3. Operations of Sense Organs, Emotions, Muscles and Mirror Neurons




The steps in the four-step pleasure-seeking algorithm described in the next chapter depend on two biological processes: learning and remembering, which in combination are called recognition. Each takes place prompted by specific biological conditions that we can identify from within our conscious streams. Their operations require explanation because, while they result in the most pleasurable action known to the individual, those operations take place in unexpected organs and simple rules produce complex results.

The operations of our minds are the variety of distinct sensations experienced within our consciousness. As has been previously repeated, our phenomenal sense organs produce sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch; while nutritive, defensive, and reproductive evaluative sense organs produce sensations of pain and pleasure and muscles produce various sensations between tensed and relaxed. Evaluative sensory experience tells us that most of our phenomenal and muscle sensations have no emotional effect on us, but some, representing things like food and shelter, induce pleasure and properly exploited will help us survive, and others, representing things like poison or predators, induce pain and would thwart us. Regardless of what we can say about the absolute form and nature of nomenal reality, our phenomenal senses have evolved to identify sensations as different from each other, our evaluative senses assess which are neutral, useful or dangerous and our muscles appropriately act to ignore, employ or evade them. We do not need to understand, only act appropriately. Our minds consist of the five defining senses, the uncounted number of evaluative senses, muscles, nerves and brain. Each of us can directly observe that these four kinds of organs function cooperatively to (1) identify phenomenal sensations, (2) evaluate their relationship to us and (3) act with more or less success as defined by sensations of increases in pleasure or decreases in pain. Conscious beings can only cope with reality by identifying and evaluating phenomenal sensations that represent threats and opportunities that trigger appropriate actions. Our subject here is how our sensitive organs heuristically interact with mirror neurons, learning and remembering past experience to ensure survival and reproduction.

Our explanation starts with how we learn the significance of specific phenomenal sensations. Sight is the example here because we humans most often use our eyes to recognize, but all phenomenal sense organs operate in exactly the same way. Every sighted person can see that our eyes differentiate sensations, but to identify them they must first recognize them. Logic tells us that identification demands comparison, and therefore, previous experience. We could not recognize our own mothers, if we had never seen them before. We can only identify things seen before, learned and then remembered for comparison with current perception. Recognizing differences between phenomenal sensations can only be useful in combination with evaluative knowledge of their neutrality, helpfulness or harmfulness and that can only be useful with the ability to act. Knowing the dog is dangerous only helps, if you know how to avoid the bite. We can observe that muscles provide the means to exploit or avoid things identified and evaluated as helpful or dangerous. Only linking the correctly evaluated identifications to the correctly evaluated muscle actions is useful.

Learning links all three kinds of sensation experience together making past experience recognizable and useful for acting on current conditions.

Evaluation prompts learning. We can observe that evaluative sense organs generate pain or pleasure coincidentally with some specific phenomenal and muscle sensations, and by their coincidence evaluate our relationship with them. The genetically programmed reflexes that produce pleasure at the taste of mother's milk and pain at the site of injury are examples of inherent knowledge that defines our evaluative relationships with such gene-recognized sensations. The coincidence between pre-identified sensations and evaluative pleasures and pains, extrapolates these gene-programmed relationships to previously unexperienced identifying sensations. We extrapolate our pleasurable evaluation of mother's milk to evaluate other foods. Psychological feelings, like joy, fear and hope, based on such basic evaluations also evaluate both phenomenal and muscle sensations for us. We observe that feeling either the pre-programmed or the extrapolated emotional evaluation reflexively triggers learning, which is one of two conscious operations. The other is remembering. Learning must be the result of simple and reflexive biology because it requires no effort. Once you have looked at something while experiencing a changed evaluation you cannot refuse to remember what it looks like. Apparently, changes in the feelings of pleasure and pain power learning, more or less, depending on the magnitude of the change in feeling. A change from pain to pleasure, or the reverse, more powerfully instills learning than a strait increase or decrease in either. Good news will be more memorable, if it follows bad news. The winning homerun in the bottom of the ninth and the successful "Hail Mary" pass generate more pleasure and are more memorable than a victory based on an early lead. Passion is proportionate to life-promotion and makes learning effortless. You cannot learn uninteresting, unimportant sensations because they do not generate the emotional wattage needed. Students can study all night, but unless the subject matter interests them, they will fail the exam. It also true and anyone can observe, that the greater the emotion, the easier the remembering. The most effective teachers provoke humor, love, or fear; no one learns from boring (unemotional) instruction. Evaluations not only define our self-interest, they also illuminate all simultaneous phenomenal and muscle sensations causing conscious feelings of learning. We are aware of the sensations that we learn.

