Godfrey Level 03
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Posts by Godfrey

    Cassius affect and the affective circumplex (I keep thinking of cineplex :D) are described in post #2. The affective circumplex is illustrated in the image in that post and is just a graph of valence (pleasure/displeasure) in one direction and arousal in the other direction. Maybe there's a simpler name for it like "affect graph," I've just been using the name from the book.

    It seems like another useful way to represent and discuss pleasure, as we do from time to time ;)

    Digressing to post #31:

    Skepticism, nihilism, rationalism, idealism, and on and on are the primary philosophical opponents that we are playing against just as much as we're playing against schizophrenia or other "clinical" conditions. We aren't in the game solely to respond to clinical conditions that developed naturally, though we do want to respond to those too.

    "Predictions," perhaps as a fine-tuning or an evolution of anticipations, provide both a response to other philosophies and a tool for working with clinical conditions. This is because of the information that we are able to modify our predictions (although it is a process and takes work) as a means toward increasing our pleasure. Also, as LFB takes pains to point out, there is no pure "rationality" as it is always affected by our affect.

    Understanding the processes she describes in her book not only provides arguments against other philosophies, but because the processes do seem to have a relationship to the Canon then they also provide support for the Epicurean view of life.

    The affective circumplex is something that can be evaluated as to whether it gives us a better understanding of pleasure and pain. That information is valuable to an Epicurean to the degree that it can be put into practice.

    As to clinical conditions, I came across this short podcast:


    At about 7 plus minutes there is a description that sounded to me like a practical application of the Canon. Although that's my interpretation; the interviewee was discussing information from his scientific work and not anything about Epicurus. But that is exactly what, to me, is so interesting: we keep running across science that seems to correspond to EP. This doesn't make me want to become a scientist, but it does motivate me to try to understand ways to incorporate new information into my pursuit of Epicurean pleasure as the two seem to be mutually reinforcing.

    Physics seems to me to be more of an intellectual exercise and perhaps not as useful for daily living. (Unless, of course one is a physicist Martin !) But neuroscience seems to have direct applications to daily living. One doesn't need to be a neuroscientist, but one can get value from reading up on it (to the point where it brings one more pleasure than pain ;) )

    All we really need to do is to articulate in broad terms that there are mechanisms by which we can have confidence in living happily if we eject both skepticism and rationalism in favor of reliance on the faculties that Nature gave us.

    The only thing that I would add to this is that if understanding the mechanism in more detail helps us to increase pleasure, then it is worthwhile to do so to the degree that it does so. I think that having a basic understanding of predictions and affect could be useful in that regard.

    A quick post; today is pretty busy so it may be a while before I get back on....

    In reacting to Don 's post, I think one of LFB's points is that sensations in a particular instance don't come first. A prediction comes first and the sensations serve as a reality check as you can see from the description of a prediction loop. So the sensations are "true" but they don’t seem to be primary.

    Another thing that seems like it might be fruitful to discuss is affect and the affective circumplex.

    LFB is closer to Elayne's term "pattern recognition" as the only thing innate; she calls it "statistical learning."


    The brain begins constructing concepts very early in life, perhaps even in utero. “The newborn brain has the ability to learn patterns, a process called statistical learning. The moment that you burst into this strange new world as a baby, you were bombarded with noisy, ambiguous signals from the world and from your body. This barrage of sensory input was not random: it had some structure. Regularities. Your little brain began computing probabilities of which sights, sounds, smells, touches, tastes, and interoceptive sensations go together and which don’t.”

    I'm only looking at the neuroscientific view now as it's fresh in my mind. I'll need to step away for a bit before I conceptualize more about concepts.

    The most confusing issue seems to be the word "concepts." When LFB writes "concepts" in the brain she is referring to what we would call "preconceptions."


    The brain uses concepts to group and separate things and to guess the meaning of sensory inputs, both external and internal. Without these you are experientially blind; with concepts your brain simulates so invisibly and automatically that your senses seem to be reflexes, not constructions.

