X-Message-Number: 12663
Date: Thu, 28 Oct 1999 13:31:16 EDT
Subject: Damasio, consciousness, etc

First, a couple of quick responses:

Thomas Donaldson (#12650) thinks a robot that seeks an electric outlet might 
have feelings, while a digital computer does not, because it has no goals. 
But the computer program could certainly have goals, every bit as much as the 
robot (however that was programmed). Again, goal-seeking does not constitute 
feeling. For Pete's sake, a stretched spring has the "goal" of shortening; 
does this mean it feels discomfort when stretched and "wants" to relax? A 
"feeling" is a biological phenomenon, not just a metaphor for a goal.
John Clark (#12652)writes:

[R.E.]>>Meanwhile--and what could be simpler, more obvious or more 
    >observe that other people behave much like us, and have 
    >much like ours, hence they almost certainly have feelings similar to 

[J.C.]>We? Ours? They? Us? You have one and only one example, yourself.
You can not form a coherent theory about anything, much less on how
anatomy/physiology produce feelings, from one example and that's all
you have.That's why behavior is so important in figuring out what's going
on, other people behave like me so they probably feel like me.

The last part is nonsense. Things that behave similarly in many, many cases 
do not have similar internals. A decoy may act like a duck, but it isn't a 
duck. A hologram may appear to act like a person, but it isn't a person. You 
need to know more than external appearances to form strong conclusions about 

As for the first part, the "one example," that is pure confusion. We have 
only one example of a universe to study, and only one example of a set of 
laws of nature, and only one example of our own set of personal experiences, 
but we base everything on those single examples, because there is no 
Mike Perry (#12657) says, in effect, that there may be what you might call 
"unfelt feeling" in our brains. I.e., we perform actions of which we are 
unaware, or which are not accompanied by conscious feelings, but maybe in 
some part of the brain some "other self" or other portion of yourself does 
feel something. He uses the commisurotomy example.

This area cannot be explored effectively in brevity, but I think it is fair 
to say that, if "another me" or another part or aspect of my brain hosts 
events that would-if in my primary consciousness-be called feeling, 
nevertheless that is not MY feeling in any reasonable usage of the term. It 
is the ESSENCE of feeling that you KNOW it. If somebody else knows it (even 
"someone" housed in the same skull) then it is his feeling, not yours, if 
indeed it is feeling at all.

In any case, this does not really address the question of feelings as 
separate phenomena, as opposed to feelings as merely metaphors for 
goal-seeking activity.
Now a little about the new book by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, "THE 
FEELING OF WHAT HAPPENS: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness," 
Harcourt Brace, 1999.

There is considerable difficulty in adjusting usages. Damasio's lexicon is 
his own, and in my opinion it creates unnecessary problems; he remains to 
some extent in a language trap. However, here is my interpretation of a few 

Consciousness arose during the course of evolution. (It was not always 
present; not all living creatures have it.)

He makes a distinction between feeling and consciousness of feeling. I think 
this is wrong, or at best confused, a poor choice of language.

He thinks the "consciousness problem" is still unsolved, although he thinks 
he has made some progress.

"Core consciousness" creates a sense of self, moment to moment. "Extended 
consciousness" has several levels of organization and creates the 
"autobiographical self".

It is possible to "know without knowing." In some mental disorders, the 
patient couldn't remember (or couldn't say he remembered) anything at all 
about certain people with whom he had recently interacted-yet when asked to 
choose, from photos, whom he preferred, he reliably and accurately chose 
those who had given him the most pleasure in previous visits.

Feelings constitute the roots of consciousness. However, he does not equate 
qualia with feelings, and scarcely mentions qualia.

"No, we have little chance of creating an artifact with anything that 
resembles human consciousness, conceptualized from an inner-sense 
perspective. Yes, we can create artifacts with the formal mechanisms of 
consciousness proposed in this book, and it may be possible to say that those 
artifacts have some kind of consciousness." He certainly does not believe 
that simple mechanisms, or even all life forms, have any kind of 

"I even have some hope that understanding the biology of human nature will 
help a little with the choices to be made." I would go much further than this.

Robert Ettinger
Cryonics Institute
Immortalist Society

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