The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness
Harcourt Brace & Company
Antonio R. Damasio
Emotion and Feeling
Can we assume that all people have the capacity to be “mindful of the emotions of others” (Damasio/FWH/35)”
“It is through feelings, which are inwardly directed and private, that emotions, which are outwardly directed and public, begin their impact on the mind; but the full and lasting impact of feelings requires consciousness, because only along with the advent of a sense of self do feelings become known to the individual having them. (Damasio/FWH/36)”
“The powerful contrast between the covertly induced and outward posture of emotion and the inwardly directed and ultimately known status of human feeling…. (Damasio/FWH/37)”
This makes me think of my mother. Did she have a “sense of self?”
“Doesn’t the state of feeling imply, of necessity, that the feeler organism is fully conscious of the emotion and feeling that are unfolding? I am suggesting that it does not, that an organism may represent in neural and mental patterns the state that we conscious creatures call a feeling, without ever knowing that the feeling is taking place. This separation is difficult to envision, not only because the traditional meanings of the words block our view, but because we tend to be conscious of our feelings. There is, however, no evidence that we are conscious of all of our feelings, and much to suggest that we are not. (Damasio/FWH/36)”
That’s a good way to put it. None of us are always conscious of all of our feelings. So somebody like my mother was just more unconscious than most of hers! They carried her away and controlled her, not the other way around.
“For example, we often realize quite suddenly, in a given situation, that we feel anxious or uncomfortable, pleased or relaxed, and it is apparent that the particular state of feeling we know then has not begun on the moment of knowing but rather sometime before. Neither the feeling state nor the emotion that led to it have been “in consciousness,” and yet they have been unfolding as biological processes. (Damasio/FWH/36)”
“…three stages of processing along a continuum: a state of emotion, which can be triggered and executed nonconsciously; a state of feeling, which can be represented nonconsciously; and a state of feeling made conscious, i.e., known to the organism having both emotion and feeling. ….these distinctions are helpful as we try to imagine the neural underpinnings of this chain of events in humans. Moreover, I suspect that some nonhuman creatures that exhibit emotions but are unlikely to have the sort of consciousness we have may well form the representations we call feelings without knowing they do so. (Damasio/FWH/37)”
Interesting. So maybe my mother was more like an animal….
“…consciousness must be present if feelings are to influence the subject having them beyond the immediate here and now…..the ultimate consequences of human emotion and feeling pivot on consciousness…. Emotion probably set in evolution before the dawn of consciousness and surfaces in each of us as a result of inducers we often do not recognize consciously; on the other hand, feelings perform their ultimate and longer-lasting effects I the theater of the conscious mind. (Damasio/FWH/37)”
“…I propose that, just like emotion, consciousness is aimed at the organism’s survival, and that, just like emotion, consciousness is rooted in the representation of the body. (Damasio/FWH/37)”
“…although emotion and consciousness are different phenomena, their underpinnings may be connected. (Damasio/FWH/37)”
“Homeostasis refers to the coordinated and largely automated physiological reactions required to maintain steady internal states in a living organism. Homeostasis describes the automatic regulation of (Damasio/FWH/39) temperature, oxygen concentration, or pH in your body. Numerous scientists have been preoccupied with understanding the neurophysiology of homeostasis, with making sense of the neuroanatomy and the neurochemistry of the autonomic nervous system (the part of the nervous system most directly involved in homeostasis), and with elucidating the interrelations among the endocrine, immune, and nervous systems, whose ensemble work produces homeostasis. But the scientific progress made in those areas had little influence on the prevailing views of how mind or brain worked. Curiously enough, emotions ar part and parcel of the regulation we call homeostasis. It is senseless to discuss them without understanding that aspect of living organisms and vice versa. In this book, I propose that homeostasis is a key to the biology of consciousness (see chapter 5). (Damasio/FWH/40)”
“…selective reduction of emotion is at least as prejudicial for rationality as excessive emotion. (Damasio/FWH/41)”
“It is obvious that emotional upheavals can lead to irrational decisions….Well-targeted and well-deployed emotion seems to be a support system without which the edifice of reason cannot operate properly. (Damasio/FWH/42)”
