See Also: Book Notes, (me), Notes on Consciousness, Consciousness and the Brain, Ancient Origins of Consciousness Consciousness: Confessions, The Quest for Consciousness, Happiness Hypothesis, Blank Slate, Info Viz & Perception, On Intelligence, Neuroscience of Human Relationships, Human: Makes Us Unique, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Righteous Mind, Ravenous Brain

How Emotions Are Made

The Secret Life of the Brain

Lisa Feldman Barrett

March 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0544133310 Book Website
291 pages of text, 42 pages of notes, 45 pages of bibliography and 16 pages of index. website:
cortex-1, evolution-1, regions-1, interoception-11, . . .   See Also: Videos

As always, these notes are what I found interesting and not a summary in any form!. I love the idea that we Experience our Constructed Model of the World as Reality. The other big ideas are: Constructed Emotions, Body Budgeting, Affective Realism, Social Reality (as a Super Power), and the Interoceptive System. There is a lot to unpack here. And, there are a few nits, too.

Since my lens is Consciousness, the idea of the Model as Reality is the key to the book FOR ME. This ia a fragment of text that needs a lot of set-up. And the set-up needs set-up, too. So, the set-up and this text are repeated near the end.

p287: "From these three inevitabilities of the mind, we see that construction teaches us to be skeptical. Your experiences are not a window into reality. Rather, your brain is wired to model your world, driven by what is relevant for your body budget, and then you experience that model as Reality..."

Also, very current about unlearning implicit bias, aka, Training the Elephant: "It is your responsibility to learn concepts that, through prediction, steer you away from harmful actions."

Prediction, Categorization, Error Correction and Concepts

Barrett goes into a lot of detail on a set of concepts that all have to do with modelling Reality. They are: Concepts (the model), Simulation (running the model), Prediction (using the model), Error Correction (tweaking the current categorization and/or the Concept). [jch] Our mental model is a "deep learning" model and categorization similar is "inference" in deep learning lingo, except deep learning does not have the simultaneous predictions...

Prediction: (See Also: Clark's Surfing Uncertaintity)
p59: "Though prediction, your brain constructs the world you experience. It combines bits and pieces of your past and estimates how likely each bit applies in you current situation."
p62 "Through prediction and correction, your brain continually creates and revises your mental model of the world. It's a huge ongoing simulation that constructs everything you perceive while determining how you act..."
p64 "When prediction errors occur there are two general options:" 1) change prediction or 2) filter sensory input to match prediction (Affective Realism, aka, implicit bias)
I'd add 3) Throw the prediction error to consciousness. Perhaps that would be considered "Experiential Blindness".

Barrett's Concepts are VERY SIMILAR to Bor's. Chunking. The "bits and pieces" packaged up into easily retrievable bundles.

p29: "Every moment that you are alive, your brain uses concepts to simulate the outside world. Without concepts, you are experientially blind, as you were with the [visual anomaly]. With concepts, your brain simulates so invisibly and automatically that vision, hearing, and your other senses seem like reflexes rather than constructions."

p??: "you smell, the touches you feel, the flavors you taste, and the interoceptive sensations you experience as aches and pains and affect ..they all involve continuous sensory signals that are highly variable and ambiguous as they reach your brain. Your brain's job is to predict them before they arrive, fill in missing details, and find regularities where possible, so that you experience a world of objects, people, music, and events, not the "blooming, buzzing confusion" that is really out there."

Concept Cascades:
p119: "... your prediction that you see your beloved Uncle Kevin unexpectedly in a shopping mall. Your brain issues this prediction because, at some time in the past, you saw Uncle Kevin in a similar situation and experienced sensations that you categorized as happiness. How well will this prediction match your incoming sensory inputs right now? If it matches better than all the other predictions, then you will experience this instance of "Happiness." If not, then your brain will adjust the prediction, and you might experience an instance of "Disappointment" Or if need be, your brain will make the prediction match the sensory input, and you will mistakenly perceive someone else to be your Uncle Kevin ... your brain must determine whether its prediction of Uncle Kevin ultimately becomes your perception and directs your action, or whether a course correction is required. To determine the details, the brain unpacks the summary of all the sensory input into a gigantic cascade of more detailed predictions ... This process, shown in figure 6-1, is the same one that builds up a concept from details, but in reverse."

