RE: Non-sensory experiences

From: Webb, Steve (
Date: Fri Nov 09 2001 - 13:43:13 MST

From: J. R. Molloy []
> Feedback from the body qualifies as an experience, AFAIC.
> That experience depends on sensory input, again, from the
> body. As you may have heard, Marvin Minsky is working on an
> "Emotion Machine" that he believes will supply the
> necessary emotional elements of AI. If we take the sensory
> part out of experience, we are left with memories or
> artificial constructs of sensory input. These phantom
> experiences can build emotional renditions of real life.
> I'd call these "emotional hallucinations" rather than
> experiences. These emotional hallucinations form perhaps
> the majority of what are called "religious experiences"
> that some people report during (and especially after)
> seizures. When we become untethered from real life
> experience, it's possible to deceive ourselves that our
> imaginary emotional "experiences" are real, when they are
> actually emotional hallucinations. I question the
> usefulness of hypotheses about "non-sensory experiences"
> which do not include the information that these
> "experiences" are derived from previous sensory events.

If such an experience were strictly the result of, say, a flood of
hormones within the brain, I should be able to reproduce the experience
simply releasing these same hormones in the same amount. Indeed, there
is evidence that certain emotional states, particulary mystical
experiences, can be induced by low-level electromagnetic stimuli applied
to the brain. But something seems missing in the "eureka!" case --
would I have the experience that I'd just made some great discovery even
though I wasn't thinking about anything in particular?

Even if we accept that "government" and "freedom" are artificial
constructs of sensory input, these concepts can apparently be
manipulated without further sensory input to produce new emotional
states, and even other such constructs. I find the labeling of these
constructs and their manipulation-sans-input "emotional hallucinations"
overly pejorative. If these experiences can produce insights that may
be utilized in the external world, they are useful.

> Regardless of the direction of transmission, the "eureka!"
> experience (note well the exclamation mark, it is
> significant) relies on feedback in the nervous systems of
> the organism. If the organism rewards itself with relief
> and exhilaration upon solving a problem or discovering a
> cognitive pattern, the experience is accompanied by
> sensations which are, of course, sensory. The exclamation
> mark noted by the way you've referred to the "eureka!"
> experience, denotes a shouting, celebrative vociferation.
> This vocalization (or alternatively, silent relief of
> tension) provides auditory sensory input (or the sensation
> of muscle relaxation, or whatever) to the brain. Hence,
> self-stimulation also qualifies as a sensory event.

So you are willing to accept that there can be experiences that are not
directly associated with any *external* stimulus, whose direct cause is
internal (e.g., discovering a conceptual association), so long as we do
not try to separate the internal cause from the resulting sensory
experiences? In that case there doesn't seem much to argue against. I
don't know if the biofeedback resulting from an internal cognitive event
can be separated from the event, or even whether there's any point in
trying. But there remains, it seems to me, an important distinction
between internally- and externally-generated experiences. I thought
that was the point of labeling some experiences as "non-sensory" -- to
indicate that their source was internal rather than external.

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