    However I think when she refers to culture, concepts can also come from "conceptual thinking" that is shared among people and passed down to subsequent generations. So she's using the same word in different ways and it becomes our task to translate it into proper Epicurean verbiage.

    We do have rational "conceptualizing," but she points out that our rational thought is never purely rational but is always influenced by body budget and affect.

    Something like "the gods" or "justice," as I understand this, is a preconception not because it is innate but because we are exposed to it so early in life that we don't remember ever not knowing it. But that brings up the point that a sense of fairness is often observed in very young children: is this a preconception of justice? I would posit that it is an example of a prediction loop involved in the process of keeping the child's body budget balanced.

    An extra tidbit pertinent to discussions on the forums"

    Essentialism vs Construction

    “The belief in essences is called essentialism.” Similar to Platonic Forms, idealism, etc, and integral to the classical view. LFB explores this in terms of emotions, Darwin, and natural selection, but I am taking the liberty of applying it to philosophy.

    Why is essentialism so persistent?

    - It’s intuitive and easy to believe.

    - It’s difficult to disprove: since essences are unobservable, one can always believe in them even if they can’t be found. If an experiment fails to detect an essence, it can be blamed on a failed experiment. “Essentialism inoculates itself against counterevidence.”

    - If a scientist believes in essences he will design experiments to finding them.

    - William James: “Whenever we have made a word. . . to denote a certain group of phenomena, we are prone to suppose a substantive entity existing beyond the phenomena, of which the word shall be the name.”

    - “So, essentialism is intuitive, logically impossible to disprove, part of our psychological and neural makeup, and a self-perpetuating scourge in science. It is also the basis for the classical view’s most fundamental idea, that emotions have universal fingerprints. No wonder the classical view has such stamina—it’s powered by a virtually unkillable belief.”

    - “It’s hard to give up the classical view when it represents deeply held beliefs about what it means to be human. Nevertheless, the facts remain that no one has found even a single reliable, broadly replicable, objectively measurable essence of emotion. When mountains of contrary data don’t force people to give up their ideas, then they are no longer following the scientific method. They are following an ideology.”

    What does this mean for the pursuit of pleasure? LFB explains that this information can be used to design a “recipe for living,” by working with your body budget and your concepts. People with a balanced body budget are apt to have better health, sharper mental abilities for longer, and a more meaningful and fulfilling life. (To me this sounds very Epicurean: pleasure equates to health, displeasure [or pain] to disease.)

    Some ingredients of the recipe:

    - Keep your body budget in good shape. “...your interoceptive network labors day and night, issuing predictions to maintain a healthy budget, and this process is the origin of your affective feelings (pleasantness, unpleasantness, arousal, and calmness). If you want to feel good, then your brain’s predictions about your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, temperature, hormones, metabolism, and so on, must be calibrated to your body’s actual needs. If they aren’t, and your body budget gets out of whack, then you’re going to feel crappy no matter what self-help tips you follow.”

    - The foundation for regulating your predictions and body budget begins with the basics: healthy eating, exercising, getting enough sleep.

    - To build on that, improve your physical comfort and your physical surroundings. Get a massage, spend time in nature and natural light. Regular lunch dates with a friend, taking turns treating each other has benefits in terms of giving, gratitude and friendship. Get a pet. Research your hobbies to see if they’re beneficial for stress.

    - Improve your emotional intelligence: increase your “emotional granularity.” Becoming more specific in identifying emotions improves your brain’s ability to construct more specific and useful emotion concepts in any given situation. Take trips, read books, watch movies, try new foods, experience different perspectives. Learn new words as these contribute to your store of concepts. Invent new emotion concepts for specific situations and learn emotion concepts from other languages.

    - Track your positive experiences; keep a gratitude journal. Reinforcing positive concepts makes them easier for your brain to re-create.

    - Learn to deconstruct your affective feelings into their basic physical sensations. Avoid letting those sensations color how you see the world. (Separate “pain” and “suffering”) “When you feel bad, treat yourself like you have a virus, rather than assuming that your unpleasant feelings mean something personal.”

    - Recategorize your physical feelings from negative to positive. For instance from harmful anxiety to helpful anticipation; or categorize discomfort as helpful as when exercising: “pain is weakness leaving the body.”

