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Where does instinctual knowledge come from?

Where does instinctual knowledge come from?



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Instinct or innate behavior is the inherent inclination of a living organism towards a particular complex behavior.

The example that I find is the easiest to touch upon is the spider and how it knows how to spin it's web. What are the current theories about the origin of this knowledge without learning in the traditional sense? I understand that all knowledge is encoded somehow within neurons in the brain, but where does this encoding come from?


In my mind there are two main explanations of this kind of instinct behaviours.

  • The first one is rooted in evolution. There are many examples of human innate behaviours which we can't explain e.g. when we see a lace or tape on the street we automatically jump and feel scared. Although we live in big city our brain associates the lace with a snake. It is an effect of our "prememories", memories of our ancestors.

-> Buss D., Evolutionary Psychology: the New science of the Mind (1999)

  • The second explanation is more connected with your question as it refers to animals' innate instincts such as birds' travels (how do they know where to fly?) etc. Some interesting experiments were conducted on a phenomenon called epigenetic inheritance. An example is teaching animals some reactions after specific stimulus (e.g.fear after specific smell etc.). Then we observe the learned behaviours in the descendants of these animals. Offspring of trained animals show the same reaction , although nobody trained them to do that. There is an abstract of such experiment with mice:

http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v17/n1/full/nn.3594.html

And there you can read more about it in another article:

http://www.nature.com/news/fearful-memories-haunt-mouse-descendants-1.14272#/b1

-> Griffiths, Gelbart, Miller. Modern Genetic Analysis.(1999)


The Doctor Is In

Remember the Charlie Brown comic strips? The enterprising Lucy one-upped the lemonade stand business model and parked herself at a booth offering “Psychiatric Help” for five cents. I remember one version where she added Opinions, also a nickel, Thoughts For The Day, ten cents, and Sound Advice for a quarter.

Like Lucy, I am not a psychologist. Nor do I play one on TV. I am just someone who finds the subject interesting and sees the value in it, as a writer. You’ll get my opinions and thoughts for the day for free, and I hope I can deliver some sound advice on psychology and writing, as well.


7 Struggles of the Enneagram 4 Type

#1 – Finding a Lack of Authenticity in Others

Fours face their flaws, mistakes, and motives with an observant eye. They will reveal the most shameful mistakes for the sake of honesty. They have no interest in forcing on a happy, sunny façade when their inner world is filled with questions, sadness, or deep longings. Sadly for Fours, most other people live with a public persona that doesn’t match their deep authenticity. This results in Fours feeling lost in a sea of people who seem to have it “all together.”

#2 – Feeling Misunderstood

Because Fours are so willing to face the more uncomfortable aspects of their lives, they may admit to things for the sake of honesty only to be met with confusion by others. Because so many other people are unwilling to be open about their mistakes, they may respond with silence when the Four reveals something that is potentially embarrassing. This leaves Fours feeling misunderstood, rejected, and frustrated. Often, Fours feel like they are more flawed or broken than other types – but this is only because while they face their flaws, other people are more content to live in denial of them.

#3 – Feeding Creativity with Pain

Fours are often drawn towards creative avenues as a means of self-expression and fulfillment. Unfortunately, Fours often feel that they must experience emotional intensity in order to produce the kind of art or originality that they want to. They often fear that without intense pain and emotional turmoil they won’t be able to create anything important or high-quality. They channel a lot of their anguish into their creative works and it can take some time and practice for them to realize that they can still be creative without dwelling on negative emotional energy inside themselves.

#4 – Being Their Own Worst Critic

Fours are so focused on their darker natures and their mistakes and flaws that they naturally tend to be very self-critical. It’s vital for Fours to recognize their strengths, positive traits, and the good they have done. The bad so often overpowers the good in their lives, and it can lead to a lifetime of melancholy feelings and despair.

#5 – Envy

Fours often feel that part of themselves is a mystery. Their search for identity can leave them feeling unfinished, misunderstood, and deficient. They long for social ease and friendship, but, especially at average and unhealthy levels, feel that it is forever out of reach. Falling into the trap of comparisons can be difficult for them to avoid as they look out on a world full of people that seem to have a clear sense of self. Often, average to unhealthy Fours feel like they are fundamentally different than others and this breeds envy and dissatisfaction in their lives.

