What is ‘the self?”

What is ‘the self?”
Jaak Panksepp

Once we understand the feelings, how they are really organized neurologically, we will have totally new mind medicines for psychiatry.

The self is one of the most subtle questions we can ask about the brain, the mind. And, I think the scientists will have a different vision than philosophers and maybe other disciplines. But I think, ultimately, to have a true understanding of the self, you have to work from bottom up. You have to understand the core self before you can understand the multiplicity of selves that we can develop depending upon our lives, our environments, etc. So, we have many directions we can go in terms of conceptualizing higher-order emotions, which are very hard to study in animals, certainly higher-order thoughts are much, much more difficult to study in animals, but some people are getting there. You know, things like optimism; things like regret. There is a wonderful paper in Science that came out a couple of years ago, “Regret in Rats.” I said, “Oh wow! Someone is going there; wonderful!” So, you know, the multiplicity of selves I think rely upon a core self. That gives us a vision of how to understand the brain and understand the mind. We have to understand the foundations, the primary processes first. Then we have to understand the learning mechanisms on top, the learning and memory mechanisms, which are unconscious. You know, we do not experience the learning and memory mechanisms. We see the results of it once we have an enormous neocortical top to the lower brain--the neocortex that can look back and reflect and think about the past. And, at the top of the brain we will have a multiplicity of selves depending upon the environment, especially the social environment. In one social environment you can be one kind of person; in another, depending upon how other people are, you can be another person. So, we have the possibility of many selves to the point where it can become a characterological disorder.

Multiple Personality Disorders: With different emotions controlling each personality and they can become “crystalized”. If a certain negative personality become crystalized on top, I think you have a personality disorder. Borderline Personality is a personality that has become focused on insecurity. Their social bond is so weak that they cannot use the other selves, and therefore, they are continually looking for a sense of security from others. Understanding the emotional foundations of the upper mind will eventually change psychiatry. Once we understand the feelings, how they are really organized neurologically, we will have totally new mind medicines for psychiatry. We’ve been working on depression, primarily. Our thinking has generated several brand new antidepressants that reduce feelings of psychological pain, and reduce the tendency of people to become suicidal because they have too much pain. One facilitates SEEKING, wanting to be in the world actively and positively. This has been achieved with deep brain stimulation of the SEEKING System, and another is by looking at the PLAY mechanisms and saying depression is the lack of positive social joy, and looking for molecules and developing a gentle way to facilitate seeing the world as a joyful place.

Without the higher brain, there is no thought.

Without the higher brain, there is no thought.
Jaak Panksepp

If we ever get to the “higher self” . . . You know, many religious traditions have visions of the higher self. I think that is wonderful. . . They will be rooted in the solid neural “earth” of the core SELF (I like to call this a Simple Ego-like Life Form).

Then the question of higher selves, which you have to tackle usually with human studies: They would probably be “reflections” of how this powerful coherence system allows learning and memory to occur. We know SEEKING is one of the most important learning and memory systems in the brain. We also can imagine how it controls higher-order thinking processes. So, higher-order selves, that’s where the animal research gives up completely. We cannot penetrate into the subtlety of the human cognitive mind with animal research, but we can approach it. So, we know that thinking is a higher brain process. Without the higher brain, there is no thought. Well, maybe there are simple thoughts. We have to leave that open, but we cannot see them because we need a semantic symbolization to talk about thoughts.

The bottom line is that you can take away the top of the brain early in the life of animals, and they look incredibly normal. As long as they are in a safe environment, it’s very hard to tell them apart from normals. I did an experiment 25 years ago with 16 students during a neural science course. I said, “You’re going to learn a lot about brain and behavior and emotions, but the first week of class, I am preparing two animals for each student; one where I have surgically eliminated the top of the brain--the neocortex--and the other animal was normal, just having had control surgery.”  It’s a very simple surgery, if you know how to do it well. I can do an animal in five minutes; it’s remarkable.

