All the notes were taken directly from the source mentioned.
– – –
The classical view of emotion holds that we have many such emotion circuits in our brains, and each is said to cause a distinct set of changes, that is, a fingerprint.
Because we experience anger, happiness, surprise, and other emotions as clear and identifiable states of being, it seems reasonable to assume that each emotion has a defining underlying pattern in the brain and body.
Even after a century of effort, scientific research has not revealed a consistent, physical fingerprint for even a single emotion.
To be sure, hundreds of experiments offer some evidence for the classical view. But hundreds more cast that evidence into doubt.
In short, we find that your emotions are not built-in but made from more basic parts. They are not universal but vary from culture to culture. They are not triggered; you create them. They emerge as a combination of the physical properties of your body, a flexible brain that wires itself to whatever environment it develops in, and your culture and upbringing, which provide that environment.
Emotions are real, but not in the objective sense that molecules or neurons are real. They are real in the same sense that money is real that is, hardly an illusion, but a product of human agreement.
The classical view of emotion remains compelling, despite the evidence against it, precisely because it’s intuitive.
Now imagine that you’re in a doctor’s office, complaining of chest pressure and shortness of breath, which may be heart attack symptoms. If you’re a woman, you’re more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and sent home, whereas if you’re a man, you’re more likely to be diagnosed with heart disease and receive lifesaving preventive treatment. As a result, women over age sixty-five die more frequently of heart attacks than men do. The perceptions of doctors, nurses, and the female patients themselves are shaped by classical view beliefs that they can detect emotions like anxiety, and that women are inherently more emotional than men
People vary tremendously in how they differentiate their emotional experiences.
A skilled interior designer can look at five shades of blue and distinguish azure, cobalt, ultramarine, royal blue, and cyan. My husband, on the other hand, would call them all blue. My students and I had discovered a similar phenomenon for emotions, which I described as emotional granularity.
According to the classical view of emotion, our faces hold the key to assessing emotions objectively and accurately. A primary inspiration for this idea is Charles Darwin’s book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,
In one famous study, Ekman and his colleagues traveled to Papua New Guinea and ran experiments with a local population, the Fore people, who had little contact with the Western world. Even this remote tribe could consistently match the faces to the expected emotion words and stories.
From this evidence, scientists concluded that emotion recognition is universal: no matter where you are born or grow up, you should be able to recognize American-style facial expressions like those in the photos.
Thus, facial expressions must be reliable, diagnostic fingerprints of emotion.
A more objective technique, called facial electromyography (EMG), removes human perceivers altogether. Facial EMG places electrodes on the surface of the skin to detect the electrical signals that make facial muscles move. It precisely identifies the parts of the face as they move, how much, and how often.
As it turns out, facial EMG presents a serious challenge to the classical view of emotion. In study after study, the muscle movements do not reliably indicate when someone is angry, sad, or fearful; they don’t form predictable fingerprints for each emotion.
“Is she saying that our culture has created these expressions, and we all have learned them?” Well… yes. And the classical view perpetuates these stereotypes as if they are authentic fingerprints of emotion.
Smile broadly. Do you feel happier? The facial feedback hypothesis is highly controversial there is wide disagreement on whether a full-blown emotional experience can be evoked this way.
Bodily responses for different emotions were too similar to be distinct fingerprints.
None of these four meta-analyses found consistent and specific emotion fingerprints in the body.
It means that on different occasions, in different contexts, in different studies, within the same individual and across different individuals, the same emotion category involves different bodily responses.
Scientists have long studied people with brain damage (brain lesions) to try to locate an emotion in a specific area of the brain. If someone with a lesion in a particular area of the brain has difficulty experiencing or perceiving a particular emotion, and only that emotion, then this would be considered evidence that the emotion specifically depends on the neurons in that region.
Brain regions like the amygdala are routinely important to emotion, but they are neither necessary nor sufficient for emotion.
Many parts of the brain serve more than one purpose.
A single brain area or network contributes to many different mental states.
The classical view of emotion, in contrast, considers particular brain areas to have dedicated psychological functions, that is, they are one to one.
I am saying that most neurons are multipurpose, playing more than one part, much as flour and eggs in your kitchen can participate in many recipes.
When the probability was greater than chance, we called it statistically significant.
Interestingly, amygdala activity likewise increases during events usually considered non-emotional, such as when you feel pain, learn something new, meet new people, or make decisions.
Overall, we found that no brain region contained the fingerprint for any single emotion.
Facial EMG studies demonstrate that people move their facial muscles in many different ways, not one consistent way, when feeling an instance of the same emotion category. Large meta-analyses conclude that a single emotion category involves different bodily responses, not a single, consistent response. Brain circuitry operates by the many-to-one principle of degeneracy: instances of a single emotion category, such as fear, are handled by different brain patterns at different times and in different people. Conversely, the same neurons can participate in creating different mental states (one-to-many).
Anger vary in their physical manifestations (facial movements, heart rate, hormones, vocal acoustics, neural activity, and so on), and this variation might be related to the environment or context.
We can still summarize many varying instances of anger to describe how, in abstract terms, they might be distinguishable from all the varying instances of fear. (Analogy: no two Labrador Retrievers are identical, but they’re all distinguishable from Golden Retrievers.)
We will call it simulation. It means that your brain changed the firing of its own sensory neurons in the absence of incoming sensory input. Simulation can be visual, as with our picture, or involve any of your other senses. Ever have a song playing in your head that you can’t get rid of? That audio hallucination is also a simulation.
Just now, when you read the word apple, your brain responded to a certain extent as if an apple were actually present.
Simulations are your brain’s guesses of what’s happening in the world. In every waking moment, you’re faced with ambiguous, noisy information from your eyes, ears, nose, and other sensory organs. Your brain uses your past experiences to construct a hypothesis the simulation and compares it to the cacophony arriving from your senses. In this manner, simulation lets your brain impose meaning on the noise, selecting what’s relevant and ignoring the rest.
Each time your brain simulates sensory input, it prepares automatic changes in your body that have the potential to change your feeling.
A concept like Bee is actually a collection of neural patterns in your brain, representing your past experiences. Your brain combines these patterns in different ways to perceive and flexibly guide your action in new situations.
Construction treats the world like a sheet of pastry, and your concepts are cookie cutters that carve boundaries, not because the boundaries are natural, but because they’re useful or desirable.
Every moment that you are alive, your brain uses concepts to simulate the outside world. Without concepts, you are experientially blind, as you were with the blobby bee. With concepts, your brain simulates so invisibly and automatically that vision, hearing, and your other senses seem like reflexes rather than constructions.
These purely physical sensations inside your body have no objective psychological meaning. Once your concepts enter the picture, however, those sensations may take on additional meaning.
An emotion is your brain’s creation of what your bodily sensations mean, in relation to what is going on around you in the world.
The classical view is intuitive— events in the world trigger emotional reactions inside of us. Its story features familiar characters like thoughts and feelings that live in distinct brain areas. The theory of constructed emotion, in contrast, tells a story that doesn’t match your daily life—your brain invisibly constructs everything you experience, including emotions.