#6 – Finding People Who “See” Them

In childhood, most Fours felt fundamentally different from everyone else in their family. There was nobody who understood them, mirrored them, or got on their level when it came to their feelings, struggles, and values. This planted a seed of longing in them – a desire for someone to come along and accept them for who they really were. They crave acceptance, affirmation, and transparency with someone who will appreciate all the long-ignored parts of themselves they’ve had to keep hidden.

#7 – Being Punished for Being a “Rule-Breaker”

Fours like to put their own creative spin on everything they do. Being able to embrace their vision, style, and originality is vital to them. They don’t see the point it putting on a façade just because it’s socially expected of them. This tends to get them in trouble, especially when they are being micro-managed or forced to live their life “by the book.”

5 Ways for Fours to Get Help with Their Struggles:

  • Connect with the real world around you in healthy ways. Reach out to people you trust. Take a walk in nature, visit a friend for a cup of coffee, exercise, create art without worrying about it being “perfect.” Getting in touch with reality in a safe way can help you to feel more connected, creative, and inspired.
  • Start to recognize when your feelings are trying to rob you of joy and acceptance. Remember that even the most powerful feelings aren’t always factual. You may feel ashamed of yourself when you should forgive yourself. You may feel rejected when someone doesn’t text you back even though they may just be busy. You may feel completely alone and misunderstood when you haven’t reached out to people to find solidarity and companionship. Don’t let your powerful emotions hijack what’s true in your life.
  • Take time each day to notice the things you have done well. Count your blessings on paper before you go to bed. Acknowledge when you took a creative risk, notice the blessing of a soft bed or a hot cup of tea, notice that you were honest or thoughtful or inventive. You can spend so much time criticizing yourself and looking at your failures that you forget to accept the things you’re succeeding at.
  • Set up healthy and positive routines for yourself. Put inspirational quotes on your bedside table or mirror. Wake up to a healthy breakfast and music that uplifts you. Spend time in meditation before you go to work. Listen to an audiobook on your way to work so you have something to look forward to in the morning. Think of ways you can infuse your day with happiness, positivity, and health.
  • Challenge your inner perfectionist by “just doing it” when it comes to your creative ideas. Don’t beat yourself up over details that aren’t exactly how you envisioned them. Practice accepting your genuine skills even when they don’t match up with the “fantasy self” you’ve created in your mind. Maybe you’ve imagined yourself being a concert pianist and are frustrated that you’re still struggling with simple pieces. Make sure you’re being realistic about your capabilities and persisting even when it’s hard. Everyone fails sometimes – failure is almost always the first step to success. And don’t beat yourself up if you need to switch skills. Sometimes we have to experiment before we find our natural talents.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Do you have any insights or wisdom to share with other Fours? Let us know in the comments!


The Psychology Behind Blink

The central theme in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink is called thin-slicing, the snap judgments we make. Thin-slicing judgments occur in our adaptive unconscious, which contains mental tricks that operate without our awareness of them. This shouldn’t be confused with Freud’s views of unconscious, which was where thoughts about primary instincts that, if surfaced, would cause mass panic. So the adaptive unconscious is our second method of decision making (the first being conscious processing) and operates on a extremely limited time scale. The book is titled Blink because thin-slicing lasts 2 seconds long at most.

Thin-slicing probably evolved in order to make quick decisions when humans were in a period of history were knowledge was scarce. As this is the case, thin-slicing only occurs in instinctual matter. You cannot use thin-slicing for decided where to go on your next family vacation. Considering destinations, pricing, attractions, and other reasons for vacationing require conscious processing. The adaptive unconscious is not interested in these dilemmas. Consider meeting someone for the first time. Your first impression will be influenced by your adaptive unconscious, because you don’t have enough data of the person in order to decide whether or not you will make nice. So it comes to a snap judgment for you.

Although judgments are rendered quickly, this is not to say that the judgments cannot be trusted. Blink’s example of thin-slicing was to show students a picture of a teacher and ask for their first impression, the video itself being two seconds long, just enough for the adaptive unconscious. Then the researchers asked for reviews of the same teacher to kids who had been in the class for the entire semester. The results were considered to be quite correlated, and a deeper analysis of the study can be found here.