We allowed these animals to grow up during the semester, 16 weeks of classes, and at the last one, I said, “Each student will get two animals; one missing the top of the brain and the other being neurologically normal. You will observe the animals for half an hour, and then you tell me who is normal.” The answer was, surprisingly, 12 of the people chose the de-corti`cate, the one without the top of the brain, as being the normal one. So, the coherence mechanisms are down below the neocortex, we can be sure. So I asked the students, “Why did you select the decorticate animal as being normal?” They said, “I chose the more interesting animal, the one that was more active, more curious doing stuff, as opposed to being scared and maybe having worrisome thoughts.”

So, the functions of the top of the brain are completely reliant on the integrity of the old brain that we share with the other animals. If we ever get to the “higher self” . . . You know, many religious traditions have visions of the higher self. I think that is wonderful. . . They will be rooted in the solid neural “earth” of the core SELF (I like to call this a Simple Ego-like Life Form).

The SEEKING system participates in every other emotion.

The SEEKING system participates in every other emotion.
Jaak Panksepp

The core self is very tightly related to where the emotional systems converge in the brain, and that is the SEEKING system and that part of the hypothalamus is most rewarding.

The four positive ones are complemented by the negative ones. Perhaps the two most ancient negative emotional systems are RAGE, which is competing for resources; and FEAR protecting yourself so you won’t be a resource, a meal for another organism. These are very deeply built into the brain. And, again, they are working with your SEEKING system. The SEEKING system participates in every other emotion. So, you could say the core of the organism is represented in the SEEKING system. There is one other negative emotion that we have mapped and that is SEPARATION DISTRESS (or PANIC) system. Since we are social creatures, we’re mammals; you’ve got sexuality, you’ve got maternal care. Fathers can learn to be more caring, probably in most species. In some species they are actually designed to be very caring. Let’s hope the Human species is like that; we don’t know for sure.

When a young one that is born, immature and not being able to survive on its own, it is dependent completely on the mother and the father and relatives; when that child, that youngster is lost, it begins to cry. We mapped that system for the first time. We call it the PANIC system. All of a sudden you’re alone; you’re in a panic—a clear indicator that you can study scientifically is crying, which is very objective and it’s a negative feeling system too. Probably that negative system causes enormous problems psychiatrically, for instance causing depression.

We argue this system controls psychological pain. Depressed people have too much psychological pain, so we have developed antidepressants to reduce that pain safely. These are very effective antidepressants.

Once you’ve got a conception of the fundamental feeling systems that you experience, there has to be a relationship between these feelings that represent the organism. That representation of the organism I think is critical for actually having feelings, and that is probably the hardest part of the brain to study. Namely, what does it mean to be a “self?” What does it mean to be a coherent organism? An enormous number of neural systems contribute to that, but if you had to select one from all the primal emotional systems, it would be the SEEKING system. It is very clear the SEEKING system participates in the negative emotions, the positive emotions. We’ve known for a very long time that when you damage the SEEKING system, you damage the organism almost irretrievably. The animal becomes a passive organism. It’s no longer an active agent. So, when we try to grapple with the concept of a self, we can see an image of organismic coherence, where all the emotions rely upon this coherence—probably the feelings like hunger and thirst, homeostatic feelings, and sensory feelings like pain rely on some kind of coherent organismic representation, which has not been really studied scientifically so far. But, we know that very long SEEKING system, the medial forebrain bundle, when damaged on both sides of the brain completely, the organism is gone. The organism cannot do anything for itself anymore. It will starve or it will die of dehydration first. It cannot find warmth; it cannot find food; it cannot find water. If you have partial damage, we can nurse the animal back. So, I would say that the core self is very tightly related to where the emotional systems converge in the brain, and that is the SEEKING system and that part of the hypothalamus is most rewarding. You’ve got the most punishing systems in nearby regions. All that is necessary for organismic coherence.

How many fundamental emotional systems are there?

How many fundamental emotional systems are there?
Jaak Panksepp

There is another behavior that emerges from this system, which is a youngster’s urge to engage with the world with a positive attitude, and the most important part of the world is the social world. So, there is a PLAY system in the brain that we mapped for the first time. It’s very heavily connected to the SEEKING system.

