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By TheophileEscargot (Sun Dec 13, 2009 at 02:46:47 PM EST) Reading, Watching, Me, Politics, MLP, Theatre (all tags)
Reading: "Looking for Spinoza". Theatre: "1984". Me. Web.


What I'm Reading
Looking for Spinoza by neuroscientist Antonio R. Damasio, about his theory of emotions and how it relates to the philosophy of Spinoza.

I've heard about his earlier books, but not read them. He's previously popularised the idea that emotions are an essential part of our rationality. Without emotions, you can't make rational decisions. There's quite a lot of evidence for that, and I find the idea pretty convincing.

This book goes beyond that however. In this book he considers feelings, which he regards as different to emotions.

Emotions are actions or movements, many of them public, visible to others as they occur in the face, in the voice, in specific behaviours. To be sure, some components of the emotion process are not visible to the naked eye but can be made "visible" with current scientific probes such as hormonal assays and electrophysiological wave patterns. Feelings, on the other hand, are always hidden, like all mental images necessarily are, unseen to anyone other than their rightful owner, the most private property of the organism in whose brain they occur.
His theory here is that humans have a kind of mental image/map of the body. It's this that constitutes consciousness. The implication is that awareness of the body is an integral part of the mind. Our minds only exist to further the needs of the body. Our feelings only exist as part of this body-image.

The evidence he presents for this is a bit scanty. It's true that reports of feelings are usually expressed as bodily sensations, say warmth. But it doesn't seem certain to me that that means the feeling itself is only associated with the body, or if it's a mental state that can only be expressed in metaphors of the body.

However, I have no particular reason to doubt this theory either. So on this part of the theory I'm going with status: undetermined.

Damasio is a fan of the philosopher Spinoza, and tries to link his theory with Spinoza's philosophy. Spinoza was a fairly extreme monist, unusual in Western philosophy of the period; and certainly had no truck with Cartesian-style mind-body dualism. Like the stoics and like Bertrand Russell, he also saw two-way feedback between conscious thoughts and emotions: you can influence your emotions by thinking rationally about them; though your emotions also influence your thoughts. However, those somewhat loose correspondences seem to be about as far as it goes.

One problem with the book is Damasio's writing style. He may not be a native English speaker, but he's desperately in need of an editor to remove redundancies, and repunctuate or break down his sentences. For instance Sentences like this one seem to scream out in agony for the blessed relief of a comma. When you assembled into paragraphs and chapters, it makes the book unnecessarily hard to follow.

The neural patterns and the corresponding mental images of the objects outside the brain are creations of the brain related to the reality that prompts their creation rather than passive mirror images reflecting that reality.
Overall, somewhat interesting, but not essential reading unless you're particularly into the neuroscience of emotions.

Theatre
Went to see 1984 at the Battersea Arts Centre, by the Blind Summit troupe. They're mostly known for doing puppets, but in this case it was mostly live action with only a few puppet sequences, though they were very well done.

It's done on a minimal set with only a few props. They adopted an interesting framing device, where the troupe were zealous members of Airstrip One's society, putting on an instructive play about the comeuppance of the dastardly Thought Criminal Winston Smith and the Whore Julia.

1984 at BAC set 2665

That level of irony allowed the play to be hilariously funny at times, as with lightning precision the actors form themselves into scenery, boasting of their skill as they do so.

The highlight was a superb adaptation of Goldstein's Book The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism where with puppets and placards they show how this society works and evolved.

There were a couple of minor downsides. The horror of the situation doesn't come through very strongly with the ironic framing and the comic interludes. And the puppet-like strides of the actor who played O'Brian may have gone a little too far.

Overall though, entertaining and impressive take on the story. Doubleplusgood.

Review, review, review.

Museums
Went to see Maharaja: The Splendour of India's Royal Courts. Big exhibition with a diverse array of items belonging to Indian rulers, ranging from watercolour miniatures to jewellery to procession pics to a life-sized elephant model in durbar regalia to a Rolls-Royce Phantom.

Lots of good stuff to see there, including some impressive bling like an entire belt made of emeralds.

Doesn't have a particularly strong theme though, other than rich-people-owned-these, and covers a broad range of cultures and times. So, it's good, but seems a bit pricey at £11.

Also had a quick look through the new Medieval and Renaissance galleries: didn't stay long. It's all shiny and new and well-presented. I really miss the decorous old V&A before all the refits though, where you could just go upstairs and wander in perfect peace through nearly deserted room after room full of case after case of Grecian urns and old china.

Not Museums
Tried going to the J.G. Ballard thing but I was in a hurry, and I either I missed most of it or it was too avant-garde to recognize. Basically there were white-painted laths and broken glass on the floor. Downstairs there were a few photos. Not sure what was going on: it was either a surreal practical joke, a crappy exhibition, or I missed the door to the good stuff.

Demo
Went to the UAF counter-demo to the far right "Stop Islamisation of Europe" protest at Harrow mosque. I didn't go last time when the papers think it got a bit ugly.

This one was pretty calm though. The Harrow Times reckons there were 800 police, 200 UAF counter-demonstrators and only 19 SIOE. The UAF only counted 12 of them, the BBC is in the judicious middle with 15.

