Emotional Merger

an unknown cognitive process

Paying attention to the removal of attention

Merger doesn't get enough attention, considering its universality and importance. Let's give it some attention, okay?

Merger is a Cognitive Process

Emotional Merger seems to be a general process within emotion-related (i.e., all) cognition.

What happens when one motivational frame replaces another? Watch: While in the midst of carrying out one's life tasks within some emotional assessment of things, something else happens to which one must pay special attention. In the defocussed background some information processing system continues paying unconscious attention, watches for its match, a particular triggering stimulus. Then it raises an alarm that grabs the emotional system and shifts its attention to the probability of a new emotional interpretation in which, say, fear is the relevant frame, or any other of the basic emotions.

Before the alarm or trigger, there exists an internal world-constitution, representing what the organism needs to represent for it to operate effectively within its preceding motivational frame, such as goal, path, obstacle, tool, etc. Then the new interpretation has settled in, there is a replacement world-constitution representing what the organism now needs to represent in order to operate effectively within this new motivational frame. For example (in the case of fear), perhaps, an anticipated threat event or action, a fight/flight action plan, some characterization of the threat agent and the threatened outcome, some idea of a place-of-safety, some path-to-safety, etc. So between the preceding and the succeeding internal representations of the world is a transition, obviously, since they are quite different.

Example: A mental representation of the relevant aspects of my world might be: ice cream (goal) in the fridge (target location) reached by going around the kitchen table (obstacle, path) and eaten using the spoon in one's hand (tool). This is suddenly replaced by the siren, the barking, the flashing colored lights out the window, and one or more imagined crimes or disasters outside, which at first are merely underspecified placeholders, but for which we will actively gather relevant information to fill out in detail. Before, one emotionally structured world; after, another. In between? Transition. Obviously there is some kind of transition.

Wipe-and-redraw: Change through Merger

What is the nature of this transition? The simplest, surest, safest algorithm to carry out such a transition (and safety and certainty are extremely high priorities in such a transition, since failure to get it right might mean failure to evade a surprising or unrecognized threat, might mean death), is a wipe-and-redraw algorithm. Maintaining structure across such a transition presumes that the previous assessment of that part does not need re-evaluation. But the whole point of making an emotional transition is that things need re-evaluation. Do you want to go through everything and decide whether this is to keep or not, and then after that start rebuilding with a half-populated scene in mind? That would be a two-pass algorithm, double the work, double the time, and vulnerable to classification mistakes when you didn't get something right that you kept but turned out to need reinterpretation. No! So for these strong reasons, a complete wipe-and-rebuild operation makes the most sense for a transition between motivational frames.

What do I mean by a wipe-and-rebuild? We consider an organism (such as you or me or a well-designed robot or an animal with a nervous system) which itself actively represents things usefully for itself, and makes a change in that representation, going from one construct of what it sees as its world to another. The previous internal construct, in which the organism represents the world in a useful way according to the previous frame, has to be deconstructed, disassembled, or, may I say, "Merged". All of its significances including the distinctions of good/bad, attractive/repulsive, friend/foe, useful/useless, opening/obstructing, down to the level of, for example, details of grip or trajectory of movement: All must go away, so that the field can be made ready for a new re-constitution of a new world-representation according to the succeeding, new, emotional state or motivational frame, which has its own priorities and objects. Wipe the blackboard; clean out the previous world in one's inner representational system; and then reconstitute the world again using the new motivational frame with its new archetypal elements, roles, relationships, events, actions.

Merger within change

I'm interested in the middle bit, the empty world resulting from this wipe operation. Before the rebuild, after the wipe. It could be described as a field or state of oneness, an internal non-representation held in its representational space by the representational machinery of organismal cognition. It is a space of potential, of openness, of active, perhaps conscious, readiness to perceive things as. It is surrounded by and fed by the unconscious information processing systems that filter, select, and structure data and percepts for potential capture and inclusion in the new scene. In this space is the wild possibility of the unknown as well as the calm oceanic stillness of emotional oneness. It is the (hypothetical?) state of merger.