Another example of snap-judgments was the experiment done by the University of Iowa. They created a gambling game with two decks of red cards and two decks a blue cards. Each card awards a sum of money or costs a sum, with the goal being to reached a fixed amount. Choosing one card at a time from any deck, the player’s task was to figure out through trial and error that the only way to win was to pick cards from the blue deck. The red deck, unbeknownst to the participants, was filled with either great gains or devastating losses. Given the results of the experiment, there’s evidence to conclude that our adaptive unconscious reached the answer to the game a full 70 cards before our conscious processing figures it out. A excerpt of the passages detailing the experiment can be found here.

Gladwell makes clear that unconscious processing cannot replace conscious processing, as thinking and rationality are our best tools against situations that harbor complexity. Gladwell posits this is not true across the board. “And what do we tell our children? Haste makes waste. Look before you leap. Stop and think. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover… The first task of Blink is to convince you of a simple fact: decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.” Whether or not thin-slicing and rationality can be called inferior or superior to each other doesn’t bare much weight on the existence of either system. The nuance is one worth learning, and the book was a pleasure to read.


Angie Woods

Angie has an amazing approach to canine behavior based on a natural, holistic, and most importantly, instinctual way of thinking. Her ultimate goal is educating people about the difference between Human Psychology and Dog Psychology. Angie does not consider herself a dog trainer she calls herself the canine problem solver. Her fresh approach has been hailed as revolutionary by teaching others about centering the human before we begin teaching them about the dog.

Addressing unwanted behaviors isn’t just an issue for the dog to resolve. Angie brings activities for people to help the elements that they need to strengthen personally in order to be strong, confident, and consistent pack leaders. Yoga and meditation for those who need to relax, martial arts for those who need confidence, as well as massage, acupuncture, and chiropractics for all humans and pups. Angie takes you deep into your self-awareness, because when you are more conscious, you will live a more balanced life with your dog. Period.

With more than 30 years of professional experience working with dogs, Angie’s knowledge has helped many families and their dogs. When Angie was a toddler, her family noticed her obsession with all types of animals, and that she had a special connection with them. (Her family would often call her Ellie Mae, referring to the animal loving family member of The Beverly Hillbillies.)

“Once we stop talking, we begin to learn. Watch, observe, and emulate.”

What does Angie mean by “Natural Holistic Approach?”


Think about the animal being given the opportunity to be in a natural environment and amongst their own species. In other words, what is the natural behavior of the animal?

Angie really breaks the information down and helps people understand why they have trouble with their dogs and what they can do about it. People want real solutions that work, and Angie’s lessons are life lessons, not just dog lessons.

“Come learn to be the leader that your dog dreamed you would be.”


‘Know How’ or ‘Know That’?

**I know that moving the pedals forward moves a bike. I know that holding on to the handlebars and turning them when appropriate will steer the bike. I know thatsqueezing the right lever on the handle bars will engage the rear brake and slow down the bike’s momentum. Do I know how to ride a bike?

Intellectually, I can explain to someone how to ride a bike, but this sense of ‘how’ does not imply that I can or have the ability to do so. Having the ability to ride a bike involves some sort of practical knowledge, but the practical knowledge seems distinct from having intellectual knowledge. Practical knowledge often times requires dispositional abilities—I might not be able to intellectualize how to ride a bike, but I can do it. Know-how of the dispositional sort seems to conflict with our standard intuition of the concept ‘knowledge’.

One question that we should ask is how distinct are ‘knowledge-that’ and ‘knowledge-how’?

Answers to this question will have ramifications for normative areas of study as well. For instance, consider an obsessive compulsive agent who continuously washes her hands over and over. She knows that she ought not do it excessively. But she does not know how to stop washing her hands continuously. This example shows that we can hold beliefs about what we ought to do, but we don’t know how to carry out the beliefs. Consequently, one may be intellectually rational in her deliberation on how to act, but fail to carry out the appropriate action that accords with her practical reasoning (here weakness of will or akrasia comes to mind). This, I think, may have an interesting impact on practical rationality, ethics, and other normative fields. This also brings forth a few other interesting questions.

Does not having the ability to “intellectualize” how you ride a bike mean that you do not have the ‘know that’ knowledge that seems to be a necessary requirement to have ‘know-how’ knowledge. Or, maybe know-that is not necessary for know-how knowledge. Is know-that knowledge simply a recognition of (or knowledge of) normative obligations? Is this the only knowledge that is connected to epistemic evaluations? Ah! So many questions…

**This post is a culmination of a prior post by a colleague and an ensuing discussion that followed. It has been modified for Aphilosopherstake.com

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One can gain knowledge about everything to do with cycling by studying books, but then if one starts riding the bike will what was knowledge then be better termed as wisdom?

