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Antidepressants

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I'm curious about this: If emotions are the product of subconsciously held beliefs, why do antidepressants seem to work for so many people? Why does doing something as simple as ingesting a chemical substance make so many people feel better?

The answer I'm starting to work out is that the effect of antidepressants is physiological, causing the person to feel better before he or she has necessarily worked out the underlying psychological issues causing the depression. So that, if the person combines antidepressants with a sincere effort to figure out what's going on, he or she has a chance of long-term success without the drugs, but if a depressed person simply takes meds and does nothing else, he or she will feel good only until the meds run out (or start to require a higher dose, even).

Is this a fair representation of what's going on? And should a rational person who finds him or herself in such deep despair consider meds in addition to introspection to correct errors of thinking?

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I'm curious about this: If emotions are the product of subconsciously held beliefs, why do antidepressants seem to work for so many people? Why does doing something as simple as ingesting a chemical substance make so many people feel better?

I think the part in bold is the premise to check. With due regard to Miss Rand's genius and observations, emotions are *not* always due to subconsciously held beliefs, and thinking that they invariably are has confused many Objectivists. There is certainly a deep connection between one's subconsciously held evaluations, and the emotions that one feels, but I do not believe that that is the *only* source of emotions, particularly when some types of problems such as severe depression are involved.

It's clear that the answer does lie somewhere in the physiology of the brain, and in the very complex interactions between consciousness and the brain itself. Consciousness does "program" in, over time, the "automated evaluations" for certain conditions that will cause the brain to evoke an emotion (which is an automatic, non-volitional process and hence arguably part of "brain circuitry".) i.e., A implies B. But it is a logical fallacy to say that because A implies B, that B implies A. Consciousness affects emotional response - but so can other things that directly affect the parts of the brain responsible for evoking emotions.

Is this a fair representation of what's going on? And should a rational person who finds him or herself in such deep despair consider meds in addition to introspection to correct errors of thinking?

None of the Objectivist psychologists/psychiatrists that I've spoken with are anti-medication in that way. The beneficial effects of modern SSRI drugs are too blatantly obvious. (Scientologist wackos such as Tom Cruise however, can apparently find it easy to evade the obvious.) They are not a substitute for thinking through whatever cognitive problems may actually be there, but as anyone who's ever had severe depression that was positively affected by SSRIs (such as myself) can attest, the simple fact of *not* being severely depressed is a major facilitator for all aspects of your life. Feeling down all of the time saps the motivation to do anything, including working on those kind of problems.

The converse would be true: if there were such a thing as an "anti-SSRI" drug that caused depletion of serotonin in the same parts of the brain affected by SSRI drugs, it would cause the formerly happiest, most optimistic person in the world to feel severely depressed. It would not (directly) change their thinking, but it would certainly negatively affect their enjoyment of life.

I don't mean to limit the scope of my comments just to severe depression or even just to emotions; there are other brain-related problems that can occur that are amenable to drug therapies, such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, etc., that no amount of thinking by themselves would change to a significant (or any) degree. However, medicine is still at a very early era for all of these treatments. Far more work needs to be done regarding an understanding of the brain, and its relationship to consciousness.

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With due regard to Miss Rand's genius and observations, emotions are *not* always due to subconsciously held beliefs, and thinking that they invariably are has confused many Objectivists. There is certainly a deep connection between one's subconsciously held evaluations, and the emotions that one feels, but I do not believe that that is the *only* source of emotions, particularly when some types of problems such as severe depression are involved.

What do you mean by "emotion?" A definition would be helpful.

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I'm curious about this: If emotions are the product of subconsciously held beliefs, why do antidepressants seem to work for so many people? Why does doing something as simple as ingesting a chemical substance make so many people feel better?

Part of the answer, which part I think is also confusing Phil, is that while the subconscious is the source of emotions, more than just conscious experience can trigger emotions. Man is both mind and body, and the psychological experience of emotions is facilitated by neurological pathways and mechanisms; there exists a valid study of the neurobiology of emotions. Various chemicals, hormones, and even brain structures have the capacity of affecting those pathways, triggering emotional states indistinguishable from the usual source. Some people suffer from imbalances that can be, to some degree, better regulated through chemical means. Unfortunately, for many people with this sort of problem, they can possess an undesirable mental state as a combination of both psychology and chemistry, which makes the problem at times quite difficult to solve for the long-term.

But, bottom-line, there is no conflict, philosophically or scientifically, between the subconscious as an automatic evaluator of the relationship of some aspect of reality to oneself, and triggers of those emotions that are other than cognitive.