We lose consciousness of sensation energy when transduced to its electrical form, as it exists in the nerves and at the brain end of its commute. Measuring the millivolts carried by nerves that mirror the sensation energy collected by each organ with an oscilloscope (Luigi Galvani, 1780) confirms that transduction has taken place. For example, light falls on the eyes' rods and cones in patterns reflected from the environment. Seeing transduces that light into electrical energy echoing those luminous patterns. Our set of afferent nerves carry identifying, evaluative and muscle sensations to the brain. The brain stores them. As we can remember such evaluative feelings, previously experienced along with matching or approximately matching coincidental phenomenal and muscle sensations, and so we infer that the brain stores all three kinds of sensations. We have a different set of nerves, called efferent nerves (Mader S. S. (2000): Human biology. McGraw-Hill, New York). We can also measure electricity returning on efferent nerves back to sense organs and muscles. It causes remembering, which also changes our emotional state and, just like in learning, evaluation is a conscious operation that illuminates coincidentally remembered identifying and muscle sensations. Evaluations not only define our self-interest, they also appear to consciously illuminate all simultaneous identifying and muscle sensations causing conscious feelings of both learning and remembering. (We remember the pain in the hammered thumb, the hammer and action that caused it.)

We feel consciousness of all three kinds of sensations in their generating organs. Transducing all kinds of sensation energy to electricity simplifies the mind’s biology in that all sense and muscle organs connect to the brain by the same double-wired system of afferent and efferent nerves. As Santiago Ramon y Cajal (1886) observed nerves only conduct electrical currents across synapses in one direction. A controlling brain would only need afferent nerves to carry information from identifying and evaluative sense organs to the brain and only efferent nerves to carry instructions from the brain to the muscles. However, every sense organ and muscle is double wired to the brain (Ivan Pavlov, Lectures on Conditioned Reflexes, 1928). As explained in the previous chapter, neurons, identified as mirror neurons, were discovered using magnetic resonance imaging (Giacomo Rizzolatti and Laila Craighero, 2004). They "fire both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another." According to Rizzolatti et al, the sight of a ball would excite mirror neurons that stored the previous perception of a ball. Their assumption being that the brain uses this information in some yet unexplained way to recognize the ball. Given that the reports of identifying, evaluative and muscle organs are conducted in an electrical form on nerves, it would be logical to hypothesize that mirror neurons store all three kinds, regurgitating them in the same way. We can consciously see both ends of sight experience and it helps to close our eyes when trying to remember what a ball looks like because that is where we see the memory. It seems that our double-wired system carries perceptions both ways allowing us to experience both current perceptions and memories in all the three kinds of sense organs at the same time. At least it would be challenging to explain how they differentiate between the electrical sensations arriving on the same kinds of afferent nerves.

The sensation itself must somehow be its own storage address in our brains. For instance, the sight of something must be transduced to a code that includes its address as its content. At least, I cannot think of any other addressing system that would achieve our seemingly almost instant recognition. Our ability to re-experience learned sensations in sense organs suggests a connection between memories and their source organ. In the absence of any other explanation, it is reasonable to believe that memories are the result of returning efferent electricity stimulating the receptors in each kind of original source organ. This transduces electricity back into the original energy type of the afferent experience: the eye films and also screens recorded images, the ear acts as both microphone and ear buds, the stomach produces pain at the memory of hunger and once a muscle action has been rehearsed we can replay it. Sense organs are, unexpectedly, also action organs. While we had mistakenly deduced that the match between the perception and the mirror neurons had only identified the ball in the brain, the more complete explanation holds that those excited perceptions travel from the neurons back along the efferent nerves to the eye’s rods and cones from behind. Front and back, current and remembered light sensations, compared, photo over negative, in the rods and cones. Seeing the similarities identifies the ball confirming the correct match in the brain. The same principle would also postulate that muscle and evaluative perceptions returning to their originating organs as instructions would consciously re-create their previous states: contracting or relaxing muscles and recreating pains and pleasures. No changes are required. What you see is what you get. What you put in is what you get back. While we are not conscious of sensations in our brains, every kind of sense organ is capable of consciousness.

We respond to recognizing a snake as William James (The Principles of Psychology, 1890) said, "...not by feeling fear and then running away, but by running away while at the same time feeling fear". The brain must hold a memory of them all linked together. Donald Hebb (1949) proposed, “Cells that fire together, also wire together.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebbian_theory) and, if true, could link mirror neurons excited simultaneously by identifying, evaluating, and muscle sensations. If the first sight of a snake was experienced at the same time as a feeling of anticipated pain (= fear) and the leg instructions to run away, those three sets of recording neurons would be linked in memory. If mirror neurons that "wired together, fire together", matching any one neuron in a linked set would fire all. We can observe that the interaction of triggered data from neurons "wired together" by simultaneous coincidence effects their originating organs in such a way as to cause simultaneous recognition, motivation and behavior depending on the nature of each kind of organ. Matching a current identifying sensation to a comparable one from memory identifies it. Triggering the remembered sensation necessary for identification then would also trigger the remembered evaluative and muscle sensations. "Wired together, fired together" would now produce and send recognition, evaluation and muscle sensations along efferent nerves back to their originating organs with the effect of evaluating and appropriately operating them according to the match. If learning has linked the sight of a ball with the muscle instructions to kick it, those instructions travel along efferent nerves to the legs along with the identity-confirming image sent to the eyes. Their combination has the effect of a safecracker, electronics engineer, weapons expert, lookout, and stunt driver in a heist movie. Learning has recorded the specialized activities of the various team members. Matching recognition prompts each organ’s instructions to "pull the job" repeating their specialized actions. Each kind of organ reacts to the returning instructions according to its unique nature: the five senses identify, the evaluative senses vary the evaluation and muscles move. Remembering identifies currently perceived parts of the world, evaluates their potential and activates muscles. For example, seeing a snake automatically evokes the linked feeling of fear and the instructions to run. Because a match to any one part of a memory triggers the rest, seeing other people run leads us to look for a snake.