p121. "Third, the cascade also highlights the neural advantages of high emotional granularity, the phenomenon (described in chapter 1) of constructing more precise emotional experiences. When your brain constructs multiple instances of "Happiness" at seeing Uncle Kevin, it must sort out which one best resembles your current sensory input, to become the winning instance. This is a big job for your brain with some metabolic cost. But imagine if the English language had a more specific word than "happiness" for feeling attachment to a close friend, such as the Korean word jeong (g). Your brain would require less effort to construct with this more precise concept. Even better, if you had a special word for "happiness at feeling close to my Uncle Kevin," your brain could be even more efficient at determining the winning instance. On the other hand, if you were constructing with the very broad concept "Pleasant Feeling" rather than "Happiness," your brain's job would be harder. Preciseness leads to efficiency; this is a biological payoff of higher emotional granularity."

Constructed Emotions

Constructed Emotions: emotions are concepts and the finer the granularity of your concepts, the easier it is to feel what you're feeling. It is more efficient.

p67: "Usually, you experience interception only in general terms: those simple feelings of pleasure, displeasure, arousal, or calmness [mentioned earlier] Sometimes, however, you experience moments of intense interoceptive sensations as emotions. That is a key element of the theory of constructed emotion. In every waking moment, your brain gives your sensations meaning. Some of those sensations are interoceptive sensations, and the resulting meaning can be an instance of an emotion."

p35: "The theory of constructed emotion incorporates elements of all three flavors of construction. From social construction, it acknowledges the importance of culture and concepts. From psychological construction, it considers emotions to be constructed by core systems in the brain and body. And from neuroconstuction, it adopts the idea that experience wires the brain."

Barrett spent the early part of her PhD work trying to detect the "signatures of emotions" for the universal emotions, which was and still is the commonly accepted view. She could not find them. Instead, she started thinking in terms of population thinking. Each instance of anger is unique, based on habit and circumstance.

On p 138, Emotions are 1) to make meaning - to understand one's state is more efficient, 2) prescribe action, 3) regulate your body budget to prepare for said action. These 3 are about you. Two other functions: emotional communication and social influence.

Social Reality

p134. "Emotions become real to us through two human capabilities that are prerequisites for Social Reality. First, you need a group a people to agree that a concept exists, such as "Flower" or "Cash" or "Happiness". This shared knowledge is called collective intentionality. Most people barely think about collective intentionality, but it nevertheless is a foundation of every society. Even your own name is made real through collective intentionality."

p135. "Emotion categories, in my view, are made real through collective intentionality... You needn't be explicitly aware of this agreement... At that point, people can transmit information about that concept among themselves so efficiently that anger seems inborn... By virtue of the fact that we share a concept, my movement initiates a prediction in your brain . . . a uniquely human brand of magic. It is categorization as a cooperative act."

p135. "Collective intentionality is necessary for social reality but not sufficient. Certain non-human animals are capable of a rudimentary form of collective intentionality without social reality. Ants work together toward a common activity, as do bees. ... Humans are unique, however, because our collective intentionality involves mental concepts. We can look at a hammer, a chainsaw, and an ice pick and categorize them all as "Tools," then change our minds and categorize them all as "Murder Weapons" We can impose functions that would not otherwise exist, thereby inventing reality. We can work this magic because we have the second prerequisite for social reality: language. No other animals have collective intentionality combined with words."