    - Try mindfulness meditation.

    - Cultivate and experience awe.

    Affect is the general sense of feeling that you experience throughout each day. It is not emotion but a combination of valence (pleasant/unpleasant) and arousal (calm/agitation).

    An affective circumplex describes the relationship between valence and arousal. The horizontal axis represents valence, the vertical axis represents arousal. Distance from the intersection of the two axes represents intensity:

    So arousal does not correspond to intensity, distance from the intersection of the two axes does. Also, if I’m not mistaken, LFB uses the word “pain” to describe an interoceptive sensation. She describes aspects of valence as “pleasure/displeasure” or pleasant/unpleasant.”

    ...interoception is not a mechanism dedicated to manufacturing affect. Interoception is a fundamental feature of the human nervous system, and why you experience these sensations as affect is one of the great mysteries of science. Interoception did not evolve for you to have feelings but to regulate your body budget…. Your affective feelings of pleasure and displeasure, and calmness and agitation, are simple summaries of your budgetary state…. Are you overdrawn? Do you need a deposit, and if so, how desperately?

    “When your budget is unbalanced, your affect doesn’t instruct you how to act in any specific way, but it prompts your brain to search for explanations. Your brain constantly uses past experience to predict which objects and events will impact your body budget, changing your affect. These objects and events are collectively your affective niche…. Your affective niche includes everything that has any relevance to your body budget in the present moment. Right now, this book is within your affective niche, as are the letters of the alphabet, the ideas you’re reading about, any memories that my words bring to mind, the air temperature around you, and any objects, people, and events from your past that impacted your body budget in a similar situation. Anything outside your affective niche is just noise: your brain issues no predictions about it, and you do not notice it.”

    ...In short, you feel what your brain believes. Affect primarily comes from prediction.”

    Interoception is the sense of the internal state of the body and is a continuous process inside you. Pleasure and displeasure are universal feelings and come from interoception. They are components of emotion but are not the complete emotional experience. “Any healthy human can experience low-arousal, unpleasant affect. But you cannot experience sadness with all of its cultural meaning, appropriate actions, and other functions of emotion unless you have the concept ‘Sadness.’” Affect does not tell you what sensations mean or what to do about them. You must make them meaningful, and one way to do this is to construct an instance of emotion.

    ...the human brain is anatomically structured so that no decision or action can be free of interoception and affect, no matter what fiction people tell themselves about how rational they are. Your bodily feeling right now will project forward to influence what you will feel and do in the future.”

    This book is about the “theory of constructed emotion,” which is based in experiments and research.

    My goal in reading the book was to explore whether current neuroscience can add any clarity to the prolepseis, as there is so little remaining text concerning them. What I found is that it actually is relevant to the entire Canon. Though the subject of the book is emotions, it also covers sensations and feelings as well as what I think we can interpret as prolepseis. Note that although the author (LFB) says that construction dates back to ideas relating to Heraclitus’ “no man steps in the same river twice,” Epicurus or Epicurean thought is never mentioned in the book.

    The book is very readable, with lots of illuminating examples and explanations. My aim here is to try to simplify (perhaps oversimplify) the information for comparison with the Canon, at least to the best of my ability.

    Core ideas of constructed emotion:

    1) Variation: an emotion does not have a “fingerprint” or a specific set of neurons.

    2) Your particular perceived emotions are not an inevitable consequence of your genes but are built in because of the specific social context in which you grew up: for instance heart rate changes are inevitable but their emotional meaning is not.

    3) Emotions are not, in principle, distinct from cognitions and perceptions.

    In every instant that we are alive we are exposed to immense amounts of sensory information. If the brain processed all of this as bits of input, it would be so inefficient and metabolically expensive that we wouldn’t survive. Therefore the brain makes predictions to attempt to anticipate and explain every fragment of sensation that you will experience by combining pieces of your past and estimating how likely it is that each bit applies in your current situation. This is so fundamental that some scientists consider prediction to be the brain’s primary mode of operation.

