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Descartes’ faith in his assertion “I think, therefore I am” may be superseded by a more primitive affirmation that is part of the genetic makeup of all mammals: “I feel, therefore I am."

— Jaak Panksepp

JAAK PANKSEPP (1943 2017): 

Neuroscientist and Psychobiologist 

Jaak Panksepp began his career under the auspices of behaviorism. He rebelled against the thought that animals did not feel and that we could not study feelings in humans because subjectivity is unmeasurable. He was right. His research largely disproves both ideas.

It is in the experience of feeling that we “know” we are alive, that we experience our Beingness, our “I”. We pay little attention to our here and now existence, in spite of which, our implicit knowing directs our movement, our thoughts, and our values.

There are three biological processes that induce feelings:

  1. Homeostasis: feelings of thirst, hunger, wakefulness, temperature, etc.

  2. Sensory-Perceptual: feelings accompanying input, e.g., sight, sound, touch (with Panksepp including disgust, pain, surprise).

  3. Instinctual emotions: feelings with an hedonic valence (a good or bad feeling) — emotions that inform the mind whether to move towards, away, or wait — each circuit being unique in the quality of the feeling and action it engenders. There are seven of these instinctual emotional circuits: SEEKING/expectation, PANIC/GRIEF (separation and loss), CARE, PLAY, FEAR, RAGE, and LUST.


All of these feelings are innate, operating at birth and originating in approximately the same anatomical area of the brain. In all people the emotional circuits produce the same neurochemistry, the same facial expressions, the same reflexive actions, and the same vocalizations. All mammals share these seven emotional circuits and, interestingly, birds share most of the same processes and feelings.

Jaak Panksepp, with Mark Solms, posited a Self that is one and whole but viewed from two perspectives (dual-aspect monism). One aspect is the “I,” generated by the brain stem, the embodied feeling, the consciousness and the subjective Self. The second aspect is the “ME,” an abstract, objective, re-presentation of the “I”. The second aspect is under the purview of the cortex. The cortex does not feel; the feelings people experience arise from the brain stem and stimulate the imaging of “ME” in our cortex, our thinking, and our values.

Our value systems are based on what evolution has produced as necessary predicates of survival and reproduction — predicates for knowing what is good for life and what diminishes it. The way all life “knows” is through the hedonic valence of the feelings in one’s body and the qualitative differences in each emotional circuit. The True Self Project examines our values and the specific emotional circuits underlying them.

The roots of higher levels of consciousness are embedded in the ancient soil of purely experiential and unreflective consciousness.

 Jaak Panksepp

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