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I'm curious about this: If emotions are the product of subconsciously held beliefs, why do antidepressants seem to work for so many people? Why does doing something as simple as ingesting a chemical substance make so many people feel better?

The answer I'm starting to work out is that the effect of antidepressants is physiological, causing the person to feel better before he or she has necessarily worked out the underlying psychological issues causing the depression. So that, if the person combines antidepressants with a sincere effort to figure out what's going on, he or she has a chance of long-term success without the drugs, but if a depressed person simply takes meds and does nothing else, he or she will feel good only until the meds run out (or start to require a higher dose, even).

Is this a fair representation of what's going on? And should a rational person who finds him or herself in such deep despair consider meds in addition to introspection to correct errors of thinking?

Last year I submitted a related question to Dr. Jonathan Rossman, about clinical depression. My question and his answer are posted here.

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Part of the answer, which part I think is also confusing Phil, is that while the subconscious is the source of emotions, more than just conscious experience can trigger emotions.

I am not sure why you consider that different from what I said... I think there are reasonable arguments that the subconscious *is* in fact comprised of neural processes, and that emotions are products of neural processes, being automatic responses. These neural processes presumably evoke the conscious experience of emotions.

What I do not accept is the view that the subconscious, considered as neural states, is solely affected by prior conscious processes (including conscious evaluations.) It is clear that certain chemical compounds, whether applied therapeutically or "recreational" drugs, can have an effect on one's emotional state, with the inference that those emotional states are physiologically tied to brain chemistry.

I do think that there's a difference between two types of emotional states: those which are continuous and persistent, and those which are transiently experienced. Real brain issues such as severe depression characteristically are of the first type. Emotions which are the result of normal "pre-programmed" evaluations to ongoing events, are of the second. But I think the differences are of intensity and duration, not a qualitative difference in their nature qua emotions, i.e., somebody temporarily depressed for an existential reason that could be identified, is experiencing the same emotion as a severely depressed person, to a lesser degree and in a shorter interval.

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Part of the answer, which part I think is also confusing Phil, is that while the subconscious is the source of emotions, more than just conscious experience can trigger emotions.

I am not sure why you consider that different from what I said ...

Because your own words fail to distinguish between the subconscious as the sole source of emotions, and actions that can trigger emotions but are not cognitive. Here again are your own words:

With due regard to Miss Rand's genius and observations, emotions are *not* always due to subconsciously held beliefs, and thinking that they invariably are has confused many Objectivists. There is certainly a deep connection between one's subconsciously held evaluations, and the emotions that one feels, but I do not believe that that is the *only* source of emotions, particularly when some types of problems such as severe depression are involved.

Your own words state it explicitly: You think there is some other source of emotions. Which is why, in the post I actually addressed to you, I asked what you mean by "emotion." If you reject Miss Rand's observations (and, my own views, based on quite a bit of study of neurobiology, all of which I have found to be consistent with my understanding of Miss Rand's view) then I would like to know what you think emotion is.

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Because your own words fail to distinguish between the subconscious as the sole source of emotions, and actions that can trigger emotions but are not cognitive.

When you say "sole source", I'm not sure that I understand exactly what you mean. Even normally, it is the subconscious evaluation of events that leads to a normal emotion. The emotion did not just happen independently from the subconscious, without some such evaluation that occured from a consciously perceived event (including in the extended sense of introspection since that can lead to an emotional response.)

Also, I am not sure how you view the subconscious - as something that is occuring deterministically in neural processes? That is my current view, based partly on Harry Binswanger's posts on the subject. If not that, then the other alternative would presumably be that the subconscious is actually an aspect of consciousness.

In OPAR@p.154, Leonard Peikoff presents a basic definition of emotions as "A feeling or emotion is a response to an object one perceives (or imagines), such as a man, an animal, an event." You can logically point out that, by that definition, then it cannot possibly be true that a chemical can cause an emotional state, because it does not involve "a response to an object one perceives etc." But we are not discussing a normal situation either. One analogy would be hearing sounds. *Normally* we hear sounds because an external sound source stimulates our ears and sends signals to the brain. Does that mean that when somebody hears a "ringing" sound because something is irritating that nerve, that they are not experiencing sound? Well, in a sense they are not, but in a sense they *are*. They certainly experience it in the same fashion, as the sense of hearing a particular sound, and that it is how it's delivered to consciousness, as an auditory signal. Does that reject "the concept of hearing"? No.

