Reply To: What Are Emotions?

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  • Type: TiNe
  • Development: ll-l
  • Attitude: Adaptive

Thank you everyone for your replies! It’s great to see such a rich conversation emerging out of the original question 😀

– You have a lot of great points, especially in what you say about the individualized form of emotions. Have you studied much in the way of Jungian psychology? I resonate a lot with your reply, as it parallels what I’ve learned about the structure of the psyche from Jung’s writings. I’d love to see your book when it comes out 🙂

Then I developed more and more associations with white… and as a consequence, black. Each of these colors, and more, became associated with certain alter-egos, personal expressions, stories and facets of me, other people in my life, endeavors, etc…

This is a beautiful example of the symbolic manifestation of meaning – it sounds like white associates to a complex concept and layered set of emotional evocations for you ^^ I think you’re very right that emotional responses become personalized over time, and that the individual’s particular emotional landscape contributes significantly to their personality. This may well be inevitable, for if emotions are indeed the body’s fundamental way of responding to the environment, it would only make sense that they adapt and morph to meet the demands of life as it is experienced over time.

So in this sense, people have two layers of emotion. One is in the realm of personal identity and one is more primal, common to all humans and several other species too. The two intermix, and influence the expression of the other in varying degrees, but neither category on its own can comprise the totality of a human being’s emotional spectrum.

You seem to be describing the layers of collective and personal unconscious here ^^ The collective unconscious would be the universal, primal content, and the personal would be the content stored from experience and the resultant interpretation of the universal content (archetypes). What you say rings true, personal and collective content does intermix, and primal concept is filtered by the particular form of the individual, producing a specific image/character/narrative.

Why must anything distinguish us from them? Can we not program them to emote? Is it the lack of biological imperative that prevents them from emoting the same way, or have we just not written a good enough program yet?

This is precisely my question. If we did indeed come to understand how emotions function, and write a program that operates in the same manner into adequate hardware (quantum computing systems, I imagine), wouldn’t it be that such an AI would be able to feel like we do? I do think our failure to replicate a sentient, emotive entity is mostly due to a lack of knowledge and technological capability.

And from your most recent post..

Mysticism around emotions evolved for a reason, just as much as emotions did, and the aim to ‘dismantle it’ would never work. There’s a reason it’s there, a reason it’s part of our emotional structure no matter who we are. The T “ego” may aim to be sober about their emotions, yet this aim in itself is not completely sober, because emotions by their very nature are designed to inspire us due to their profundity.

I do agree with you that mysticism is part of the emotional experience. But I’ve seen that it is possible to make the meanings associated with experiences conscious, therefore changing the emotional response. At this point in my life, after going through a lengthly individuation process, I’m actually no longer capable of being ‘taken’ by mystical feelings or beiliefs. I’ve found being aware of the actuality of what’s going on frees my will from the grip of emotional causalities. I can still feel mystical, but the original profundity has been traded out for practical understanding.

@UmbilicalSphere – I love your logic! Your explanation forms inevitably from one premise to another in an impressively coherent way. And you include such well articulated detail.. As said, brilliant reply 🙂 There is so much here to respond to, but I’ll keep it to the most important/intriguing points, so as not to drown the thread with my post! XD

Instinct (systems of homoeostatically organised movement that extend the will of the entity from inside to outside) and semiotics (systems of reference that enable adaptively approximate representation of outside to inside) emerge here.

You’ve defined both Instinct and Semiotics (what sounds like the basis of the archetypes, and even of the function of symbolic thinking overall) very keenly here. Thinking of it in this way, Semiotics seems to roughly correspond to Perception, especially the Worldview function. And Instincts roughly correspond to Judgement, especially the Articulator function. This is if I’m boiling down the definition correctly, with Semiotics = behavioral map, Instincts = process of response to stimuli. Do you think perhaps the cognitive functions emerged from this primitive basis?


I think that mind emerged to mediate between conflicting vectors on the raw life/instinct layer, and that emotions signal specific motivational vectors/adaptive cues to consciousness, which then chooses between them (the difficulty (sometimes impossibility) of optimising the chosen solutions to these often contradictory options being a source of existential vertigo as well as ongoing complexification/refinement of the psyche’s belief, value and habit systems). Specific emotions in specific situations typically come attached with implicit beliefs about how that situation is likely to play out, with the interpretation of the experienced situation modulating which emotions arise and to what level of intensity.

^This is a wonderful description. I’ve had similar thoughts about the mind/intellect emerging to *refine* the instinctual responses. As you indicate, direct response has worked historically but it can backfire due to its linear nature. This is especially so in cases where two vectors conflict, and even more so in the complex environment created by social species. What you say about the specificity of implicit beliefs and emotional evocation mirrors what Animal spoke of – our experiences both form and are formed by the idiosyncratic interpretation of emotions. This is how living creatures tend to adapt, I’ve noticed. Experience adjusts mechanisms/methods, which then alter response, which determines how adjustments will be made down the line.

We can infer that consciousness is necessary for this, and that the apparatus of emotion evolved within conscious agents to enhance capacity to deal with the problems posed by evolutionary selection pressures, due to the fact that evolution is a highly conservative process, so takes the path of least resistance (given some degree of constraints of path-dependence), and that conscious operations are quite energy intensive. It would be interesting to speculate about ‘why?’ since, if it was possible to replicate the functions of emotion in an unconscious algorithm-like instinct-response system, it would have been done. Why has it not been done?

I don’t have the depth nor breadth of knowledge in philosophy that you do, and I may be misinterpreting your question. But it seems to me that you already answered why emotions only exist in conscious (what I would term ‘sentient’) beings. If we take consciousness to mean the capacity for complex awareness and abstract thought, then what you say makes perfect sense – that emotions are our experience of instincts and semiotics interpreted by the higher mind/cortex. They cannot exist as a separate part of the psyche, because they are indeed an emergent effect of the processes of the more primitive aspects of the nervous system being filtered by the processes of the more recent aspects.

Does this make any sense?


Emotions are (chemical) flags/alerts that the system is out of balance.

I think the basis of what you’re talking about makes sense, but it may be *too* simplified to describe emotions as ‘alerts’ to a lack of balance. They can also be signs of proper balance/homeostasis, such as the feeling of contentment or satisfaction when a need or goal is met. Beyond this, there are also the sensations of beauty and the religious/numinous response. I think these things could be said to be more experiences of resonance than warnings of imbalance.

– That’s a great video! ^^ Thanks for sharing it. I hadn’t heard of Yuval Harari before, he’s quite brilliant.

I agree with what you say. How you describe emotions as the ‘first approximation of how-to-be in this reality’ goes along with a thought I’ve had for a while too. In a way, the evolution of the brain is like the focusing of a camera lens. First there was the general, fuzzy perception of reality at the most primitive layer of the reptilian brain, then with more processing power things got a little clearer and more specific at the level of the mammalian cortex, and finally we have a high level of fidelity and clarity with the neocortex. As our capacity for processing increased, so has our capacity to approximate reality.

  • This reply was modified 1 year, 9 months ago by Chiron.

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