Body Budget

Body Budget is a term that is purposefully vague, but it works. Your brain minimizes the amount of energy it expends. It can refer to body budgeting regions, metabolism, psychological well being. The lab just published: Evidence for a large-scale brain system supporting allostasis and interoception in humans_ in Nature, Human Behavior. Ian R. Kleckner.

p70: "Someone merely walks toward you while you are standing still, and your brain predicts that you need fuel! In this manner, any event that significantly impacts your body budget becomes personally meaningful to you."

p71: "To perturb your budget, you don't even require another person or object to be present. You can just imagine your boss, teacher, coach, or anything else relevant to you. Every simulation, whether it becomes an emotion or not, impacts your body budget. As it turns out, people spend at least half their waking hours simulating rather than paying attention to the world around them, and this pure simulation strongly drives their feelings."

p200: Your body budget fluctuates normally throughout the day, as your brain anticipates your body's needs and shifts around your budgetary resources like oxygen, glucose, salt, and water. When you digest food, your stomach and intestines "borrow" resources from your muscles. When you run, your muscles borrow from your liver and kidneys. During these transfers, your budget remains solvent.

p200: Your body budget tilts out of balance when your brain estimates badly. This is a fairly normal occurrence. When something psychologically meaningful happens, like seeing your boss or coach or teacher walking toward you, your brain may predict unnecessarily that you need fuel, activating survival circuits that impact your budget. In general, these short-term imbalances are nothing to worry about, as long as you pay back your withdrawals by eating and sleeping.

Affective Realism

Affective Realism is a step past implicit bias. The Reality we see/hear is shaped by our affect. To set this up, we need to clarify Affect:

p72: "When you wake up in the morning, do you feel refreshed or crabby? In the middle of the day, do you feel dragged out or full of energy? Consider how you feel right now Calm? Interested? Energetic? Bored? Tired? Cranky? These are the simple feelings we discussed at the beginning of the chapter. Scientists call them affect.*

Affect is the general sense of feeling that you experience throughout each day. It is not emotion but a much simpler feeling with two features. The first is how pleasant or unpleasant you feel, which scientists call valence. The pleasantness of the sun on your skin, the deliciousness of your favorite food, and the discomfort of a stomachache or a pinch are all examples of affective valence. The second feature of affect is how calm or agitated you feel, which is called arousal. The energized feeling of anticipating good news, the jittery feeling after drinking too much coffee, the fatigue after a long run, and the weariness from lack of sleep are examples of high and low arousal."

p79: "You might believe that you are a rational creature, weighing the pros and cons before deciding how to act, but the structure of your cortex makes this an implausible fiction. Your brain is wired to listen to your body budget. Affect is in the driver's seat and rationality is a passenger. It doesn't matter whether you're choosing between two snacks, two job offers, two investments, or two heart surgeons your everyday decisions are driven by a loudmouthed, mostly deaf scientist who views the world through affect-colored glasses."


Exteroception are the senses vision, hearing, etc. Interoception senses our internal state.

p73: "Interoception is a fundamental feature of the human nervous system, and why you experience these sensations as affect is one of the great mysteries of science. Interoception did not evolve for you to have feelings but to regulate your body budget. It helps your brain track your temperature, how much glucose you are using, whether you have any tissue damage, whether your heart is pounding, whether your muscles are stretching, and other bodily conditions, all at the same time. Your affective feelings of pleasure and displeasure, and calmness and agitation, are simple summaries of your budgetary state. Are you flush?Are you overdrawn?Do you need a deposit, and if so, how desperately?

When your budget is unbalanced, your affect doesn't instruct you how to act in any specific way, but it prompts your brain to search for explanations. Your brain constantly uses past experience to predict which objects and events will impact your body budget, changing your affect. These objects and events are collectively your affective niche. Intuitively, your affective niche includes everything that has any relevance to your body budget in the present moment. Right now, this book is within your affective niche, as are the letters of the alphabet, the ideas you're reading about, any memories that my words bring to mind, the air temperature around you, and any objects, people, and events from your past that impacted your body budget in a similar situation. Anything outside your affective niche is just noise: your brain issues no predictions about it, and you do not notice it. The feel of your clothing against your skin is usually not in your affective niche (though it is now, since I just mentioned it), unless it happens to be relevant, say, to your physical comfort."