I went to study emotions at a fundamental level, with the hope of understanding the brain sufficiently that we can develop new medications for psychiatric disorders. So, I was constrained by how many fundamental emotional systems are there? And the technique I used to guide one’s scientific understanding was can we stimulate emotions by stimulating the brain? It turned out that with deep brain stimulation, very deep in the brain, always below the cortex, in areas we share with the other animals, we can provoke animals to become very excited in exploring the world. For instance, a rat might just be sitting there doing nothing. You stimulate the system that we call the SEEKING system (We capitalize every letter to have a formal scientific word for it.) The animal begins to sniff and explore. If it finds something, it kind of manipulates it and moves on. It turns out that wherever you get this behavior, the animal will turn on that stimulation, meaning it feels positive in some kind of way.

Now, this system was discovered by Olds and Milner, accidentally, and they published their first paper in 1954, on The Brain Reward System. People said, “Oh, now we know where pleasure is.” It turns out this system does not generate a good feeling like a wonderful meal. It generates a feeling as if you can find a wonderful meal. So, it is the anticipation, the eagerness, the exploration. If you don’t have this, you won’t explore and get resources; you will not be curious to get knowledge. So, it is a general purpose system for getting everything you need for survival accompanied with a very positive, mentally alive attitude.  The SEEKING system is just the biggest system of them all. From this system, you also start to “want” certain resources. One of the most important social resources is reproduction.

So, parts of this system seek for social, sexual engagements. You can actually turn on sexual behavior by electrically tickling part of this system. Of course, those sites are very positive, too. Then with reproduction, sexuality has produced it’s evolutionary goal, an offspring; and the mother is designed to take care of the baby typically much more than the father. So, there are maternal circuits to care for the child. So, arising, in part, from the LUST circuit, there is a CARE system that is overlapping with sexuality in evolution, and those are overlapping with the SEEKING urge. All are positive feelings, but slightly different. We can ask is there a difference that is meaningful scientifically by asking can you distinguish this feeling from that one? Most can distinguish these.

There is another behavior that emerges from this system, which is a youngster’s urge to engage with the world with a positive attitude, and the most important part of the world is the social world. So, there is a PLAY system in the brain that we mapped for the first time. It’s very heavily connected to the SEEKING system. It obviously has tinges of sexuality, tinges of care, tinges of just exploring the world. So, here we have four systems, already, that are interlinked; a SEEKING system, a LUST system, a CARE system, a PLAY system. The four fundamental positive systems that are highly interlinked with each other. In the brain, nothing is independent of other things; everything is interconnected.

Then one comes to the question: Does this interconnection mean something? I think that’s where this feeling of being a self comes in, that there is some coherent representation of the organism. I think that aspect of the organism, that’s really never been studied neuroscientifically, is what I would call the core self.

Are feelings images?

Are feelings images?
Jaak Panksepp

I think we’re always on the edge of error. If we accept error as knowledge, we are moving backwards at that point. In a sense, science is trying to project us into a true understanding of the real world. My argument is--since the brain is the evolved organ, you better understand the foundations of experience before you have knowledge about the rest.

Are feelings images? You know, again, different people have different connotations for the word, “image.” I think it’s a wonderful working hypothesis that our perception, the colors for instance, are a kind of resonant frequency of some more primitive processes in the brain and the mind. That poetic image of what a perception is, has not been cashed out experimentally. So, that is in the realm of philosophical possibilities. I think that’s a good possibility, but we don’t have good data for that idea. So, in order to bring that kind of a complex image that’s very attractive intellectually into science, someone has to make some real hard predictions and do the research, and then you can say, “I agree.”