Construction is based on a very old set of ideas that date back to Ancient Greece, when the philosopher Heraclitus famously wrote, No man ever steps in the same river twice, because only a mind perceives an ever-changing river as a distinct body of water.
One instance of anger need not look or feel like another, nor will it be caused by the same neurons. Variation is the norm. Your range of angers is not necessarily the same as mine, although if we were raised in similar circumstances, we will likely have some overlap.
One flavor, called social construction, studies the role of social values and interests in determining how we perceive and act in the world.
Where emotion is concerned, social construction theories ask how feelings and perceptions are influenced by our social roles or beliefs.
Another flavor of construction, known as psychological construction, turns this focus inward. It proposes that your perceptions, thoughts, and feelings are themselves constructed from more basic parts.
In the 1960s, the psychologists Stanley Schachter and Jerome Singer famously injected test subjects with adrenaline without the subjects’ knowledge and saw them experience this mysterious arousal as anger or euphoria, depending on the context surrounding them.
These same principles of construction appear to hold for the brain’s physical architecture, an idea called neuroconstruction. Consider two neurons that are connected by a synapse. Clearly these brain cells exist in an objective sense. But there is no objective way to tell whether the two neurons are part of a unit called a circuit or system, or whether each neuron belongs to a separate circuit where one regulates the other. The answer depends entirely on human perspective.
Cookies need not look the same or be created with the same recipe; they are a population of diverse instances.
Likewise, any category of emotion such as Happiness or Guilt is filled with variety.
It avoids questions that imply a neural fingerprint exists, like Where are the neurons that trigger fear? The word where has a built-in assumption that a particular set of neurons activates every time you and everyone else on the planet feel afraid. In the theory of constructed emotion, a category of emotion such as sadness, fear, or anger has no distinct brain location, and each instance of emotion is a whole-brain state to be studied and understood.
Beginning with these ingredients, we can create diverse foods such as cookies, bread, cake, muffins, biscuits, and scones. Likewise, your brain has core ingredients, which we called core systems.
This phenomenon is our old friend degeneracy at work: different instances of fear are constructed by different combinations of the core systems throughout the brain.
Likewise, emotions are social reality. A physical event like a change in heart rate, blood pressure, or respiration becomes an emotional experience only when we, with emotion concepts that we have learned from our culture, imbue the sensations with additional functions by social agreement.
I would banish the phrase an emotion from our vocabulary so we don’t imply its objective existence in nature, and always speak of instances and categories.
I also avoid verbs like triggering emotion, and phrases like emotional reaction and emotions happening to you. Such wording implies that emotions are objective entities.
I also do not speak of perceiving someone’s emotion accurately. Instances of emotion have no objective fingerprints in the face, body, and brain, so accuracy has no scientific meaning.
It has a social meaning we certainly can ask whether two people agree in their perceptions of emotion, or whether a perception is consistent with some norm. But perceptions exist within the perceiver.
Human beings are not at the mercy of mythical emotion circuits buried deep within animalistic parts of our highly evolved brain: we are architects of our own experience.
These ideas do not match our experiences in daily life, where emotions seem to emerge like little bombs to disrupt whatever we were thinking or doing a moment before. Likewise, when we look at other people’s faces and bodies, they seem to announce what their owners are feeling, without input or effort on our part, even when the owners themselves might be unaware.
But these personal experiences, no matter how compelling they may seem, do not reveal how the brain creates emotion, any more than our experience watching the sun move across the sky means that it revolves around the Earth.
Interoception is your brain’s representation of all sensations from your internal organs and tissues, the hormones in your blood, and your immune system.
Brain occupies only about 2 percent of your body mass, and it looks like a blob of gray gelatin.
These networks operate somewhat like sports teams. A team has a pool of players; at any given moment, some players are in the game and others sit on the bench, ready to jump in when needed. Likewise, an intrinsic network has a pool of available neurons. Each time the network does its job, different groupings of its neurons play (fire) in synchrony to fill all the necessary positions on the team. You might recognize this behavior as degeneracy, because different sets of neurons in the network are producing the same basic function.
The brain spends eternity entombed in a dark, silent box. It cannot get out and enjoy the world’s marvels directly; it learns what is going on in the world only indirectly via scraps of information from the light, vibrations, and chemicals that become sights, sounds, smells, and so on.
It distinguishes which of these different causes is most relevant only by their probability in different contexts. It asks, Which combination of my past experiences provides the closest match to this sound, given this particular situation with its accompanying sights, smells, and other sensations?
Prediction is such a fundamental activity of the human brain that some scientists consider it the brain’s primary mode of operation.
It’s called an illusion because movement feels like a two-step process decide, then move when in fact your brain issues motor predictions to move your body well before you become aware of your intent to move. And even before you actually encounter the apple (or the snake)! If your brain were merely reactive, it would be too inefficient to keep you alive. You are always being bombarded by sensory input. One human retina transmits as much visual data as a fully loaded computer network connection in every waking moment; now multiply that by every sensory pathway you have.
A reactive brain would also be too expensive, metabolically speaking, because it would require more interconnections than it could maintain.
In brain-imaging experiments, when we show photographs to test subjects or ask them to perform tasks, only a small portion of the signal we measure is due to the photos and tasks; most of the signal represents intrinsic activity.
Through prediction and correction, your brain continually creates and revises your mental model of the world.
Your brain launches predictions well before you consciously see the ball, just like it predicts a red apple in the grocery store, using your past experience.
As you can see, in many cases, the outside world is irrelevant to your experience. In a sense, your brain is wired for delusion: through continual prediction, you experience a world of your own creation that is held in check by the sensory world.
Interoception is therefore continuous, just as the mechanics of hearing and vision are always operating, even when you aren’t actively listening or looking at anything in particular.
One part is a set of brain regions that send predictions to the body to control its internal environment: speed up the heart, slow down breathing, release more cortisol, metabolize more glucose, and so on. We’ll call them your body-budgeting regions. The second part is a region that represents sensations inside your body, called your primary interoceptive cortex.
Cortisol is released whenever you need a surge of energy, which happens to include the times when you are stressed. Its main purpose is to flood the bloodstream with glucose to provide immediate energy to cells, allowing, for example, muscle cells to stretch and contract so you can run.
Stop and think about this for a minute. Someone merely walks toward you while you are standing still, and your brain predicts that you need fuel! In this manner, any event that significantly impacts your body budget becomes personally meaningful to you.
We ask volunteers to sit completely motionless in front of a computer screen and view pictures of animals, flowers, babies, food, money, guns, surfers, skydivers, car crashes, and other objects and scenes. These pictures impact their body budget; heart rates go up, blood pressures change, blood vessels dilate. These budgetary changes, which prepare the body to fight or flee, occur even though the volunteers are not moving and have no conscious plan to move.
As it turns out, people spend at least half their waking hours simulating rather than paying attention to the world around them, and this pure simulation strongly drives their feelings.
Other people regulate your body budget too.