“…relative publicness of emotions and the complete privacy of the ensuing feelings…. I have proposed that the term feeling should be reserved for the private, mental experience of an emotion, while the term emotion should be used to designate the collection of responses, many of which are publicly observable. In practical terms this means that you cannot observe a feeling in someone else although you can observe a feeling in yourself when, as a conscious being, you perceive your own emotional states. Likewise no one can observe your own feelings, but some aspects of the emotions that give rise to your feelings will be patently observable to others….the basic mechanisms underlying emotion do not require consciousness, even if they eventually use it: you can initiate the cascade of processes that lead to an emotional display without being conscious of the inducer of the emotion let alone the (Damasio/FWH/42) intermediate steps leading to it. In effect, even the occurrence of a feeling in the limited time window of the here and now is conceivable without the organism actually knowing of its occurrence. To be sure, at this point in evolution and at this moment of our adult lives, emotions occur in a setting of consciousness: We can feel our emotions consistently and we know we feel them. The fabric of our minds and of our behavior is woven around continuous cycles of emotions followed by feelings that become known and beget new emotions, a running polyphony that underscores and punctuates specific thoughts in our minds and actions in our behavior….it is possible that feelings are poised at the very threshold that separates being from knowing….(Damasio/FWH/43)”
In some circumstances there is something wrong with this process. Something GOES wrong with it. In the building of the early brain in infancy, the inability to regulate “affect” – results in something going awry and amiss here. Those of us whose emotions run our show – are missing something in the steps of this continuum. Reacting then becomes automatic.
“…the biological machinery underlying emotion is not dependent on consciousness…. (Damasio/FWH/43)”
hippocampus needed “to create memories for new facts (Damasio/FWH/43)”
and amygdala “(a subcortical grouping of nuclei concerned with emotion….) (Damasio/FWH/43)”
“…results in nonimage form: in the form of actions and behavior. (Damasio/FWH/46)”
“I have no doubt that the sight of the bad guy induced a brief emotional response and a brief here-and-now feeling. However, in the absence of an appropriately related set of images that would explain to him the cause of the reaction, the effect remained isolated, disconnected, and thus unmotivated…. (Damasio/FWH/46)” [he has 8 here, reference on chapter 2]
He is talking about the man without memory – but something is striking me “behind the scenes” about this. Like, in the absence of obvious brain damage to the amygdala and hippocampus, this kind of reaction pattern could perhaps be seen as dissociation. The flash of almost-recognition followed by the “blank.”
But it is reminding me of myself as a child. I did not have “an appropriately related set of images” regarding what was happening to me because it all started at birth. Connections, images, circuits in the brain do not appear out of nowhere. They have to be built upon something.
The trauma of it all kept most of the hippocampal memories from being formed in the first place, so they could not be stored/retained in long term memory. I accumulated emotions – like this man, David – without having any place of reference to process them.
“I also have little doubt that were we to have carried out this task for weeks in a row rather than for one single week, David would have harnessed such negative and positive responses to produce the behavior that suited his organism best, i.e., prefer the good guy consistently and avoid the bad guy. But I am not suggesting that he himself would have chosen to do so deliberately, but rather that his organism, given its available design and dispositions, would have homed in on such behavior. (Damasio/FWH/46)”
So, how related is this to the reactions and patterns of newborn and early infant reactions to caregivers? I am also wondering, during the time the brain is forming, if an infant can distinguish between good and bad people, or if the stimulus of just plain people comes to be one to be avoided.
In the preschooler empathy article they talk about how young children only see in emotional black and white – positive or negative – without the fine tuning that comes later.
emotions “induced nonconsciously (Damasio/FWH/47)”
“We do not need to be conscious of the inducer of an emotion and often are not, and we cannot control emotions willfully. You may find yourself in a sad or happy state, and yet you may be at a loss as to why you are in that particular state now. A careful search may disclose possible causes, and one cause or another may be more likely, but often you cannot be certain. (Damasio/FWH/47)”
It is striking me as I read this that all human behavior is “normal,” just some on extreme ends of the human species’ continuum. While it is true that to some degree no human knows all of its cues or knows all of its emotions – on the “mental illness” end of the spectrum, even less is known or knowable by that person.