The primary scientific value is skepticism. OK, scientists are skeptical until there is massive evidence for one position or another. And, that’s where we stand with the feeling of emotions, as well as other feelings. So, let’s solve that problem scientifically before the scientists move on to the next level, because the next level needs clarity on a more foundational level. So, I am willing to entertain that perceptions are ultimately resonant frequencies of the dynamics of the emotions, of the other feelings. I do think that maybe emotions and sensory feelings and bodily, homeostatic feelings like hunger and thirst were the very first ones to exist. And, we are only at the threshold of really having working ideas that one can take to the laboratory. So, you know, when people ask me to go to a higher level, I have a natural sympathy and a natural resistance. I tell someone that suggests one of those wonderful creative ideas: How would you test it?

How would you test it? It will be like our studies of the material world. Now we know that many of the properties that we see with our eyes are based upon things that we cannot directly see. And if someone had been talking about the atomic structure of matter or the subatomic structure of matter prior to modern physics, they would be probably put in the category of a speculative philosopher.

A scientist does not want to be in that position. So, I am very much in that frame of mind. I think we’re always on the edge of error. If we accept error as knowledge, we are moving backwards at that point.

 In a sense, science is trying to project us into a true understanding of the real world. My argument is--since the brain is the evolved organ, you better understand the foundations of experience before you have knowledge about the rest.

Making predictions

Making predictions
Jaak Panksepp

The human brain can control external behaviors; you can keep the feeling inside. But, eventually, that feeling can break out, controlled, and this can result in a cultural tragedy.

It also predicts that humans that are stimulated in those brain areas will also have a feeling because we’re just another species of mammal. There is enough data that when humans are stimulated in those brain areas—to put it in the vernacular—they get pissed off! They get angry very intensely, very rapidly. So, there’s also a negative feeling in the cat, in the rat [and] in the human being. That is the way we can start to have a science of feelings. Without that science, you’re always in a philosophical opinion game, such as is your experience of red the same as mind. And, you know, we will endlessly argue different positions. The critical thing is can we make predictions? So, our prediction is that once you understand the neurochemistry of this system—Allan Siegel, at Rutgers Medical School did more work on that, on the aggression system, and from his work we can predict that we can probably have a pill for controlling anger. One of the neuropeptides that is at the very heart of the anger/RAGE system is Substance P. It’s a neuropeptide, a chain of amino acids, and we already have molecules that can block Substance P (for example aprepitant). It would probably be good for pathological aggression. No one has tested it, and it is a bit tragic because that’s one of the big problems in our world. Just a couple days ago we found a fellow there in Southern California, in San Bernardino, who had an arsenal of weapons with his wife, and they went into a public building, where people were celebrating Christmas or pre-Christmas, and they murdered 13-18 people. So, that was probably a form of anger that had been building up. It didn’t necessarily need to be displayed because the human brain can control these external behaviors; you can keep the feeling inside. But, eventually, that feeling controlled a cultural tragedy in our country.

Some say mind cannot be defined.

Some say mind cannot be defined.
Jaak Panksepp

My argument has been that, probably, the first form of mind on the face of the earth might have been feelings.

Some people say that mind cannot be defined. But, you know, the classic philosophical definition of mind is that it is experience; that is the hard problem of consciousness. The formal philosophical name is that we have qualia, namely, we experience the world. If one wants to penetrate into the very heart of the nature of mind, namely experience, one has to try to imagine what might have been the very first qualia, first kinds of experiences that existed on the face of the earth. No one has an unambiguous answer to that, but my argument has been that the affects, namely the feelings, the qualia that actually have a valence can be empirically distinguished--they feel good, we approach them, or they feel bad and we try to avoid them. That’s pretty straightforward. Affective feelings were, perhaps, the very first kinds of experiences that existed on the face of the earth.

Others will say, “No, no; there were no experiences. All you see is a little primitive animal approaching and avoiding the world.” So, they are focusing on behavior, but my argument is that from those behaviors, eventually at some point in brain evolution, there came the first feelings. They come in positive forms, namely good feelings, and negative forms, aversive feelings. They came into brain evolution gradually, in various types. The three types I would say everyone has to try to talk about are the sensory feelings. We all agree that there are sensations of touch coming in. A certain form of touch turns out to be pain.  And so forth . . .