Merger might last for zero or more seconds. Indeed moments of oneness might last for a negative duration, since the alarm-raising subsystem may have percepts and archetypal structures built and percolating upward into consciousness before the previous scene has been fully wiped. But in principle, or in theory, one might have a little pause before fully settling into a new world-structuring scene. This pause phase would be a phase of, you might say, unity, in which emotionally significant distinctions of this and that haven't been established quite yet.

Incidentally, I think it constitutes wisdom, to allow for a positive duration of unstructured perception. Let the flow of being continue to flow for a bit. It would allow for an emotional flow state, unconstrained by moral judgements of one's circumstances or by assessments of how things are going in one's authorially developing history of oneself. This phenomenon does occur in humans, if rarely, and merger would account for it.

Indeed if one were able to extract oneself from the urgency of the current or next motivational frame, while carrying out this merger operation, that would seem to constitute emotional relief and emotional liberation. If it weren't strictly necessary to have a successor emotional frame to reorient within, before carrying out the merger step in the wipe-and-rebuild operation (for example as in meditation or chanting or any kind of communion) then this state of emotionally unbound oneness might be instantly accessible, unconditionally. Very well.

Wipe (Merger) Redraw

Let's go back and discuss merger. I'm saying merger is a fundamental psychological process that goes on in prioritizing organisms (that is, all of them). It is the wipe operation in the wipe-and-redraw process.

In the redraw phase, where an emotional interpretation of a new scene is elaborated, one builds first more general then more specific percepts, which are representations of the emotionally relevant aspects and elements in the scene. The system does a lot of categorization, indeed of emotional categorization. The subsystems feed partially structured information up, and the emotional interpreter assigns and classifies them into the archetypal roles they may fit in (including the role of "ignorable"). As more details come in, the representational scene becomes more fully populated and more detailed, compatibly with the emotional picture which one is (often quite urgently) trying to reconcile with detailed reality, so that one can successfully act in one's world.

On a warm summer moonlit walk smelling the blackberries, suddenly a shadow becomes a threat becomes a bear becomes a grizzly bear with open mouth and glaring eyes reflecting in the moonlight. Attention is drawn here or there according to the emotional re-evaluator inside, based on unconsciously-triggered internal alarms and re-evaluations going on constantly. (If not constantly, then you might miss that bear, and be eaten. Organisms that have survived a million generations with bear-like threats around must have evolved to not miss the bear too often, thus they must have been watching rather constantly.)
We think categorization goes from specific to general: a blackberry is a berry is a fruit is a plant is a living thing is a thing. But when the organism redraws its emotional scenery it might be the other direction. A field of oneness and potential becomes the specific raised possibility of a scene of threat, evoking archetypal or logical roles of what might happen, how, by whom, and what might be done about it to protect, prevent or escape. Then as information flows from external perceptual subsystems into the emotionally colored scene-builder space, some of it is passed over as ignorable, while some flows into the different roles that they may be compatible with. As more information comes in, those roles become more fully instantiated and specified with all the details carried by that role in the new scene. Like the increasingly detailed bear.

An increasingly detailed bear

The increasingly detailed bear, as perception quickly builds a representation of it, follows a categorization process that goes from general to specific, not from specific to general. The motivational frame first, then the archetypal roles, and then the finer details are filled in after. This arrangement lets us get to the emotional point sooner, and therefore allows us the quickest response in circumstances which might require urgently quick response at the cost of our lives, or shall we say, at the cost of an evolutionary penalty to the evolved pattern which is, say, me, or you. This is an argument that emotions evolved to work this way (general to specific) rather than the reverse (specific to general). Damasio 1994 and Veatch 1998 make the point, that cognition is always emotionally colored and here I'm saying this is for evolutionarily good reason.