“The change would be substantial enough to engender some responses and alter your body state, but it would not be imageable in the sense that a person or a relationship are imageable, i.e., it would not produce a sensory pattern of which you would ever become aware in your mind. In other words, the representations which induce emotions and lead to subsequent feelings need not be attended, regardless of whether they signify something external to the organism or something recalled internally. Representations of either the exterior or the interior can occur underneath conscious survey and still induce emotional responses. Emotions can be induced in a nonconscious manner and thus appear to the conscious self as seemingly unmotivated. (Damasio/FWH/48)”
he talks about various things that might “cause” an emotion to occur without our awareness: image or event that could have been conscious but wasn’t because we were not attending to it – no image, perhaps, but transient change in body chemical levels “brought about by factors as diverse as your state of health, diet, weather, hormonal cycle, how much or how little you exercised that day, or even how much you had been worrying about a certain matter. (Damasio/FWH/48)”
“We can control, in part, whether a would-be inducer image should be allowed to remain as a target of our thoughts….We may not succeed at the task, but the job of removing or maintaining the inducer certainly occurs in consciousness. (Damasio/FWH/48)”
“We can also control, in part, the expression of some emotions – suppress our anger, mask our sadness – but most of us are not very good at it and that is one reason why we pay a lot to see good actors who are skilled at controlling the expression of their emotions…. (Damasio/FWH/48)”
“Once a particular sensory representation is formed, however, whether or not it is actually part of our conscious thought flow, we do not have much to say on the mechanism of inducing an emotion. If the psychological and physiological context is right, an emotion will ensue. (Damasio/FWH/48)”
“The nonconscious triggering of emotions also explains why they are not easy to mimic voluntarily. As I explained in Descartes’ Error, a spontaneous smile that comes from genuine delight or the spontaneous sobbing that is caused by grief are executed by brain structures located deep in the brain stem under the control of the cingulate region. [cc to brain part file]. We have no (Damasio/FWH/48) means of exerting direct voluntary control over the neural processes in those regions….The result of this state of affairs is that in most of us who are not actors, emotions are a fairly good index of how conducive the environment is to our well-being, or, at least, how conducive it seems to our minds. (Damasio/FWH/49)”
This makes me think of what I was thinking about reading Lise Eliot’s book on infant brain development – the part about the auditory system and the brain stem – that if there is trauma from birth, this region of the brain probably suffers from resulting changes in its development.
“We are about as effective at stopping an emotion as we are at preventing a sneeze. We can try to prevent the expression of an emotion, and we may succeed in part but not in full….in essence what we achieve is the ability to disguise some of the external manifestations of emotion without ever being able to block the automated changes that occur in the viscera and internal milieu….We can educate our emotions but not suppress them entirely, and the feelings we have inside are testimony to our lack of success. (Damasio/FWH/49)”
Can to some extent control our breathing, but barriers to our species exist.
“Indirect control of blood pressure and heart rate by procedures such as biofeedback are also partial exceptions. As a rule, however, voluntary control over autonomic function is modest. (Damasio/FWH/50)”
So, those of us with PTSD would have to improve upon the nearly impossible and control what is to us the automatic nearly constant activation of our autonomic functions – hypo or hyper arousal.