Experiencing our Constructed Model of the World as Reality

Now, hopefully this makes sense. Perhaps, as my wife says, this is obvious to everyone, but, to me, it's a great model for consciousness.

p283: "Affective Realism, the phenomenon that you experience what you believe, is inevitable because of your wiring. The body budgeting regions ... are the most powerful predictors in your brain, and your primary sensory regions are eager listeners. Body budget predictions are laden with affect, not logic and reason, are the main drivers of your experience and behavior."

p284: "Affective Realism is an inevitability, yet you are not helpless against it. The best defense against it is curiosity..."

"The second inevitability of the mind is that you have concepts, because the human brain is wired to construct a conceptual system."

"The third inevitability of the mind is social reality." ... The social world becomes real.

p287: "From these three inevitabilities of the mind, we see that construction teaches us to be skeptical. Your experiences are not a window into reality. Rather, your brain is wired to model your world, driven by what is relevant for your body budget, and then you experience that model as Reality..."

Training the Elephant

We are responsible for our actions. Sure, your brain made you do it, but, "It is your responsibility to learn concepts that, through prediction, steer you away from harmful actions." We all need to train the Elephant in the rider and the elephant metaphor.

p155 "If you grow up in a society full of anger or hate, you can't be blamed for having the associated concepts, but as an adult, you can choose to educate yourself and learn additional concepts. It's certainly not an easy task, but it is doable. This is another basis for my frequent claim, "You are an architect of your experience?" You are indeed partly responsible for your actions, even so-called emotional reactions that you experience as out of your control. It is your responsibility to learn concepts that, through prediction, steer you away from harmful actions. You also bear some responsibility for others, because your actions shape other people's concepts and behaviors, creating the environment that turns genes on and off to wire their brains, including the brains of the next generation. Social reality implies that we are all partly responsible for one another's behavior, not in a fluffy, let's-all-blame-society sort of way, but a very real brain-wiring way."


p285 "Concepts are not just "in your head." Suppose you and I are chatting over coffee, and when I make some witty remark, you smile and nod. If my brain predicted your smile and your nod, and the visual input to my brain confirms these movements, then my own prediction — say, to nod back at you — becomes my behavior. You in turn might have predicted my nod, along with a host of other possibilities, which causes a change in your sensory input, which interacts with your predictions. In other words, your neurons influence one another not only through direct connections but indirectly through the outside environment, in an interaction with me. We are performing a synchronized dance of prediction and action, regulating each other's body budgets. This same synchrony is the basis of social connection and empathy; it makes people trust and like each other, and it's crucial for parent-infant bonding."

Self Help

p177: Modern culture, unfortunately, is engineered to screw up your body budget. Many of the products sold in supermarkets and chain restaurants are pseudo-food loaded with budget-warping refined sugar and bad fats. Schools and jobs require you to wake early and go to sleep late, leaving over 40 percent of Americans between the ages of thirteen and sixty-four regularly sleep-deprived, a condition that can lead to chronic misbudgeting and possibly depression and other mental illnesses. Advertisers play on your insecurities, suggesting you'll be judged badly by your friends unless you buy the right clothing or car, and social rejection is toxic for your body budget. Social media offers new opportunities for social rejection and adds ambiguity, which is even worse for your body budget. Friends and employers expect you to be surgically attached to your cell phone at all hours, which means you never truly relax, and late-night screen time disrupts your sleeping patterns. Your culture's expectations for work, rest, and socializing determine how easily you can manage that internal budget. Social reality transmutes into physical reality.'

p176: Everything you've read so far about interoception, affect, body budgets, prediction, prediction error, concepts, and social reality has broad and deep practical implications for who you are and how you live your life. That's our theme as we enter the final part of this book, which begins here with emotional well-being and then continues to health (chapter 10), the law (chapter 11), and non-human animals (chapter 12).

p178: The science is crystal clear on healthful food, regular exercise, and sleep as prerequisites for a balanced body budget and a healthy emotional life. A chronically taxed body budget increases your chances of developing a host of different illnesses, as we'll see in the next chapter.