So we have a discrepancy between the study of logic and knowledge, and the study of emotional reframing, if emotional categorization within a motivational frame goes from general to specific rather than the other way around. Scientist and perceiver use the same tree of knowledge, but scientist travels from leaf to root like a tree trimmer, while perceiver travels from root to leaf, like sap. Each moves by acquiring bits of information which change their knowledge or model of the tree and where they are in it. In perception, a bit added, adds a detail, and moves our concept toward the leaves of the tree of knowledge. In science, a bit removed, is not just loss of detail, but increase of abstraction, which is a movement toward the root of the tree of knowledge. Like Linnaeus building his tree of species, as scientists making typologies we start with a bunch of fully detailed objects and begin to put like with like, and thereby collapse subsets into superclasses. On the other hand, as urgently information gathering organisms seeking actionable information, we go the other direction. We add details starting from a weakly informative place of abstraction. Instead of seeking to know the whole tree, we seek to know the leaf that we are on. Linnaeus structured his knowledge logically, starting with the more-detailed picture, as if knowing everything, and then he classified things into increasingly general and inclusive categories. Blackberries and strawberries and elderberries get grouped into berries, and we go along the branches of the tree of categories toward the root, starting with the detailed things we know, and inferring the larger more abstract categories which we make up or infer.

In contrast, in the flow of immediate psychological processing, we living organisms put in the details later, but get the bigger picture, the relevant outline first. It's a bit paradoxical because how can you know the new emotional frame without some details giving you a new category to think about, and I agree, but this is because we do have a certain amount of unconscious peripheral processing where perceptual detail is resolved into relevant threat, say, outside of our direct focus and attention, and then that triggers a focussed reevaluation with full attention.

Snake, Bunny, Deer

I'll give you an example. Jordan Peterson said we are especially evolved to detect snakes in our peripheral vision; but I had a slightly contrary experience. Coming home at the end of the street I thought I saw a bunny in the brown grass in my lower peripheral field of view. Then I stared and stared but couldn't see the bunny, but finally I was able to pick it out of its camouflage background. Another time at night I saw a brown tall looming thing which triggered my percept of [deer], which grabbed my attention and pumped some adrenalin. Staring, I redrew the picture in my mind as more data come in, to get the more accurate and long-term-actionable percept, which was: [fence post]. (It's not just about snakes, Jordan.)

It's about multiple levels of perception, including both peripheral and central categorization. This resolves the paradox of having the bigger picture in mind in the first place, before being able to put the details into it, when that bigger picture has to have come from some details in the first place. Well, yes: A layered model of multiple representation systems will produce a lot of apparent paradoxes, I'd expect.

Purpose, Fountain, Dream

The path I'm following here is really simple: I'm just drilling down on what happens in our minds when things change and we have to figure things out anew. I'm trying to figure it out (1) from a philosophical or logical perspective of more specific vs more general, and (2) from an evolutionary perspective in which one system design might be preferred for survival's sake, and (3) from a process perspective in which peripheral perceptual information processes feed data into a scene-construction process.

I consider the perception process as something like a fountain, which continuously or repeatedly over time feeds data inward toward an information-integrating, decision-making space. The new data either redundantly supports and continues an existing percept or role in its built scene, or with novelty adds information into the built scene whether by further detailing existing elements or adding new elements or rupturing the whole scene, carrying information that justifies an emotional reanalysis.

Dream experience, for example, is a space in which the fountain-like continuance of sensory support for the scene elements is absent, so the scene construction facilities can build new elements ad infinitum.

Sensory support is like the top of a fountain where the upshooting, slowing to upwelling, starts to fall at a wavering, rising, falling, but identifiably similar topping-out point or somewhat wavering surface, which continues over time to be the topping out point of the fountain. Similarly a perceived element of your constructed scene is supported again and again as perceived and as still being there as the information continues to come in, despite the wavering and flickering, the changes of perspective and lighting and movement. This is scene support, as opposed to scene construction.

Dreams lack scene support. It's quite like being awake with the normal mental activities of mental scene-building and path-following, but without scene support. That's my analysis of dreams.