Right now we’re having great discussions about whether other animals feel pain, or whether they just have pain reflexes. In the first issue of Animal Sentience (a commentary journal), that is being put out just now, this month, the first question was do fish feel pain? And, a target article by Brian Key, a physiologist from Australia, actually advocated the position that it is nonsense to go there. No! Fish don’t feel pain. They don’t have brain systems exactly the way we do, therefore, we should not even talk about going to the experiential level. Many scholars responded to that article. You know, most people said, probably some by the argument from empathy, others from evolutionary philosophical perspectives, that they experience something that was aversive. My argument was along those lines, but for any argument to be credible scientifically, it had to be scientifically testable, to make clear predictions.

Well, again you know, the bottom line is that experience is as subtle a scientific question as subatomic physics, looking at the basic particles of matter. There are certain basic functions of the mind. I think everyone will agree that the brain is the most important organ for generating mind, generating experience. Most everyone agrees with that; but how far down in evolution will we allow that insight to go remains very debatable right now. My argument is that there is no proof in science. Science has never had proof; science only has predictions, and the resulting weight of evidence. Every vision of who we are needs to have very concrete predictions that other people can go and test in a laboratory. So, my argument has been that, probably, the first form of mind on the face of the earth might have been feelings.

I think everyone agrees that humans have feelings. We cannot be certain they are identical, but we can now argue that they are in the same category because we have medicines, psychiatric medicines that work in the same way in all human beings; anti-anxiety agents, antidepressants. It turns out that these molecules seem to work in exactly the same way in animals. And, the animals, even though they cannot talk, conceptually with us, they do have behaviors that indicate that they approach the same things we approach; tasty food and water, heat and cold if they we are too hot. They show the same behaviors we do, and with some of these behaviors, feelings seem to be built in; they are called emotions. An animal shows an anger display, we can recognize that it is similar to human beings behaving angry. So, once we realize that certain instinctual behaviors are built in, we can begin to ask the question, does it feel like something for the animal?

It turns out that my research is premised on the discovery made by Walter Hess back in the late 1920’s and 1930’s, that when you electrically stimulate a cat’s brain and he was looking for where heart rate increases, blood pressure increases. He was trying to map the autonomic nervous system. He found that in certain deep parts of the brain, he could elevate heart rate, but wherever he got these sympathetic responses, namely the bodily arousals, he often got an anger, an attack, display. He chose to call that sham rage. Namely, there is a behavioral system in the brain for aggression, and that’s all there is. It’s like a puppet. It moves, but it does not experience.

So, Walter Hess decided that, even though he personally believed that the animal was angry (and he only confessed this in his retirement books)--he confessed, “I did not want my science to be marginalized by other people, by saying he had found anger in the cat brain.” All he found is the sympathetic nervous system that elevates bodily arousal. Well, my Ph.D. dissertation was to map this system in rats for the first time.

I also found aggression display where Hess had—“anger” type behavioral displays in rats also, in the same hypothalamic areas that Walter Hess had found them, but I went one step farther. If this is just a puppet response, then the animal should not care about it. Whereas, if it produces an internal feeling that is negative, the animal should turn it off; that’s what I found. I observed a very lawful relationship that wherever in the brain we can produce an anger behavior, the animals will turn that brain stimulation off. Anger does not necessarily feel good, even though it can have good results for you.

So, animals compete for food. They like competition. They might start to fight for the food, and the animal that fights the most vigorously is the one that gets the food. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the fighting is a positive feeling, but it’s something animal do to survive. So, that is the way we understood that there is a feeling, and in the case of aggressive displays, the feeling was negative.

The hard philosophical question – How do we experience?

The hard philosophical question – How do we experience?
Jaak Panksepp

My argument would be that if you want to understand the mind, you have to go to the very foundation of the mind, sort of like Einstein and the generations of thinkers before him who sought to deal with the actual nature of matter—how it is organized in the world. Once they could systematically order their observations into the Periodic Table of Elements, they could actually predict that there would be other forms of matter.

