Hierarchical Brain

An explanation of the human brain

First published 1st February 2024. This is version 1.5 published 2nd March 2024.
Three pages are not yet published: sleep, memory and an index.
Copyright © 2024 Email info@hierarchicalbrain.com

Warning - the conclusions of this website may be disturbing for some people without a stable mental disposition or with a religious conviction.


Feeling is a much-used and multifarious term. On this page, I expand the everyday meanings of the term to include emotions, qualia, pain, and “meaning”, because I propose that these all come about in the human brain in the same way: with symbol schemas representing feelings, connections to other symbol schemas, and the reinstatement of areas that were activated when the symbol schemas were created.

Feeling as a non-conscious stimulus evolved many millions of years ago in very simple creatures as a method of promoting survival, but it has gained extra enigmatic properties in animals with complex brains that have evolved self-awareness. The so-called hard problem of consciousness, which is the questions of why and how I experience feelings, can be explained in the context of evolution and with the consideration that “I” am my self symbol schema.

Contents of this page
Definition - the everyday meanings of the word and my additions.
Construction and workings - how feelings are represented, created, updated and activated.
What is a feeling? - what is a feeling anyway, and why and how does it feels like something?
Emotion - an emotive term, in more senses than one.
Pain - pain can be treated as a rather specific type of emotion.
Qualia - the philosophical term for a feeling about something specific.
Meaning - the connotations and connections of an object or concept.
Conclusions - including an argument that feelings can only happen within a model of the self.
References - references and footnotes.


Construction and workings

What is a feeling, and why does it feel like something?






References For information on references, see structure of this website - references

  1. ^ How emotions are made - The secret life of the brain - Lisa Feldman Barrett 2017 Pan Books (UK) or see GoogleScholar.
    As the title suggests, this whole book is about the proposal that emotions are constructed in the brain, as opposed to there being standard categories of emotions that are found in every human, in every culture.
    Page 31: “In every waking moment, your brain uses past experience, organized as concepts, to guide your actions and give your sensations meaning. When the concepts involved are emotion concepts, your brain constructs instances of emotion.”
  2. ^ The theory of constructed emotion: an active inference account of interoception and categorization - Barrett 2017
    doi: 10.1093/scan/nsw154 downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    Pages 12-13, under the heading “The theory of constructed emotion”: “A brain can be thought of as running an internal model that controls central pattern generators in the service of allostasis .... An internal model runs on past experiences, implemented as concepts. ... The brain continually constructs concepts and creates categories to identify what the sensory inputs are, infers a causal explanation for what caused them, and drives action plans for what to do about them. When the internal model creates an emotion concept, the eventual categorization results in an instance of emotion.”
  3. ^ Ibid. The theory of constructed emotion: an active inference account of interoception and categorization
    Abstract, first page: “The science of emotion has been using folk psychology categories derived from philosophy to search for the brain basis of emotion. The last two decades of neuroscience research have brought us to the brink of a paradigm shift in understanding the workings of the brain, however, setting the stage to revolutionize our understanding of what emotions are and how they work.”
  4. ^ Ibid. The theory of constructed emotion: an active inference account of interoception and categorization
    Page 4 has a full-page list of “Examples of neuroscience evidence that disconfirm the classical view of emotion” that lists 30 references to other papers.
  5. ^ Itsy Bitsy Spider...: Infants React with Increased Arousal to Spiders and Snakes - Hoehl, Hellmer, Johansson and Gredeback 2017
    doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01710 downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    Page 7, Conclusion: “We provide evidence that infants at 6 months of age respond with increased arousal, as indicated by pupillary dilation, to spiders and snakes compared with flowers and fish. We suggest that stimuli representing an ancestral threat to humans induce a stress response in young infants. These results speak to the existence of an evolved mechanism that prepares humans to acquire specific fears of ancestral threats.”
  6. ^ Fear in infancy: Lessons from snakes, spiders, heights, and strangers - LoBue, Adolph 2019
    doi: 10.1037/dev0000675 downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    Page 3, bottom of page: “Based on our reevaluation of infants’ behaviors towards snakes/spiders, heights, and strangers, we conclude that complex, situation-specific, and variable behaviors are far more adaptive than the traditional fear account might suggest, and carry important lessons for how researchers should approach the study of infant fear in future work.”
  7. ^ The strange order of things: Life, feeling and the making of cultures - Antonio Damasio Pantheon Books USA 2018
    Page 25, under the heading “Homeostasis““, 2nd paragraph: “homeostasis... ensures that life is regulated within a range that is not just compatible with survival but also conducive to flourishing...”
  8. ^ Ibid. The strange order of things: Life, feeling and the making of cultures
    Page 75, under the heading “The Big Conquest”: “The ability to generate images opened the way for organisms to represent the world around them... and, just as important, it allowed organisms to represent the world inside each of them.”[Damasio uses the word “images” here to mean representative structures in the brain, not just of visual images but of any concept - see symbol schema - Damasio’s concepts.]
  9. ^ The Principles of Psychology - William James 1890
    viewable here, downloadable here: Volume I and Volume II or see GoogleScholar.
    Chapter 11 on Attention, third paragraph: “Every one knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought.”

Page last uploaded Sat Mar 2 02:55:42 2024 MST