A Model of Emotional Change

Let me restate this model of emotional change. With perhaps every emotional change of coloring some part of the (perhaps even the entire) subjectively perceived universe is internally erased and reconstituted more or less from scratch under the new emotional valence or color or motivated frame. All things in the previous frame's world-constitution are erased or merged into a universal framing where all is one. This oneness itself might be considered an recategorization of all those previous emotional meanings of things as merging into some super-category or higher meaning, in the possibility of itself or of other meanings or emotionally colored interpretations.

Subsequently, a newly-perceived world is subjectively, carefully, quickly constituted, reconstituted or re-evaluated, on the basis of incoming perception or fresh reasoning, as to what either isn't emotionally relevant in this newly colored world, or, being relevant, what operational significances, what roles do the new information justify. We create internal constructs of agent, outcome, path, tool, etc., using the relevant information, and thus populate an internal scene with the right kinds of players, props, and scenery to help us think about and ultimately respond to this newly re-evaluated situation.

Merger and Specification

What's new to me in this line of thinking are the aspects which must be there but which we hardly think of. Naturally we think of what we think of, not what we don't think of. But there are the negative sides of the emotionally significant cognitive update process, the not so much hidden as invisible, or at least unseen, aspects, which I will call "merger" and "specification". I'm calling your attention to the fact that merger and specification are implicit in emotional re-evaluation; they are obviously, logically, necessary since past constructs need to be wiped, and new constructs don't include all available irrelevancies. So let's pay them a little bit of attention here.

Merger, then, is the operation that collapses everything into the (initially empty) new emotional field.

Specification is its successor process which says what is what, and what can be ignored. Specification is both assignment and "ignoration". (A new word! Very funny!) As assignment, it must assign details of incoming information to the various roles within the consistent scenery of a motivational frame, thereby understanding them usefully. As ignoration, it also rules out vast streams of incoming data as not to be attended to.

Merger wipes out the internally emotionally-relevantly-classified known; and specification filters the incoming unknown as emotionally relevant or irrelevant. Just as paying attention to something implies not paying attention to other things, similarly in emotional cognition knowing something new implies ignoring both past knowledge (by merger) and a lot of inflowing potential knowledge (by specification). Thus as emotions swap in and out, consciousness throbs in a rhythm of inclusion and exclusion, with revaluation and both attending and ignoring as fundamental mechanisms.

As we are logical machines as much as perceiving scene-constructors, merger has a logical significance as well, the logical meaning in which a sub-category is merged into its super-category, an element into its set, a zebra into its herd, or rather into all zebras, or all equines, or all hoofed beasts, or perhaps in the mind of the lion into the category of prey. When details are added in a scene, categories divide into smaller, more specific subcategories, like an increasingly detailed bear. On the negative side, the information-removal side, when details are removed in a scene, the relatively detailed bear moves logically toward the root of the category tree, eventually becoming a mere shadow, and then a mere bit of space.

Mere Space is not Mere

Perhaps we may stop there, if we may reserve the view that a mere bit of space is itself a potential to become anything that might fill it. After having and contemplating the Home Depot flash experience, I became friendly to the idea that spatial representation is deep and fundamental to biological information processing. It may have evolved unicellularly, since then there was no separation of multi-cellular, internal versus external spatial perception. That would be so early in evolution that it could have preceded the specialization of neurons. Cell-internal signalling would on this theory encode not just events but the spatial information of where said events occurred, perhaps in the form of time-domain encoding in the signals themselves: echoes. Echoes follow a system of time-domain encoding of space which precedes life itself, don't you agree? This view provides an incremental, evolveable pathway as well as strong selection power for the evolution of spatial representation and spatial information processing in early organisms, and for the maintenance of its basic principles and development of useful ramifications of it in cells, neurons, nervous systems, brains, and consciousness.

Perceptual space is not infinite like an outer cosmos, but reuseable like a stage. We contain a space engine, a sort of TV screen, a rescaleable, repurposeable, scene-building capability with specifically spatial characteristics.

