[Fis] Final Author Response: Emotional Sentience

Katherine Peil Kauffman ktpeil at outlook.com
Fri May 24 23:46:33 CEST 2024

Dear FIS Community,

Thank you all so much for this wonderful conversation. Despite intervening challenges, it’s been an honor to read and ponder each offering, and a delight to experience progress toward common ground. By way of winding up, I’d like to address some recent emerging themes and emphasize their place in the bigger picture.

So for the big picture: Emotion is acknowledged as an ancient whole-body sensory system, delivering evaluative feedback information to regulate – to actualize, develop, preserve, integrate, and balance –- all aspects of identity (physical, mental, social, etc). I offered my Tao story to ground this new view in direct experience, and as a computational metaphor to address the causal processes of nature (known and unknown) and source of the information encoded in hedonic qualia. So in a nutshell, emotion is the feeling of direct participation in The Tao, which – like Whiteheadian metaphysics (and Bohmian & Kauffmanian physics) – reflects the creative, dynamic and transformative flow between two Yin~Yang (0~1) domains of reality (timeless~timebound; dreaming~waking; internal~external; possible~actual; quantum~classical).

As electro-chemical stimulus-response feedback signals, feelings encode both digital and analog informational processes – binary and non-binary (fuzzy) logic; They define and alter identity boundaries, reflecting the resonant self-organizing dance between parts and wholes, autonomous and collective behavior, defining “self” as both individual me and social we, balancing cooperation and competition, and enabling constructive interference, symbiosis and emergent complexity. They sing the song of possibles and actuals, of being and becoming, they surprise us with new need-meeting environmental affordances, informing us of self-relevant opportunities and threats, building associative memory, attitudes and habits. As innate Pavlovian rewards and punishments, they deliver value – defining right (and wrong) states, balances and trajectories with universal yes~no messages of pleasure and pain. They shout “yes” to mindful self-development and bodily self-preservation, and a resounding “no” to entropic self-destruction. Emotional feelings function as the self-regulatory music of the body; the common language of life-giving activity at every level of scale in time and space. They now offer three levels of information that deliver evermore complex consciousness and creative freedom; they help build optimal mindscapes and social landscapes; they liberate us from the binary limits of our behavioral hardware – and ultimately from our own “unconscious” biases, delusions and destructive choices.

So for the new unexplored theme: Alex brilliantly hits the nail on the head when has says that the “strange systems” with “fractal physiology” do not behave like a “mechanism”, and that “consciousness is plumb at the center”. Even moreso, when he says “they give a series of distinctly different, unpredictable responses with a distinct envelope of frequencies called a Fractal (1/f) distribution.” Indeed, as I mentioned early on, the fundamental Yin~Yang  complements within hedonic qualia are traceable to the ultimate Taoist dance between disorder~order and “edge-of-chaos” criticality – which is represented by the 1/f distribution, also known as “fractional” or “pink noise”.

The concept of fractal physiology captures  some of the missing theoretical pieces  – biologically relative identity boundaries in complex systems; the variable connectivity configurations that mediate parts and wholes and dynamic phase transitions; and the foundational stimulus source of sensation and basal intelligence. It can help us locate the significance of geometry and topology in terms of boundary dynamics, informational flows and unique identity structures, and clarify the organizational and informational closure of a “Kantian Whole”. It also can help us overcome the common concern herein of “dimensions” and consider instead analog and digital forms of information - both of which are present in emotional sensory-motor loop (in the cybernetic signal and its coupled response, respectively, for those of you that have read my introductory paper).

For the final unexplored theme: Howard brings us to death, apoptosis, and the requirement for self-destructive behavior in living systems (like the Freudian death instinct “Thanatos”.) Death and pain are intimate biological associates, and our hardwired fight and flight defenses move us to avoid them like the plague. But this underscores my central point: that emotion also offers information, building evermore complex software via the enactive mind. The hardwired defenses are temporary safeguards until the mind comes on-line, entering the “OODA” control loop. Such mindful intervention begins with the embrace of the binary logic of emotion – which as a species we have not. Instead of aligning with the self-regulatory dynamics and imperatives of nature (and reducing the universal conditions that elicit pain), we have created an entire sphere of man-made “suffering” by leveraging the power of emotional pain as social punishment to regulate, control or dominate one another. Think of the motivational, behavioral, and social capital of such complex negative emotions as shame, guilt, resentment, mistrust, terror, contempt, rage or hate, how they undergird zero-sum tribalism, political extremism, religion indoctrination and chronic self-loathing. (We even exploit and manipulate through bribes that offer natural rewards, but in terms of hardwired behaviors feeling “bad” is far stronger than “good”.)

Of course there is far more to say about all this. (And Howard has a gift at pointing out our human folly with great humor and wit.) But it comes down to the question of power, and who is in control of your life? Many might claim we are machines devoid of free will. But if that were the case, why would we need sensory perception or feedback information of any variety - why would we need pain?  Others might claim that pain is our spiritual punishment for disobedience (our “original sin”), if not evidence of supernatural  “evil”. But our biology suggests instead that pain is crucial information about misuses and abuses of our free will; That we only earn as much free will – and creative power - as we can utilize optimally, intentionally, and collectively, in resonant alignment with the ever-present stream of emotional sensory information. A truly brilliant design actually, with the meta-crises of the day suggesting we humans deserve our impending Darwin Award.

Still, I remain optimistic that information science can offer some relief. While I may now be wandering confused in the zoo of new and exotic forms  “logic”, I deeply appreciate the steps we have taken here toward clarifying what I mean by “eduction” – or emotional reasoning. Please do feel free to interact, push back, and advise behind the scenes as you see fit.

With kindred affections,

Kate Kauffman
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