p178: A next line of attack is to modify your physical comfort if you can. Try a massage from a lover, a close friend, or a paid massage therapist (if you can afford it). Human touch is good for your health — it improves your body budget by way of your interoceptive network…. Yet another budget-balancing activity is yoga. . . . Regular exercise also increases the levels of other proteins, called anti-inflammatory cytokines, that reduce your chances of developing heart disease, depression, and other illnesses. Your physical surroundings also affect your body budget, so if possible, try to spend time in spaces with less noise and crowding, and more greenery and natural light.

p179: Diving into a compelling novel is also healthful for your body budget. . . Here's another simple budget-booster: set up regular lunch dates with a friend and take turns treating each other. Research shows that giving and gratitude have mutual benefits for the body budget . . . Changing your habits to suit your body budget is never easy, and sometimes it's impossible, but try these techniques wherever you can. They will lift your mood and you'll feel less stressed more of the time.

p181: Perhaps the easiest way to gain concepts is to learn new words. You've probably never thought about learning words as a path to greater emotional health, but it follows directly from the neuroscience of construction. Words seed your concepts, concepts drive your predictions, predictions regulate your body budget, and your body budget determines how you feel. Therefore, the more finely grained your vocabulary, the more precisely your predicting brain can calibrate your budget to your body's needs. In fact, people who exhibit higher emotional granularity go to the doctor less frequently, use medication less frequently, and spend fewer days hospitalized for illness. This is not magic; it's what happens when you leverage the porous boundary between the social and the physical.

p181: So, learn as many new words as possible. Read books that are outside of your comfort zone, or listen to thought-provoking audio content like National Public Radio. Don't be satisfied with "happy": seek out and use more specific words like "ecstatic," "blissful," and "inspired." Learn the difference between "discouraged" or "dejected" versus generically "sad:' As you build up the associated concepts, you'll become able to construct your experiences more finely. And don't limit yourself to words in your native language. Pick another language and seek out its concepts for which your language has no words, like the Dutch emotion of togetherness, gezellig, and the Greek feeling of major guilt, enohi. Each word is another invitation to construct your experiences in new ways.

p183: After improving your emotional granularity, another way to hone your concepts, which is popular with therapists and self-help books, is to keep track of your positive experiences each day. Can you find anything that can make you smile, even briefly? Each time you attend to positive things, you tweak your conceptual system, reinforcing concepts about those positive events and making them salient in your mental model of the world. It's even better if you write about your experiences because, again, words lead to concept development, which will help you predict new moments to cultivate positivity.

p194: You can experience similar awe when hearing ocean waves crash against rocks on a beach, gazing at the stars, walking under storm clouds in the middle of the day, hiking deep into uncharted territory, or taking part in spiritual ceremonies. People who report feeling awe more frequently also have the lowest levels of those nasty cytokines that cause inflammation (though nobody has proved cause and effect).44 Whether you cultivate awe, meditate, or find other ways to deconstruct your experience into physical sensations, recategorization is a critical tool for mastering your emotions in the moment. When you feel bad, treat yourself like you have a virus, rather than assuming that your unpleasant feelings mean something personal. Your feelings might just be noise. You might just need some sleep.


Barrett does a good job threading the needle of whether chronic pain is real or all in your head, IMHO.

p205: You might think that when your body is harmed, information simply radiates from the afflicted area to your brain, leading you to swear loudly and reach for the ibuprofen and bandages. It's true that your nervous system sends sensory input to your brain when your muscles or joints are injured, or your body tissues are damaged by excessive heat or cold, or in response to a chemical irritation like a pinch of pepper in your eye. This process is called nociception. And in the past, scientists believed that your brain simply received and represented nociceptive sensations and, voila, you experience pain.

p210: . . . depression. But most likely, depression is not just one thing. Depression is — you guessed it — a concept. It is a population of diverse instances, so there are many degenerate paths to depression, many of which begin with an imbalanced body budget.