“…six so-called primary or universal emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, or disgust. Thinking about the primary emotions makes the dis- (Damasio/FWH/50) cussion of the problem easier, but it is important to note that there are numerous other behaviors to which the label “emotion” has been attached. They include so-called secondary or social emotions, such as embarrassment, jealousy, guilt, or pride; and what I cal background emotions, such as well-being or malaise, calm or tension. (Damasio/FWH/51)”
“…certain conditions of internal state engendered by ongoing physiological processes or by the organism’s interactions with the environment or both cause responses which constitute background emotions. Those emotions allow us to have, among others, the background feelings of tension or relaxation, of fatigue or energy, of well-being or malaise, of anticipation or dread. (Damasio/FWH/52)”
“In background emotions, the constitutive responses are closer to the inner core of life, and their target is more internal than external. Profiles of the internal milieu and viscera play the lead part in back- (Damasio/FWH/52) ground emotions. (Damasio/FWH/53)”
“A shared biological core underlies” emotions (Damasio/FWH/51)
++ “1. Emotions are complicated collections of chemical and neural responses, forming a pattern; all emotions have some kind of regulatory role to play, leading in one way or another to the creation of circumstances advantageous to the organism exhibiting the phenomenon; emotions are about the life of an organism, its body to be precise, and their role is to assist the organism in maintaining life. (Damasio/FWH/51)”
++ “2. Notwithstanding the reality that learning and culture alter the expression of emotions and give emotions new meanings, emotions are biologically determined processes, depending on innately set brain devices, laid down by a long evolutionary history. (Damasio/FWH/51)”
++ “3. The devices which produce emotions occupy a fairly restricted ensemble of subcortical regions, beginning at the level of the brain stem and moving up to the higher brain; the devices are part of a set of structures that both regulate and represent body states…. (Damasio/FWH/51)”
++ “4. All the devices can be engaged automatically, without conscious deliberation; the considerable amount of individual variation and the fact that culture plays a role in shaping some inducers does not deny the fundamental stereotypicity, automaticity, and regulatory purpose of the emotions. (Damasio/FWH/51)”
++ “5. All emotions use the body as their theater (internal milieu, visceral, vestibular and musculoskeletal systems), but emotions also affect the mode of operation of numerous brain circuits; (Damasio/FWH/51) the variety of the emotional responses is responsible for profound changes in both the body landscape and the brain landscape. The collection of these changes constitutes the substrate for the neural patterns which eventually become feelings of emotion. (Damasio/FWH/52)”
Again, clearly PTSD involves an overactive automatic emotional “assumption” of the body by emotional (nonintegrated) memories. From there, EVERYTHING is affected – the entire life of the person.
Intentionality can be subsumed, life consumed.
“Although the precise composition and dynamics of the emotional responses are shaped in each individual by a unique development and environment, the evidence suggests that most, if not all, emotional responses are the result of a long history of evolutionary fine-tuning. Damasio/FWH/53)”
“Emotions are part of the bioregulatory devices with which we come equipped to survive. (Damasio/FWH/52)”
“The biological function of emotions is twofold. The first function is the production of a specific reaction to the inducing situation. In an animal, for instance, the reaction may be to run or to become immobile or to beat the hell out of the enemy or to engage in pleasurable (Damasio/FWH/53) behavior. In humans, the reactions are essentially the same, tempered, one hopes, by higher reason and wisdom. (Damasio/FWH/54)”
Hence the name of our species, Homo sapiens sapiens – wise ones
But the altered PTSD brain has no time for and no use for “higher reason and wisdom” and operates as if they do not even exist.
“The second biological function of emotion is the regulation of the internal state of the organism such that it can be prepared for the specific reaction….the plan is exquisite and the execution is most reliable. In short, for certain classes of clearly dangerous or clearly valuable stimuli in the internal or external environment, evolution has assembled a matching answer in the form of emotion…..we can predict with some success that certain stimuli will produce certain emotions. Damasio/FWH/54)”
With PTSD the prediction factor becomes less obvious – in fact, prediction becomes unpredictable!
“…the biological “purpose” of the emotions is clear, and emotions are not a dispensable luxury. Emotions are curious adaptations that are part and parcel of the machinery with which organisms regulate survival. Old as emotions are in evolution, they are a fairly high-level component of the mechanisms of life regulation. You should imagine this component as sandwiched between the basic survival kit (e.g., regulation of metabolism; simple reflexes; motivations; biology of pain and pleasure) and the devices of high reason, but still very much a prt of the hierarchy of life-regulation devices….emotions actually produce quite reasonable behaviors from the point of view of survival. Damasio/FWH/54)”
“At their most basic, emotions are part of homeostatic regulation and are poised to avoid the loss of integrity that is a harbinger of death or death itself, as well as to endorse a source of energy, shelter, or sex. And as a result of powerful learning mechanisms such as conditioning, emotions of all shades eventually help connect homeostatic regulation and survival “values” to numerous events and objects in Damasio/FWH/54) our autobiographical experience. Damasio/FWH/55)”
“Emotions are inseparable from the idea of reward or punishment, of pleasure or pain, of approach or withdrawal, of personal advantage and disadvantage. Inevitably, emotions are inseparable from the idea of good and evil. Damasio/FWH/55)”
This is an interesting statement for him to make! It seems to me that it might be more accurately stated the other way around as emotions certainly came well before ideas, including the idea of good and evil – yet what about the garden of Eden?