In contrast, when you lose a close, loving relationship and feel physically ill about it, part of the reason is that your loved one is no longer helping to regulate your budget.
Affect is the general sense of feeling that you experience throughout each day. It is not emotion but a much simpler feeling with two features. The first is how pleasant or unpleasant you feel, which scientists call valence.
The second feature of affect is how calm or agitated you feel, which is called arousal.
Interoception did not evolve for you to have feelings but to regulate your body budget.
Your affective feelings of pleasure and displeasure, and calmness and agitation, are simple summaries of your budgetary state.
Anything outside your affective niche is just noise: your brain issues no predictions about it, and you do not notice it. The feel of your clothing against your skin is usually not in your affective niche (though it is now, since I just mentioned it), unless it happens to be relevant, say, to your physical comfort.
The psychologist James A. Russell developed a way of tracking affect, and it’s become popular among clinicians, teachers, and scientists. He showed that you can describe your affect in the moment as a single point on a two-dimensional space called a circumplex, a circular structure with two dimensions,
The judges experienced their interoceptive sensations not as hunger but as evidence for their parole decision. Immediately after lunch, the judges began granting paroles with their customary frequency.
The psychologist Gerald L. Clore has spent decades performing clever experiments to better understand how people make decisions every day based on gut feelings. This phenomenon is called affective realism, because we experience supposed facts about the world that are created in part by our feelings.
In my lab, when we manipulate people’s affect without their knowing, it influences whether they experience a stranger as trustworthy, competent, attractive, or likable, and they even see the person’s face differently.
People like to say that seeing is believing, but affective realism demonstrates that believing is seeing.
Your body-budgeting regions keep predicting adjustments to your budget long after the predicted need is over. You therefore may take a long time to calm down, even if you know there is nothing wrong.
In short, you feel what your brain believes. Affect primarily comes from prediction.
Scientists with the right equipment can change people’s affect by directly manipulating body-budgeting regions that issue predictions.
During surgery, Mayberg works with a team of neurosurgeons who drill small holes in the skull and sink electrodes into a key predictive area in the patient’s interoceptive network. When the neurosurgeons turn on the electrodes, Mayberg’s patients report immediate relief from their agony.
You might think that in everyday life, the things you see and hear influence what you feel, but it’s mostly the other way around: that what you feel alters your sight and hearing.
Your brain is wired to listen to your body budget. Affect is in the driver’s seat and rationality is a passenger. It doesn’t matter whether you’re choosing between two snacks, two job offers, two investments, or two heart surgeons your everyday decisions are driven by a loudmouthed, mostly deaf scientist who views the world through affect-colored glasses.
Antonio Damasio, in his bestseller Descartes’ Error, observes that a mind requires passion (what we would call affect) for wisdom. He documents that people with damage to their interoceptive network, particularly in one key body-budgeting region, have impaired decision-making.
You cannot be a rational actor if your brain runs on interoceptively infused predictions.
If the idea of the rational human mind is so toxic to the economy, and it’s not backed up by neuroscience, why does it persist? Because we humans have long believed that rationality makes us special in the animal kingdom.
The model begins with ancient subcortical circuits for basic survival, which we allegedly inherited from reptiles. Sitting atop those circuits is an alleged emotion system, known as the limbic system, that we supposedly inherited from early mammals. And wrapped around the so-called limbic system, like icing on an already-baked cake, is our allegedly rational and uniquely human cortex. This illusory arrangement of layers, which is sometimes called the triune brain, remains one of the most successful misconceptions in human biology.
“All brain divisions are present in all vertebrates.” So how do brains evolve? They reorganize as they expand, like companies do, to keep themselves efficient and nimble.
The bottom line is this: the human brain is anatomically structured so that no decision or action can be free of interoception and affect, no matter what fiction people tell themselves about how rational they are.
Every thought, memory, perception, or emotion that you construct includes something about the state of your body: a little piece of interoception. A visual prediction, for example, doesn’t just answer the question, What did I see last time I was in this situation? It answers, What did I see last time I was in this situation when my body was in this state?
You (and other creatures) do not simply find yourself in an environment and either adapt or die. You construct your environment—your reality—by virtue of what sensory input from the physical environment your brain selects; it admits some as information and ignores some as noise. And this selection is intimately linked to interoception. Your brain expands its predictive repertoire to include anything that might impact your body budget, in order to meet your body’s metabolic demands. This is why affect is a property of consciousness.
Why do you and I see stripes? Because we have mental concepts for colors like Red, Orange, and Yellow. Your brain automatically uses these concepts to group together the wavelengths in certain ranges of the spectrum, categorizing them as the same color. Your brain downplays the variations within each color category and magnifies the differences between the categories, causing you to perceive bands of color.
An incredible 50 percent of the words we hear cannot be understood out of context.
If you think of your field of vision as a big TV screen, then your slight eye movement just changed millions of pixels on that screen. And yet, you did not experience blurry streaks across your visual field.
Categorization constructs every perception, thought, memory, and other mental event that you experience, so of course you construct instances of emotion in the same manner.
When you walk into an entirely new situation, you don’t experience it based solely on how things look, sound, or smell. Your experience it based on your goal.
If I am correct, then, as children continue to develop their concept of Anger, they learn that not all instances of Anger are constructed for the same goal in every situation. Anger can also be for protecting oneself against an offense, dealing with someone who acted unfairly, desiring aggression toward another person, wanting to win a competition or to enhance performance in some way, or wishing to appear powerful.
Emotion words are not about emotional facts in the world that are stored like static files in your brain. They reflect the varied emotional meanings you construct from mere physical signals in the world using your emotion knowledge. You acquired that knowledge, in part, from the collective knowledge contained in the brains of those who cared for you, talked to you, and helped you to create your social world.
In a situation where a person with a working conceptual system might experience anger, people with alexithymia are more likely to experience a stomachache. They complain of physical symptoms and report feelings of affect but fail to experience them as emotional.
When you were born, you couldn’t regulate your budget, so your caregivers did it for you.
Simply put: I did not see a snake and categorize it. I did not feel the urge to run and categorize it. I did not feel my heart pounding and categorize it. I categorized sensations in order to see the snake, to feel my heart pounding, and to run. I correctly predicted these sensations, and in doing so, explained them with an instance of the concept Fear. This is how emotions are made.
The infant brain is missing most of the concepts that we have as adults.
A newborn is experientially blind to a great extent.
You have a built-in spotlight of attention that illuminates some things, such as these words, while leaving other things in the dark.
When my daughter, Sophia, was only a few weeks old, we capitalized on such multisensory predictions to help her develop sleep patterns that would not reduce us to sleep-deprived zombies. We exposed her to distinct songs, stories, colored blankets, and other rituals to help her distinguish statistically between naptime and bedtime, so she would sleep for shorter or longer stretches.
It’s more efficient to communicate only what has changed from one frame to the next, because any static areas of the previous frame have already been transmitted.
As a baby nurses one morning, groups of neurons fire in her various sensory systems, in statistically related patterns, to represent the mother’s visual image, the sound of her voice, her scent, the tactile sensations of being held, an increase in energy from being fed, the sensations of a full tummy, plus the pleasure of feeding and being cuddled.