Interesting way to put it. I just think there are two types of knowledge. I’m not sure we can “know everything to do with cycling by studying books”. I think we must be able to ride a bike as well to know everything there is to know about cycling. Part of what it is to cycle is knowing how to balance. I’m not sure that a book can tell us about that. Maybe it can though, I’m not sure.

Here’s a thought: Wisdom is knowing how to apply knowledge. So, if the reading of the books led to me being able to ride then maybe it’s complete knowledge. However, I’m not sure I can learn things by reading, not physical things anyway. I learned by getting out there and experimenting with different ways on how to balance, maybe others have experiences that they could share regarding how they learned everything there is to know about something by simply reading about it. This reminds me of Frank Jackson’s knowledge argument. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_argument

Maybe there is a difference between physical knowledge and intellectual knowledge? Related but very different?

Knowledge-that and knowledge-how can support each other for instance, I have the knowledge of how to ride a bike, I have the knowledge that the reason I don’t fall off the bike is because of the momentum of the bike moving forward as I push the pedals round and round. The question of why knowledge-that does not always guarantee a logical action by a person, ethical or otherwise, is not in my opinion about knowing how to act that way. Sometimes our actions are driven by emotion rather than knowledge.

But can’t emotions be a form of knowledge? Depends on what role one thinks emotions play in the world. For instance, some think that they give us knowledge of what is moral. I’m skeptical of that claim, however, it is something to think about.

If emotions are instinct, then they are not learned and are not knowledge. Do we know what is morally right and wrong when we are born? I’m not so sure.

Ok, so only if a thing is learned can it be knowledge? You might be right but there are examples that I would look at as knowledge that seem to have not been learned, for instance a baby KNOWS how to drink milk from it’s mother. I’m not coming up with any others at the moment and maybe that’s telling in itself.

With regards to the innate moral sense, I am skeptical so I share your feeling there, Paul Bloom thinks morality is innate though. I blogged about his claims a couple of months ago here https://aphilosopherstake.com/2012/11/19/can-babies-unlock-the-origins-of-morality-not-so-fast/

The baby is driven to imbibe nutrients through its mouth by instinct, it swallows as a reflex action.

Instinct might be interpreted as knowledge contained in our DNA, there again it might be interpreted as the result of a complex set of chain reactions.

An old disconnect in literature as well. The difference between testimony and experience is much like the disconnect between the ‘how’ and the ‘that.’ Marlowe comes to mind, from Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness.’ He knows so much about Colonel Kurtz, he obsesses over the man. What he reads about him and what he sees as he grows nearer on the river give him all the knowledge he needs to know that Kurtz works in certain ways, but without stepping into the man himself, he can never know the truth of the experience, and it becomes mere testimony. Like reading cycling magazine your whole life and dreaming of trying it, but never quite mustering up the courage to do it.

Lots of epistemologists think that testimony is knowledge though. I wonder what you think about that claim. Here is a link that discusses the state of those debates.

Thank you for the link. I will check this out and let you know. Re reading my comment I feel I have not done Conrad justice in my pretty striking over simplification of the idea. The disconnect– the rift between testimony vs experience in Heart of Darkness is much more reflective of the nature of existence and Truth. A sort of asymptotic nature where as close as you may come total crossing of the threshold between the investigation and the result, as it were, is not possible.

I suppose, and I haven’t read what you’ve sent me yet, that my argument against testimony as knowledge would be that testimony alone does not provide the beholder with adequate justification for their belief. It depends, of course, on how we define knowledge. Some may not feel that justification is a necessary aspect of it.

I read about an experiment that relates to what you’re saying here. If you ask someone to tell you how they change lanes when driving, they will say “turn the wheel left (or right) then straighten.” That is actually not how it’s done (you need to turn the wheel back right (or left) before you straighten) but our brain constructs a narrative that doesn’t fit with what we unconsciously know how to do. To me, “instinctive” knowledge (such as knowing how to play a song) should also be considered knowledge, though our inability to communicate it properly (or even to access it consciously) puts in in a different level from conscious, rational knowledge.

Thanks for the reply, Dave. I think I agree.

So, is “instinctive knowledge” a form of ‘know-how’ knowledge? I’m thinking yes.