If the subconscious is indeed an action of the brain, of neural processes, then it is clearly subject to being affected by anything that can affect that part of the brain. I am saying that I think that there are two ways for that to happen: (1) By the actions of consciousness affecting the brain, since consciousness does have causal efficacy on it. (2) By non-conscious chemicals affecting the brain. It is (1) that links emotional response to conscious cognition. I am not arguing against the brilliant insight from Ayn Rand, as expressed in OPAR@pp.155-156: "There are four steps in the generation of an emotion: perception (or imagination), identification, evaluation, response. Normally, only the first and last of these are conscious." My point is that - at least as it appears to me - some problems such as severe depression lead to the conscious experience of the response stage that comes as a result of factors *other* than the first 3 steps.

I am certainly interested in the correct answer on this question, but any explanation that purports to provide a completely encompassing view of the cause of any and all human emotions certainly needs to explain why drugs can affect emotional states - unless you are rejecting that claim.

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When you say "sole source", I'm not sure that I understand exactly what you mean.

You claimed that Ayn Rand was wrong and many Objectivists are confused, supposedly because though you acknowledge that there is "a deep connection between one's subconsciously held evaluations, and the emotions that one feels," you also "do not believe that that is the *only* source of emotions, particularly when some types of problems such as severe depression are involved." But it is you who is wrong and confused, because the subconscious is the only source of emotions.

The subconscious has no content when we are born, and its content is acquired over time in exactly the manner described by Ayn Rand. The normal path to the subconscious is via perception, but alternate pathways are possible. For instance, among others, direct electrical stimulation or chemical interaction. And these, like perception, are triggers to the automatic evaluation by the subconscious that leads to the conscious experience of emotion. But that subconscious -- that stored total accumulation of conscious premises, whether formed exlicitly or implicilty, whether formed with clarity of thought or haphazardly -- is the sole source of emotions.

In OPAR@p.154, Leonard Peikoff presents a basic definition of emotions as "A feeling or emotion is a response to an object one perceives (or imagines), such as a man, an animal, an event." You can logically point out that, by that definition, then it cannot possibly be true that a chemical can cause an emotional state, because it does not involve "a response to an object one perceives etc."

The Objectivist definition of "emotion" is "the psychosomatic form in which man experiences his estimate of the relationship of things to himself." (The Objectivist Newsletter, January, 1962.) Or, in slightly expanded form, "the psychosomatic form in which man experiences his estimate of the beneficial or harmful relatioship of some aspect of reality to himself." (The Objectivist, May 1966.)

This view of emotion represents, in fact, the content of the subconscious that is automatically evaluated and then consciously experienced. That some abnormal chemical or hormonal imbalance, or some electrical stimulation, may trigger that content, in no way contradicts the subconscious, as the accumulation of conscious premises, from being the only source of emotions.

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Or, in slightly expanded form, "the psychosomatic form in which man experiences his estimate of the beneficial or harmful relatioship of some aspect of reality to himself." (The Objectivist, May 1966.)

This view of emotion represents, in fact, the content of the subconscious that is automatically evaluated and then consciously experienced. That some abnormal chemical or hormonal imbalance, or some electrical stimulation, may trigger that content, in no way contradicts the subconscious, as the accumulation of conscious premises, from being the only source of emotions.

First of all, I reject your repeated statement that I consider Ayn Rand's view of emotions to be *wrong* as though I considered it worthless and inapplicable to normal emotional states. All knowledge is a spiral and nobody can claim omniscience, and of course she never did. Beyond that there is the issue of context. An analysis of a normal mechanism doesn't necessarily have to fully apply to pathological conditions, or conditions otherwise representing states that were not considered when forming the original idea. I have heard many Objectivists voice the same question as Stella exactly because they cannot see, based on their study, how a drug could affect emotional state.

I am reluctant to continue, not because I consider that my thinking on the issue has actually been answered, but because this seems to be devolving into a personal attack. I will try once more though.

To define terms, I get 'psychosomatic' as 'relating to the interaction of mind and body' from the compact Oxford English Dictionary. Is that sufficient?

So focusing on this pathway representing a normal emotional response:

(1) Subconscious content ([A] event ->) ( automatic evaluation ->) psychosomatic experience of an emotional state

Your view, assuming that I've correctly presented the sequence above, is that abnormal chemical imbalance and so forth, acts as a trigger for pathway A and thence to B, substituting for a normal event. i.e.:

(2) Subconscious content ([A] chemical imbalance etc. ->) ( automatic evaluation ->) psychosomatic experience of an emotional state

Does that correctly capture your view?