Any given concept is not represented in the information flow among one single set of neurons; each concept is itself a population of instances, and these instances are represented in different patterns of neurons on each occasion.
Preciseness leads to efficiency; this is a biological payoff of higher emotional granularity.
The famous optical illusion in figure 6-2 illustrates your control network in action. Depending on the context, whether you read horizontally or vertically, you’ll perceive the central symbol as a B or a 13. Your control net work helps select the winning concept letter or number? in each moment.
When I see happiness in the big smile on his face as he is hugging me, I am no longer experiencing but “perceiving.” When I recollect the hug and how warm it made me feel, I am no longer perceiving but “remembering.” When I contemplate whether I was feeling happy or sentimental, I am no longer remembering but “categorizing.”
Categorization bestows new functions on biological signals, not by virtue of their physical nature but by virtue of your knowledge and the context around you in the world.
Emotions are meaning. They explain your interoceptive changes and corresponding affective feelings, in relation to the situation. They are a prescription for action.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is present to hear it, does it make a sound?
The scientific answer to the riddle, however, is no. A falling tree itself makes no sound. Its descent merely creates vibrations in the air and the ground.
These vibrations become sound only if something special is present to receive and translate them: say, an ear connected to a brain. Any mammalian ear will do nicely. The outer ear gathers changes in air pressure and focuses them on the eardrum, producing vibrations in the middle ear. These vibrations move fluid in the inner ear over little hairs that translate the pressure changes into electrical signals that are received by the brain. Without this special machinery, there is no sound, only air movement.
Next, consider another question: Is an apple red?
The scientific answer, however, is no. Red is not a color contained in an object. It is an experience involving reflected light, a human eye, and a human brain. We experience red only when light of a certain wavelength (say, 600 nanometers) reflects from an object (in the midst of other reflections at other wavelengths), and only while a receiver translates this contrasting array of light into visual sensations. Our receiver is the human retina, which uses its three types of photoreceptors, called cones, to convert the reflected light into electrical signals made meaningful by a brain. In a retina that’s missing a medium or long cone, light at 600 nanometers is experienced as gray. And in the absence of a brain, there is no experience of color at all, only reflected light in the world.
We perceive them by going beyond the information given to us, making meaning from them using knowledge from past experience, that is, concepts.
If you talk to a chemist, “real” is a molecule, an atom, a proton. To a physicist, “real” is a quark, a Higgs boson, or maybe a collection of little strings vibrating in eleven dimensions. They are supposed to exist in the natural world whether or not humans are present—that is, they are thought to be perceiver-independent categories. If all human life left this planet tomorrow, subatomic particles would still be here.
Just get a couple of people to agree that something is real and give it a name, and they create reality.
Human civilization is literally built with social reality. Most things in your life are socially constructed: your job, your street address, your government and laws, your social status. Wars are waged and neighbor slaughters neighbor, all for the sake of social reality.
How do we work this magic of creation? We categorize. We take things that exist in nature and impose new functions on them that go beyond their physical properties. Then we transmit these concepts to each other, wiring each other’s brains for the social world. This is the core of social reality.
You need a group of people to agree that a concept exists, such as Flower or Cash or Happiness. This shared knowledge is called collective intentionality.
Certain non-human animals are capable of a rudimentary form of collective intentionality without social reality. Ants work together toward a common activity, as do bees. Flocks of birds and schools of fish move in synchrony. Certain troupes of chimpanzees use tools, such as sticks for retrieving and eating termites, and rocks for cracking nuts, whose uses are passed down to offspring. Chimps even appear to learn a concept of Tool by realizing that different-looking objects can be used for a common purpose for instance, obtaining food with some sort of object that is held in the hands, like a wooden stick or a screw driver.
Humans are unique, however, because our collective intentionality involves mental concepts. We can look at a hammer, a chainsaw, and an ice pick and categorize them all as “Tools,” then change our minds and categorize them all as “Murder Weapons.” We can impose functions that would not otherwise exist, thereby inventing reality.
If intuition was everything we needed, we will still think sun revolves around the earth.
No other animals have collective intentionality combined with words.
Elephants appear to communicate through low-frequency vocal rumblings that can travel over a mile. Certain great apes appear to use sign language in a limited way, on the order of a two-year-old human, usually linked in some way to securing a reward.
If I seat you in a chair, perfectly motionless, and say the word pizza to you, neurons in your brain will change their firing pattern automatically, making predictions. You might even salivate as you simulate the taste of mushrooms and pepperoni. Words give us our own special form of telepathy.
Words also encourage mental inference: figuring out the intentions, goals, and beliefs of others.
Infants rapidly learn the perceptual concept of a face without knowing the word face, as we noted in chapter 5, because faces have statistical regularity: two eyes, a nose, and a mouth.
Plants photosynthesize and people do not. The difference is perceiver-independent, regardless of how the two concepts are named.
Words are vitally linked to the way we develop and transmit purely mental concepts.
An instance of emotion, constructed from a prediction, tailors your action to meet a particular goal in a particular situation, using past experience as a guide.
The first stems from the fact that emotion concepts, like all concepts, make meaning.
The second function of emotions stems from the fact that concepts prescribe action:
The third function is related to a concept’s ability to regulate your body budget.
These three functions have something in common: they’re about you alone.
But emotion concepts have two other functions that draw other individuals into your circle of social reality. One function is emotion communication, in which two people categorize with concepts in synchrony.
The other function is social influence. Concepts like Excitement, Fear, and Exhaustion are tools for you to regulate other people’s body budgets, not just your own.
When you can’t find an objective criterion to compute accuracy and are left with consensus, this is a clue that you are dealing with social, not physical, reality.
I’m not saying that everything is relative. If that were true, civilization would fall apart. I am also not saying that emotions are just in your head. That phrase trivializes the power of social reality. Money, reputation, laws, government, friendship, and all of our most fervent beliefs are also just in human minds, but people live and die for them. They are real because people agree that they’re real.
You need an emotion concept in order to experience or perceive the associated emotion. It’s a requirement. Without a concept for Fear, you cannot experience fear. Without a concept for Sadness, you cannot perceive sadness in another person. You could learn the necessary concept, or you could construct it in the moment through conceptual combination, but your brain must be able to make that concept and predict with it.
Liget is the whole conceptual package, and if your brain cannot make this concept, then you cannot experience liget, although you can experience parts of it: the pleasant, high arousal affect; the aggression; the thrill of pursuing a risky challenge; or the feeling of brother- or sisterhood that comes from being part of a group.
Emotion concepts like Fear, Anger, and Happiness are passed down from one generation to the next. This occurs not merely because we propagate our genes but because those genes allow each generation to wire the brains of the next one.
In Russian culture, the colors (blue) and (sky blue to a Westerner) are different categories, as distinct as blue and green are to an American. This distinction is not due to inborn, structural differences in the visual system of Russians versus Americans, but to culture-specific, learned concepts of color. People raised in Russia are simply taught that light and dark blue are distinct colors with different names. These color concepts become wired into their brains, and so they perceive seven stripes.
