Consciousness Is Bunk: “Consciousness is unobservable except by introspection, [and self-reports using everyday language] and attributing it to others requires a certain degree of faith in unprovable assumptions. “

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The  above quote is from Joe LeDoux.  More:

Motivational states like these not only occur in mammals (monkeys, dogs, cats, rats, bats, whales), but also in other vertebrates (birds, reptiles, fish) and many in vertebrates (flies, bees, slugs, worms). All organisms thus have such mechanisms that help them survive in the face of threats.  Defensive motive circuit activation greatly influences behavioral and cognitive activities. When a motive state related to danger is active, we become sensitive and hyper-responsive to stimuli associated with danger. The same occurs if a motive state related to food, drink, or sex occurs.
….defensive motive states and corresponding bodily responses can be triggered in humans subliminally and without any feeling; thus, we should not call upon consciousness to explain things in animals that do not require consciousness in humans.

Subcortical circuits that control innate “emotional” (survival) behaviors develop earlier than cognitive circuits of the cortex.  Experts on infant development say that infants can act emotional long before they can actually feel emotion. While one could object to this conclusion by saying it is impossible to know what an infant is feeling, that is exactly the point: in the absence of a subject’s ability to verbally

report (as with infants or animals), it is impossible to know whether he or she is conscious or non-conscious.  Ultimately, then, the question of whether animals act but do not feel, or whether they both act and feel, cannot be answered, as we have no direct way of finding out what animals [or pre-verbal children] do or do not experience.

For example, the amygdala is activated and physiological responses are expressed even to subliminal (non-conscious) presentations of threat stimuli. In these cases, the subjects are not aware of the stimulus and do not report any particular feeling.  Amygdala activation thus does not tell us that fear is felt in a human, and certainly does not alert us to fearful feelings in animals. Confusion results because fearful feelings are often correlated with these amygdala-dependent responses. But correlation does not mean causation; we cannot generalize from stimulus-response mechanisms, which occur widely in animal life, to conscious feelings of fear.at said, amygdala-based and other defensive circuits do contribute indirectly to feelings of fear, but feelings of fear require more than just amygdala-driven responses in the brain and body. My proposal is that all organisms have the ability to detect and respond to threats, but only organisms that can be conscious of their own brain’s

activities can feel fear.

Laboratory studies of so-called emotional behavior in animals involve tasks that pose challenges to, or opportunities for enhancing, well-being. Stimuli (such as shocks, food, drink, warmth, and sexual stimulation) are used to motivate responses that help the animal either cope with or benefit from the stimuli (prevent or reduce the impact of a shock or give access to food, drink, warmth, or sex). When humans experience these events, we can have feelings of fear (when threatened) or pleasure (when eating, drinking, having sex, or becoming warm after being in the cold). These behaviors and feelings are so intertwined in us that we think of them as one and the same: we often describe the feelings as emotions and the behaviors as emotional behaviors.

Every living organism, from the oldest to the most recent, has to do these things to stay alive and pass its genes on to its offspring.  Organisms must:

  • detect danger
  • identify and consume nutrients and energy sources
  • balance fluids by taking in and expelling liquids
  • thermo regulate

You do these things, but so do the bacterial cells living in your lower intestine.

What are commonly called emotion functions in humans and animals are not emotional functions at all. They do not exist to make feelings. They are survival functions essential for the continued life of the individual or the species.  And in humans, survival functions are sometimes–perhaps often– associated with feelings. But the systems that underlie these functions operate in dependently from feelings in hum ans.  For example, as noted above, the circuits that control so-called fear responses are not themselves the wellspring of feelings of fear. This raises the question of how feelings of fear or other emotions come about.

Consciousness is unobservable except by introspection, [and self-reports using everyday language] and attributing it to others requires a certain degree of faith in unprovable assumptions.  The question is: which unprovable assumptions are we willing to make scientifically?

Most researchers in this field seem to agree that we are not conscious of representations that occur in the primary visual cortex (the part of the visual cortex that first receives stimuli). Some argue that later stages of visual cortex create our conscious visual perceptions and that this is all that is needed for a conscious experience.  Others say that while necessary, the visual cortex alone is not sufficient to produce conscious experience of visual phenomena, and that other circuits and functions are required. For example, one argument is that for an individual to be consciously aware of a visual stimulus, the stimulus has to be attended to,which engages additional cortical areas, including the prefrontal cortex and parietal cortex.

 Atten tion also allows the raw visual stimulus to be integrated with memory so that the stimulus can be recognized as a particular object, and even an object that may have had certain personal significance in the past. These attention-controlled representations that include objects and memories are often said to occur in a cognitive work space sometimes called “working memory” (the capacity to hold information in mind temporarily while doing mental work). Different theories propound different ideas about how information that enters working memory ends up being consciously experienced.

Circuits that detect and respond to threats in our brains are not fear circuits, not emotion circuits; they do not make feelings. Hard-wired survival circuits are often mistakenly described as emotion circuits (I did this for some time). But these circuits did not evolve to make feelings. They arose, and continue to exist, simply to help animals stay alive and well.

When a threat activates one of these hard-wired circuits, the result is the

establishment of a global motivational state in the organism, a condition that spreads throughout the brain and body to mobilize the organism’s resources to deal with the danger.  Needs and goals that are unrelated to the threat are supplanted by the here-and-now requirements of the situation. The only relevant motivation is self-preservation. The global organismic state that occurs when an organism is in danger can be called a defensive motive state. This state includes activity in circuits that control both innate reactions (survival circuits) and goal-oriented actions that help cope with danger.

Motivational states like these not only occur in mammals (monkeys, dogs, cats, rats, bats, whales), but also in other vertebrates (birds, reptiles, fish) and many in vertebrates (flies, bees, slugs, worms). All organisms thus have such mechanisms that help them survive in the face of threats.  Defensive motive circuit activation greatly influences behavioral and cognitive activities. When a motive state related to danger is active, we become sensitive and hyper-responsive to stimuli associated with danger. The same occurs if a motive state related to food, drink, or sex occurs.
….defensive motive states and corresponding bodily responses can be triggered in humans subliminally and without any feeling; thus, we should not call upon consciousness to explain things in animals that do not require consciousness in humans.

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