    Predictions are then tested against small bits of sensory input that are useful in the moment. Prediction errors are used to learn by way of prediction loops which occur at all levels from neurons interacting to brain regions and networks interacting. These continual prediction loops then create the experienced sensations that make up your experience and dictate your actions.

    Prediction loop: Predict---→ Simulate---→ Compare---→ Resolve errors---→ (and back to Predict)

    Simulation is an invisible process in which your past experiences give meaning to your present sensations. Your brain uses your past experiences to construct a hypothesis (simulation) to compare to the flood of input from your senses and to select what is currently relevant. What we experience as our senses are simulations of the world, not reactions to it.

    The balance between prediction and prediction error determines how much of your experience is rooted in the outside world versus inside your head. In many cases, the outside world is irrelevant to your experience. In as sense, your brain is wired for delusion: through continual prediction, you experience a world of your own creation that is held in check by the sensory world [my emphasis]. Once your predictions are correct enough, they not only create your perception and action but also explain the meaning of your sensations. This is your brain’s default mode.”

    So the Sensations are still true. But in this model, in a given instance, they are basically a reality check on the predictions and simulations.

    It is interesting to examine predictions as prolepseis, in the language of the Canon. LFB states that predictions and concepts are neurologically the same thing. While “predictions” and “concepts” are her words, to me these ideas read as a modern description and clarification of prolepseis.

    The brain uses concepts to group and separate things and to guess the meaning of sensory inputs, both external and internal. Without these you are experientially blind; with concepts your brain simulates so invisibly and automatically that your senses seem to be reflexes, not constructions.

    Everything you perceive around you is represented by concepts in your brain.” “...concepts aren’t fixed definitions in your brain, and they’re not prototypes of the most typical or frequent instances.” “When your brain needs a concept, it constructs one on the fly, mixing and matching from a population of instances from your past experience, to best fit your goals in a particular situation.” Your brain hones “the probabilities until it settles on the best-fitting concept that will minimize prediction error.”

    The brain begins constructing concepts very early in life, perhaps even in utero. “The newborn brain has the ability to learn patterns, a process called statistical learning. The moment that you burst into this strange new world as a baby, you were bombarded with noisy, ambiguous signals from the world and from your body. This barrage of sensory input was not random: it had some structure. Regularities. Your little brain began computing probabilities of which sights, sounds, smells, touches, tastes, and interoceptive sensations go together and which don’t.”

    Instances grouped as a concept are not stored as a group in the brain, they are represented in different patterns of neurons on each occasion and are created in the moment.

    The human brain is a cultural artifact. We don’t load culture into a virgin brain like software loading into a computer; rather, culture helps to wire the brain. Brains then become carriers of culture, helping to create and perpetuate it.” “What’s innate is that humans use concepts to build social reality, and social reality, in turn, wires the brain.”

    The concept of “Emotion” itself is an invention of the seventeenth century. Before that, scholars wrote about passions, sentiments, and other concepts that had somewhat different meanings.”

    Here's a related paper that came across my feed a couple of weeks ago. It was too big to upload and I forgot about it, but this motivated me to compress it and upload it. Lots of interesting ideas in the paper relating to things that have been discussed in various threads, although now I can't remember any specifics.... :/

    Based on this I would think that reading the book should be very fruitful JJElbert .

    My approach to her book is to relate it to all of the Canon: sensations, prolepseis and feelings. It does seem quite similar to physics in terms of modern research v ancient philosophy. The biggest difference, to me, is that we have so little to work with regarding Epicurean prolepseis that it's very tempting to fill in some gaps using modern research.

    I'm about halfway into putting together a post on her book. This week is quite busy so I probably won't finish until the weekend or early next week =O

    ...there is nothing more important, or even in the neighborhood, of being clear about the nature of the soul being mortal and not subject to supernatural creation or control (the issue really may be "supernatural relation" rather than "supernatural control").

    This is actually what prompted me to ask the question. Once someone has reached this conclusion it doesn't necessarily lead to the same ethical conclusions as Epicurus, but since he mentioned him by name I'm curious where Ehrman's thinking led him.