The Ordinary Language philosopher Gilbert Ryle had thought that the “instinctive knowledge” that you have described is the know-how. He held that knowledge-how is rooted in dispositions, e.g. I have the disposition to be able to ride a bike. The dispositions are not described in terms of conscious mental states.

“…we can hold beliefs about what we ought to do, but we don’t know how to carry out the beliefs”

rightly said. here is some stuff from my recent research that might connect with what you have to say…

descriptive thinking concerns what is (isn’t) or has been (not been)

normative thinking concerns what must or should or ought to be (not be)

formative thinking concerns what can (cannot) be

in the above types of thinking, formative is least common and often people equate “what is or has been” with “what ought to be”. it is only through formative thinking and experiential learning that possibilities and plausibility can be consolidated.

also, at an engineering level, rather than a philosophical level, it is difficult for me to talk about a system’s knowledge but i can talk about its memory i.e. stored information.

consider a human individual as a system and their environment as an extended, coupled system. if information is stored in neurological networks (brain, spinal chord, nerves, etc) within the human, the information is likely to be declarative. for instance i have memory about a city called london which is in a region of the world called uk though i have never been anywhere near those places.

if however the information is stored in an extended network of musculo-skeletal system coupled with the environment, apart from the neural network, then that information is likely to be experiential or procedural. for example, i have a bottle of water in my hand right now, i can see it, touch it, hear it crackle in my hands, operate on it by emptying it out or filling it, etc.

so declarative memory and procedural memory are two important concepts which can better operationalize our research into cognition and rationality of systems, not only human beings.

eventually, the philosopher in me wakes up and i ask, “is knowledge possible without memory?”

knowledge necessarily entails memory so I go ahead and posit that having memory is the same thing as having knowledge. however the type of memory available at a given time as well as the type of couplings within the systems do matter.

Thanks for that reply, Sam. Your doing some interesting research.

Quick question: if I don’t have memory that I can recall regarding say riding a bike, but I know how to ride a bike, do I have knowledge of how to ride a bike? In other words, do I need to be able to recollect in order to have knowledge, or is the fact that I can ride a form of recollection? I guess this question is related to what you were saying regarding how different memory works. I’m just curious if you think that all memory = knowledge?

Also, what about instinctual sorts of things where I don’t have memory? For instance, the example raised by David Yerle regarding instinct. Do I have knowledge then? Intuitively I would want to say yes however there is no memory doing work, or at least there doesn’t seem to be unless we posit some really spooky metaphysical claims.

I’d be interested in hearing how instinct could be discussed under the guise of memory. If it can be accounted for then maybe memory is necessary for knowledge?

yes, i say that all memories are knowledge. knowledge is usually explained with respect to the concepts of psyche and situation. i contest that the psyche extends beyond the biological envelope of an organism and is embedded within an environment. any situation is ecological i.e. it is a function of the organism as well as the environment.

all of those things that you mentioned about instinct are types of memories storied in various places. that is why i had, earlier, stressed on the notion of network and the definition of system. if the memory is embedded within a neurological network it is likely to be the one accessible by your psychological faculty to articulate. if however the memory is embedded within your body+environment the memory is unlikely to be amenable to articulation. there are a lots of thought processes that are out of reach of conscious thinking. those processes are usually termed as reflex.

most lay persons consider explicit memory as memory and implicit memory as intuition. but actually, all of those things are quite simply memory.

in order to explain implicit memory, implicit cognition and subconsciousness one need not look towards metaphysics. one only needs to look at the speed of communication processes and modularity within networks. in neural networks, for example, most communication processes are highly dynamical, quick and automated due to which they are not part of conscious thinking (such as reflexes). and what one module is doing, need not be completely accessible to another module e.g. signals from taste buds aren’t sent to the visual cortex of the brain, meaning, taste shouldn’t inspire visions in you. however among people who have high level of synesthesia taste and touch ends up inspiring sounds and visions. and in reality, all of us are synesthetic to some extent.

it is also important to understand the definition of memory…

take a sheet of paper. make a fold in it and then unfold the sheet. do you see a crease? that crease exhibits the sheet’s memory. persistence of a physical configuration is defined as memory (inertia). in the case of human thoughts the memory is related to persistence within synaptic activities. change in memory is due to change in physical configuration (entropy). in human thoughts the synapses experience different neurotransmitters which produce a change in the synapses’ configuration which cascades into changes in the configuration of a neuron which… eventually, can result in a macro level change (thought or action experienced by an organism). the neurotransmitters were released in the first place due to signal transduction through the sensory organs accepting inputs from the environment.

all physical configurations have memory, at least of themselves. it is when a physical configuration has a memory (representation) of that which is beyond itself that it becomes a cognitive system.

this means that there exists a memory stored within an atom, molecule, tissue, organism, city, planet, galaxy… even the entire universe. it is now the task to figure out how a memory can be transferred from one to another physical configuration to understand what type of cognition (‘know how’ or ‘know that’) it had.