Should have gone a bit later instead of standing around in the cold. I think it's important to stand up to them though: growing up a mixed-race child the last time the far right were powerful, they definitely managed to create a climate of intimidation back then. Since I don't appear to be getting any taller, it's probably about time to offer some resistance. As long as they're the smaller side in the demonstrations, they can't menace anyone with boots and fists: and at least in London that still seems to be the case.

Got a few pics. Since I got criticized last time, here's this demo's police photographer:

Police photographer 2737

If I don't post again, it's because the Thought Police have got me.

Web
Video. Hitchhikers guide to the Daleks. Bollywood horse stunt. Student types in class. Tories do badly in council by-elections. The minor right-wing parties seem to be eating into their vote at that level, but not sure that can happen at Parliamentary level when people vote more seriously.

Nice Face Steve Jobs rant.

Scariest childen's book.

Tiger Woods gags English media over nude photos.

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Tailspin | 11 comments (11 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
It's a professional hazard by lm (4.00 / 1) #1 Sun Dec 13, 2009 at 03:29:44 PM EST
That sentence by Damasio you point to as being stylistically problematic would have been right at home in three quarters of the articles I read this past semester. It's quite hard to write with precision and not sound stilted. I quite admire those few authors in the field that can pull it off.

I'm starting to see the distinction between emotions and feelings more and more, especially with regard to what makes human beings rational. The bit I find odd is that even though I've been arguing for over a decade that rationality is more than discursive reason, I find myself quite hesitant to accept any  of the distinctions I've heard thus far.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
Why would anyone pay to see 1984 performed? by dmg (4.00 / 1) #2 Sun Dec 13, 2009 at 03:44:01 PM EST
If you live in the UK, just take a look our of the window, save some cash. 
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dmg - HuSi's most dimwitted overprivileged user.
the bodymind by iGrrrl (2.00 / 0) #3 Sun Dec 13, 2009 at 07:30:55 PM EST
You really can't separate the two and have a normal human. Hormones released in the gut or the adrenals affect brain function, and vice versa.  WNYC's show Radiolab just did a show on the subject, including a segment with my favorite neuroscientist, Robert Sapolsky. The podcast isn't up yet, but it should be soon.
http://blogs.wnyc.org/radiolab/

One of the things in the show that was interesting is the quadra-plalegics  report that they feel emotions far less than they did before.

And thank for the HHG/DrWho. Lovely.

"Beautiful wine, talking of scattered everythings"
(and thanks to Scrymarch)

In Damasio's terms by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #8 Mon Dec 14, 2009 at 02:22:00 PM EST
The hormones, being measurable in the body, would relate to emotions not feelings.

However he stresses that emotions generally cause feelings: that is, body changes produce mind changes more often than the other way around.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
that seems backward by iGrrrl (4.00 / 1) #11 Mon Dec 14, 2009 at 05:47:28 PM EST
 If I were to separate emotions and feelings, I would call the feelings the bodily sensation, and the emotions the brain-based stuff. Interesting he went the other way. I've read some of his stuff. It's generally very good.

Emotions can begin in the brain, IMO and so says the literature based on focal (and more broad) lesions. The amygdala, where fear is processed, can be activated by a subliminal presentation of a fearful face. It's a system. The brain is an organ, and part of the body, IMO.

"Beautiful wine, talking of scattered everythings"
(and thanks to Scrymarch)

[ Parent ]
Glad you went to the JGB exhibition by nebbish (2.00 / 0) #4 Mon Dec 14, 2009 at 05:16:05 AM EST
And not me :)

Well done for going to the demo. I really should get up off my arse.

What's the Israeli flag about in the background of your photo? Is that the SIOE?

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It's political correctness gone mad!

Israeli flag by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #7 Mon Dec 14, 2009 at 12:52:50 PM EST
Yes, that was SIOE, they're claiming to be pro-Israeli and trying to stir up Jewish-Muslim hostility, without much luck. There were several Jewish speakers on the UAF side.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Now, now! by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #5 Mon Dec 14, 2009 at 08:26:48 AM EST
In reality, someone who may (or may not) be Tiger Woods sought an injunction which may (or may not) block UKian publication of the purported genitalia of someone who may (or may not) be said Tiger Woods.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

(Comment Deleted) by xth (2.00 / 0) #6 Mon Dec 14, 2009 at 11:20:22 AM EST

This comment has been deleted by xth



Not sure how far word has got around by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #9 Mon Dec 14, 2009 at 02:29:11 PM EST
I went to a very small "I'm a Photographer Not A Terrorist" demo which I never wrote up, but had an interesting chat with the professional photographers there.

They reckon the PCSOs routinely exceed their authority. And if you assert your rights to the real cops, they just make up a story about you swearing and being abusive, and arrest you for that. One guy recommended carrying a cheap mini-camcorder so you can video them while they harass you about the SLR, so it's harder for them to make stuff up.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by xth (2.00 / 0) #10 Mon Dec 14, 2009 at 03:11:09 PM EST

This comment has been deleted by xth



[ Parent ]
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