Naive! Not many paths to a single depression. She had it right when she said depression is "not just one thing". Most of the time it is a lack of serotonin or dopamine, sometimes it is both. If those psyche meds work for you, that would probably be better than coming up with a better concept for your depression! BUT, I'm sure there is a population of people who present with symptoms of depression that suffer from something else entirely. AND, I am sure that Lisa's list of self-help actions will help almost everyone who tries them.

p218: We all walk a tightrope between the world and the mind, and between the natural and the social. Many phenomena that were once considered purely mental depression, anxiety, stress, and chronic pain — can, in fact, be explained in biological terms. Other phenomena that were believed to be purely physical, like pain, are also mental concepts. To be an effective architect of your experience, you need to distinguish physical reality from social reality, and never mistake one for the other, while still understanding that the two are irrevocably entwined.

?irrevocable? As in Lisa has spoken? Perhaps inherent? or intrisic?


For the most part, Barrett does a good job balancing between abstraction and complexity and dumbing the subject down. One example of dumbing it down too much is when she discusses to Damasio and the loss of a specific brain region at that point, just name the orbitofrontal cortext.

Granted, I am not the target for this book. I have read a lot of books and papers on Consciousness. However, I still have nits:
1) Terminology - intrinsic networks (p58), which is way too vague. The term Intrinsic Brain Network get 1.5M gaggle hits, while Large Scale Brain Networks (LSBN) gets 9.7M hits. Why not use the more decriptive and more widely used term?
Another example, Theory of Mind is the widely used term for figuring out intentions, beliefs, etc of other people. She uses mental inference. If you are going to use a different term, use a more explicit term.
Interception system would be better than interoception network. If the default mode Network is a part of it and the brain network concept is well established, don't add another layer of networks. No mention of Vagus Nerve..

Brain blobs

Barrett refers to brain regions as if they were homogeneous blobs. If all nodes in a network are homogeneous, then the intelligence would live in the routing tables, and downplaining the regions would be fine. HOWEVER, cytoarchitecture makes it clear that the different nodes have different processing capabilites. So the brain regions are as important as the network topology and they should be identified if it is relevant.

p167: " ... Broca's idea [ language cortex ] prevailed anyway because it was protected by Darwin's magical cloak reinforced by a healthy dose of essentialism. Thanks to Broca, scientists now had an evolutionary story for the origin of language — that it's located in "rational" cortex — countering the prevailing belief that language was given by God. Today's textbooks in psychology and neurology still hold up Broca's area as the clearest example of localized brain function, even as neuroscience has shown that the region is neither necessary nor sufficient for language. Broca's area is actually afailure to localize a psychological function to a brain blob."

Universal Emotions

p173: So when the classical view [ of emotions ] reasserted itself in the 1960s, half a century of anti-essentialist research was swept into history's dustbin. And we are all the poorer for it, considering how much time and money are being wasted today in pursuit of illusory emotion essences. At press time, Microsoft is analyzing facial photographs in an attempt to recognize emotion. Apple has recently purchased Emollient. . . Google . . .

What? If emotions are not essences, not purely physiological, then it is a waste of time to detect them? Since language is learned, is it a waste of time to do speach recognition? What if the core emotions are not inbred, but, then are nearly universal because they are like ProtoIndoEuropean roots?

Another nit, she uses "scientists say", as if everyone agrees with her.

Nerdly nit: p129 "We only experience red when light of 600 nanometers reflects off of an object". If you are reading a screen and there is red on it, that is being emitted, not reflected.

Random Notes

Invisibilia features Lisa Feldman Barrett and Emotions
Hard Feelings_ Science’s Struggle to Define Emotions The Atlantic
Bodily maps of emotions
Jaak Panksepp: Archeology of the Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotions
Jay Smooth on TED: Racism and Dental Hygiene

CONCEPT, from Latin capere, to take, seize, catch.
AHD ProtoIndoEuropean‌root:‌kap- To grasp
Conscousness is scale free. (consciousness involves tiny processes and macro-processes. And no matter how much we understand about it, it will always be a mystery)
motivated reasoning is done by the rider, where as implicit bias (affective realism) is the elephant.
Four Fs: fight, flight, feed and mate.
p69 cortisol
the orbitofrontal cortext

2017.07.04 YON <>