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Towards a Design-Based Analysis of Emotional Episodes

From: Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology
Volume 3, Number 2, June 1996
pp. 101-126 | 10.1353/ppp.1996.0022

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Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 3.2 (1996) 101-126

Abstract: The design-based approach is a methodology for investigating mechanisms capable of generating mental phenomena, whether introspectively or externally observed, and whether they occur in humans, other animals or robots. The study of designs satisfying requirements for autonomous agency can provide new deep theoretical insights at the information processing level of description of mental mechanisms. Designs for working systems (whether on paper or implemented on computers) can systematically explicate old explanatory concepts and generate new concepts that allow new and richer interpretations of human phenomena. To illustrate this, some aspects of human grief are analyzed in terms of a particular information processing architecture being explored in our research group.

We do not claim that this architecture is part of the causal structure of the human mind; rather, it represents an early stage in the iterative search for a deeper and more general architecture, capable of explaining more phenomena. However even the current early design provides an interpretative ground for some familiar phenomena, including characteristic features of certain emotional episodes, particularly the phenomenon of perturbance (a partial or total loss of control of attention).

The paper attempts to expound and illustrate the design-based approach to cognitive science and philosophy, to demonstrate the potential effectiveness of the approach in generating interpretative possibilities, and to provide first steps towards an information processing account of "perturbant," emotional episodes.

Keywords: Emotion, grief, architecture, design

1 Introduction

The human mind, and its underlying engine, the brain, are incredibly complex collections of mechanisms of many kinds, produced over millions of years of evolution. As a result of its origins there are several levels of control, of varying degrees of sophistication. Some, like reflex arcs, are shared with many other organisms. Some, like the mechanisms involved in arousal of various kinds, e.g., those involving the limbic system, seem to be shared with many other mammals. Some, like cortical mechanisms involved in the ability to long for recognition, the ability to enjoy the admiration and respect of others, the ability to be thrilled by a mathematical discovery, and the ability to grieve at the death of a friend, require sophisticated cognitive capabilities, which may be unique to humans. Because many researchers into emotions do not clearly distinguish the different types of phenomena, there is much confusion about what is being studied and what is explained by various theories. Our concern is primarily with mental processes that are typically to be found in human beings, which involve high-level cognitive functions and which often have social consequences. They may also, in fact, involve older, more primitive mechanisms, though those are not the concern of this paper. (A complete theory of the human mind would have to include them.)

This paper has two main goals: (a) to illustrate the design-based approach to the study of some "higher level" human mental processes; and (b) to make theoretical progress towards a design-based account of certain emotional episodes, namely those that involve a partial or total loss of control of thought processes. Our work derives ultimately from suggestions in Simon (1967), although we have extended and generalized Simon's ideas.

We try to show how a certain sort of information processing architecture, extending ideas in artificial intelligence, can serve as a new explanatory ground for some well-known emotional phenomena. Whether the proposed outline architecture is correct, how it might be implemented in neural mechanisms and what the implications of further refinements will be, remain questions for future investigation. The architecture certainly does not yet account for all aspects of grief, and it also leaves unexplained other important mental phenomena. This points to the need for extensions to the architecture, which we shall continue to explore.

Section 2, which follows this introduction, is primarily theoretical: subsection 2.1 introduces key ideas of the design-based approach to the study of mind, including the idea of a "broad but shallow" architecture. Subsections 2.2 and 2.3 sketch our high level design for autonomous agents, including the distinction between highly parallel "automatic" attention-free processing and resource-bound "management" and "meta-management" processes (Beaudoin 1994). Allocation of "management" resources is one aspect...


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