Mind & Body Articles & More

How do emotions work? Are we born with them or do we learn them, like we do the names of colors?

Based on years of research, early emotion scientists gravitated towards a theory of universality: Emotions are innate, biologically driven reactions to certain challenges and opportunities, sculpted by evolution to help humans survive.

These scientists aimed to document the felt experiences, expressive behaviors, and patterns of emotion comprehension across Western and non-Western cultures—and they found enormous commonality. Regardless of culture or habitat, people facing danger appeared to experience fear, which helps them escape, and parents gazing at their offspring report feeling love, which encourages selfless caregiving. Scientists even discovered similar emotional expression among non-human primates.

But a recent book by psychologist and emotion researcher Lisa Feldman-Barrett, How Emotions are Made, challenges this view. Summarizing a multi-year debate, she argues that emotions are not inborn, automatic responses, but ones we learn, based on our experiences and prior knowledge. She makes some excellent points and highlights fascinating research—but then takes her argument too far.

Is it a muffin or a cupcake?

In the book, Feldman-Barrett demonstrates how easy it is for us to misread an emotional expression. She shows, for example, a cropped close-up of tennis star Serena Williams’s face, in which Williams appears to be in agony rather than feeling triumph after winning her match—thus showing how easily confused we can become in interpreting emotional expression.

That’s why higher-than-chance emotion-detection accuracy cannot be taken as evidence that emotion signals are universal, argues Feldman-Barrett. The same goes for studies of how well people recognize nonverbal emotional vocalizations her own research shows that Himba tribespeople in Namibia cannot differentiate the quick audible inhale of fear from that of surprise.

Feldman-Barrett goes on to provide a scathing critique of the research that supports the universal view. Having tried and failed to replicate key findings herself, she notes flaws in others’ methodology, documents her own conflicting results (with slight methodological modifications), and, to make sense of it all, rebrands emotions as a type of learned, social knowledge, akin to knowing the difference between muffins and cupcakes.

“The muffin-cupcake distinction is a social reality when objects in the physical world, like baked goods, take on additional functions by social agreement. Likewise, emotions are a social reality,” she writes.

Indeed, most present-day emotion scientists would agree, without disavowing the universal view, that emotions cannot be signaled exclusively by facial expressions, or vocal patterns, or, for that matter, heart rate, pupil size, blood draws, brain activation, or behavior, among other modalities that emotion scientists examine.

Rather, emotions are understood to be supported by a cluster of processes: expressive behaviors (in the face, voice, posture, touch, olfactory cues, language), alongside patterns of neural and peripheral physiological activation, some of which we may not even possess the technology to adequately capture.

In not accounting for the complexity of this research, the book runs into trouble.

How do nature and nurture interact?

Feldman-Barrett may be correct that studies have not yet mapped out perfect “fingerprints” for different emotions. But is it a mistake to claim that they cannot exist, particularly given evidence that they might? In fact, researchers are actively examining this issue: A Finnish neuroscience team recently used movies to elicit six core emotions, and they documented distinct patterns of neural activation for each, suggesting a partial “fingerprint” for some emotions—at least at the neural level.

In a curious turn, Feldman-Barrett’s model ends up being uncannily close to the one proposed by the Universalists. They break emotions down into 1) a physical feeling, 2) interpretation of what’s going on in your environment, and 3) expressive behavior. These are very similar to the elements of Feldman-Barrett’s “constructed emotion”: 1) a core physical sensation, 2) meaning tied to what a person has learned about that feeling and the situation, and 3) behavioral implications of that meaning.

The enduring difference? Constructed emotions must be learned, while universal emotions are, in part, already there. However, do we need to see this as an either/or situation? Could there be a gradient, where some emotions are there from day one, while we’re predisposed to acquire others over the course of development—perhaps with more nuanced, complex emotions further shaped by life experience?

