[from Mary Powers 9502.20]
Bruce B: (asking if anyone has read Damasio's Descartes' Error)
I have - and am about to again. From what I remember from my
first pass, I don't think it necessarily gives you ammunition for
the point you are making, which I understand to be that PCT is
logical and cold and unemotional and is therefore incapable of
addressing the humanities and the arts.
I think a lot of people who live along an aesthetic dimension are
very resistant to the idea of having their experiences
explained - that they will lose their magic if we know too much
about them. So I ask you - does PCT fail to be "the whole story"
because to some extent you really would rather not know PCT's
version of the story?
But PCT is not about what people experience and feel. It's about
the kind of organization needed in order to have experiences and
feelings. Of course there is much more to being a person than
understanding the organization or mechanism involved. As Bill
said in BCP, the point is to explain as much as we can - and the
rest will be the interesting part. But there is no point drawing
a line in advance between what PCT can explain and what it can't.
The role of emotions in living systems is certainly something PCT
can address (there was a chapter on it in BCP that was cut out by
the editor for some reason - it is reprinted in Living Control
Systems II). Disturbances and errors drive outputs that affect
the body - glands as well as muscles - and those effects are
perceived - that is how we know something is not right and how we
judge that what we are doing is effective. More control loops.
What I found interesting in Damasio was the problem of Phineas
Gage and others with damage to very high levels. Of course these
were accidents, no two alike, with different degrees of damage to
various sites. But what they seemed to have in common (to me)
were pretty intact control systems up to and including the
principle level - no problem understanding and discussing ethical
principles, for instance. What seemed to be missing was the
ability to designate a consistent set of reference values for the
principle level - in other words, the system concept level was
damaged or its connections to lower levels lost. Which would mean
that any random setting of the principle level was as good as any
other. And emotionally meant that there was no particular
criterion for feeling good or bad about anything.
I read the whole book feeling that it could be recast in PCT
terms without difficulty, and that doing so would make consistent
sense of it. And at the end, in the postscriptum, I came across
Some have asked why neuroscience has not yet achieved
results as spectacular as those seen in molecular biology
over the past four decades. Some have even asked what is
the neuroscientific equivalent of the discovery of DNA
structure, and whether or not a corresponding
neuroscientific fact has been established. There is no such
single correspondence, although some facts, at several
levels of the nervous system, might be construed as
comparable in practical value to knowing the structure of
DNA - for instance, understanding what an action potential
is all about. But the equivalent, at the level of mind-
producing brain, has to be a _large-scale outline of circuit
and system designs_, involving descriptions _at both
microstructural and macrostructural levels_ [emphasis in
Dr. Damasio, meet Bill Powers.