyond the focus of our awareness, it will be beyond the influence of our volition. Here, in the subconscious, is where it can have some very colourful effects on the psyche.

I have often thought about the consequences to the psyche (Rand's or anyone who accepts her premises on the nature and relation of emotions and volition) of Rand's apparent motivation to will certain emotions out of existence. I suspect it would place a great many of her reactions underground, out of her volitional control. It might even cause her to behave irrationally and attack those closest to her when they stir her unwanted emotions, precisely because they are of independent mind and have a different perspective to her. This might lead her, in the interests of maintaining consistency, to generate reality distorting rationalizations that marry her behaviour to her worldview-- to her visualization of the underlying nature and causation of events. This might make sense of why she behaved as she did toward Nathaniel, Barbara, and many others.

Just a passing thought.

Paul

I never seem to be able to keep my "One quick questions" to one quick question. :)

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<<To better explain what I was saying and using a very crude example, the fact that we are born with legs, but need to grow before they can be used for walking, is similar to what I was talking about with affects. Affects are there in a "seed-like" form in a newborn, just like legs, eyes, and so many other things are. But a newborn can't use them yet. I doubt a 1 day old newborn shows much differentiation between the 9 affects. Growth is needed first.>>

Michael, you are surely correct that a day old newborn can neither differentiate nor use the 9 affects. He is merely the place in which they occur – i.e. he has very little ability to be an agent -- and there is much affectively going on in him.

<<So it is not the affect's existence that develops, but the expression of it as it matures. Such growth and development are automatic in young infants, if I understood all this correctly. Orthodox Objectivists say the ensuing expression comes from learned experience. In my understanding, the expression of affects (like widening eyes, etc.) develop automatically as the infant grows. It is a maturing process, not a learning one

I am only talking about the affect in itself here. Obviously, learning is also involved as the infant grows. The way I see growth is that at the beginning of life, most development is pre-wired and unfolds over time automatically. As learning starts and then kicks in, pre-wired automatic development starts losing space as volitional development starts gaining space. This continues until adulthood with automatic becoming less and volitional becoming more. .>>

I agree. Both processes go on. One of the things I absolutely love about Tomkins is his inclusiveness. That is, it is not "either maturation or learning," but "both maturation and learning."

<<Also, in your first quibble about control, you are talking about a time when affects are intermingled with volition and many learned experiences. At that stage, I agree that they become increasingly controllable, but they are also increasingly not pure affects anymore. They have merged with other things. The non-volitional aspect I was trying to get across is that a person has no choice about having them in the first place (and the ensuing manners of expression that develop). He can modify them, but he cannot erase them from his history as if they never existed. He was never tabula rasa in that sense.>>

Agreed.

<<Actually, on control, my position is that once you understand what an affect is and that it is part of your mind, even though it is non-volitional, you can start to control what to do with it using volition and thus modify how it impacts your thinking and valuing.>>

Also agreed.

<<One last point, I did not claim that affects are the ONLY non-volitional components of the mind. I don't hold that at all. There are many automatic operations in the brain. Paradoxically, even the nature of the volitional faculty itself is non-volitional. A person doesn't choose to have one or not. He simply has one.

I guess your impression that I held such a view came from my style. I was a bit emphatic on the non-volitional component of emotions because I object to the "decree" method that sometimes arises in Objectivism, where Rand decrees that "all" of something is like what she says it is (like "all" emotions are the result of thinking or evading, etc.) and her orthodox followers genuflect

I find that removing the "all" allows her genuinely penetrating insights to be appreciated without listening to the loud noise coming from her detractors who go about "disproving" her claims. Their method is that if you disprove the "all" by showing an exception or a part not covered, you also disprove the entire insight as pure fantasy. The orthodoxy's method of defense is actually the same, but comes at the issue from the other end and tries to uphold the "all." I think both ends are silly, but they can get pretty nasty in their silliness. That nastiness is what causes me to be so emphatic. .>>

Yes, well said – I think we are in agreement, and any differences that seem to exist are mainly due to not talking about things with each other enough yet!

<<PS - Happy birthday!>>

Thank you so much!