Scientists have documented numerous emotion concepts around the world that don’t exist in English. Norwegians have a concept for an intense joy of falling in love, calling it Forelsket. The Danes have the concept Hygge for a certain feeling of close friendship. The Russian Tocka is a spiritual anguish, and the Portuguese Saudade is a strong, spiritual longing. After a little research, I located a Spanish emotion concept that has no direct equivalent in English, called Pena Ajena.
Utka Eskimos have no concept of Anger. The Tahitians have no concept of Sadness. This last item is very difficult for Westerners to accept
Westerners think of emotion as an experience inside an individual, in the body. Many other cultures, however, characterize emotions as interpersonal events that require two or more people. This includes the Ifaluk of Micronesia, the Balinese, the Fula, the Ilongot of the Philippines, the Kaluli of Papua New Guinea, the Minangkabau of Indonesia, the Pintupi Aborigines of Australia, and the Samoans.
Most scientific research on emotion is conducted in English, using American concepts and American emotion words (and their translations).
Perhaps you began this book with classical view concepts such as Emotional Reaction and Facial Expression and Emotion Circuit in the Brain. If so, I’ve been slowly replacing them with a new set, including Interoception, Prediction, Body Budget, and Social Reality.
Are you responsible for your concepts? Not all of them, certainly. When you’re a baby, you can’t choose the concepts that other people put into your head. But as an adult, you absolutely do have choices about what you expose yourself to and therefore what you learn, which creates the concepts that ultimately drive your actions, whether they feel willful or not. So responsibility means making deliberate choices to change your concepts.
It is your responsibility to learn concepts that, through prediction, steer you away from harmful actions. You also bear some responsibility for others, because your actions shape other people’s concepts and behaviors, creating the environment that turns genes on and off to wire their brains, including the brains of the next generation.
Sometimes, responsibility means that you’re the only one who can change things.
One of your most notable adaptations is that you needn’t carry all the genetic material to create all the wiring in your brain. That would be tremendously expensive, biologically speaking. Instead, you have genes that let your brain develop in the context of the other brains around you, through culture.
You are born with some brain wiring as determined by your genes, but the environment can turn some genes on and off, allowing your brain to wire itself to your experiences.
Through construction, you perceive the world not in any objectively accurate sense but through the lens of your own needs, goals, and prior experience
Population thinking is based on variation, whereas essentialism is based on sameness. The two ideas are fundamentally incompatible.
His 1,200-page tome Principles of Psychology contains most of Western psychology’s most important ideas and remains, after more than a century, the foundation of the field.
James actually wrote that each instance of emotion, not each category of emotion, comes from a unique bodily state. This is a wildly different statement. It means you can tremble in fear, jump in fear, freeze in fear, scream in fear, gasp in fear, hide in fear, attack in fear, and even laugh in the face of fear.
The very words that help us to learn concepts can also trick us into believing that their categories reflect firm boundaries in nature.
In a sense, the classical view wrenched human nature away from religion and placed it into the hands of evolution. You are no longer an immortal soul but a collection of specialized, distinct, inner forces. You come into the world preformed, not in God’s image but by your genes. You perceive the world accurately, not because God designed you this way but because the survival of your genes to the next generation depends on it. And your mind is a battleground, not of good and evil, righteousness and sin, but of rationality and emotionality, cortex over subcortex, inner versus outer forces, the thoughts in your brain versus the emotions in your body. You, with your animal brain wrapped in rational cortex, are distinct from other animals in nature, not because you have a soul but because you are the pinnacle of evolution, endowed with insight and reason.
Expression covered all three parts of the classical view of human nature: that animals and humans share universal essences of emotion, that emotions seek expression in the face and body outside of our control, and that they are triggered by the outside world.
It allowed Floyd Allport and John Dewey to transmute the words of William James and Darwin himself into their diametric opposites and shore up the classical view of emotion.
Modern neuroscience, however, has shown that the so-called limbic system is a fiction, and experts in brain evolution no longer take it seriously, let alone consider it a system.
In Ancient Greece, Plato divided the human mind into three types of essences: rational thoughts, passions (which today we would call emotions), and appetites like hunger and sex drive.
Heraclitus (chapter 2) was arguing that the human mind constructs perception in the moment, like constructing a river from countless drops of water.
Philosophers in the seventeenth century, such as RenÃ© Descartes and Baruch Spinoza, believed in emotion essences and catalogued them, while eighteenth-century philosophers like David Hume and Immanuel Kant argued more for construction and perception-based explanations for human experience.
Psychologist and bestselling author Daniel L. Schacter has a construction theory of memory.
The classical view often dismisses construction as saying everything is relative, as if the mind were merely a blank slate and biology can be disregarded. Construction blasts the classical view for ignoring the powerful effects of culture and justifying the status quo. In caricature, the classical view says nature and construction says nurture.
When we peer into the workings of a functioning brain, we don’t see mental modules. We see core systems that interact continuously in complex ways to produce many sorts of minds, depending on culture. The human brain is itself a cultural artifact because it is wired by experience. We have genes that are turned on and off by the environment, and other genes that regulate how sensitive to the environment we are.
Emotions were redefined as mere behaviors for survival: fighting, fleeing, feeding, and mating, collectively known as the four F’s.
Old papers from the 1930s when emotion research was allegedly dead. These papers did not embrace behaviorism. They said that emotions do not have biological essences.
If your brain operates by prediction and construction and rewires itself through experience, then it’s no overstatement to say that if you change your current experiences today, you can change who you become tomorrow.
Even though you construct your emotional experiences, they can still bowl you over in the moment. However, you can take steps now to influence your future emotional experiences, to sculpt who you will be tomorrow.
A next line of attack is to modify your physical comfort if you can. Try a massage from a lover, a close friend, or a paid massage therapist (if you can afford it).
Your physical surroundings also affect your body budget, so if possible, try to spend time in spaces with less noise and crowding, and more greenery and natural light.
Diving into a compelling novel is also healthful for your body budget. This is more than mere escapism; when you get involved in someone else’s story, you aren’t as involved in your own.
Set up regular lunch dates with a friend and take turns treating each other.
Research shows that giving and gratitude have mutual benefits for the body budgets involved, so when you take turns, you reap the benefits.
Adopt a pet, which gives you touch and unconditional adoration at the same time. Take walks in a public garden or park.
People with a classical view mindset think about emotional intelligence as detecting other people’s emotions accurately, or experiencing happiness and avoiding sadness at the right time.
Happiness and Sadness are each populations of diverse instances. Therefore, emotional intelligence (EI) is about getting your brain to construct the most useful instance of the most useful emotion concept in a given situation.
Goleman’s books offer a lot of reasonable, practical advice, but they don’t properly explain why his advice works.
