Monday, February 18, 2013

The Evolution of Emotions 2

I have articulated Aristotle’s three part model of the soul and I referred to this in the last post.  I would point out that this model attempts to be comprehensive across living organisms, a very bold model indeed. 
There is a second tripartite model that focuses on the human soul [see this post] and is restricted to what we would today call mental phenomena.  This model was first developed in Plato’s writings, but it is also drawn upon in Aristotle’s work.  

In the Republic, Socrates tells a story about a man who walking past a pile of bodies during the time of the plague in Athens.  The man both wanted to look and wanted not to look.  Eventually he gave in to his morbid desire and cursed his own eyes for wanting to see the terrible thing.  

Socrates draws from this the conclusion that the human soul is not one thing but is divided into different things, or else how could someone want and not want something at the same time. 
Plato’s soul consists of the following parts:
1.       Intelligence

2.      Passion

3.      Appetite
Intelligence is the highest part of the soul and is the power of seeing or weighing things merely as they are, apart from how we want them to be or how they are related to us.  Appetite is the voice of the body.  It is merely pleasures and pains and the urge for the one or the other.  Passion (or spirit) is the realm of emotion.
The most basic insight of this model is its distinction between passions and appetites.  Aristotle argues (somewhere) that reason should rule the appetites royally if not despotically, but should rule the passions politically.  What he indicates by this is that the passions involve judgment.  To be angry at someone is to feel something, to be sure; however, the feeling is not at all like the feeling of sweetness on the tongue or sharp on the skin. 
More to the point, to be angry is to be angry at someone about something.  Anger involves a judgment that one has been wronged in some way.  Likewise, to feel guilty is to judge oneself to have transgressed and to deserve punishment; to feel ashamed is to judge that others have judged you; etc. 
The passions can be ruled politically because they are responsive to information and argument.  If you learn that an offender didn’t do something you thought he did or conclude that it was reasonable or had a legitimate motive, you may find that your anger subsides.  An awful lot of what occupies the mind day in and day out is the application of reason either to encourage or discourage our passions. 
By contrast, appetites are affected neither by information nor argument.  No new revelation or thinking it through will relieve the pain in my sore arm. 
This analysis helps to understand the importance of the emotional brain in human life.  Without properly functioning emotions, we can scarcely get through an hour.  Someone whose system is missing testosterone may find himself sitting all day without moving, as he cannot feel any reason to do one thing rather than another. 
This does not mean that reason cannot exist apart from passion or that reason detached from passion is useless.  Seeing things as they are is a very powerful asset for human beings.  Even in the case of philosophy, however, reason would be inactive were it not for the desire to simply know what is and what is not.

It occurs to me that this model of the soul can be mapped back onto the architecture of the brain as modern biology is describing it.  Appetite, passion, and reason can be seen as progressively more advanced organs of the brain.  Pain avoidance is, as is often said reptilian. 
Finally, it is possible to understand the evolution of intelligence, as Plato understood it.  Animals must often seek what they need indirectly.  A polar bear hunting on the ice doesn’t look for a seal, she looks for mist coming out of a hole.  That is what arouses her.  The evolution of animal minds must frequently divorce analysis of the field from the direct attention to the object.  Since the cues that might indicate something valuable cannot always be predicted, many animals are innately curious. 
In human beings, this detached curiosity reaches a very high level.  We can find ourselves curious about the properties of right triangles.  What is very abstract and detached from fitness made us very fit indeed.  That looks to be the selection pressure that is responsible for the emergence of Platonic nous. 

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