All the best

Steve

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Paul,

<<Now I have to figure out how to go about getting a copy of JARS. You are deep in one of my favorite areas of thought.>>

You can subscribe and/or get individual copies of JARS at http://www.aynrandstudies.com/jars/subscribForm.asp

<<One quick question. You said:

Affects are indeed automatic non-volitional, but not necessarily non-controllable aspects of mind. (e.g. one can, at times, with difficulty, force oneself to stop feeling something - which is not to say that's a good thing).

Can one stop the feeling as such-- i.e.: stop the emotion-- or can one only deflect one's awareness away from the emotion? Does the emotion remain but out of conscious awareness? If an emotion continues to exist but remains beyond the focus of our awareness, it will be beyond the influence of our volition. Here, in the subconscious, is where it can have some very colourful effects on the psyche. >>

Both are possible.

One can tense up muscles, both skeletal and facial and thereby stop the experience of affect.

The way I understand this phenomenon is that the experience of affect (as in the babies on the CD-ROM included with JARS) is the result of facial and skeletal muscles (as well as glandular secretions), that are controlled by the "pre-wired" affect program. When voluntary innervation of musculature is employed in opposition to the affect program, it dilutes or destroys the experience of the affect. The degree of psychic damage and turmoil this causes will depend on the strength and importance of what one is trying to get rid of, as well as how hard one is trying to get rid of it.

It is also possible to volitionally deflect one’s awareness away from the emotion, and thereby become unaware of it. But the emotion will continue to occur, at least for awhile – perhaps "banging at the door of consciousness" if it is sufficiently strong. And sometimes it is so strong that it cannot be kept out of conscious awareness by simple volitional deflection.

These are two very different processes.

<<I have often thought about the consequences to the psyche (Rand's or anyone who accepts her premises on the nature and relation of emotions and volition) of Rand's apparent motivation to will certain emotions out of existence. I suspect it would place a great many of her reactions underground, out of her volitional control. It might even cause her to behave irrationally and attack those closest to her when they stir her unwanted emotions, precisely because they are of independent mind and have a different perspective to her. This might lead her, in the interests of maintaining consistency, to generate reality distorting rationalizations that marry her behaviour to her worldview-- to her visualization of the underlying nature and causation of events. This might make sense of why she behaved as she did toward Nathaniel, Barbara, and many others.>>

I heartily concur. And it is consistent with her own position that reality is a unified whole – failing to see the nature of one part will have negative consequences on one's ability to grasp other parts. In this case, she was wrong about some essential attributes of the nature of emotion.

Steve

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One can tense up muscles, both skeletal and facial and thereby stop the experience of affect.
Does this stop the experience of affect or does it only stop the expression of it in the body?

Exploring the Psychological Causes of John Galt: The Dynamics of Emotion

by Paul Mawdsley

Emotions tend to trigger automated patterns of physical response. Blocking the automated patterns of physical response does not stop the emotion. The emotion is separate to, and causally precedes, the automated action responses. An emotion is a mental event that is an expression of the meaning of some phenomenon to our being. If we deflect awareness of the mental event and tense ourselves against the automated action responses, we might block the flow of an emotion, and with it block awareness of it, but it will still exist as a mental event that requires expression and integration. The result is a growing split in our psyche-- a split between our conscious self and our subconscious self-- and the growth of uncontrolled impulses.

There is a difference between those parts of ourselves we have not yet discovered and those parts of ourselves we have submerged. Along with those parts that are automated, those parts we have not yet discovered are allowed to flow freely beneath consciousness. I tend to think of this as being the dynamics of the "unconscious." They represent the natural flow and expression of our non-volitional being. Those parts we choose not to see, those we choose to submerge, are squeezed into the darkness to be released in uncontrollable and unpredictable ways. I tend to think of this as being the dynamics of the "subconscious." It is the suppression of unwanted realities that creates the subconscious. It is awareness, acceptance and integration that dissolves the tensile energy of the subconscious.