If you could distinguish finer meanings within Awesome (happy, content, thrilled, relaxed, joyful, hopeful, inspired, prideful, adoring, grateful, blissful), and fifty shades of Crappy (angry, aggravated, alarmed, spiteful, grumpy, remorseful, gloomy, mortified, uneasy, dread-ridden, resentful, afraid, envious, woeful, melancholy), your brain would have many more options for predicting, categorizing, and perceiving emotion, providing you with the tools for more flexible and functional responses.
People who make highly granular experiences are emotion experts: they issue predictions and construct instances of emotion that are finely tailored to fit each specific situation.
Perhaps the easiest way to gain concepts is to learn new words. You’ve probably never thought about learning words as a path to greater emotional health, but it follows directly from the neuroscience of construction.
Don’t be satisfied with happy: seek out and use more specific words like ecstatic, blissful, and inspired. Learn the difference between discouraged or dejected versus generically sad.
Pick another language and seek out its concepts for which your language has no words, like the Dutch emotion of togetherness, gezellig, and the Greek feeling of major guilt, enohi. Each word is another invitation to construct your experiences in new ways.
Just like painters learn to see fine distinctions in colors, and wine lovers develop their palettes to experience tastes that non-experts cannot, you can practice categorizing like any other skill.
If all this introspection sounds implausible, realize that people pay good money to therapists and life coaches for exactly this purpose: to help them reframe situations, that is, find the most useful categorization in the service of action.
Fifty shades of feeling crappywere.
After improving your emotional granularity, another way to hone your concepts, which is popular with therapists and self-help books, is to keep track of your positive experiences each day.
These concepts, as patterns of neural activity, get easier and easier for your brain to re-create, like well-trodden walking paths that grow deeper with each passerby’s footsteps.
Every experience you construct is an investment, so invest wisely. Cultivate the experiences you want to construct again in the future.
See that little boy? He is crying. He is feeling pain from falling down and scraping his knee. He is sad and probably wants a hug from his parents. Elaborate on the feelings of storybook characters, on your children’s own emotions, and on your emotions.
Your detailed explanations help your children build a well-developed conceptual system for emotion.
You’re handing them tools to regulate their body budget, to make meaning of their sensations and act on them, to communicate how they feel, and to influence others more effectively.
Help them understand the variety of the real world, that a smile may mean happiness, embarrassment, anger, or even sadness depending on context.
Try also to admit when you aren’t sure how you feel, when you’re guessing how someone else feels, or when you guess badly.
Whenever Sophia launched into a tantrum (or if we were lucky, slightly beforehand), we’d explain to her, Oh no, the Cranky Fairy is visiting. She’s making you feel cranky. Let’s try to make the Cranky Fairy go away. Then we directed her to a particular chair a fuzzy red one with a picture of Elmo from Sesame Street as her special place for calming down.
Children from lower-income homes have a more taxed body budget but fewer resources to deal with it.
Be specific: Stop hitting your sister; it hurts her and makes her feel sad. Tell her you are sorry. The same rule holds for praise: don’t call your daughter a good girl. Praise her actions: You made a good choice not hitting your brother back. This wording helps children to build more useful concepts. Your tone of voice matters too, since it easily communicates your affect and directly impacts the child’s nervous system.
The simplest approach, believe it or not, is to move your body.
Humans are unique in that we can regulate the budget without moving, using purely mental concepts. But when this skill fails you, remember that you too are an animal. Get up and move around, even if you don’t feel like it. Turn on some music and dance around your home. Take a walk in a park. Why does this work? Moving your body can change your predictions and therefore your experience. Your movements may also help your control network to bring other, less bothersome concepts into the foreground.
Another approach to mastering your emotions in the moment is to change your location or situation, which in turn can change your predictions.
When changes in movement and context fail to help you master your emotions, the next big thing to try is recategorizing how you feel.
Anytime you feel miserable, it’s because you are experiencing unpleasant affect due to interoceptive sensations. Your brain will dutifully predict causes for those sensations. Perhaps they are a message from your body, like I have a stomachache. Or perhaps they’re saying, Something is seriously wrong with my life. This is the distinction between discomfort and suffering. Discomfort is purely physical. Suffering is personal.
With practice, you can learn to deconstruct an affective feeling into its mere physical sensations, rather than letting those sensations be a filter through which you view the world.
Look around right now and find an object to focus on. Try recategorizing it not as a three-dimensional visual object but as the individual pieces of differently colored light that your perception is constructed from.
The U.S. Marine Corps has a motto that embodies this principle: Pain is weakness leaving the body.
People who live with chronic pain, for example, commonly have catastrophic thoughts that appear to impact their lives even more than the intensity of the pain does.
Buddhists call deconstructing the self. Your self is your identity a collection of characteristics that somehow define you, like your assorted memories, beliefs, likes, dislikes, hopes, life choices, morals, and values. You can also define yourself by your genes, your physical characteristics (weight, eye color), your ethnicity, your personality (funny, trustworthy), the relationships you have with other people (friend, parent, child, lover), the roles you hold (student, scientist, salesperson, factory worker, physician), your geographic or ideological community (American, New Yorker, Christian, Democrat), even the car that you drive.
These dos and don’ts are like the features of a concept. So in my view, the self is a plain, ordinary concept just like Tree, Things That Protect You from Stinging Insects, and Fear.
If the self is a concept, then you construct instances of your self by simulation. Each instance fits your goals in the moment.
Social psychologists say that we have multiple selves, but you can think of this repertoire as instances of a single, goal-based concept called The Self in which the goal shifts based on context.
A portion of the interoceptive network, called the default mode network, has been called the self system. It consistently increases in activity during self-reflection. If you have atrophy in your default mode network, as happens in Alzheimer’s disease, you eventually lose your sense of self.
When you categorize something as Not About Me, it exits your affective niche and has less impact on your body budget.
Similarly, when you are successful and feel proud, honored, or gratified, take a step back and remember that these pleasant emotions are entirely the result of social reality, reinforcing your fictional self. Celebrate your achievements but don’t let them become golden handcuffs.
You can achieve some of the same benefits more simply by cultivating and experiencing awe, the feeling of being in the presence of something vastly greater than yourself. It helps you get some distance from your self.
The false confidence that one’s perceptions of other people’s mental states areor ever can be right.
Anytime you think you know how someone else feels, your confidence has nothing to do with actual knowledge. You’re just having a moment of affective realism.
To improve at emotion perception, we must all give up the fiction that we know how other people feel.
A mother’s and child’s heart rates will synchronize if they are securely bonded, and the same can happen to anyone during an engaging conversation. The mechanism is still a mystery. I suspect it’s because their breathing synchronizes as they unconsciously observe each other’s chests rising and falling.
Our words allow us to enter each other’s affective niches, even at extremely long distances.
In everyday life, as in the courtroom, you need to be mindful of influencing people’s predictions by your words.
You are a remarkable animal who can create purely mental concepts that influence the state of your body. The social and the physical are intimately linked via your body and your brain, and your ability to move effectively between social and physical depends on a set of skills that you can learn.
What if this social rejection is your life every day? Your body stays on alert, flush with cortisol and cytokines. Now your brain starts treating your body as if it were sick or damaged, and chronic inflammation sets in.