Seems to me that this is a direct connection to the statement he made in the previous chapter about conscience and consciousness.
If he believes that emotions and consciousness share the same biological substrates, and that emotion is tied to good and evil, then it seems there is an inevitable (!) link between good and evil and consciousness – therefore, a connection between consciousness and conscience – which he seemed to deny in that previous chapter.
See his page 27
“Emotions automatically provide organisms with survival-oriented behaviors. In organisms equipped to sense emotions, that is, to have feelings, emotions also have an impact on the mind, as they occur, in the here and now. But in organisms equipped with consciousness, that is, capable of knowing they have feelings, another level of regulation is reached.
Consciousness allows feelings to be known and thus promotes the impact of emotion internally, allows emotion to permeate the thought process through the agency of feeling.
Eventually, consciousness allows any object to be known – the “object” emotion and any other object – and, in so doing, enhances the organism’s ability to respond adaptively, mindful of the needs of the organism in question. Emotion is devoted to an organism’s survival, and so is consciousness. (Damasio/FWH/56)”
I did not “know I had feelings.” I did not have any way to “respond adaptively” to the abuse – which occurred since birth. Why would my being “evolve or develop” an ability I had no use for? Nature is not wasteful. Some form of emotion may be inevitable, but at least until I was 18, consciousness was not.
“I guess this is a central point, then: Emotion is devoted to an organism’s survival, and so is consciousness. There was nothing I could do from the time of my birth to ensure my survival! A normal infant, I suppose, does not know this. It “acts as if” what it does is helping it stay alive. It then builds resources for when it does matter what the individual does.
“Throughout evolution, organisms have acquired the means to respond to certain stimuli – particularly those that are potentially useful or potentially dangerous from the point of view of survival – with the collection of responses which we currently call emotion. (Damasio/FWH/57)”
“But a word of caution is needed here. I really mean what I say when I talk about ranges of stimuli that constitute inducers for certain classes of emotion. I am allowing for a considerable variation in the type of stimuli that can induce an emotion – both across individuals and across cultures – and I am calling attention to the fact that regardless of the degree of biological presetting of the emotional machinery, development and culture have much to say regarding the final product. In all probability, development and culture superpose the following influences on the preset devices: first, they shape what constitutes an adequate inducer of a given emotion; second, they shape some aspects of the expression of emotion, and third, they shape the cognition and behavior which follows the deployment of an emotion…. (Damasio/FWH/57)” (he has ref 13 at the end here)
A family is an infant’s first culture – dismissive family’s produce a child who fits into that culture. PTSD families do the same, etc. (the microcosm and the macrocosm)
X”…while the biological machinery for emotions is largely preset, the inducers are not part of the machinery, they are external to it. The stimuli that cause emotions are by no means confined to those that helped shape our emotional brain during evolution and which can induce emotions in our brains from early in life. (Damasio/FWH/57)”
“In one way or another, most objects and situations lead to some emotional reaction, although some far more so than others. The emotional reaction may be weak or strong – and fortunately for us it is weak more often than not – but it is there nonetheless. (Damasio/FWH/58)”
“The pervasiveness of emotion in our development and subsequently in our everyday experience connects virtually every object or situation in our experience, by virtue of conditioning, to the fundamental values of homeostatic regulation: reward and punishment, pleasure or pain; approach or withdrawal; personal advantage or disadvantage; and, inevitably, good (in the sense of survival) or evil (in the sense of death). Whether we like it or not, this is the natural human condition. (Damasio/FWH/58)”
(talks about thwarting organism’s move toward goal of happiness, results in frustration/anger)
I am putting his brain info on emotion over into brain parts
Something I just wrote to Ernie:
I learned the difference between the words “feelings” and “emotions.” Feelings are what we experience on the inside of us when we have emotions in our bodies, while emotions, being in the body, are what people can see from the outside. Of course people often try NOT to have emotions, or to disguise them or not to show them – but even that doesn’t mean they are not having emotions and feelings because we have them all of the time. They are evidently the link between what we perceive in the world and how we experience our lives.