Why do you consider it impossible that something besides pathway B leads to the experience of the final emotional state, in other words, this pathway:

(3) ( Chemical imbalance etc. ->) psychosomatic experience of an emotional state

This seems possible to me for several reasons. First of all it matches experience. Being severely depressed can be experienced as a continuous "down" feeling that is *not* necessarily triggered by any particular event. It's just there. That's what makes it so difficult to deal with.

Secondly, I have to wonder what physiological mechanism within the brain actually evokes the "psychosomatic state" of an emotion. It is not the content per se that is felt, it's a narrower range of particular feelings that are basically good or bad, pleasurable or painful, normally as a result of subconscious evaluation of an event. One reasonable explanation is that neurochemicals are proximately responsible for mediating this state (affecting both the brain and consciousness.) If that is so, then it implies that the "output" of the normal evaluation stage would be to control the setting of the neurochemicals that mediate a particular emotional state. In other words, this pathway, augmented from above:

(1') Subconscious content ([A] event ->) ( automatic evaluation, emitting appropriate neurochemical mix representing result as positive/negative ->) ([C] psychosomatic experience of an emotional state based on neurochemical state)

That said, I don't see a necessary contradiction between *both* mechanisms at work (2 and 3) in e.g. depression. Severe depression can also make objectively minor events seem gloomy.

I also think that there's a closely analogous pathway:

Nerve sensors ([A'] event ->) ([b'] automatic perception of pain/pleasure ->) ([C'] conscious experience of pain or pleasure based on neurochemical state)

That is the normal mechanism for the conscious experience of sensory pain and pleasure, and emotions also have a painful/pleasurable component though they are more complex. The analogous question is, is there anything *besides* the actual sensing of a painful or pleasure stimulus that could lead to the conscious experience of pain or pleasure?

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I reject your repeated statement that I consider Ayn Rand's view of emotions to be *wrong* as though I considered it worthless and inapplicable to normal emotional states.

I stated that you claimed Ayn Rand was "wrong" only once, not "repeated[ly]," and I never said nor implied that you thought her view to be "worthless." I was careful to quote your exact words along with my statement.

... this seems to be devolving into a personal attack

There will be no more personal discussion here. Speaking as moderator, any further posts must be solely about ideas.

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The subconscious has no content when we are born, and its content is acquired over time in exactly the manner described by Ayn Rand. The normal path to the subconscious is via perception, but alternate pathways are possible.
Is it the case that all human beings have the same psychological and physiological reaction to a perceived threat? And I don't mean the intensity of the response (i.e. how much a person's heart rate increases or how intensely unpleasant the emotion is experienced psychologically) but the kind of response. Different people perceive different things as threats but isn't it the case that the response to threat is always the same? Is the link between the kind of evaluation and the kind of response inborn? Is it learned? Can it be changed?

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Is it the case that all human beings have the same psychological and physiological reaction to a perceived threat? And I don't mean the intensity of the response (i.e. how much a person's heart rate increases or how intensely unpleasant the emotion is experienced psychologically) but the kind of response. Different people perceive different things as threats but isn't it the case that the response to threat is always the same? Is the link between the kind of evaluation and the kind of response inborn? Is it learned? Can it be changed?

Depends upon the kind of threat. There exists, for instance, physiological mechanisms regulating balance, which will scare the pants off any ordinary person if malfunctioning. Yet some people can train themselves to accommodate. Most little girls are afraid of bugs while little boys play with them. I don't think, however, there is a gender-dependent bug gene. I was afraid of dogs as a child, but now I love Cali, my golden retriever.

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Depends upon the kind of threat. There exists, for instance, physiological mechanisms regulating balance, which will scare the pants off any ordinary person if malfunctioning. Yet some people can train themselves to accommodate. Most little girls are afraid of bugs while little boys play with them. I don't think, however, there is a gender-dependent bug gene. I was afraid of dogs as a child, but now I love Cali, my golden retriever.
In order to better understand what you wrote I'd like to ask another series of related questions: Why do human beings usually (always?) physiologically respond with an increased heart rate to a perceived threat and not with tears? And why do human beings physiologically respond with tears instead of a dry mouth when they perceive the loss of a great value? Why is a perceived threat - regardless of the true or false, explicit or implicit subconscious beliefs that gave rise to this evaluation - usually (always?) perceived as an unpleasant instead of a pleasant experience? It would be disastrous if it was the other way around but how did this link come into existence? How can this be if consciousness is tabula rasa at birth?

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-------

How can this be if consciousness is tabula rasa at birth?

Tabular rasa does not mean "having no identity."

