Sunday, 1 July 2012

Antonio Damasio: Feelings and Sentience


Antonio Damasio Feelings and Sentience
(video delayed - will be uploaded later)
Abstract: Reflection on relevant research findings, new and old, has changed my views on two issues: the origin and nature of feelings and the mechanisms behind the construction of the self. The goal of this talk is to consider how the human brain needs to be structured and how it needs to operate in order for conscious minds to emerge.

Damasio, Antonio (2012) Self Comes to Mind Constructing the Conscious Brain. Pantheon Bookshttp://www.usc.edu/schools/college/bci/documents/SCTM%20%20final%20front%20to%206%2010901.PDF
Damasio, Antonio; Thomas J. Grabowski, Hanna Damasio, Daniel Tranel (2012) Persistence of Feelings and Sentience after Bilateral Damage of the Insula. Cerebral Cortex.http://cercor.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/04/03/cercor.bhs077.short
Damasio, Antonio (2011) Neural Basis of Emotions. Scholarpedia
Damasio, Antonio; Thomas J. Grabowski, Antoine Bechara, Hanna Damasio,
Laura L.B. Ponto, Josef Parvizi and Richard D. Hichwa (2000) Subcortical and cortical brain activity during the feeling of self-generated emotions. nature neuroscience 3 (10): 1049-1056

27 comments:

  1. Perhaps the very fact that a feeling is felt gives the system an evolutionary advantage. I am humbly suggesting that what was selected in the process of evolutionary drift was the felt sensation itself. It could very well be that the system designed by natural selection to represent such internal states as homeostatic equilibrium was precisely just that—feeling. Maybe feeling simply just is what Damasio says it is—the body’s way of representing to itself its own internal state of homeostatic equilibrium. If that is the case, then it would be easy to imagine why feeling would be selected over non-feeling—i.e., because an organism capable of spontaneously representing to itself its own internal state would have a higher reproductive success rate.
    Although this does not explain why feeling evolved in the first place, we might consider that feeling was perhaps an exaptation—something that evolved accidentally, and was retained because if its evolutionary advantage.
    Maybe the question: "Why/how are felt layers of homeostatic control more effective than just done layers of homeostatic control?" is misguided, because feeling is quite simply just that. Perhaps "done layers of homeostatic control" are done by feeling them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. FROM ANTONIO DAMASIO:

      To Maxwell J. Ramstead, I am pleased you got my point. Yes, feeling itself might be the unit of selection. And yes, it might be an explanation. But the evidence suggests that there are integrated maps of body state operating without feeling and still effective as regulating agents.

      Delete
    2. UNDONE DEAL

      SH: "Why/how are felt layers of homeostatic control more effective than just done layers of homeostatic control?"

      MJR: Perhaps "done layers of homeostatic control" are done by feeling them.

      Sounds like solving a tough problem with a tautology (or a definition)...

      No, it is inescapable that homeostasis is homeostasis (doing). We can generate homeostasis with adaptive servomechanisms (doing). We can make them more and more complicated and capable (still doing). How and why at some point all of this makes a phase transition into feeling is still awaiting an explanation. (So far, not even a clue of a clue...)

      Delete
    3. Perhaps we should look at marine beings, because fish don't necessary have feelings?

      Delete
  2. Damasio suggested that consciousness functions to maintain homeostasis. An audience member challenged this with the example of an amoeba, which (based on the assumed agreement of many people) is not conscious, but that also has a drive to homeostasis. In his response, Damasio should have emphasized that an amoeba's drive to homeostasis requires very little integration of sensory information as compared to the more complex organism's that exist, so it is not a fair comparison.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ANTONIO DAMASIO:

      To Martha Shiell. First, an amoeba has some degree of “sentience” if not consciousness. Second, I did emphasize the simplicity of the system. Third, I was not making a comparison, fair or unfair.

      Delete
    2. (Thanks for relaying the reply, Stevan!)

      Delete
  3. Dr. Damasio gave some consideration of the upper brainstem (pons and midbrain) as potentially playing a role in subserving 'feelings'. What I am wondering is, if both the insular cortex and the brainstem may be neuronal loci where 'feelings' may arise, how do these areas communicate? Are there times when they produce opposing signals and the conflict is somehow resolved? What would be the purpose of having this redundancy?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ANTONIO DAMASIO:

      To Carey YL Huh. It is not a redundancy. Practically all the systems we can consider, sensory as well as motor, have different ways of achieving somewhat comparable but not quite equal goals. The different ways are related to different levels of the neuraxis, from the bottom of the spinal goals to the brain stem and to the cortex. The operation of those varied levels is connected with a different kind of other process. Cortical feeling, for example, relates to factual memory, imagination and reason. Brain stem feeling relates to a host of defense mechanisms. Only the overall goal — life regulation — is the same.