I will get to the part in the book where Damasio says consciousness IS a feeling. If the foundation for feelings and emotions are innate physiologically, and if consciousness is one of those feelings – and if a trauma environment causes the emotions and perception of them as feelings to develop in a different fashion, then it is possible that the voice that spoke to me when I was about 14 could have been related to the feeling of consciousness that was, at that time, just barely coming into existence within me. That is was a statement of my self to my self based on a long accumulation of experience of being in great pain – but did I have enough consciousness up until that moment to actually experience what Damasio refers to as one of the higher consciousness functions of suffering?
Did that statement signal the beginnings of a level of extended consciousness for me that implicated the arrival of the ability to suffer – a state of being that is more than just the experience of the basic feelings and emotions of pain and terror? Damasio says that level is connected to knowledge of good and evil, and of conscience. The voice was exonerating me of guilt – even of the possibility that it was “humanly possible” to be as “bad” as my mother always told me that I was. What a strange strike of light that voice was, that event was. I know it was significant, and no less so because I so clearly remember it as if it was one of the most precious gifts I ever received.
from chapter 8 neurology of consciousness
“There is a remarkable overlap of biological functions within the structures which support the proto-self and the second-order mappings. Taken individually, these structures are involved in most of the following five functions: (1) regulating homeostasis and signaling body structure and state, including the processing of signals related to pain, pleasure, and drives; (2) participating in the processes of emotion and feeling; (3) participating in processes of attention; (4) participating in the processes of wakefulness and sleep; and (5) participating in the learning process. (Damasio/FWH/272)”
“The neural pattern which underlies core consciousness for an object – the sense of self in the act of knowing a particular thing – is thus a large-scale neural pattern involving activity in two interrelated sets of structures: the set whose cross-regional activity generates proto-self and second-order maps, and the set whose cross-regional activity generates the representation of the object. (Damasio/FWH/272)”
“It is reasonable to conclude…that beyond the above quintet of functions, these areas participate in one additional function: the construction of core consciousness. (Damasio/FWH/273)”
“…the neglect of emotion by neuroscience has retarded the realization that all these regions, from the brain stem to the somatosensory cortices, are critical for the processes of emotion. (Damasio/FWH/273)”
“Emotion is critical for the appropriate direction of attention since it provides an automated signal about the organism’s past experience with given objects ad thus provides a basis for assigning or withholding attention relative to a given object. Simple organisms initiate wakeful behavior by having basic image-making capabilities and minimal attention, as a result of which the following happens: first, processing of objects can take place, second, emotion can ensue; third, further enhancement and focusing of attention can occur, or not occur, under the direction of emotion. In organisms capable of consciousness, the above list of events still applies, but the second step would read as follows: “Emotion can ensue and become known to the individual having it.” (Damasio/FWH/273)”
“It makes expedient, if not necessarily tidy, housekeeping sense that (Damasio/FWH/273) structures governing attention and structures processing emotion should be in the vicinity of one another. For certain components of these processes, the structures might even be the same, although operating in slightly different modes. Moreover, it also makes good housekeeping sense that all of these structures should be in the vicinity of those which regulate and signal body state. This is because the consequences of having emotion and attention are entirely related to the fundamental business of managing life within the organism, while, on the other hand, it is not possible to manage life and maintain homeostatic balance without data on the current state of the organism’s body proper (Damasio/FWH/274)”
“How sensible is it for emotion and attention to overlap with core consciousness? The answer is that it is sensible, if we regard consciousness as the most sophisticated means at our disposal to regulate homeostasis and manage life. Nature is an expedient tinkerer and since consciousness is a latter-day means of achieving homeostasis, it would have been convenient for nature to evolve the machinery of consciousness within, from, and in the vicinity of the previously available machinery involved in basic homeostasis, in other words, the machinery of emotion, attention, and regulation of body states. (Damasio/FWH/274)”
This makes me think of the incredible focusing (concentration?) abilities that I have – like yesterday on phone with tech support at work for 3 ½ hours to quickbooks – so that my entire body was exhausted by night – every fiber of it.
Was that trying to please, trying to get it right? It was intense!
Even at Red Lake, that is what I was told, that I focus on the cross hairs.