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Question about emotions versus reactions

Nick Medford nick at hermit0.demon.co.uk
Thu Feb 25 14:04:44 EST 1999

In article <lxww1773mh.fsf at lci.isr.ist.utl.pt>, Rodrigo Ventura
<yoda at isr.ist.utl.pt> writes
>        Hi. I'm a researcher in the field of AI (artif. intelligence),
>my work is about artificial emotions (or emotion-based agents, if you
>prefer the name), but I am extremely interested in neuroscience. In
>our AI discussion group we have been debating the following issue, but
>we are kind-of stuck... Here is my question to this forum:
>        Let's assume a functional division of the CNS in three layers
>[MacLean]: a "reptile" brain which is based in reactive behavior, a
>"mamalian" brain which involves emotions (limbic system), and the
>neocortex associated with reasoning, etc. The question is: how can the
>reactive layer (e.g., the spinal cord response to a burning stimulus)
>and emotions (e.g., fear) be functionally distinguished. I mean, how
>can one describe these two layers without resorting to morpholigic
>arguments (such as this involves the thalamus, or that involves just
>the spinal cord)?
>        Another question that is related with this is: when did the
>limbic system appeared, in the species evolutio, in the brain
>(reptile? mamalian? birds? ants? bees? spiders?)? And more
>imposrtanty, what was the _qualitatively_ step that evolution took
>when emotions appeared? What was the shortcomings of the non-emotional
>animals that lead to the appearence of emotions?
>        I'd appreciate any response/discussion around these questions,
>either by email or in this newsgroup.
>        Regards,
As you will have gathered from the responses so far, your questions do
not have straightforward answers and the whole area is something of a
theoretical minefield.

You might find it helpful to read Joseph LeDoux's book "The Emotional
Brain" (assuming you have not already done so) since this provides a
highly readable and accessible overview of the issues around the
neuropsychology of emotion. It is also very well-referenced so should
give you a basis for more specialised reading in the particular areas
you mention.

Nick Medford

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