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The Brain and the Meaning of Life 5: How Brains Feel Emotions

09/18/2012

Valuations in the Brain
There have been two historical models of emotions: Cognitive appraisal and bodily perceptions. The cognitive appraisal approach sees emotions as the cognitive evaluation of states of affairs and how well they satisfy desires: e.g. getting a job makes one happy because it contributes to likely satisfaction of other desires.

Cognitive Appraisal vs. Bodily Perception
The bodily perception model says that emotion is the brains response to physical reactions to stimuli. When one hears that her dad has gotten into a car crash, heart rate goes up, tears come, and the brain realizes this happens and this is fear/sadness.

Synthesis: The EMOCON Model
Thagard sketches out a rough way that both models work together.

Emotional Consciousness
There is a very brief account of consciousness- mostly emotional consciousness here. Thagard offers just a few reasons why it might have evolved in humans. It might be a by product of other brain features. Emotions may be a quick summary of a lot of unconscious evaluation. It might also be a finely tuned evaluation of the good and bad. It might be a good way of providing social information.

mechanistic explanations are starting to emerge for other kinds of consciousness, especially visual experience. In contrast, dualist explanations of consciousness as resulting from ineffable spiritual powers remain mysterious (1380).

Mutlilevel Explanations

Explanations of happiness can operate at four levels: molecular, psychological, social, and neural.

We should be neither reductionist, claiming that explanation ought to be at just one fundamental level, nor antireductionist, claiming that levels of explanation are independent of each other (1419).

Rationality and Affective Afflictions

Although I want to reject such complete removal of emotions from rational thought, I will review some of the ways in which emotions can indeed obstruct people’s attempts to develop wise pursuit of highly meaningful lives (1434).

if you could give yourself an emotionectomy, the costs of doing so would be enormous. While greatly reducing your susceptibility to the various afflictions, you would also lose most of what gives you a reason for doing anything at all.

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