posted on Jul, 18 2015 @ 07:51 PM
Right now I'm reading Joseph Ledoux's "Anxious", with the amusing subtitle "Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety" - it's
amusing because, as we learn in the preface, Ledoux - neurosciences "William James" - simply wanted to write a book that contained his beliefs
without it being edited by other neuroscientists (this being the process of how textbooks are written). This book really is a compendium of Ledoux's
latest views on the operation of fear and anxiety in the human nervous system, and, of course, consciousness. The subtitle is nothing more than a
publishers trick to make the book seem like a regular self-help book, no doubt a group that is easily taken in by book covers and the way they're
Anxious is so far a really great book - intensely interesting, but also irritating at parts, at least for me. Ledoux is a neuroscience who subscribes
to whats called the "James-Lang theory" of emotional functioning: he believes that feelings only exist when a self-conscious being can label it and
know it as an "emotion". He also conflates, seemingly with any awareness, feeling and emotion, treating the latter as involving the former but given
meaning/relevance by the conscious reflection of ones feeling state.
I'm more influenced by the views of Jaak Panksepp. While Ledoux leaves the question of animal emotions "open", that is, he basically operates as if
they're just defense-reaction, input/output systems with a questionable degree of consciousness, Panksepp conceptualizes animal minds as being
composed of feeling images, or percepts, that gives the animals mind a direct connection with it's environmental reality in a feeling way.
Ledoux isn't convinced by Panksepps conflation of molecular functioning in lower mammals (rats, mice) or even higher mammals (primates); he doesn't
think Panksepps extension of a feeling mind into animals is justified by the presence of the same molecules. I, on the other hand, think Panksepps
identification of feeling states with molecules, such as endorphins with pleasure and a sense of safety, dopamine with a feeling of interest and
anticipation, serotonin with a feeling of control or oxytocin with a feeling of confidence in ones social engagements, I think this makes a whole lot
So why the difference? To be honest. I just think Panksepps feels more. I think people like Joseph Ledoux have something "glassy" about them. Sort
of removed, valorizing logical distance as the smartest way to be, assuming that the world is more objective from this perspective, they think their
judgements actually do represent an objective take on reality: or at least more objective than yours.
Panksepp, like me, can't help but look at an animal, say, my dog, and see in it's behavior a mind that is acting, living, being, and yes,
experiencing the world, albeit, while also being organized from "within" by inter-cellular processes that maintain the organisms homeostasis.
There are always two levels when one pays attentions and notices the physiological and cellular dynamics that maintain life: they are 'doing things'
that they have been doing since life began. Before we ever arrived, these cells were maintaining and evolving new types of life. We are, in a sense,
"riding the waves" of a process that precedes our existence. And yet when we come, the world is experienced self-consciously. Amazing, no doubt. But
how or why is it that Ledoux looks at animals and wants to demarcate biological adaptive processes like "defensive response systems" from what we
call "emotion" i.e. experienced subjectively; how is it Ledoux can look at an animal, like a dog, or even the mice he regularly works on, and think
those eyes don't contain a unconscious "knowing" of the world: in short, the SPIRIT, the life force that interacts and feels pleasure, and yes,
fear and anxiety when afraid. I cannot look at any animal and pretend that there is no inner part feeling the world; yet for Ledoux, who seems rather
dissociated from the feeling dimension of non-human animals, animals seem more like machines than living, experiencing creatures.
Of course, it should go without mentioning that the brain of a dog is drastically different from our brain. We know that everything about a brain
reflects something about the intervening consciousness. If we look at a dogs brain, because we look with a human brain, it becomes veritably
unimaginable to know just what its like for them. Still, our imagination compels us to observe their behavior and simulate some world within that dog
which is feeling, and also sensing, psychologically, and pursuing interests.
There is something called the mirror test. Since my washroom is being painted, the mirror is currently on the floor, leaned against a wall. Seeing my
dog lying down, I got on my knees and went to the mirror, knowing full well that she would take this as a sign to play with me. When she got to the
mirror, I pulled her down - and shes very excited at this point - and tried to hold her head towards the mirror. I try calming her, "maggy, calm
down, I'm just playing"", although I know this intensely irritating for her, it's not that bad, and I'm very curious to know if I can hold her
face to the mirror, what exactly would happen.
Initially, of course, dogs do not pass the mirror test. They do not look in the mirror and so they do not understand that they are physical object in
the world that other creatures can perceive. This is object consciousness - which implies self-consciousness, inasmuch as knowing yourself as a
physical object implies that you are also aware of yourself as an agent in the world. Apes pass it. Elephants pass it and so do dolphins and whales.
What I found interesting was a moment where Maggy seems to relax, actually looks into the mirror, and seems to notice, at least from my perspective,
the existence of an object - HERSELF - in the mirror.
I know to many people this may seem grossly unscientific, but is it really? If evolution is change, and change, now with what we know about the way
environment influences genes through epigenetics, is endemic at all levels, why wouldn't a situation like this - dog being forced to visually
perceive itself in the mirror, wouldn't it be interesting to know, or at least perceive, a moment where the dog pays more attention to the mirror,
and seems, ephemerally, to pay attention to mirror with attentiveness that it didn't before.
Attentiveness, as all neuroscientists know, is a medium for experience dependent neuroplasticity. At a moment like this, the dogs frontal lobes are
being confronted by an image of itself. Is there any particular hardware within the dogs brain, knowing how socially conscious it already is, that
might be able to mediate some 'level' of consciousness that isn't normally present?
My view is a gradational view. Ledoux makes a distinction between human and animal minds that leaves consciousness - of our type - to be either
"existing" or "not-existing". Subjective experience is only causal for humans. It is not causal for the animal.
Yet in the little experiment I conducted with my dog, it's plausible to think that a forced perception of itself in the mirror may in fact "draw
consciousness" into the dogs experience of itself as a separate agent. This is, after all, how evolution operates: through physiological and
preexisting organic conditions, consciousness is made.