      Delete
  4. Comme je suis actuellement très intéressée par l'impact des débats sur la conscience par rapport à la conceptualisation de l'esthétique en musique, je n'ai pu m'empêcher d'accrocher sur cette phrase dite par Damasio lors de la période de question:

    "You could juxtapose your feelings with beautiful sounds"

    J'essaie de comprendre ici ce que cette phrase implique. Selon Damasio, est-ce que les sons eux-mêmes sont porteurs de l'expérience esthétique (beautiful sounds)? L'expérience esthétique musicale réside-t-elle dans la juxtaposition d'états émotionnels déjà présents sur le stimulus auditif? Alors, est-ce que les sons révèlent à la conscience l'état émotionnel ou n'est-ce pas plutôt l'état émotionnel qui confère aux sons leur "beauté"?

    ReplyDelete
  5. If you are hearing the beautiful sounds then you are feeling (what it feels like to hear) the beautiful sounds. So, no "juxtaposition," just identity.

    You can, of course, juxtapose feelings and feelings.

    Why beautiful music sounds beautiful rather than just acoustic is another matter, closer to the question of why sugar tastes sweet and inviting rather than neutral than to the question of why anything feels like anything at all.

    ReplyDelete
  6. POSTED ON FACEBOOK BY MARJORIE MORIN :

    "I don't know if some of you can help me with this question, but while listening to Damasio's talk, I was asking myself how when you feel compassion or empathy you could "map" your body states. Is there really a body state associated with compassion or empathy (He said that mental contents of feelings corresponds to description of aspects of body states)? If thinking about empathy, we know that we imitate the other unconsciously in order to comprehend what he/she is experiencing, it really isn't a complete enough "bodily state" to create a feeling of empathy with. Empathy also need self-awareness to know that it's the other and not the self that is experiencing this emotion. I think it's quite a challenge to explain (or maybe not?)!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. PAULINE CLAUDE :
      "I'm not a 100 % sure but... Empathy requires the activation of mirror neurons. The same mirror neurons fire both when someone do a specific action and when she/he observes another person doing the same action. That's what happen with empathy, wich means that the same neuronal network is being activated when you see someone feeling sad for instance and when you are sad yourself. Then, there are the same neurones that activate body mapping. Of course, other cognitive processes (such as others awareness) have to be engaged in the phenomenon to remind the brain that the person experiencing sadness is not yourself but the person you are looking at. This leads to the question of the evolution of sociality (in the primate way) and self- and others-awareness... which one came first? We know that only a few species have the capacity of self-awareness compared to species that have the capacity of others-awareness. This is mere speculation but, would it be possible that in primates, specific environmental constrains forced individuals to live in groups when they were not used to, leading to a new adaptation consisting of a new neuronal mechanism evaluating other's behavior in order to maximize your own survival and reproduction for mere egoistic purposes, which means the need of self-awareness..."

      INGE BROER :
      "Here's a path to explore: There is a form of meditation where the main goal is to cultivate compassion and empathy for fellow humans. Practice includes reciting specific words and phrases in order to evoke a boundless warm-hearted feeling."

      STEVAN HARNAD :
      "Everything I feel is "my" feeling, hence, I suppose, about my body. But beyond that, I do not see why all or even most feelings should be somatic in any other respect than that they feel like something."

      PAULINE CLAUDE :
      "How could a feeling not be somatic?"

      STEVAN HARNAD :
      "It feel like something to believe 2 + 2 = 4 (or to disbelieve it). Feeling is in general only somatic in that it's our body that feels as if it's feeling."

      PAULINE CLAUDE :
      "But, don't we have a problem with the definition itself of feeling? because, from my understanding of Damasio's point of view, a feeling is not necessarily felt in the sense that it tells the brain that a homeostatic need has to be fulfilled but doesn't reach necessarily the level of consciousness in the sense "I know that my brain know that something is going on". However, can the fact that the brain recognizes a signal (a feeling) as a homeostatic need without reaching the level "I know that my brain know" be considered as conscioussness?"

      Delete
  7. POSTED ON FACEBOOK BY STEVAN HARNAD (June, 29th) :

    "Learning and prediction, yes: But why felt?"

    ReplyDelete
  8. Homeostasis and the representation thereof to oneself is certainly a key concept. I think it is the one thing that everything we've heard during the conference builds upon. Robotics is facing the challenge of self-monitoring states and integrating information from the outside world, we learned about aplysia and about all sorts of animals and how they face these challenges, the evolutionary perspectives examine how this system can become more and more sophisticated and the neuropsychology representatives taught us more about how integration of information is achieved.

    All that is fine and well, but I guess I'm starting to see the question now: Why is it important that we FEEL ? Can all this not be achieved without our consciousness? And indeed a lot of it is.

    However, I think Searle, at the end of the conference, kind of put things into perspective again: Yeah, OK, maybe it could have been done without the feeling, but we THAT'S NOT THE WAY IT IS, WE DO FEEL. Somehow I feel that studying what is is the way forward and Damasio brought in a fantastic perspective: apart from the information processing we do of the outside world, we do a fantastic amount of processing of the inside world as well and this needs to be taken into consideration.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Inge : “Why is it important that we FEEL?”
      This question arises from the apparent independence of the adaptive value of observable doings from the abstract and yet biologically unexplainable feelings. But this independence seems to me as an assumption derived from the study of computational and biological models with limited behavioural repertoires compared to primates. Extending our definition of doings to include a wider behavioural repertoire appears to me like a necessary step to be able to offer an evolutionary explanation to feelings.