Some stress is positive, like the challenge of learning a new subject in school. Some is negative but tolerable, like having a fight with your best friend. And some is toxic, like the chronic stress of prolonged poverty, abuse, or loneliness.
It is a concept, just like Happiness or Fear, that you apply to construct experiences from an imbalanced body budget.
Cumulative imbalance in the body budget say, from growing up in adversity, where you don’t feel safe or are deprived of basic necessities like nutritious food, quiet time to sleep, and so on also changes the structure of your interoceptive network, rewiring your brain and reducing its ability to accurately regulate your body budget.
If nociception works by prediction, as does every other sensory system in the brain, then you construct instances of pain out of more basic parts
If you believe you’ll feel less pain, your beliefs influence your predictions and tune down your nociceptive input so you do feel less pain.
I watched my daughter experience the nocebo effect when she was a baby and had thirteen ear infections in nine months. The first time we visited the pediatrician’s office for treatment, she wailed in discomfort as he peered into her ears (though he is a caring and careful physician). The second time, she cried in the waiting room. The third time, she began sobbing in the building lobby, and the fourth time, as we entered the parking garage. After that, she would whimper anytime we passed the street where the doctor’s office was located. This is the predicting brain in action; little Sophia was likely simulating ear pain.
If you’re unlucky enough to suffer from chronic pain, then you’ve probably faced skeptics who don’t understand what you’re going through. They try to explain away your pain by saying, It’s in your head, by which they mean, You have no tissue damage, so go see a psychiatrist. I’m saying that you’re not crazy. There is something wrong with you. Your predictive brain, which is indeed located in your head, is generating authentic pain that continues past the point when your body has already healed. It’s similar to phantom limb syndrome, when an amputee can still feel his missing arm or leg because his brain keeps issuing predictions about it.
Depression is you guessed ita concept. It is a population of diverse instances, so there are many degenerate paths to depression, many of which begin with an imbalanced body budget.
The traditional view of depression is that negative thoughts cause negative feelings. I’m suggesting it’s the other way around. Your feelings right now drive your next thought, as well as your perceptions, as predictions.
The traditional view of depression is that negative thoughts cause negative feelings. I’m suggesting it’s the other way around. Your feelings right now drive your next thought, as well as your perceptions, as predictions. So a depressed brain relentlessly keeps making withdrawals from the budget, basing its predictions on similar withdrawals from the past. This means constantly reliving difficult, unpleasant events.
Thinking positive thoughts or taking antidepressants might not be enough to bring your body budget back into balance: other lifestyle changes or system adjustments might be necessary.
I speculate that an anxious brain, in a sense, is the opposite of a depressed brain. In depression, prediction is dialed way up and prediction error way down, so you’re locked into the past. In anxiety, the metaphorical dial is stuck on allowing too much prediction error from the world, and too many predictions are unsuccessful. With insufficient prediction, you don’t know what’s coming around the next corner, and life contains a lot of corners.
Based on the evidence, it appears that anxiety, like depression, is a constructed category in the same fashion as emotion, pain, and stress. The misery you feel in anxiety and depression tells you that something is seriously wrong with your body budget. Either your brain is trying to secure a deposit, ramping up unpleasant affect, or it’s attempting to reduce your need for the deposit by remaining still, resulting in fatigue.
When you have too much prediction and not enough correction, you feel bad, and the flavor of badness depends on the concepts you use. In small amounts, you might feel angry or shameful. In extreme amounts, you get chronic pain or depression. In contrast, too much sensory input and ineffective prediction yields anxiety, and in extreme amounts, you might develop an anxiety disorder. With no prediction at all, you’d have a condition comparable to autism.
Other phenomena that were believed to be purely physical, like pain, are also mental concepts. To be an effective architect of your experience, you need to distinguish physical reality from social reality, and never mistake one for the other, while still understanding that the two are irrevocably entwined.
We all walk a tightrope between the world and the mind, and between the natural and the social. Many phenomena that were once considered purely mental depression, anxiety, stress, and chronic pain can, in fact, be explained in biological terms.
The law is a social contract that exists in a social world. Are you responsible for your actions? Yes, says the essentialist view of human nature, as long as you haven’t been commandeered by your emotions. Are other people responsible for your actions? No, you are an individual with free will. How do you determine what a defendant is feeling? By detecting his or her emotions in expressions. How do you make a just, moral decision? By setting your emotions aside. What is the nature of harm? Physical harm, that is, tissue damage, is worse than emotional harm, which is considered to be separate from the body and less tangible. All of these assumptionsborn of essentialismare baked into the law at its deepest levels, driving verdicts of guilt and innocence and gauging punishments on a massive scale, even as neuroscience has been quietly debunking them as myths.
If something interferes with your ability to choose your actions freely, the law says that you might be less responsible for the harm you caused.
Anger makes people unable to conform their actions to the law, and so partially mitigates a person’s responsibility for his actions. The argument is known as a heat-of-passion defense.
A human brain’s sensory and motor neurons, however, communicate through intermediaries, called association neurons, and they endow your nervous system with a remarkable ability: decision-making. When an association neuron receives a signal from a sensory neuron, it has not one possible action but two. It can stimulate or inhibit a motor neuron. Therefore, the same sensory input can yield different outcomes on different occasions. This is the biological basis of choice, that most prized of human possessions.
Here’s where the law is out of sync with science, thanks to the classical view of human nature. The law defines deliberate choice free will as whether you feel in control of your thoughts and actions. It fails to distinguish between your ability to choose the workings of your control network and your subjective experience of choice. The two are not the same in the brain.
Likewise, the female brain is not hardwired for emotion or empathy, and the male brain is not hardwired for stoicism or rationality.
In fact, in domestic violence cases, men who kill get shorter and lighter sentences, and are charged with less serious crimes, than are women who kill their intimate partners.
When people perceive emotion in a man, they usually attribute it to his situation, but when they perceive emotion in a woman, they connect it to her personality.
Is just not possible to localize a complex, psychological category like Aggression to one set of neurons, because of degeneracy; Aggression, like any other concept, may be implemented differently in the brain each time it’s constructed. Even simple actions like hitting or biting have not been localized to a single set of neurons in the human brain.
Even if we examine many brains and find a statistically significant difference in insula size between people who are more or less aggressive, that doesn’t mean that a larger insula causes aggression, let alone murder.
The idea that jurors can somehow detect remorse in a defendant, from his facial configurations or bodily movements or words, is steeped in the classical view, which assumes that emotions are universally expressed and recognized.
This kind of synchrony, with one person feeling remorse and the other perceiving it, even without words ever being spoken, is more likely to occur when two people have similar backgrounds, age, sex, or ethnicity.
We believe that our senses provide an accurate and objective representation of the world, as if we had X-ray vision for deciphering another person’s behavior to discover his intent
Test subjects watched a video of protestors being dispersed by police. They were told the protestors were pro-life activists picketing an abortion clinic. Those who were liberal Democrats, who tend to be pro-choice, inferred that the activists had violent intentions, whereas socially conservative subjects inferred peaceful intentions. The researchers also showed the same video to a second set of subjects, describing the protestors this time as gay rights activists objecting to the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. This time, those who were liberal Democrats, who tend to support gay rights, inferred that the activists had peaceful intentions, whereas socially conservative subjects inferred violent intentions.
