Monday, November 07, 2016

Unconscious Pleasure

294 days until the start of class.

I must say, my introduction to the Philosophy department on Friday did not go as I would have liked. I introduced myself to a few people, but nobody seemed interested in talking.

However, they now know what I look like (some of them).

I did, as is my current MO, provide Dr. Heathwood with an email with some comments after the presentation. It makes me quite nervous to do so, but . . . it's my job.

Heathwood's presentation was on unconscious desires and the attitudinal theory of pleasure.

I had not heard about the attitudinal theory of pleasure until a couple of days before I went to the presentation. I decided that I wanted to know something about the subject before I attended the presentation, so I went online and did some research. I can't say that I actually understand the attitudinal theory of pleasure at this point. However, I found the neurobiological research on unconscious pleasures to be interesting.

Neurobiologists tend to divide rewards into "wanting" (motivational force) and "liking" (hedonic quality).

Naturally, I am more interested in the neurobiology of "wanting". "Wanting" influences behavior - provides motivational force. In fact, the paper that I am currently working on - concerning a moral aversion theory of punishment - focuses heavily on creating an aversion to performing certain types of actions: theft, vandalism, assault, etc.

However, my readings take me into the subject of pleasure.

What neurobiologists mean by unconscious pleasures are likings (and dislikings) that we are not aware of.

[E]vidence suggests that subjective pleasure is but one component of reward, and that rewards may influence behavior even in the absence of being consciously aware of them. Indeed, introspection can actually sometimes lead to confusion about the extent to which rewards are liked, whereas immediate reactions may be more accurate. In extreme, even unconscious or implicit “liking” reactions to hedonic stimuli can be measured in behavior or physiology without conscious feelings of pleasure (e.g., after a subliminally brief display of a happy facial expression or a very low dose of intravenous cocaine). (Kent C. Berridge et. al, “Dissecting Components of Reward: ‘Liking’, ‘Wanting’, and Learning,” Current Opinion in Pharmacology, 2009, 9:65-73)

In the field of "wanting", I am quite comfortable talking about unconscious wants. An agent can be seen to be approaching (desire) or avoiding (aversion) various states of affairs that the agent himself is not aware of. A prime example that I have discussed in recent posts is implicit bias - such as this case:

In one study of implicit bias, two resumes were created – one showing education and limited experience, while another showed experience but limited education. Male and female names were randomly assigned to each resume. In this experiment, if the man’s resume contained experience but limited education (and the woman’s application the opposite), subjects tended to say that experience is what mattered and select the male application. If the man’s resume contained education but limited experience, the subjects tended to say that education is what matters and select the male’s resume. (Erie Luis Uhlmann and Geoffrey L. Cohen, “Constructed Criteria: Redefining Merit to Justify Discrimination”, Psychological Science, 16:6 pp 474-480.)

These experience suggest an attitude towards the male applicant that the subjects are often not aware of. It is an unconscious aversion to having a woman in a particular position. The agent may not be aware of the fact that he has such an aversion - but it is the best explanation for the observations regarding how they treat the resumes.

Heathwood's presentation was not on the existence of unconscious pleasures. His presentation was on the claim that this created a problem for attitudinal theories of pleasure. This is because of a principle that he reported as "No Awareness: No Attitude." I do not understand this principle. In the presentation it seemed like the interpretation being used was "No awareness of an attitude implies no attitude" - which is how I took it.

However, on further reflection, it may have meant something like, "No awareness of a state of affairs then no attitude towards that state of affairs." I have argued that animals do not fear death because animals do not have a concept of death - a being cannot have an attitude towards something they cannot sense or comprehend. This, I think, is true. However, this still allows an agent can still have an attitude towards something they unconsciously perceive or comprehend.

Yet, I need to set those questions aside. I do need to get further into the neurobiology of wanting. However, my first duty is to this paper on the moral aversion theory of punishment. I will have more to say on that in the posts ahead.

No comments: