The Emotional Continuum: Exploring Emotions with the Comparison Process
By Herb Wiggins, discoverer/creator of the Comparison Process//COMP Theory/Model
This article is meant to be a framework, not comprehensive nor complete, but upon which a more complete model can be constructed.
The key insight, although there are likely others, is the relationship between paranoid schizophrenia of the genetic kind and the related bipolar disorder, also of the same/similar gene. How can this be? And a good answer is likely that both are variant disorders of the same underlying kind. Psychosis is prolonged mania and in the manic phase of bipolar disorder, the psychosis is partial and not constant. That is, there is a considerable variability in the expression of the presumably dominantly inherited gene which may have some modifying effects from other gene(s). Or it may simply be highly variable in its expression, such as the disease of AODM 2, which may never be expressed, may be mildly expressed, or any of the degrees of expression from requiring insulin for control, to hypoglycemic agents, or only control by diet. This same variability is likely to be true of the genetics of schizophrenia/bipolar disorder. Further in identical twin studies if one twin gets schizophrenia, the odds of the other getting is about 50%, while the incidence of the condition is about 1/2% in the population, is still 100 times expected. But it shows the extreme variability of expression of the gene for paranoid schizophrenia.
The general features of schizophrenia are from the DSM4, by the APA. Generally one finds a series of characteristics in full blown psychosis of this type such as loose associations, inappropriate behaviors and speech, pressure of speech, severe delusions and delusional behaviors, commonly including paranoia, which is as unreasonable as most delusions; auditory hallucinations, and less frequently visual hallucinations; and a flat affect meaning the person has little or no emotional expression.
Posit now using the Comparison Process, which operates in the brain cortex at the top of the 100,000’s of cortical cell columns. Most of these are very much alike, regardless of where they are, with 6 layers, except for the motor cortex which has lost level 4 and has large Betz cells instead, the function of which is very likely to move muscles. In addition, when an EEG is done on the brain, it shows very much the same alpha, beta and theta activity, no matter what part of the brain is looked at. This indicates that the cortical cell columns are functioning very much the same no matter where they are, again consistent with the Comparison Process function being the common activity of the cortex.
Because dopamine blockers such as haloperidol and other major dopamine blocking medications may completely stop all delusional and psychotic manifestations within a few days, and even cure the disorder in many cases if preventative, ongoing meds are given, the brain problem of psychosis is very likely dopamine over stimulation from an endogenous, but so far unknown process. Dopamine over stimulation can be artificially created by giving PCP, amphetamines, cocaine, and occ. tetrahydrocannabinol intoxications, the so called “reefer madness”, esp. seen in concentrated THC extracts like hashish, etc. This shows yet other kinds of over stimulation which can results in the very similar mania/psychosis of schizophrenia.
With elevated levels of dopamine activity from excessive amounts of endogenous dopamine and or excessive receptor site sensitivity, we can see that the Comparison Processors of the cortex are simply overwhelmed by excessive stimulation. The normal processes of appropriate social behaviors disappear and wild and loud behaviors are seen. The normal frontal lobe COMP controls are off line. The COMP reads and follows the conscience, which controls and promotes social behaviors. When governing processes fail, psychosis can be seen. Pressure of speech is simply the excessive talking and vocalizations which occur, because the COMP social control is not working well.
Loose associations also mark the same kind of failure, because what the Comparison Process does is make comparisons among words, ideas, images, and so forth. The processors lose organized sequencing and we see whole streams of consciousness kind of word associations, all output of speech without concern for sense, reason, or even appropriateness, either. This looseness of associations is very much like Joyce’s “Ulysses”, where he writes out these stream of consciousness associations. These may be windows into the brain’s cortical Comparison Processes, where there is a lot of association ongoing all the time, but our attention control keeps most of it out of sight. Occasionally up pops something, and we state it if the COMP checker allows it. IN psychosis the COMP governing attention is virtually turned off and shut down, and what IS working isn’t working very well.
As usual an abnormality can give insights as to what is going on in any system, because it gives one more fact/idea/image which can be compared to all others, to find answers. This is true in genetic disorders, which have taught us a lot more about normal genetics and how metabolism works, etc. The same is true of any new finding of new diseases of any kind, which can also when compared to what we know, giving rise to better understanding of disease, abnormal processes. These can build up a compendium of conditions which are related, and we better understand what is going on, simply by the finding of an error, variant, or other form of most anything. In drug research a great deal has been learned using this same process. One compound can create an unexpected effect, and by learning more about it, one can learn a great deal more about a relevant subject.
One of the best examples of this was when a new anti-histamine was being tested in rats, they were shown to simply be heavily sedated by it. most activity stopped. When further tested it was found to be a powerful sedative in humans, in addition to its antihistamine effects. It was then developed to control major problems in behaviors with schizophrenics/manias as well as persons out of control. It was found to stop the condition’s wildnesses, allow control and in some cases even to cure the psychosis. That drug was Chlorpromazine, the first really powerful control drug of the widely used phenothiazine class of anti-psychotics. This is how serendipity can often have effects well outside of its intended purpose.
Sildenafil was originally tested to promote coronary vasodilation to improve blood flow in the drugs. The male patients were doing anything they could to get more of it, because it created potency like that of 20 year old. That drug, of course, was Viagra.
We learn by doing, by testing and comparing. It’s all the same process.
In the same way mania/psychosis can be seen to be variations of the same process. How many other variations are there? The Emotional continuum.
In psychosis delusions of grandeur, of suspiciousness and other very unreasonable beliefs are seen, indicating that the COMP is not working either. Generally, people say such people are acting crazy, claiming themselves to be important but often dead persons, and carrying on in generally an uncontrolled and senseless way. Hallucinations are common, usually of the words being heard, or voices telling them to do things. The dream generators which create speech during sleep are heard while awake. and the whole psychotic episode is much like a dream state, with a great deal of fantastical events going on. Normally, such cortical activities are controlled and suppressed while awake. But the COMP are not functioning and those effects are seen
The flat affect is often seen because most normal emotional activity is mediated by the cortex. And when it’s not working, there can be little or no social interaction, no meaningful interactions with persons in a psychotic states. Overall, the COMP and the cortex giving rise to it are not working very well at all. Psychosis is a cortical problem.
In mania, very much the same is seen, tho toned down somewhat, although some manic states are very much like full blown psychosis. In the Manic state, there is still some cortical cell column/COMP control being exerted, and often the person can be reasoned with, and their frontal lobe functions can inhibit the outrageous activities seen during flagrant psychosis. So mania may be a partial state of dopamine over stimulation.
The person LIKES the mania states. They feel good, there is dopamine being released and that can create good feelings. It can be addicting in that sense, and it can promote mania as well as psychosis because it creates this ecstatic feeling in both cases of mania and psychosis. This creates one more problem with therapy because the psychotic and manic patients are getting jolts of dopamine created good feelings and who wants to stop a high?
Next we see in bipolar disorders a clear cut biphasic cycling between the manic state, a more normal in between state, followed by the depressive state, which can be severe, occasionally resulting in suicide. A similar depression is also seen in psychotic states, often more easily seen when the state is not so flagrant, often when being suppressed by dopamine blockers, i.e. a major tranquilizer. One would therefore expect to see some depression and fluctuation in psychosis in these patients as well, tho the depression is not usually treated, because it can lead to a more flagrant psychotic flare up using anti-depressants. This is being caught between a rock and a hard place, psychologically.
Let’s just extend this somewhat. How is this psychotic berserk state much different than that of the fanaticism which can work itself up to kamikaze, or terrorist bombings, or the Jihad? Though one would agree those states, being not as psychotic are more able to be created and followed through with organized purposeful actions. They are more manageable, in that sense and are not as serious as a psychotic break. Other persons who can be worked up in to agitated, ecstatic states by a very influential speaker, such as Hitler, or some rather unscrupulous religions leaders, too. This is not much different either when a general addresses the troops to get them going into battle.
The next level down would be those who have what are called very bad tempers, they lose control and commit some very anti-social acts, such as harming others, and often themselves. Tho when they come under better control, they often have severe guilt and are very upset that they have behaved in that way. The comparison processes are working again. But, the point is, they can and do often lose control again. Again, this is a failure of the COMP, and it means that in some persons, circumstances can create a temporary madness, or mania in them. They just blow up, usually with a precipitating event that greatly upsets them such a lover/spousal’s argument and or breakup. Then it passes, but the conscious/conscience controls are weak and not doing their proper social control. Again the COMP has broken down in comparing their behaviors to social standards, and when those are being overexcited, not calming the person down, as is commonest in socially controlled persons.
The main issue in these is that there is a terrifically good feeling created during dopamine over stimulation. That “high” can very easily reinforce such a behaviors and make those recur. The manic states as reported by persons who have then, whether they be full blown or not, make them feel very, very good, almost god-like in powers and feelings. Invincible, underrating their wilder behaviors as being OK, wen they are overt violations of social norms. Anger which goes out of control may also do the same.
Now lets take the more usual states, excited tho they are, at the moderate part of this emotional continuum, and compare those to the psychotic states at the extreme end. of this spectrum. There is humor, which can be shown to be a COMP which for instance, makes a pun and people laugh./ They get that dopamine kick, too, and sometime they can laugh a good deal until they almost cry. What about that Eureka moment when Archimedes found the solution to the problem the king of Syracuse would have taken his life for, if he’d not found it? What of the feelings we get when we hear a great song, or other great music, such as Beethoven’s 9th? How about scenes of great beauty sch as the Vale of the Yosemite on a clear blue sky day with 12 high waterfalls flowing, 3 of them the greatest in the world? What of a good day with a good friend? What of love with a spouse of very close friend we are intimate with? What of the pleasure of philosophy which Aristotle wrote about?
These are all the more normal kinds of excitability. And they are also very likely dopamine induced, but with less extreme actions as they are often more socially controlled. The Tarab of Oum Kalthoum, that ecstatic state so appreciated by the Arab world. What of religions and good feelings, such as we get with conversion to a faith, or feeling that Oneness with the Atman, or during meditation? What of the persistent good feeling when being in a loving relationship for a very short time, sort fo a fling, or that longer one which can last a life time? Are these not the same, but controlled good feelings which in it’s extreme leads to mania?
What of the many kinds of love, eros, philias, agape, maternitas, and the affections we have for pets and even for places, which can lead to sentimentality and homesickness? Is this not Le Chanson again? What happens when that love is lost? Do we not feel sad, and grieve and perhaps even weep? How about loneliness when others are not around? Here we see clear cut dopamine withdrawal signs and symptoms. And cannot a long lived couple together most of their lives, when the one dies, the other passes on soon afterwards? It’s extreme, but it occurs more than many would believe. And we can see then that these are the more socially acceptable kinds of that same dopamine release, whether it be transient with a good joke, or with a long term loving relationship. Does the man not grieve for his fine hunting dog, or the woman for her long lived cat? Even to the point of spending considerable amounts of money on the pets, too, beyond all reason? What is this but love? And how is this different, except not being extreme as in psychosis? Is this not the other end of the spectrum of the madness of the jihad and the assassins, but it’s socially acceptable due to its moderation?
We have all felt these emotions, and we know they are real and common for those of us in the human race. Again, the variations of the them, the song without end mediated this time by dopamine and the socially appropriate maintenance and control of these emotions by the activity of the Comparison Process in our cortex.
This is Sadness and Joy; it’s love and hate/anger; it’s the feelings of love’s labour lost and then regained. Of the parting which is such sweet sorrow followed by the joyful and emotional reunion, as the Slavs and Italians have so well shown us. The joy rebounds to assuage the absence, which makes the heart grow fonder. Here are the human emotions in all their variant forms, in all their panoply, in all the myriad and rich variations of a common theme, by which they are controlled, used and made acceptable by the Comparison Process in our cortices.
Sexual pleasure is a of kind, but will not go into that well known field to avoid titillation. But how sexual feeling bonds and promote physical as well as emotional love is very well known.
A woman’s nipples are very sensitive, which they must be to suckle her infant. Nursing is not always pleasant, but the woman gets an oxytocin rush and also pleasure from it, so she will continue to feed her baby until ready to be weaned. This results in the survival of the human race and is essential physiology and behavior. Men also have the same kind of nipples and the pleasure from the same is well known. At times the stimulation can become so frequent that a man’s nipples will leak fluid indistinguishable from colostrum, which is an early form of breast milk.
What of a good concert and performances? What of the thrills of a sports match? One can go on. but let there be little doubt that all of these emotions we have in common are real and useful within the social norms. And the conscience and our ethics and the Comparison Process watch over them to maintain that safety and value.
The ego and self-confidence are probably part of the dopamine system, also. We’ve seen the swagger of the person with a substantial ego. They feel good about themselves, probably too good. This again is that D2 receptor site activation. They may have some real basis for feeling good, a job well done, knowing that one is good at what one does, and many other similar causes. But sometimes as in narcissism it’s simply a delusional belief they are better than others, which in psychoses can be seen as delusions of grandeur. So there is a whole range of related self esteem promoting behaviors, too. This shows how dopamine activity may support the ego, feeling good about oneself, leading to confidence and a lack of depression, too. It’s an antidepressant and may promote life and health, when seen in moderation.
Let us consider another point, that of photic stimulation. When a repeating regular bright light is shown into the eyes, open or closed, the alpha waves in the visual cortex begin to match the frequency of the flashing light. If the rate slows down or speeds up, the visual cortex matches it. Now let’s consider a loud rock band, with drums, and a regular beat to it. Consider what an EEG might find in the hearing center of the cortex. Would it match that heavy beat? Very likely. Would everyone at the concert hearing that beat match it cortically as evidence on an EEG? Probably. Does the same kind of rhythmic, repeating music with a band as used by Oum Kalthoum do the same thing, when she created the tarab? Is this what happens at a rock concert? The beats and the rhythms of the music synchronizes their nervous systems. The answer is very likely, yes, and creates a similar ecstasy as is seen with the tarab. A kind of resonance effect.
Do some kinds of poetry with its rhythms and beat do the same thing? Probably. And do lyrics which rhyme do the same thing to our speech centers? What happens at a concert when the strobe lights, the drum beats and the poetry with its rhythms all occur at the same time? It’s likely a resonance effect. All feel much the same at the same time. The tarab, the rock concert. Same but different, the variations of the song without end. See reference at end, which shows that this does occur.
What of fear? Fear is a perception of danger, loss, injury to self and related threats. Therefore as recognition, it’s also under the purview of the Comparison Process. It’s learned by experience of many different kinds of threats and injuries. When we recognize the immanence of such a threat, we feel fear and try to respond to it in a away to avoid it or so block/stop the source. Recognition of a threat is the key to the fear response and emotions it creates. And recognition is the COMP.
When there is fear, there is anxiety, even an overexcited state which can lead to very serious attacks on others, self injury, and so forth. It’s an agitated state from dopamine stimulation released by the fear recognition. Again, related to mania, anger and the fight or flight emotion, with bilateral adrenal discharge with adrenalin release. Again, a series of dopamine mediated agitation, anxiety, even temporary mania/insanity from fear. The cortex shuts down. We flee or fight.
Phobias are unreasonable fears. How these develop is usually due to a very shocking event which the person may or may not recall. From there afterwards being in near the phobia releaser, be it snakes, bees, persons, heights, in large crowds may provoke that outrageous emotion of fear. Again, the excitability of the D2 receptor seen in manias and other kinds of excitements. But many of these persons with phobias will respond badly even to an image of a snake, or to a snake well on the other side of protective walls/windows. Often they will not even come into a room where there is a book open to merely the picture of a snake, or even a drawing. Deconditioning of the phobia can often work. But it’s difficult because the Long Term Memory has been so highly reinforced by an event, that the phobia recreates the same shock and reinforces the phobia repeatedly, until it becomes very difficult to abolish, quite beyond the capacity of the individual with the phobia to escape from it. They require professional help to get over the phobia. More can be found in the coming work, “Brain Hard-wiring”.
This ties in again with the mechanism of sleep and serotonin release and receptor site activation. What causes the need for sleep? This is a controversial subject but a few simple observations may be insightful. When we don’t get enough sleep at night, we are tired, run down, not feeling well the next day. If we can take a nap, there is some surcease for this during the day. However, we soon reach that point where we feel tired and need to sleep too, no matter what. In extreme cases lack of sleep can lead to hallucinations, confusion and generally the inability to think properly, all indications of COMP dysfunction in the cortex. It becomes so overwhelming that eventually we must sleep.
This is not really surprising, considering that dopamine is a catecholamine related closely to epinephrine and norepinephrine, both powerful stimulants. It’s a psychic stimulant, too, and there should be little surprise that it can create mania/psychosis, too, when found in higher than usual amounts or when there is receptor site extra-sensitivity to it, or both.
But what is going on? It’s rather simple actually. Being awake and using dopamine to move around, because we know that parkinson’s results from too little dopamine to move properly. This means that movement, in other words the motor system, requires dopamine to function. This is also evidenced by the fact that hard, physical work with lots of activity is much more tiring than a sedentary job. A lot of physical work can make us extra tired and we want to sleep. Some moderate physical activity before sleep such as walking can actually stimulate better sleep by inducing more tiredness.
But what is the tiredness and why does sleep relieve it? Recall that the brain uses up about 20-25% of the body’s blood supply and energy. It’s a very active organ. It uses dopamine to make us feel good, for the emotions all day long and a very emotionally stressful day can also make us tired in the absence of a great deal of physical activity. It can be very emotionally wearing.
What happens is this. The brain’s dopamine comes mainly from the brainstem’s substantia nigra. There may be some other minor sites of it’s synthesis, but that’s mostly where it comes from. It’s broken down all day by enzymes which keep the dopamine from building up. Therefore it must be resupplied from the brain stem to the cortex, putamen and basal ganglia. If not, we get tired. We need to sleep to refresh dopamine levels. If we don’t, we get signs of hallucinations, irritability and other signs fo cortical dysfunction unless we do.
Therefore it’s clear we must sleep and one of the primary reasons we do is from dopamine loss below a certain level, because we simply use up much of it with waking activities. It’s probable that dopamine, like it’s closely related catecholmaines, adrenaline and norepinephrine, is an alerting substance in the brain and without it, we’d not stay awake very well. Consciousness might well be dopamine mediated and this makes sense. We must sleep to rebuild not just dopamine, but the other vital stores of neurochemicals. We also sleep at night because without sunlight it’s very hard to function. We sleep at night because animals can’t do much anyway, without good lighting.
We know that sleep and waking are mediated in the reticular activating system (RAS) of the brain stem. Damage that, the cortex will not wake up. Coma will ensue which cannot always be reversed. Lowering the amount to dopamine there will induce tiredness and a desire to sleep, too. It’s not a surprise that the substantia nigral cells which make dopamine are just next door to the RAS. Dopamine is therefore, thru these many signs and symptoms and anatomic facts, seen to be related to full wakefulness.
Now we know that melatonin will induce sleep and is in fact what causes birds to roost. Sun goes down, lighting declines, their avian brains create melatonin and they must sleep. In humans much the same thing happens when light dims at the end of daytime. That grogginess we have in the AM wake ups is simply the body metabolizing away the serotonin.
Dream states are closely related to sleeping. Melatonin which creates sleep is also associated with more vivid dreaming.