      Delete
    2. Extending our definition of doings to include more doings will explain feeling?

      Delete
    3. Extending the range of studied doings to include more elaborate behaviors or thought processes that are characteristic of the primate repertoire (i.e. like social decision-making) offers probably the best chance to identify any function of feelings. My argument simply follows from the demonstration by some speakers (e.g. Sossin) that entire behavioral repertoires can be produced without any apparent conscious thoughts in lower animals.

      Delete
  9. Does feeling make us better at doing?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think this is what MJR's remark (first comment on this page) was getting at, and I interpreted a few of Dr. Damasio's points as also suggesting that this might be the case. At any rate, it seems to me the most intuitive approach to the whole feeling/doing distinction.

      Delete
  10. Originally posted on facebook
    "I don't know if some of you can help me with this question, but while listening to Damasio's talk, I was asking myself how when you feel compassion or empathy you could "map" your body states. Is there really a body state associated with compassion or empathy (He said that mental contents of feelings corresponds to description of aspects of body states)? If thinking about empathy, we know that we imitate the other unconsciously in order to comprehend what he/she is experiencing, it really isn't a complete enough "bodily state" to create a feeling of empathy with. Empathy also need self-awareness to know that it's the other and not the self that is experiencing this emotion. I think it's quite a challenge to explain (or maybe not?)!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is an interesting point. But I guess Dr. Damasio could point out that empathy and compassion are related to homeostasis, albeit in a somewhat indirect way. Maintaining homeostasis requires taking precautions when you are acting on feelings of compassion and empathy. It requires sophisticated action planning (which is always done consciously). If I want to help a friend who is drowning in a river, I must do so in a way that does not put me in too much danger. If I don’t know how to swim or if the water is extremely cold, for instance, I had better not jump in the water to try to rescue him. I will first try to devise a plan that takes into account my well-being.

      Delete
  11. Originally posted on facebook
    TURING CONSCIOUSNESS:
    “Homeostasis requires sensing of body states -- but why felt sensing? Why not just detect and do what needs to be done?”
    JULES PELLETIER:
    “Would an asocial human stranded and raised in isolation on an island feel or would he just react to bodily needs ?”
    MARJORIE MORIN
    “‎@ Jules : I guess your question could be answered thinking of animals. Do animals have a consciousness? Do they feel their hunger or just act on them? As we have seen Dennet thinks that since the language is missing, animals and newborns aren't experiencing consciousness (I was really surprised by that statement), at least not as we grown-ups do. When thinking about language there is always the problem of mute people and apes that learn sign language. They do have a language, but not the same as we do, what about their consciousness? I'm really a newbie in this field so I'm just thinking of some points that can be adressed. But in his view, and he told it himself, the isolated person wouldn't experience consciousness as we do. Damasio's point of view on the other end was more open to an animal possible consciousness, he said that we couldn't know if they feel since they cannot tell us. I don't know if I'm right but it seems that language was less important for his theory than for Dennet's. I'm still confused by the difference between feeling versus emotions, versus sensations, I guess as the 10 days passes (and reading is done) it will become clearer!”

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. MUTE MENTATION

      The question is not whether another entity feels the way we do, but whether it feels at all.

      (To my mind, the suggestion that organisms that don't have language don't feel is completely absurd -- not even worth considering, except for sci-fi.)

      Delete
  12. As we have studied Damasio's work almost exclusively during the first weeks of a seminar on neuroscience and anthropology (conscience, emotions, etc.) and we have talked about it at lengths since that time (more than a year now) among colleagues in bioanthropology (UdeM) ... I have not learned anything new in Damasio's talk. However, it was a real TREAT to see him live at the summer school, everyone there was lucky !

    What captivates me the most in Damasio's view of consciousness is it's direct connection with the most basic imperative of life: the struggle to maintain homeostasis. Immanent to life itself, homeostasis has been entirely conserved (and greatly complexified) throughout evolution, but we don't think about directly any more than an amoeba; that doesn't mean consciousness hasn't got anything to do with it ! Homeostasis underlies (more or less deeply) every behavior - behavior being used here in the broadest possible sense, conscious or not.

    Anyways, thank you prof. Damasio for making me realize this to its full extent, we'll continue thinking along those lines.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Is 'felt' sensation possible without comparison & memory ? Even a new 'feeling' is always compared against 'the memory of not feeling it' ? So, isn't it obvious that 'feeling' is linked to 'memory' & 'learning' ? 'Homeostasis' is not the only goal. 'Exploration & learning' does anything but help 'homeostasis' (or only very very indirectly).

    ReplyDelete