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Affective Neuroscience

Please note: Jaak Panksepp will soon be contributing to this section!


Affective Neuroscience––of truth and scientific blindsight


It is my distinct pleasure to introduce to the reader, a little known scientific discipline founded by Jaak Panksepp, which is without question, the most vital and clearheaded new direction which medical science has found in the last 50-100 years: affective neuroscience. This approach to the human puzzle, has in the main, done what seems impossible in this day of politically correct fakery and pluralism––taken honest stock of the human situation without pretending or flattering the subject. Through an analysis of conserved brain anatomy across evolutionary development, alongside a rigorous experimental framework, this discipline has made clear empirical demonstration of its assumptions, and concretized the role of affect, now assigned to precise circuitry which interactively mediates systemic activity. The sorry arrogance of man, his deep insecurity, his need to imagine himself above the affects and the animals which inhabit this earth, of which humans are but one example, has stuck science in the mud for too many years. It is affect which is the underpinning of behavior, affect which is demonstrably primary. To attempt to gain an understanding of man, without analyzing the affects, is like attempting to quench thirst from an empty glass. It may be less messy to drink from such a glass, but flattery and ignorance are seldom as refreshing as they are attractive.


The brain systems for REM sleep, for the phase of sleep associated with dreaming in the most vivid and affectively saturated sense (Hobson, 2002, p. 684), are older evolutionarily, than the areas associated with waking (Panksepp, 1998. p.134-135). The implication is clear––REM "dreaming" was once not dreaming, but, was once a primary waking consciousness, as the REM system is older than the current system for waking (Panksepp, 1998, p. 133, 135). This highly affective protoconsciousness underlies all of waking experience, and can be seen to cycle underneath consciousness (Panksepp, 1998, p. 129). Beneath the facade of rationality, we dream consciousness into being, our logic a latecomer, a traveler waking upon a dream, a dreamer who believes himself awake, so is human logic an illusion brought to truth upon the evolution of affect. Affect is the often hidden underpinning of all experience and behavior.


This idea is not mere folly, but fact. [Please note, in affective neuroscience, primary affective systems are indicated by the use of capitols.] The deep layers of the colliculi, and the periaqueductal grey, so primitive and ancient, are the locus and nexus of the most basic "SELF" (Panksepp, 1998, p. 312). This ancient bit of brain, the periaqueductal grey, is a primary energetic contributor to consciousness, an instigator of cortical tone (Kaplan-Solms & Solms, 2002, p. 265), and, the removal of this single bit of tissue, this nexus of affect, pain and pleasure, will terminate all consciousness (Solms, 2013). The periaqueductal grey, this lower structure most necessary for consciousness, is the smallest, and hence, the most necessary piece of the mental system, which when destroyed, will cause the complete abeyance and discontinuation of consciousness. Consciousness, quite literally, is dependent on the mental structures most closely associated with affect. Literally, physiologically, anatomically, it is affect which is responsible for human consciousness.


The reaches of affective neuroscience do not cease at the demarcation of general circuitry and synaptic discharge born of the "classical" neurotransmitters, such as the indoleamine 5-HT and the catecholamines NE and DA. The role of neuropeptide chemistry in mediating affective states is a primary focus of this discipline. Endogenous opioids such as beta endorphin, and their systemic neuropeptide antagonists, such as corticotrophin releasing factor, achieve more subtle affective modulations than the bold strokes of the major classical neurotransmitters such as serotonin (5-HT), and dopamine (DA), which are involved in nearly every psychological process and behavior (Panksepp, 1998, p. 103). In discovering the multiadaptive and interactive mechanics of both the classical neurotransmitter, and the neuropeptide systems, both the gross and more subtle shades of behavior stemming from affective sources will one day become available to understanding.


The basic primary process circuitry of affective neuroscience is defined as comprising seven basic systems which are: SEEKING, FEAR, RAGE, LUST, CARE, PANIC/GRIEF, and PLAY (Solms & Panksepp, 2012). These systems interact to form the complex underlying dynamic of human expression and perception, and, constitute the basis of consciousness itself. However complex, the human animal is just that, an animal, no more and no less. Only by understanding the dynamism and interactive complexity of the most fundamental constituents of the human equation, can we hope to gain a full understanding and appreciation for what it means to be human. If we are to grasp the effect, human behavior, the cause, human affect, must find a primary place in the science of psychology. Although it is difficult to accept, our irrational and deeply emotional species, complete with behaviors such as war, hate, love, sexuality, religious ecstasy, and every other distinctly human trait, is not based on rationality, which is an effect most secondary to the essence of humanity. Affective neuroscience is the very key, the single most vital and important tool which exists today, that might allow us an honest and detailed assessment of the emergent affect and the physiology from which it springs, that define the future potential and current condition, of the animal, we call human.


––Rich Norman




Hobson, J. A., & Pace-Schott, E. F. (2002). The cognitive neuroscience of sleep: Neuronal systems, consciousness and learning.  Nature Reviews Neuroscience, (3). doi:10.1038/nrn915


Kaplan-Solms, K., & Solms, M. (2002). Clinical studies in neuropsychoanalysis: Introduction to a depth neuropsychology. London.: Karnac Press.


Panksepp, J. (1998). Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions. New York, NY.: Oxford Press.


Solms, M., & Panksepp, J. (2012). The “Id” Knows More than the “Ego” Admits: Neuropsychoanalytic and Primal Consciousness Perspectives on the Interface Between Affective and Cognitive Neuroscience. Brain Sci. 2, 147-175; doi:10.3390/brainsci2020147


Solms, M. (2013). The conscious id. Neuropsychoanalysis. 15 (1): 5-19.

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