Saturday, March 29, 2008

Do emotional qualia really exist?

When compared to physical qualia, emotional qualia seem even more mysterious. While physical qualia seem pretty obvious, emotional qualia don't seem to be clear-cut. Also, I had suggested that emotional qualia also belong to the CBS but are spot-bound.

But after pondering over this issue, I cannot help wondering if there are such things as "emotional qualia" to begin with, or if they are just constructs of physical qualia.

To most people, the term "emotions" generally refer to such states as crying, grieving, becoming angry, and so on. What I then realized is that, in virtually every one of these cases, there is always a set of physical reactions that accompany these so-called emotional states. Which leads me to wonder how much "emotional" these so called emotions would be without the accompanying physical qualia. Thus, stripped off quivering lips, racing hearts, and tearing eyes, the so-called emotions would get reduced to "logical" or non-qualia states.

To give an analogy, consider the background score in any melodramatic movie. Now, the essence of the story can be conveyed to the audience without having this music score (in a logical fashion). But what the background score does is to accentuate the melodrama and make the experience more intense for the audience. I think that the physical acts associated with emotional qualia accomplish pretty much the same. In other words, create drama where there isn't any.

It is well established that hormones like adrenaline can cause people to go into a fit of rage. But this is most likely not because the hormones act on the brain directly, but because they produce symptoms throughout the body (like a racing heart and restless limbs) that perhaps loosens the mind's restraint over what the body does. A similar thing, I believe, occurs with orgasm, where the physical quale associated with it deludes the person into thinking he is totally connected to his partner, even if only for a few fleeting moments.

It is possible that similar emotional responses can be created by logical processes that are contrary to each other. For example, consider tears of joy. Although the physical qualia (shedding tears) are the same in both cases, the logical reasoning leading to this state is totally different from the case of a person grieving. By the same token, I also think that if there is some physical means of preventing a person from crying, then the person would not be capable of grieving as much!

What about states like depression where physical manifestations are absent? How does one distinguish between two people who have the same physical qualia, but one suffers from depression? Or, for that matter, one who is high on drugs? I think the answer might be that the difference might still have to do with physical qualia (although not apparent as actions to a third person) along with altered logical (qualia-less) state of the person's mind.

A simple analogy would be the difference between an optimist and a pessimist. If, let us say, we have two individuals, the optimist and the pessimist, assess the prospect of a third-party individual in an objective manner, we can say that both of them, although may make opposite conclusions regarding the third party individual, suffer no emotional consequences of their own in doing their assessment. Thus, emotionally, both the optimist and the pessimist draw even in this case.

But consider the case where both of them are told that the third-party person is none but themselves. Now there would be a divergence in the emotional state of the two. The optimist will feel elated while the pessimist will develop sweaty palms and become sullen.

We can now say that the optimist is feeling "high" while the pessimist is depressed. But please note that we have differentiated the states of the two in terms of - 1. their own logical conclusions (non-qualia) and 2. their physical manifestations (like becoming sullen).

It is possible that even cases of clinical depression (or drug-induced highs) fall into this paradigm although the context where "logical reasoning" applies is not so clear. Also it could be that symptoms corresponding to being high or depressed exert some sort of positive feedback and try to maintain or exacerbate their state, in a case of the body controlling the mind, as in the example of crying. Indeed, it is common experience that when children start crying, the intensity builds up rapidly from the onset and the crying needs to run its course once the whimper becomes a wail. At a certain point, the child might have even forgotten what he is crying for. In fact, even if a child who cries because he is denied some treat is given the same as a surprise, the crying doesn't stop instantaneously. In this case, the child probably still "suffers" crying, but it is the physical reaction that maintains itself for some time.

So, I feel that the so-called emotions are nothing more than physical reactions coupled with the thought process. Which brings into question the nature of "logical reasoning" itself. Surely, this must be emotional, right? I wish to discuss two different types of thoughts, pattern recognition, and abstract thinking.

Consider someone seeing another person. Now there could be two different scenarios - the scenario where the first person recognizes the other person, and the case where the first person sees the second person as a total stranger. Now, one could say that the physical qualia is the same in both cases - the qualia associated with the sight of the other person is exactly the same. And if we assume the first person is objective and doesn't experience any emotions in both cases, we can say their physical qualia match. But of course, there is a difference in the mental states in the two cases. This difference cannot be explained by just physical qualia. (Here I use "emotional qualia" strictly to represent emotions as per the common usage. Objective, unattached thoughts, including face recognition, do not count as emotional qualia going by this definition.)

And what about thought processes? When we do the kind of thinking that animals are not capable of doing, we tend to verbalize our thoughts internally. In fact, we imagine talking to ourselves when we try solving abstract problems. I had already mooted the idea of "imagination qualia states" in previous posts. So our objective thought processes actually form physical qualia, albeit imaginary ones. But as I've suggested, the imagination space shares a lot with the real state space, including the density function in the CBS. Since the thought process involves imagined sound, then the density function is not spot-bound, since real world sounds are not spot-bound. Although when one hears oneself talk, it is a close enough approximation to being from a point source. But at least in theory then, the thought process has a 3-dimensional qualia distribution by virtue of the imagined internal conversations.

It is possible that not all thought processes correspond to imagined conversations. A scientist might imagine equations, an interior designer might imagine different decors, a vintner might imagine different tastes, and so on. But in every case, the thought process is associated with the CBS through one imagined sense or the other.

Coming back to instant face recognition where there is no conscious thought process involved, where does this fit in? My own take on this is that "recognition" is actually a logical qualia-less state. In fact, I consider it similar to the decision-making that occurs at each step of the thought process that steers the thought train in a particular direction. This part is decoupled from physical and imagined qualia, but still has a bearing on the physical and emotional aspects of the mind.

However it is not clear if a person's mental state can be completely described by his physical and imagination states, plus logical (non-qualia) states. If so, it is not clear how the latter mesh with the former two.