3. THE “HORMIC” FEELINGS – “But that’s not why we do it.”

“Physics is like sex:

sure, it may give some practical results,

but that’s not why we do it.”

Richard Feynman

Dan: Okay Julia, this time I will start us off with a question for you. To review, your fitting-of-feelings-to-needs (FFN) idea, you noted that feelings and their functions are ontologically different, yet they are biologically united, from which you conclude that our ontology must be wrong and that we should regard them as ontologically united. But there might be a problem with this idea if you are trying to ground your explanation of feelings in biological need because there is a gap between the feelings that we experience (hunger, thirst, fear, lust, etc.) aimed at specific goals (eating, drinking, fleeing, sex, etc.) and the real biological functions that these goals serve (nourishment, hydration, survival, procreation, etc.). Thus, we have a disconnect – a gap – between why it is we do something and the biological purpose that the something we are driven to do serves. We do body-directed things in response to feelings, and our feelings incite actions that only indirectly result in supplying the biological need, which is the point Richard Feynman beautifully makes in the epigraph – “but that’s not why we do it.” Doesn’t this gap pose a problem for your idea?

Julia: No, I think it reinforces it. The gap you noticed is well known; there is even a name associated with it, hormic. The person who gave us this name in its biological context (he borrowed the word from hormic or motivational psychology, but that’s a digression since this is not a history course) is the zoologist Wilfred Eade Agar of whom you have probably never heard.  Agar was an Anglo-Australian zoologist who worked in the first half of the last century. In his 1943 book A Contribution to the Theory of the Living Organism he writes:

“[T]he purpose of the animal under the sexual urge is to mate. We may describe mating as the ‘hormic goal’ of sexual activity; there is an agent [meaning us] striving to that end. The continuance of the species, on the other hand, may be called the ‘biological consequence’ of sexual activity, because although sexual activity has that result, we can identify no agent striving towards that end.”

In other words “that’s not why he does it.” We commit hormic acts to enjoy a feeling (e.g. eating and sex) or to rid a feeling (e.g. hunger and fear), and these acts achieve “practical” biological results, but there is no agent that, for example, feels lustfully driven to make a kid. A million novels explore the real thing for which we are lustfully driven, and none claims that lust is a drive to make a kid.

Agar has something more to say on hormic goals, which illustrates the power of the hormic idea to interpret animal behavior:

“The fact that a Sphex wasp may sometimes go to the labor of sealing up its nest though its contents have been removed by the human experimenter has been cited as an example of the stupidity of the instinct. But we may take it that the wasp is not engaged in providing for the next generation. It is engaged in nest construction,”

which is the wasp’s hormic goal.

Dan: Giving it a name doesn’t answer the question.

Julia: My point in bringing up hormic feelings does relate to your question. But to get to its relevance I must tell you why hormic goals and biological goals are not the same. One reason they must be different is incompatible time scales. Consider eating, fleeing, and procreation. The emergence of multicellular life some 600 to 800 million years ago was enabled by reproduction moving from cell division to eggs. Then the whole process of procreation – the time for the egg to hatch – became too slow for the parent to postpone eating and fleeing for the duration. Eggs are autonomous; they do their thing without attention by their parent, thus allowing the parent to eat and flee as needed. This means that the act of producing an egg must be separate from the act of procreation, which is the egg’s business. But this evolutionary step from cell division to egg required a means to produces an egg, namely sex, which, as a need, automatically comes together with its ontologically tied hormic aspect that we experience as lust. It was life’s discovery of the egg mode of reproduction that, as part of the discovery, created Precambrian sex and, ontologically tied to it, a Precambrian version of lust. So you see if evolution discovers a new function, then the need thereby created to implement the function ineluctably creates the need’s own particular hormic feeling. This is why I think the gap you point to reinforces the FFN idea, for it jumps the gaps.

Another case is hunger. When life became multicellular, thus creating a division of labor among cell groups, some actions that were needed for survival required cooperation between cell groups or between the whole organism and specialized cell groups. For example, in many cases eating is a whole organism activity – hunting, catching, and eating – while digestion, the real biological goal of turning the thing eaten into body substance, is done by a different organ or set of organs – let’s abbreviate it as the stomach. Although the stomach does the real biological work of turning food into body substance, it cannot hunt, catch and eat. The coordinated, whole-body act of providing the stomach with something to digest is separate from digestion, and as a separate function has its ontologically tied hormic aspect, which we experience as hunger. Hunger is a drive which causes actions aimed at eliminating it, the accomplishment of which maintains body homeostasis. The hormic feeling goes with the need because they are two aspects of one thing.\

Dan: Do you want to do fear?

Julia: Fear is a hormic feeling too. Let’s say it induces flight instead of fight. Fleeing is an obvious whole organism function, since only certain parts do the job of moving the organism while other parts provide the signal to flee. The biological goal is to survive, but the hormic goal is to be rid of fear. A single feeling, fear, coordinates a whole-organism response, and the biological goal of survival is often achieved. We do not need to ask where the feeling comes from; it is the ‘mental’ side of the sensed need to flee.

Dan: This reminds me of the James-Lange theory of emotion – emotion is a response to a physiological reaction to a stimulus, such as, I am shivering, therefore I feel cold; I am trembling, therefore I feel afraid. The theory claims that our feeling of these physiological changes is the emotion. The “is” in my sentence should be emphasized – IS the emotion.

Julia: If the James-Lange theory means that the physiological changes cause the emotions, then it is different than the FFN idea I am pursuing. In FFN there is an ontological-identity relation, not a causal relation. If your emphasis ‘IS’ means that they are two sides of one thing, then the James-Lange theory is like FFN in that it requires us to view as one thing two things that we actually perceive to be separate, which is conceptually counterintuitive.

Speaking of counterintuitive, last time I mentioned that Juan Roederer in his book Information and Its Role in Nature independently arrived at the ontological identity idea – that the pattern of neuron firing does not create the image, it IS the image. He also has something to say about the counterintuitive problem that we have arrived at here in which one thing has two aspects that we perceive to be two ontologically different things. He makes an analogy to quantum mechanics. To paraphrase, he says that just like the enigmatic wave/particle duality in QM, the feeling/need duality “is a fact one should accept and get used to.”

Dan: Yes, but to get used to it we need to see more of it. Maybe we can enlarge our acquaintance with it next time.

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