While her book may prompt deeper thinking about how emotions work, her case against universality feels overzealous. Her own model is overcomplicated and, strangely, too similar to the one it aims to displace. Instead of building on existing science, she tries to tear it down—and what she comes up with doesn’t look that different.

What is our relationship to feelings?

Where does all of this leave us?

One helpful insight from Feldman-Barrett’s book is that what we’ve learned in life does dramatically, and often unconsciously, influence our emotional experiences. This suggests there might be ways to be more cognizant of, and more involved in shaping the course of, our own emotions.

Feldman-Barrett suggests that mindfulness—attending to thoughts and sensations without judgment—can produce a state of mind where learned expectations have less influence on current experience.

For example, we might expect to feel increasingly angry during an escalating argument this is how it has played out before. Without that expectation, we might actually hear the other person and have a better chance at constructive resolution. According to psychiatrist and neuroscientist Judson Brewer’s work, mindfulness practice softens our egocentric expectations, whether we’re feeling emotions or not, to the benefit of our well-being.

Additional research suggests that shifting our thoughts away from the typical self-centered “I am” or “I feel” narratives that come up during hard times can increase emotional well-being.

Perhaps we can at least agree on something: Emotions are important to human experience. As the story of Phineas Gage famously showed, emotions are essential to reason, and, according to research on how people handle emotions, suppressing emotions is harmful to well-being and social interactions.

Certainly, Feldman-Barrett appears to believe we shouldn’t simply accept outdated views about emotions without proof, and that more we learn about how emotions, the better. On that point, I couldn’t agree more.


Character Pathology

Donna S. Bender , Andrew E. Skodol , in Encyclopedia of Psychotherapy , 2002

III.B.2. Self Psychology

Originally formulated by Heinz Kohut, and elaborated on by others, the self psychology paradigm focuses on the role of external relationships in the shaping and maintenance of self-concept and self-esteem. Kohut developed this approach while treating severely narcissistically disturbed patients who appeared to require certain kinds of responses from others in order to be able to function. Although everyone has the need throughout life for a certain amount of affirmation from others, people with narcissistic problems require excessive ongoing validation and confirmation to maintain any equilibrium. Kohut suggested that there may not have been appropriate “mirroring” of self by caretakers who could not empathize with the child's experience when exhibitionistic behavior was a phase-appropriate part of development, consequently impeding the child's formation of a stable identity. As a result, an adult person with narcissistic difficulty cannot internally regulate his or her sense of self and so may feel required to be perfect, or to perform for others to gain adequate attention, constructing a grandiose self. Others do not exist as separate individuals, but merely as objects for gratifying needs.

This dynamic for need gratification might be manifest in treatment in the form of a “mirroring transference,” whereby the patient is compelled to act in various ways to try to gain the therapist's admiration and approval. At the same time, Kohut also described an “idealizing transference” in which the therapist is seen as the powerful and perfect figure who can protect and heal, and the patient's status is boosted merely by association. The self psychology approach has been influential in informing therapists about the nature of narcissistic issues, and the important role of empathy in helping patients with character pathology to develop more cohesive and stable self-identities.


How Repression Protects from Anxiety? | Psychology

The act of birth and the separation of the child from the mother have been strongly emphasised by Rank (1932) in the development, of frustration. The central feature of Rank’s doctrine is that the act of birth is an individual’s first experience of anxiety. The trauma of birth, the pangs of separation and the anxiety experience constitute the central feature of Otto Rank’s doctrine.

The child is quite safe and secured inside the mother’s womb. For his food, breathing and personal security he solely depends upon the mother. But from the moment of birth, the baby experiences terrible anxiety because birth is an act of separation from the mother. Besides breathing, keeping body temperature and doing several other things independently, the very act of birth creates anxiety as it is a painful process.

The intensity and violence of an anxiety experience depends upon the degree of trauma which the to be born baby experiences during and at the time of birth. Just as the fear of castration produces intolerable anxiety in the child because it signifies separation of the child from the mother, so also the act of birth creates anxiety.

Anxiety, which is the core concept of neuroses, is a signal or warning of a dangerous, fearful and painful situation. At first Freud viewed that when the sexual urge is not satisfied there is accumulation of libido resulting in anxiety experience.

Hence, he thought anxiety had a somatic basis. But later on, he changed his view and said anxiety develops in the ego as a reaction to the disturbances of instinctual life. Thus anxiety has a multidimensional basis being both somatic and psychological.