Here we have a very reasonable both mind/brain neurochemical/neurophysiological basis for dopamine being at the core of our emotional states, virtually all of them except of major depressions, which because they are treated best by the SSRI’s are probably at least in part due to the serotonin/melatonin aspects of sleep, and also related to migraines which are serotonin deficiencies, which will be treated in a later article. Thus it’s possible to relate a great deal of the Emotional Continuum to dopamine and human cortical neurophysiology, as well as to sleep, too.
Again, the Comparison Process in all its richness and variations. Simple yet complex, easy to understand, yet explanatory of great numbers of emotional variations from madness to love and to being madly in love. It can easily explain many long time mysteries. Fundamentally at the core of our creativity, our inspiration, our very feelings of self-worth and survival. The Comparison Process and dopamine.
Depression is yet another related clinical emotional disorder,, and may be due to, in part, chronically low dopamine levels associated with serotonin decreased activity/concentrations in brain. We know this because both the MAO (monoamine oxidase inhibitors), which elevate catecholamines of which dopamine is a major kind, can help depression, while the SSRI’s, Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors, are even more effective in improving depression. It seems rather likely, with the great number of kinds of depression, clinically, from situational, to low level light depression from living in high latitudes during winter, and agitated depression, post-partum depression, etc., that depression is a mixed bag of an emotional/mood disorder. Still, depression fits well into the Emotional continuum of dopamine and even seems to have a kind of depressive continuum of its own, due to at least 2 neurochemicals which likely mediate it.
One can go into the serotonin effects which create migraines, as well, where getting good sleep can substantially reduce many migraine attacks in both number and frequency. Tho dopamine has not yet been substantially implicated in the cause of migraines, the fact that a dopamine peripheral blocker, domperidone, which acts largely peripherally to block dopamine, also relieves 70% of migraines itself, plus largely eliminating the nausea, GI effects of migraines too, may implicate dopamine to some extent..and when both tryptans and domperidone are used together for acute migraine attacks, it seems to abolish the headaches substantially better than either tryptans or domperidone, alone.
We may ask then how the use of dietary, mental exercises such as meditation and so forth can work to elevate brain dopamine levels. If more tyrosine were added to the diet, it could conceivably improve depression by acting upon the brain’s synthesis of dopamine. We might find that the cyclic AMP-ase inhibitors, in the xanthine stimulants (caffeine, theobromine, theophylline) might also have a use here, too. In my family’s migraines, as well as in other cases, we noted 100 years ago that the taking of several cups of strong coffee made the headaches better, too. Caffergot is an ergot/caffeine treating combination tablet. This is probably no accident, either. Coffee IS a stimulant and will probably also elevate brain dopamine levels. Certainly we would not give a stimulant to a person in the acute phases of mania and psychosis?
It’s clear that jokes, pleasure and many other dopamine related feelings can lift depression at least partly, or indeed help as adjuncts to medications.
What of the narcissistic personality disorder, in which there is not a depression yet an over inflation of the ego, with feelings of unreasonable superiority to all others? How far from delusions of grandeur is this, yet another continuum? How from the other delusions of the narcissist is this, too? The unreasonable good feelings, re-inforced by constant positive comparisons of self with perceived inferiority of others? Again the COMP, ego-syntonic and feeling much too good about oneself, well into a delusional state. This narcissism is very often a concomitant of sociopathic disorders as well.
Indeed more purely delusional states not associated with psychotic signs, may yet be another aspect of dopamine over stimulation, just as seen in mania and psychoses. It’s been shown that in persons with a higher than normal amount of psychosis in their families, there are also a good deal more delusional beliefs, often manifested as religious and/or political extremism. This would surely go along with the political activism and extremisms of some pro-animal and pro-life groups, who will create much anti-social havoc to promote their causes, of whch the environmental liberation movement was a primary example, plus many who have supported them.
There is much more to be written on this subject, but as a framework for further elucidation, study and work, this is probably enough for now.
Auditory driving evidence in the EEG