Rand's description of John Galt as having a "face without fear, nor pain, nor guilt," is the picture of a being who is in no way tormented by uncontrolled impulses that arise from the darkness of suppressed, unwanted realities. She saw clearly the effect, the being and character, she wanted to portray as an example of the height of humanity. She worked tenaciously to unearth the causes of such a being and character. Unfortunately, the missing pieces in her view of human nature are what caused her to leave the concept of John Galt as a floating abstraction of a psychological being. She could not give his character a nature she could not find in herself. She could not give him the psychological nature that would produce the face Dagny first saw when she crashed into Galt's Gulch.

Understanding the nature of emotions and their dynamics with awareness and volition is fundamentally a psychological study rather than a philosophical one. This is one of the main weaknesses of Rand's view of human nature. Understanding that the nature and dynamics of the imagination is shaped by the operating language of various principles of causation which shapes one's largely unconscious worldview, is something else missing from Rand's view of human nature. The images that arise from such dynamics are what gives rise to our intuitive views of the world. Our intuitive view of the world, more than anything else, is what determine what views of existence and human nature we will adopt. This is why a deep understanding of the nature of causation is so fundamentally important. The principles of causation we assume at an intuitive level determine our intuitive worldview, which determines what evidence, what arguments, and what explicit worldview we will accept as true.

There is another area that is important to understand if we want to approach an understanding of the reality of human nature. This is something I have been paying attention to and thinking about since I was a teenager. Only now am I beginning to put the pieces together in a model of human behaviour. Its subject matter was a very strong thread throughout Rand's writings but I do not believe she truly understood its nature. I am talking here about the inter-subjective nature of the psychology of evil characters. It is from these images in Rand's fictions that the concept of social metaphysics arose in NB's writing.

People are connected, to one degree or another, to what I have started to call the social matrix. Every individual's psyche is made of certain general components: awareness, volition, emotion, automated patterns of response and assertion, and an imagination that gives rise to the intuitive images of one's worldview. One of the automated responses we have in social contexts can be to process information about other people's actions in a way that approximates the recreation of their emotions and worldviews in our responses and imaginations. The process is called empathy. Through empathy we can automatically approximate another's perspective. This allows us to connect to the social matrix where individuals are nodes in a social web of perspectives.

Some people are more plugged into the social matrix. Some people are less so. Some people, myself included, tend to prefer staying plugged into the objective realm and find themselves naive and somewhat out of control in the social matrix. Of those who are plugged into the social matrix, some are more aware of its forces and some are less aware; some are more in control of the dynamic and some are dust in the social wind; some see it as being the total of reality and these are who NB would refer to as social metaphysicians. Regardless, the social matrix is a huge force in or world. It is the realm of persuasion and spin doctoring. It is the realm where image and self-image are pliable commodities of relative value and where social status can become the currency of exchange. It is the realm where reality is what people are persuaded it is. Of the many things that Rand's work is, it is definitely an attack on this realm and the people who exist here. Despite the fact that she portrayed this realm quite well, at least for someone who is not particularly plugged into it, I don't think she (nor NB for that matter) truly understood it.

Back to emotion. In the earliest stages of emotional development we respond to direct physical and social realities. As we develop emotionally, we are able to have visceral reactions to the images in our imagination. Whether we are talking about the images of our own intuitive understanding of events or of our empathic recreation of another's perspective, we react emotionally to the content of our imaginations. If we are to understand human nature, we must understand our emotional responses to the creations of our imagination and to the social matrix, and we must understand the role awareness and volition can play in processing and integrating these responses or in denying and submerging them. These are some of the tasks that lay before Objectivism if it is to achieve the potential of the seed Rand planted.

Paul

Edited by Paul Mawdsley
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<<One can tense up muscles, both skeletal and facial and thereby stop the experience of affect. >>

"Does this stop the experience of affect or does it only stop the expression of it in the body? "

Paul,

You've packed an enormous amount of interesting thought into this post.

I want to respond to the quote above.

The experience of affect is dependent on the physical affect program being triggered. When that program is muted through tensing up muscles, so is the experience of affect muted. If the tensing up is strong enough it can take away the experience entirely.

There is a price one pays for doing this in having to spend energy to avoid knowing and feeling certain things and in general in having a diminished sense of aliveness, and a less acute conceptual faculty, a self-imposed destruction of healthy awareness.

Steve

Edited by Steve Shmurak
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