I think there is no totally agreed upon definition of affect, except at the common vernacular level. Basically feelings mean you have experiences of yourself and the world. A philosopher would call it qualia. Everyone in philosophy of consciousness agrees that that is the hard problem of consciousness, namely, how do we experience? Those are fundamentally brain processes. We have sensory feelings. Namely, we see the world in colors that do not exist out there in the world. Every psychologist or scientist and philosopher knows that the brain constructs colors. So, how the brain constructs experiences, that is the fundamental issue of how we understand ourselves as creatures of the world that share basic living processes with the other animals. We cannot do the necessary research in humans very easily because you have to go to a fine detailed level, in the brain, so you really have to do the relevant neuroscience on animal models. That requires asking the right questions, ones that can be answered. Many of them can’t be answered right now. So, you know, I would say I was the first one that really vigorously went after emotional feelings in the brain because they are so very important for psychiatric understanding. Many psychiatric disorders reflect imbalances of feelings. Depression--you feel “bad” in various ways, and there can be several different ways to feel that way. For instance, in mania, you’re on top of the world, as if you simply have too much happiness or joy. Schizophrenia is more of a cognitive disorder, where your thinking processes are jumbled up. We’ve found from brain imaging that the connectome of how the brain is connected up is quite different in these disorders. We’re finally at an era where I think people are gradually coming to the recognition that we can finally tackle the human mind by understanding the mind of other animals.

The fact that the brain creates experience is often a hard one to accept. You know, we think that the brain is giving an accurate reflection of the way the world actually is. It is certainly giving us an image of the world that is very useful for our survival, but even though stimuli in world trigger what we experience, we cannot even answer the philosophical question of is my experience of red the same as your experience of red? What we can show is that a certain wave length of light, when it hits the eyes, we use a cognitive symbol, “red,” that applies to this, but we cannot say it’s identical (or even very similar) in different people. That is only a reasonable philosophical assumption, as opposed to a scientific conclusion.

In a sense that forces us into the solipsistic, philosophical position that there is no absolute knowledge in science. Knowledge is relative and hence some of my critics may say, “Panksepp, you’re trying to study emotional feelings in animals. We don’t even have enough data to believe that the animals have feelings.” My response to them would be, it’s not a matter of proof. Science does not deal in proving things; it provides evidence for a certain argument. So, if you think about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity; he was a mathematician that tried to imagine riding on a beam of light and how the universe and world would change as he approached the speed of light, and he generated mathematics around that vision that changed the world. It led, eventually, to atomic weapons. Without his insights, we would have been spared that agony. I think it’s very much the same for neuroscience. We have to have symbols; we have to use words for how the mental universe is organized. We do not yet have a standard set of words that people agree upon. My argument would be that if you want to understand the mind, you have to go to the very foundation of the mind, sort of like Einstein and the generations of thinkers before him who sought to deal with the actual nature of matter—how it is organized in the world. Once they could systematically order their observations into the Periodic Table of Elements, they could actually predict that there would be other forms of matter. But, you had to have the foundations right, namely those that nature created in the solar furnace. We have to, in psychology, come to terms with what aspects of mind were created long before Homo sapiens walked the face of the earth.

Understanding the nature of emotional feelings.

Understanding the nature of emotional feelings.
Jaak Panksepp

Regrettably, recognizing how much we share with the animals has not been a major perspective for understanding the human brain and the human mind. Psychology has philosophical traditions that go back to Descartes and dualism--that mind and body are separable. In contrast, his young colleague, Spinoza, said, “No, there is not a dualism here; there is one very complex process. The mind is unified with the body and the brain.” I think that with the modern view, practically all scientists agree with that, but our science education systems are not yet designed to accept that as a given.

