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In evolutionary terms, 5 mill years ago, we split from the chimps, 4 mill years ago, Homo Erectus arose; 2 mill years ago, bodies and brain interacted for the first real time we can tell, 130k years ago, modern looking humans began to emerge, with evidence that 50k years ago, modern agrarian society began, and so for man, solving the key problems of social competition and cooperation had begun as well, if Fukuyama 2001 and Gogarten 2001 can be believed. Gazzaniga's work shows that along the way, bilateral symmetry of structure and function emerged in brain and body, there was evolutionary pressure to evolve dexterity, speech, social competition, maintain hemispheric function whiles developing the 'software' to filter input and evolve language. Intentional control was given to the right hemisphere (Heilman & Watson 1991), and at first, emotion was unconscious and choices to be made without it (Damasio 2000). The growing awareness of what was emotional valence in decision-making came to enhance the organism's choices, by filtering all incoming sensory information to detect threat, resulting in underlying emotion. According to Damasio, primitive man was only dimly aware of the existence of some physical sense of emotion. Here is what he said: In earlier stages of evolution emotions were entirely unknown to the organisms producing them. The states were regulatory. The organisms carrying out those complicated operations knew nothing of the existence of those operations and actions since they did not even know, in the proper sense of the word, of their own existence as individuals" (Damasio 2000; p 30). Filtering and gating were automatic, so we could avoid danger and maximise rewards by using executive functions as some kind of simulator of future outcomes. We had to ignore the prepotent emotional response as we evolved further, taking calculated risks with what emotional valence had warned us might be the danger of acting on information received.
In other words, the capacities for formulating future outcomes that are perceived as favourable to the organism (goals), had to be supported by underling emotional regulation by (1) determining by simulation what steps must be taken (planning), and (2) the effective realisation of those plans, are essential executive functions for independent, creative and socially constructive behaviour (Lezak 1982). Yet from Damasio's point of view (2000), the Wainstein/Prigatano terminology of 'emotional valence' is a necessary adjunct to decision making. Indeed, limbic tagging, or preservation of a prefrontal activity by stimulating pathways from limbic system to prefrontal areas via the anterior cingulate, gives some evidence of this correction mechanism (Gualtieri 1995).
Into this fertile arena emerges this book to elaborate on the seven emotional systems that explain how we live and behave, originating in deep limbic and prefrontal areas of the brain, such as they amygdala and insula, areas that are remarkably similar in most mammals, even though some develop more quickly from birth than ours. When the autonomy or homeostasis of these limbic systems and their connections are disrupted, then emotional disorders, as we term them, mental illness in some aspects, is thus the result.
The seven systems referred to include, seeking, fear, rage, lust, care, panic/grief, and play. These are related to ancient functional systems within the brain as we evolved them. Partly non-conscious, the emotional underlays of us all are treated by these authors on three levels or plains of abstraction: primary-, secondary- and tertiary processes. Higher emotional streams would then include the more abstract emotions, which mental health professionals should think of in these terms, namely pride, shame, confidence, guilt, jealousy, trust and so on. Daniel Segal gives the foreword, and then the first chapter examines what they call Ancestral Passions, and here they note there are many views of this, referring for instance to Paul Ekman's work with Davidson, Izard and others, but acknowledging their way of referring to the deep emotional workings of the human brain and particularly the limbic circuitry is subject to other views than theirs. Consequently, as I use the combined term of bodybrain, so do they use the term mindbrain, to enforce the reasoning that affective neuroscience is completely integrated in a monistic sense with no possibility of past dualisms. In keeping with general systems theory, they adopt a circular dynamic homeostasis approach to the workings of these systems. In this way, emotions are primary phenomenological experiences that cannot be adequately explained just in terms of accompanying changes in the body, even though these are distinctly experienced during emotional arousal. The authors then go on to elaborate on why they have chosen seven distinct systems as noted above. They will overall address the issues of why affective neuroscience has been marginalized across the years, as well as refer to other creatures that are now understood to undergo emotional state changes, unlike the suggestion from Descartes for instance, that animals lack that capacity, a dualism that was accepted for centuries before cogito ergo sum emerged. Damasio would of course have us believe that we feel, therefore we are aware of our existence as a living entity, and so affect and consciousness are linked. You will imagine correctly that each of the seven systems has their own chapter.