Want to increase the likelihood of a conviction in a murder trial? Show the jury some gruesome photographic evidence. Tip their body budgets out of balance and chances are they’ll attribute their unpleasant affect to the defendant: I feel bad, therefore you must have done something bad. You are a bad person. Or permit family members of the deceased to describe how the crime has hurt them, a practice known as a victim impact statement, and the jury will tend to recommend more severe punishments. Crank up the emotional impact of a victim impact statement by recording it professionally on video and adding music and narration like a dramatic film, and you’ve got the makings of a jury-swaying masterpiece.
Think about the impact of affective realism on people who legally carry concealed weapons. Affective realism indisputably influences people’s perceptions of threat; therefore it virtually assures that innocent people will be shot by accident. It’s simple: you predict a threat, sensory information from the world says otherwise, but then your control network downplays the prediction error to maintain the prediction of threat.
Most men falsely accused are not so lucky. Jurors place a lot of weight on eyewitness testimony, yet they accept mistaken identifications just as frequently as correct ones, as long as the witnesses sound confident.
Memories are constructed and infused with beliefs that can result in distortions and illusions, how the instructions given by lawyers and police can introduce biases, how confidence is unrelated to accuracy, how stress can impair memory, and how eyewitness testimony was a factor in falsely convicting more than three quarters of the people who were exonerated by DNA evidence for crimes that they did not commit.
What, for example, is the goal of punishment? Is it retribution? Deterrence to avoid future harm? Rehabilitation? This depends on the law’s theory of the human mind.
Why is it that you can sue someone for breaking your leg but not for breaking your heart?
The law protects the integrity of your anatomical body but not the integrity of your mind,
Boundaries between mental and physical are porous.
Emotions are not expressed, displayed, or otherwise revealed in the face, body, and voice in any objective way,
The second point is about reality. Your sight, hearing, and other senses are always colored by your feelings. Even the most objective-sounding evidence is colored by affective realism.
Events that feel automatic are not necessarily completely outside your control and are not necessarily emotional.
Jurors and judges should be skeptical of claims that certain brain regions directly cause bad behavior.
I am not referring here to foreign growths like tumors or obvious signs of neurodegeneration, which in some cases, such as certain types of fronto temporal dementia, can make it harder for people to conform their actions to the law. Even so, many tumors and neurodegenerative damage cause no run-ins with the legal system at all. The final teaching point is to be mindful of essentialism. Jurors and judges need to know that every culture is full of social categories like sex, race, ethnicity, and religion. These must not be mistaken for physical, biological categories with deep dividing lines in nature. Also, emotion stereotypes don’t belong in a courtroom. Women should not be punished for feeling anger rather than fear toward their aggressors, and men should not be punished for feeling helpless and vulnerable rather than brave and aggressive.
anatomy of the human brain makes it implausible for any human, including a judge, to escape the influence of interoception and affect when making decisions.
If they feel unpleasant, they’ll be helped if they can categorize finely to experience (say) anger distinctly from irritation or hunger.
Judges can cultivate higher granularity using the exercises I recommended in chapter 9: collecting experiences, learning more emotion words, using conceptual combination to invent and explore new emotion concepts, and deconstructing and recategorizing their emotional experiences in the moment.
If you commit a crime, you are indeed to blame, but your actions are rooted in your conceptual system, and those concepts don’t just appear in a puff of magic. They are forged by the social reality you live in, which gets under your skin to turn genes on and off and wire your neurons. You learn from your environment like any other animal. Nevertheless, all animals shape their own environment. So as a human being, you have the ability to shape your environment to modify your conceptual system, which means that you are ultimately responsible for the concepts that you accept and reject.
For example, if you drive drunk and hit someone with your car, you are responsible for the harm you caused, even though you could not control your limbs effectively in your inebriated state. You should have known better, because every adult in our society knows that drunkenness carries a risk of bad decision-making, so you are culpable for bad things that happen downstream.
The law calls this a foreseeability argument. It doesn’t matter whether you intended to cause harm or not: you are liable.
The First Amendment was founded on the notion that free speech produces a war of ideas, allowing truth to prevail. However, its authors did not know that culture wires the brain. Ideas get under your skin, simply by sticking around for long enough. Once an idea is hardwired, you might not be in a position to easily reject it.
Your experiences become encoded in your brain’s wiring and can eventually change the wiring, increasing the chances that you’ll have the same experience again, or use a previous experience to create a new one.
Degeneracy: different sets of neurons produce the same outcomes.
Human brain has few preset mental concepts, such as perhaps pleasantness and unpleasantness (valence), agitation and calmness (arousal), loudness and softness, brightness and darkness, and other properties of consciousness.
Instead, variation is the norm. The human brain is structured to learn many different concepts and to invent many social realities, depending on the contingencies it is exposed to.
The ingredients are three aspects of the mind that we’ve encountered in this book: affective realism, concepts, and social reality.
Affective realism, the phenomenon that you experience what you believe, is inevitable because of your wiring. The body-budgeting regions in your interoceptive network your inner loudmouthed, mostly deaf scientist with a megaphone are the most powerful predictors in your brain, and your primary sensory regions are eager listeners.
Your brain’s concepts are a model of the world that keeps you alive, serves to meet your body’s energy needs, and ultimately determines how well you propagate your genes.
We are performing a synchronized dance of prediction and action, regulating each other’s body budgets. This same synchrony is the basis of social connection and empathy; it makes people trust and like each other, and it’s crucial for parent-infant bonding.
When you are born, you can’t regulate your body budget by yourself somebody else has to do it.
Culture works most smoothly if we believe in our own mental creations, such as money and laws, without realizing that we’re doing so.
We see that construction teaches us to be skeptical. Your experiences are not a window into reality. Rather, your brain is wired to model your world, driven by what is relevant for your body budget, and then you experience that model as reality.
Your brain can create more than one explanation for the sensory input around you not an infinite number of realities, but definitely more than one.
The official welfare statistics are true because we, as a society, made them so.
Construction agrees that you’re indeed the agent of your own destiny, but you are bounded by your surroundings.
It is possible to change meaning by recategorizing. Uncertainty means that things can be other than they appear. This realization brings hope in difficult times and can prompt gratitude in good times.
We’re finding that neurons aren’t the only important cells in the brain; glial cells, long ignored, turn out to do a hell of a lot, possibly even communicating with each other without synapses. The enteric nervous system, which controls your stomach and intestines, is looking more and more important for understanding the mind, but it’s extremely difficult to measure and therefore largely unexplored. We’re even finding that microbes in your stomach have a huge effect on mental states, and nobody knows how or why.
Thanks for reading. Did you like the content you just read? You can help me spread these ideas by sharing this blog post through your social media channels or sending it as a direct message to your friends.