It is held by various psychologists that anxiety is an affective state of the ego and as such can be felt by the ego only. The earliest outbreaks of anxiety occur before the super ego has been differentiated from the ego.

In the childhood, the ego of the child is very weak. Thus, with a slightest trouble, the ego experiences anxiety. This anxiety may emerge in two ways. Firstly when the situation of danger occurs which may be a direct effect of traumatic factor and secondly, it acts as a signal to prevent a traumatic or dangerous situation from occurring.

The ego though is the seat of anxiety, anxiety arises in relation to the Id and Super ego. Because of the contradictory and divergent demand the ego can no longer sustain and hence it becomes impossible for the ego to maintain integrity. When the ego begins to breakdown there is beginning of anxiety.

Anxiety and repression, the two key concepts of psychopathology are related. In the childhood, the individual experiences possible frustration and many of his needs and desires remain unsatisfied. Further, the anxiety experienced during the different stages of psychosexual development and the phallic stage in particular has terrible adverse effect upon the ego.

But since the ego of the child has not developed fully by this time, and is not able to face various fearful situations, it becomes a victim to the so called fearful situations and many of his unsatisfied desires. As the childhood of the individual has to pass through many anxiety provoking situations, maximum degree of repression is found in the childhood.

By using the force of repression, the child saves himself from the clutch of terrible anxiety. Though anxiety paves the way for repression, whenever the force of repression is used by the ego, anxiety state vanishes. There is a second way by which the relationship between anxiety and repression can be traced.

As the child grows, his ego gradually becomes stronger, and the super ego develops as the representative of parental authority. Though the ego becomes stronger day by day, in order to maintain the integrity it has to repress certain desires, wishes and impulses which are considered to be antisocial.

Consequently, when the ego finds that the super ego is threatened with pain, owing to anxiety provoked by frustration of primitive and tabooed unconscious impulse, it applies the force of repression.

Among the desires repressed, some are successful and some are unsuccessful. In unsuccessful repression the individual has not only no idea of the existence of the impulse, but is completely unaware of any discomfort arising from its frustration, but those repressed desires which are unsuccessful, they remain dynamically in the unconscious and always try to come out.

Whenever repression either becomes unsuccessful or excessive, it tries to come out to the surface. At this high moment, the ego is warned through the signal of anxiety that the repressing forces are at the point of coming out. From this angle, repression is also related with anxiety. It works as a signal and makes the ego conscious of the dangerous situation ahead.

When the ego is strong, it tries again to repress the repressing forces by the use of various defences in an economical fashion. But when the ego becomes weak, it breaks down, the repressed forces come out and it tries to dissolve the anxiety by various abnormal symptoms.

.nxiety and repression are therefore highly related and both depend upon each other for their function and existence.

The problem whether anxiety causes repression or repression causes anxiety has also been discussed by psychoanalysts. Freud previously viewed that in repression, the psychical representative of the instinct is distorted, displaced while the libido belonging to the instinctual impulse is transformed into anxiety.

But with further studies Freud himself withdrew his previous view and in his book “Inhibition, Symptoms and Anxiety” Freud says “it was anxiety which produces repression and not as I formerly believed, repression which produces anxiety.”

This view of Freud clarifies the fact that anxiety is experienced, and then repression occurs. It has also been previously discussed that the first experience of anxiety of the child is the act of birth. This anxiety is the prototype of all the later anxiety provoking situations. This also proves that anxiety occurs first and then repression.

It has also been mentioned that when the ego is not able to face the unbearable and terrible anxiety, he applies the force of repression. Freud has therefore viewed that it is always the ego’s attitude of anxiety which is the primary thing and which sets repression going. Anxiety never arises from the repressed libido.

The question of repression arises only when anxiety is caused. It cannot be denied that the libido belonging to the id processes is subjected to interruption at the instigation of repression. We can still maintain that in repression anxiety is produced from the libidinal cathexes of its instinctual impulses. Though anxiety causes repression when the repressing forces become excessive, they try to come out.

This being a case of unsuccessful repression, the ego gets a danger signal in terms of anxiety that the repressing forces are coming out. When the ego experiences anxiety, it attempts to use various defence mechanisms to press the repressing forces again to the dark chamber of unconsciousness. Thus, repression in some cases also causes anxiety. However, anxiety is undoubtedly the nucleolus of repression.


Watch the video: Language is instinctual. Seung Yeon Cho. TEDxAPU (August 2022).