Chapter Two in this way begins with the evolution of affective consciousness, as we study emotional feelings in other animals, in other words the conscious awareness of an emotion. Phenomenal consciousness thus emerges from brain activity, which in itself is a difficult proposition to confirm by observation, theory of mind stuff indeed, hence dualism allowed animals to be bereft of feelings suddenly. This could and did lead to the neglect of emotions in ourselves and animals, which the authors address in their discussion here of the modern neuroscience of emotions, including their rejection of the James-Lange feedback theory, and leading us into an exposition of Antonio Damasio's influential work, which expands on James-Lange, but has until recently downplayed an animal capacity, and then onto LeDoux, Rolls, and the more classic views on the subject, hence the use of the term evolution in the title, as they address the problems with 'read-out' theories of emotions. There is finally hard evidence for the existence of emotions in other animals, not just ourselves, as they present it, with the bulk of this in the SEEKING system (they use upper case), supporting their idea that affects are primary, noncognitive, prelinguistic experiences, as Damasio even agreed in passing, by saying humans were only "dimly aware" of primitive emotional states.
Reward and punishment by the behaviorists as a core concept thus missed the boat when discarding emotional feelings from the study of organisms, ignoring affective principals. Homeostasis, namely drive reduction, resulted when an animal found it rewarding to restore homeostasis, not as an emotionally regulated experience. Incentive properties were thus found to be as important, in fact more important, than changes in the homeostatic states in the body. We learn more quickly if the reward is quality, rather than the speed at which it is delivered.
Chapter three then covers the Seeking system (I abandon the upper case!), namely brain sources of eager anticipation, desire, euphoria and the quest for everything as they headline it, with dopamine understandably the most dominant neurotransmitter here. Adjunctive behaviors are also introduced, those emotional behaviors which demonstrate the emotional underpinnings have not been met, hence drive reduction is incomplete as this behavior signals, and emotional valence is at play. Stimulating medication is thought to increase Seeking behavior, a more focused approach.
And so each of the seven systems is covered in turn, leading to Chapter 11 which seeks a neurobiology of the soul, an unusual title in a neuroscience book, but sensibly enough looking for the core human self, CORE as they have it, and the genesis then of the primary process feelings as noted before. This is the question of how neuronal entities produce a sense of subjective affective experience, namely, conscious awareness. This, by very nature of their previous arguments, addresses the integration of core lower and upper forms of consciousness, some we are aware of, some we are not. The brain is known to be a layered organism, with each reflecting on perhaps 'lower' process, so integrating the systems as these authors have done, and regarding both body-brain and mind-brain as a unified entity, is acceptably the only way to approach modern applied neuroscience.
The neocortex cannot sustain consciousness on its own, requiring the reticular activating system and hence our memories, as in the affective past which allows for simulation of outcomes, is harbored in the frontal regions. Presenting thus on the neuroanatomy of the core self is therefore a focus of this chapter, a difficult job to do, and then the mechanisms of affective consciousness can be further elaborated on with functional evidence of a core self presented. This leads one to self-related processing as being grounded in lower brain motor functions, an area certainly close to my heart. The core self is thus laid out in action coordinates. This provides a stable neural matrix for self-representation. This is a hugely influential chapter, and requires sentence-by-sentence study, as each comment is redolent with implications around the idea that consciousness is mostly grounded in sensation, a most commonly held belief that seems reasonable until you read this chapter.
Which leads us to Chapter Twelve, Brain emotional systems and affective qualities of mental life which takes us from animal affects to the implications for human psychology and psychotherapy. Again, they examine all seven affective systems for clues to how this interplays with human psychological distress overall. This is a most lengthy chapter, fulfilling their earlier promise to make this an applied work based in their extensive science, and what value to us as therapists, to understand and classify this mix of non-conscious and conscious emotional information processing?
Chapter 13 finishes as a Coda, asking us to return to mice and men: can we?
Why buy this book? Well, it is an exhaustive work, covering a neglected and often misunderstood field, halfway psychological and halfway neurological, combining these fields by saying that all human behavior has to be understood as emanating from the brain, in its entirety, and eschewing dualism and dealing with the nature of the consciousness of animal and man as a more evolved emotional animal. Nowhere else will you really find due diligence done on the non-conscious biases of humans and animals, moving on from Damasio and others seminal works. Much of what is written here is challenging, both to neuroscience and cognitive science as well as psychology, working on putative theories of emotion, rather than psychology as an applied neuroscience. Neurologists are moving year on year to behavioral neurology, psychiatry slowly grinding on to neuropsychiatric principles, and psychology equally slowly to clinical neuropsychology: in my terms, applied neuroscience in these fields is essential reading, not only to us as mind professionals, but to teachers, parents, personal and physical trainers and coaches. Emotions are still everything, and vital to understanding why we are what we are, and why we do and have done, everything in the past and now.
An amazing buy.
© 2013 Roy Sugarman
Roy Sugarman, PhD, Director, Applied Neuroscience, Athletes Performance USA