Not only do we recognize, evaluate and take appropriate action, but also the brain wires all instructions together sequentially and we recall them in their learned order. Your neurons fire forward in time from the point of matching. This explains why you have to start over at the beginning when you lose your place while reciting poetry. It also explains why you can tell a joke as a story and perform surgery in the right order from the first cut to sewing up. Our conscious streams provide a continuous record of our simultaneous, sequential, experienced and remembered perceptions, emotions and actions. Experiments by the American psychologist, B.F. Skinner, (Science and Human Behavior, 1953) offer some support for this account of sequential homeostatic structure and replay. He trained pigeons to perform specific, predictable actions by sequentially adding random muscle homeostats in a series by inducing pleasure triggered by food pellets. In other words, when they accidentally did what he wanted, in the order he wanted, he fed them. The pleasure inherent in the food selects the specific desired action for learning. Just by rewarding clock and counter clockwise steps in the right order, he taught the pigeons the sequential stepping instructions needed to walk in figure eight patterns.

If this theory, that brains have the ability to store and retrieve recognizing, evaluating and action perceptions is correct, logic tells us that many or most of the neurons in our cerebral cortexes are mirror neurons that fire past experience back to its originating organs as memories. As the effect of the memories from linked mirror neurons is homeostatic, I suggest we call them 'learned homeostats'.

The same emotions that trigger the learning of simultaneous identifying sensations and muscle actions later function heuristically to select the appropriate recognition and action response using a feedback loop. The emotional feedback loop starts, stops, and sets the speed of our responses. Just as remembered sight returning to the eye precipitates identification by reacting with current sight, we can observe that remembered pleasure or pain reacts with current sensations in evaluative organs. Current pleasure or pain sensations sum out with remembered evaluations. Same valence emotions (pleasure with pleasure or pain with pain) add their values. Opposite valence emotions (pleasure and pain together) net out their values by subtracting value from each other. This combination of remembered with current evaluations and perceptions gives rise to the variation and complexity of emotions. Feedback evaluation provides a control system that is the biological equivalent of what bionics engineers have called self-correcting feedback. Observations will confirm that in addition to acting on the highest evaluated match to current experience, heuristic rules govern that action. We continue to act to significantly reduce the emotion or overwhelm it by other current emotions. We stop trying to tune the car radio after recognizing that a correction in steering is necessary. In addition, memory tempers current evaluation. The injection only hurts for a second. As current evaluations change so do the actions they precipitate. We stop eating as hunger decreases. The source of adding or subtracting emotions is irrelevant: emotions sourced from other memories and other current experiences can influence and even overrule the actions motivated by a previous emotion. Emotional feedback stops us from watching the movie, if the theater catches fire.

If it was ethical to do so, you could watch a change in behavior prompted by a changed evaluative sum by producing feedback in the form of a mild electric shock each time a monkey reached for an apple. A not-very-hungry monkey would stare at the fruit as the homeostat with the highest value produces the remembered shock (pain) that will keep the monkey from touching the apple. However, as its hunger increases, the feedback sum will make the apple ever more tempting and at some point, the monkey would snatch the apple in spite of the zap. No one would want to do that to any animal, but we can imagine how it would work because of our personal experiences with pain and pleasure.

Reviewing the monkey’s experience, we find that while the apple and the shock evaluations remained constant, something must have changed because the behavior changed from frustrated watching to active grabbing. From a biological perspective, the feedback value of the monkey’s anticipated eating pleasure increased in proportion to its current hunger until it overwhelmed the value of the anticipated (remembered) zap. Emotional feedback changed the value of eating the apple. At that point even though the apple sight sensation remained the same, the homeostat controlling the monkey’s behavior switched from the one evaluated by electric shock pain to the one evaluated by eating pleasure because that homeostat now had the higher value. The behavior changed because defining sensations and evaluations act like x and y coordinates or, if you prefer, a homeostat’s number and street address in the brain. Biology dictated the change. Changes in either the current sensation or its evaluation reset the street address to the now matching homeostat, tapping new instructions. The system works because our genes define successful behavior as pleasurable/not painful. For that reason, pleasure prompts the learning of successful behavior and recognition of the same situation prompts the remembrance of previously successful behavior for as long as it brings pleasure. Past experience governs present behavior. We might doubt that monkeys spend much time reflecting on their motives, but to the ancient Greeks it apparently felt like a message from their gods. To us, such changes in behavior sound like common sense and feel like freewill. The next chapter will discuss the method of finding the specific causes of pleasure/not pain and the behavior that takes advantage of that result.