Emotion Systems

[From Bruce Abbott (961014.1500 EST)]

Bill Powers (961014.0940 MDT) --

This has to qualify as one of those Twilight Zone experiences. As I was
returning from class I occurred to me that I should have asked Bill how he
would account for the newborn colt's ability to get up off the ground and
start prancing around, snuggle up to its mother, and all the rest if these
systems haven't already reached a rather advanced state of development in
the absence of practice. When I returned to my desk, there was this:

Of course there are plenty of cases
where I simply have to give in -- it's damned hard to explain how a colt can
struggle to its feet and start nursing without assuming a pretty complex
built-in control system complete with perceptual systems and reference
signals, even given the motor practice that can take place during gestation.

Do de do do . . . . This is getting scarey. Of course, Rick already knows
what I'm going to say before I say it (so he claims) . . . Do you think we
can get on _Sightings_?

At this point I've said about all I have time to say about emotion systems;
it's clear that Bill and I have some strong differences of opinion on this
issue, and that's fine. In fact, I'm actually quite pleased about it; if we
had identical opinions, one of us would be redundant, yes? So I'm just
going to leave it at that.

Regards,

Bruce

[From Bruce Abbott (961015.1725 EST)]

Now what would your built-in emotion system have to be able to do in order
to generate the appropriate emotion in this case? First, it would have to
perceive what an inside straight is, and compare the card you drew with the
required card. In order to perceive that, the emotion system would have to
recognize numbers, which requires recognizing shapes, which requires
recognizing sensations, etc. It would have to have all these levels of
perception as they relate specifically to card games, in addition to
perceptions of higher-level considerations such as customs and rules, and
the behavior that is expected at a gambling table. It would have to
understand that the opponents in the game are likely to retaliate for your
welshing on the debt, and know that the retaliation would take unpleasant
forms. It would have to imagine the consequences, and adjust the machinery
to take an appropriate action like fleeing. And it would have to understand
the spatial relations involved, so it could determine the direction of
movement that would constitute fleeing, and connect that goal to the right
reference signals in the learned hierarchy to cause locomotion to the right
degree and in the right direction.

And this would all have to be done by an inherited system! I truly don't see
how this would be possible. Can you suggest any other way it could happen?

You have it right until that last paragraph, first sentence. In my view
there is a system in place right from the start (for basic emotions like
fear), but it operates through existing lower-level control systems and
receives input from existing perceptual systems. Inputs that alter the
state of the controlled variable of this system act as disturbances to it;
initially in the fear system things like sudden noise or loss of support act
as disturbances; later, as both learning and maturation take place, more
complex perceptions of threat develop and begin to exert their disturbing
influence on the same system. The evaluation of threat takes the form of a
change in the level of a scalar signal, as in any other perceptual signal;
all that is necessary for my suggestion to work is that this signal be
transmitted to a dedicated, preorganized control system whose actions tend
to reduce the (threat) disturbance. At birth the perceptual function may be
capable of "recognizing" only simple stimulus changes as "threats," by which
I mean that only these simple input changes are capable of raising the level
of the function's output signal. With maturation and experience it becomes
more sophisticated and discriminating (although it still reacts in the same
old way to sudden unexpected loud noises or loss of support).

Because this system uses the same perceptual and lower-level systems as the
non-emotional systems, any reorganization that takes place with experience
benefits both the emotion systems and their purely cognitive cousins. In
fact, one can imagine that the emotion systems might provide the
"scaffolding," as it were, upon which the non-emotional systems might
initially build some of their connections.

Getting back to the card game, all the same perceptual control systems are
involved in my proposal as in yours, right up to the moment a threat is
perceived. At that moment the "safety" control system's CV is disturbed,
and this has the effect both of strongly activating the sympathetic and
hormonal "stress" systems and biasing the selection of lower-level goals
toward those that tend to restore the perception of safety; if strongly
disturbed this system may inhibit the high-level system that was "in charge"
up to that moment, to the extent that our welshing friend may be astonished
to find himself running for the swinging doors for all he's worth when what
he had decided to do, should this emergency arise, was to bluff his way out
of it.

Did you know that the pattern of facial muscle-contraction that appears
under emotional control (e.g., smiling when happy) differs from that which
is produced when you try to simulate the expression? Did you know that
certain brain lesions will abolish the latter (voluntary control over the
facial muscles) but leave the emotional control untouched and functional?
If this is true (and I haven't seen the support for it yet), this would seem
very difficult to reconcile with HPCT, but fits perfectly with my suggestion.

Regards,

Bruce

Bruce Abbott (961015.1725 EST) sez:

Did you know that the pattern of facial muscle-contraction that appears
under emotional control (e.g., smiling when happy) differs from that which
is produced when you try to simulate the expression? Did you know that
certain brain lesions will abolish the latter (voluntary control over the
facial muscles) but leave the emotional control untouched and functional?
If this is true (and I haven't seen the support for it yet), this would seem
very difficult to reconcile with HPCT, but fits perfectly with my suggestion.

The brain leison stuff has been in standard human neuroanatomy texts for
over 20 years.

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