Integrating bottom-up internalist views of emotional feelings with top-down externalist views: Might brain affective changes constitute reward and punishment effects within animal brains?

No Abstract; redacted introduction this commentary on a book: In “Emotion and Decision Making Explained” Edmund Rolls shares an exceptionally well-detailed, deeply scholarly work that probes the broad landscape of animal and human emotions, as well as body regulatory processes such as hunger and thirst and sensory affects, especially taste. … It is a must read for anyone interested in the details of how the brain may construct mental experiences. … I will only focus on the one large potential flaw in his arguments: Perhaps he unfairly dismisses the existence of a more primal form of consciousness, namely raw (unreflected-upon) affective phenomenal experiences in other animals? He may have fallen into this potential trap because he is developing a top-down view of the conscious mind, asserting that the internally experienced aspects of brain functions are based almost exclusively on the self-reflective capacities afforded by language-type (syntactic) brain functions (pp. 487e488), a view that is surely debatable, and one with which I disagree, partly because it seems so inconsistent with graded evolutionary progressions in all life sustaining functions. Rolls’s sophisticated top-down view of the experienced mind, with the central assertion that conscious experience in humans is based on syntactic thoughts (implicit “language”?), does not dwell on the alternative evidence-based possibility that the capacity to have raw affective experiences is largely a bottom-up, evolved adaptive aspect of mind, based on intrinsic biological “values”, shared by many creatures – a neurodynamic survival enhancing process that may not require sophisticated top down reflective aspects (typically called “awareness” – one of the most slippery terms in consciousness studies) in order to be experienced. Admittedly, what I will focus on is only a small fraction of his impressive literature synthesis and theory development, but it is an issue of monumental importance. Regrettably such topics have the flickering quality of Necker Cubes, depending on whether one takes a top-down self-reflective perspectives on the mental apparatus, as Rolls does, or bottom-up, evolved-valuative views that I prefer. Clearly the two can be synthesized, so I would ask Rolls to reconsider the possibility that a raw, non-reflective “affective consciousness” – an intrinsic “feeling” property of reverberating brain networks in at least mammalian brains – evolved much earlier than our capacity to syntactically reflect on our many raw experiences. Indeed, from my perspective, perhaps the process of “reinforcement” is how the primary-process (unconditional) circuits for affective values, arising from deep-subcortical networks, allow secondary-process learning-and-memory based function in various subcortical basal-ganglia to operate in ever more precise, life-supporting ways (Fig. 1). Those two evolutionary foundations may permit tertiary (neocortical) levels of brain-mind organization that indeed allows, recursively, for the kind of “reflective/recursive cognitive consciousness” that enables and allows for higher-order mentation that Rolls skillfully focuses upon.

No Abstract; redacted introduction this commentary on a book: In “Emotion and Decision Making Explained” Edmund Rolls shares an exceptionally well-detailed, deeply scholarly work that probes the broad landscape of animal and human emotions, as well as body regulatory processes such as hunger and thirst and sensory affects, especially taste. … It is a must read for anyone interested in the details of how the brain may construct mental experiences. … I will only focus on the one large potential flaw in his arguments: Perhaps he unfairly dismisses the existence of a more primal form of consciousness, namely raw (unreflected-upon) affective phenomenal experiences in other animals? He may have fallen into this potential trap because he is developing a top-down view of the conscious mind, asserting that the internally experienced aspects of brain functions are based almost exclusively on the self-reflective capacities afforded by language-type (syntactic) brain functions (pp. 487e488), a view that is surely debatable, and one with which I disagree, partly because it seems so inconsistent with graded evolutionary progressions in all life sustaining functions. Rolls’s sophisticated top-down view of the experienced mind, with the central assertion that conscious experience in humans is based on syntactic thoughts (implicit “language”?), does not dwell on the alternative evidence-based possibility that the capacity to have raw affective experiences is largely a bottom-up, evolved adaptive aspect of mind, based on intrinsic biological “values”, shared by many creatures – a neurodynamic survival enhancing process that may not require sophisticated top down reflective aspects (typically called “awareness” – one of the most slippery terms in consciousness studies) in order to be experienced. Admittedly, what I will focus on is only a small fraction of his impressive literature synthesis and theory development, but it is an issue of monumental importance. Regrettably such topics have the flickering quality of Necker Cubes, depending on whether one takes a top-down self-reflective perspectives on the mental apparatus, as Rolls does, or bottom-up, evolved-valuative views that I prefer. Clearly the two can be synthesized, so I would ask Rolls to reconsider the possibility that a raw, non-reflective “affective consciousness” – an intrinsic “feeling” property of reverberating brain networks in at least mammalian brains – evolved much earlier than our capacity to syntactically reflect on our many raw experiences. Indeed, from my perspective, perhaps the process of “reinforcement” is how the primary-process (unconditional) circuits for affective values, arising from deep-subcortical networks, allow secondary-process learning-and-memory based function in various subcortical basal-ganglia to operate in ever more precise, life-supporting ways (Fig. 1). Those two evolutionary foundations may permit tertiary (neocortical) levels of brain-mind organization that indeed allows, recursively, for the kind of “reflective/recursive cognitive consciousness” that enables and allows for higher-order mentation that Rolls skillfully focuses upon.

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