I was delighted to be invited by the APPPAH organizing committee to talk about my work, which is trying to understand the fundamental nature of emotional feelings. The reason I got into this field in the first place was because as an undergraduate I had been working in the back wards of a psychiatric hospital in Pittsburg, and decided I wanted to work in this clinical field. So, I figured I’d take psychology courses my last year at University of Pittsburg and, you know, continue in Clinical Psychology rather than engineering, and indeed started graduate work in that field at UMass. That was back about 1965. There was no conversation about the nature of emotions at that time, certainly not in the sense of understanding affective feelings deeply at the neuroscience level. So, I gradually started developing the field, which is now called Affective Neuroscience, that I think has a lot of implications for understanding ourselves as creatures of the world and what we share with the other creatures. So, the invitation to APPPAH was very intriguing because this group is dealing with infants and their development in the most humanistic and subtle ways possible. So, I was really delighted that they asked me to talk about emotions, or indeed, whatever I wished to talk about.

I think the one thing that all neuroscientists and biological scientists can agree upon is that human beings are animals, and we have a long evolutionary history. We share more with the other mammals than a lot of us recognize. I think the physiologists have been confident, based upon anatomy and the organs of the body and how they work, that fundamentally we’re very similar under the skin. But, when it comes to the brain, that vision has not motivated our structures of understanding. Certainly, if we understand the neuroanatomy of the brains of other mammals, from rats to chimpanzees, there is a dramatic similarity in organization. There are hundreds and thousands of differences in details; thus if you learn the brain of any other mammal, you will understand the neuroanatomy of human beings and their neurochemistry which are very similar. is the same. As you know, we have learned more about how our genetic code is organized by studying the DNA of other animals.

Once we understood that DNA was the hereditary material—that was discovered by Oswald Avery at the Rockefeller Institute back in the ‘40’s, and people thought he was crazy because everyone assumed that the hereditary material were proteins and DNA was just a monotonous, kind of repetitive structure, but they were wrong. Lo and behold! Gradually, in the early ‘50’s everyone came to the same perspective that our heredity is controlled by DNA. It didn’t mean that Avery’s work was recognized as the first seminal insight in that direction. But, once we realized that this DNA was self-similar in all species, investigators realized that we can look at our ancestral heritage by understanding the DNA of other animals. And of course, now we know this goes farther down beyond the mammals to all the other living creatures of the world.

Regrettably, recognizing how much we share with the animals has not been a major perspective for understanding the human brain and the human mind. Psychology has philosophical traditions that go back to Descartes and dualism--that mind and body are separable. In contrast, his young colleague, Spinoza, said, “No, there is not a dualism here; there is one very complex process. The mind is unified with the body and the brain.” I think that with the modern view, practically all scientists agree with that, but our science education systems are not yet designed to accept that as a given. We still have many dualistic views that I would call Cortical Dualism, now. The whole massive cortex of the human brain creates who we are, and the shock is that the neocortex is the last part of the brain to have evolved and is built upon a very substantial foundation of action patterns, emotional feeling patterns, sensory feelings that are subcortically the same across mammals although with more differences in cortical sensitivities. We have the homeostatic feelings of the body: For instance our bodies, acting through the brain, tell us they need energy, so we have hunger signals in the brain. We also need water; so it has thirst signals. But, when we study animals, we do not talk about their hunger and thirst; we just talk about their water intake and food intake, because that’s very objective.  In other words the subjective experiences of animals were not taken seriously as targets for scientific study.

So, as soon as we get to the brain and the mind, the other animals were given brains that generate behaviors, but they were not given brains that generate mental experiences. And, of course, for psychology and philosophy, the most important neuroscientific question is what is the nature of the mind? I guess many people, including myself, have argued that the fundamental mental processes are shared by all mammals, because of their neural similarities. Then one might ask what is at the very core of the mind? What was the first form of mind and experience that existed on the face of the earth? I would say it’s feelings. That’s a radical statement. These primal feelings are valenced (e.g., various “positive” and “negative”) affective experiences. They come in many forms, but affect always feels good or bad in various ways.

Jaak Panksepp, PhD - The fundamental nature of emotional feelings

Author: 
Jaak Panksepp

Jaak Panksepp, PhD, Emeritus Professor of the Department of Psychology at Bowling Green State University. Panksepp coined the term 'affective neuroscience', the name for the field that studies the neural mechanisms of emotion.

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