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Tabular rasa does not mean "having no identity."
I know and I don't claim that man is not born tabula rasa. It's just that I can't explain the following: Suppose you have learned that a lion can easily kill human beings. This conceptual knowledge is not inborn but acquired. And suppose you are walking through your garden, are unarmed and there is a lion standing two meters in front of you. Given your perceptions and your knowledge you will most likely feel a negative emotion and you will most likely have an increased heart rate. Why do you not have a lower heart rate and cry tears, instead?

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I know and I don't claim that man is not born tabula rasa. It's just that I can't explain the following: Suppose you have learned that a lion can easily kill human beings. This conceptual knowledge is not inborn but acquired. And suppose you are walking through your garden, are unarmed and there is a lion standing two meters in front of you. Given your perceptions and your knowledge you will most likely feel a negative emotion and you will most likely have an increased heart rate. Why do you not have a lower heart rate and cry tears, instead?

Most likely because crying will not get you away from the threat. Anticipation of flight causes adrenaline to pump into the blood, which causes the heart rate to increase in preparation for running. The increased heart rate is needed to supply your body with additional levels of oxygen because your muscles will be exercising while running.

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I know and I don't claim that man is not born tabula rasa. It's just that I can't explain the following: Suppose you have learned that a lion can easily kill human beings. This conceptual knowledge is not inborn but acquired. And suppose you are walking through your garden, are unarmed and there is a lion standing two meters in front of you. Given your perceptions and your knowledge you will most likely feel a negative emotion and you will most likely have an increased heart rate. Why do you not have a lower heart rate and cry tears, instead?

I suspect that the answer is at least partly scientific, and goes something like this: In man's evolutionary past, those men motivated by fear rather than sadness in a life-threatening situation took the actions that resulted in greater survival, like running up the nearest tree -- and lived to teach their offspring how to evaluate and take proper (life-furthering) action in the same kinds of situations.

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Depends upon the kind of threat. There exists, for instance, physiological mechanisms regulating balance, which will scare the pants off any ordinary person if malfunctioning. Yet some people can train themselves to accommodate. Most little girls are afraid of bugs while little boys play with them. I don't think, however, there is a gender-dependent bug gene. I was afraid of dogs as a child, but now I love Cali, my golden retriever.

In order to better understand what you wrote I'd like to ask another series of related questions: Why do human beings usually (always?) physiologically respond with an increased heart rate to a perceived threat and not with tears? And why do human beings physiologically respond with tears instead of a dry mouth when they perceive the loss of a great value? Why is a perceived threat - regardless of the true or false, explicit or implicit subconscious beliefs that gave rise to this evaluation - usually (always?) perceived as an unpleasant instead of a pleasant experience? It would be disastrous if it was the other way around but how did this link come into existence? How can this be if consciousness is tabula rasa at birth?

If our ancestors sat on the ground, hand in head crying out loud when they heard the sound of an approaching animal, rather than get their juices flowing, we would not be around to ask such questions. You can facilate a learned response to fear in an animal by, say, inducing electric shock to accompany an otherwise neutral sound. You can remove that learned response to fear in an animal by making bilateral lesions of the basolateral complex of the amygdala (a brain structure with many regions and pathways). Likewise, with a human subject you can accompany a neutral sound with a disturbingly loud noise, and eventually just hearing that neutral sound alone generates symptoms of fear. Do the same conditioning with a person who has a damgaged amygdala, and no response to fear is learned.

For sounds, there are pathways leading to the basolateral complex of the amygdala from the auditory thalmus; these are direct pathways that act quickly. There are other pathways to the basolateral complex from the primary audio cortex; these are more indirect pathways, acting more slowly. The quicker thalmus pathway is of greater import in preparing a more immediate response. There is a neuro-physiological basis for fear lying in the structure of and pathways to and from the basolateral complex, but the content of the fear itself is learned. We are both mind and body; there are both genetic and learned components that make the conscious emotional experience possible.

I recall you asking these sort of questions before, in other threads. If these are issues that really interest you, you might enjoy reading some texts on neural science in addition to the Objectivist material. It is truly remarkable how consistent Miss Rand's philosophy is with an ever-growing body of scientific knowledge. But these are issues not to be intuited or deduced (not to imply that you do), but rather studied systematically by reference to actual scientific fact.

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It is truly remarkable how consistent Miss Rand's philosophy is with an ever-growing body of scientific knowledge.

Because her ideas were based on observation of reality and because she was very careful not to use philosophy as an excuse for rationalistic speculation, maintaining a consistent distinction between philosophy and other special sciences.

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Because her ideas were based on observation of reality and because she was very careful not to use philosophy as an excuse for rationalistic speculation, maintaining a consistent distinction between philosophy and other special sciences.

Excellent point. Future truth will not refute past truth.

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