If that were given, then perhaps the logicality of our thought derives from our interior spatial representations. If in a picture in our heads A is to the left of B and B is to the left of C, then we can read off the picture that A is to the left of C, by looking at the picture. Then when the symbolic logician comes along and utters, or writes, "Leftness is transitive" (or other symbol sequences), we go back to our pictures and verify for arbitrary examples that it is and must be so.

On the one hand, flummoxed by the logicians we think, How could it be otherwise? And we give them the credit for a solid symbolic reasoning system which we can even use in our computers, in a symbolic la-la land where a few bits implements some logical form and with syllogisms and other bit-manipulating rules our computers can "reason", and we trust our rockets and nukes and phones and social media accounts to them. I'm not saying they are wrong, but they've lost their spatial grounding where they originally and ultimately made and make sense. We here, on the other hand, are talking about how organisms work, and one thing we know whenever we open our eyes or ears and look and detect the pets walking around, we as organisms represent space.

So look, on the other hand, a direct representation of space has enough logic in it that logical reasoning at the symbolic level merely recapitulates data-level and representation-level knowledge. Reading off the relationships in the spatial representation, and giving them symbolic names, preserves enough consistency with our evolved-to-be-consistent spatial representation that the otherwise mysterious hardness of symbolic truth can emerge.

Observe: that evolved-to-be-consistent spatial representation is consistent with the requirements of evolution, namely that the organism should be able to operate successfully using it within, and as an understandable proxy, for external physical space. Why? Because if it weren't consistent with the actual killing reality of its operating context, it would be vulnerable to its inconsistencies, its misrepresentations and ignorance. The fact that we have survived so long strongly suggests our spatial representation system is rather consistent with external physical reality.

Examples of Evolution of Logicality within Organisms

In this interplay of logic and biological information flow, consider some related examples and scenarios.


Very well, two processes countervail: specification, and merger. In specification, the system separates out the emotion-concentrating aspects of experience from all others, for example the feared stimulus or the angering subcircumstance, etc. Specification as ignoration is inhibitory, stopping up the flow of irrelevant information streams. Specification as assignment is differentiating. Ignoration circumscribes the zone of threat or attention so as to enable assignment to focus on a smaller area with particular attention. Thus specification tries to limit the emotional assessment E(s) => a, to as specific and small a subset of circumstances as possible, in order to solve or resolve it most easily. Ignoration obviously, but assignment also, is intelligent work, it requires sophisticated processing. They seem to be a bit subconscious in that while the attentional zone is the conscious area, specification in contrast is about the work of reducing that attentional zone to the small part you have to do something about. It is the intelligence of making unconscious, the wisdom of removing material from view, the back side of the coin of emotion-driven attention.

Merger occurs ab initio during any emotional change. It seems more natural and effortless; the system simply fails to differentiate some causes of emotion versus others, and considers them effectively the same, for the purposes of the emotional response. Merger can operate at different levels, from great specificity to great generality. On one end you might not differentiate between your enemies on the battlefield, for example, but treat them all as the same. On the other end, you might decide like a saint that all people are beloved, or all things. (I wrote this on the theory that an enemy is a specific one, while the beloved is the general category, details unneeded. I'm not sure I believe this now, please draw your own conclusions.)

Inclusiveness is more natural than inhibitory, in the sense that less work is required. If you recognize your emotion is supportable irrespective of circumstance, then it can apply to all circumstances, and you don't have to differentiate or emotionally specify. The high emotions seem to have this quality, whereas the low emotions support greater specificity, are more wisely experienced with detailed specificity, and perhaps more naturally hold to specification than merger. Do you follow me?

Biology of Logic

Let me end with a note on the biology of logic. Evolved processes are abstract. Any chemical reaction can occur in the same way irrespective of the identity of the individual atoms in it. Two hydrogens don't care which oxygen atom they grab to make a water molecule, or even which element they might grab, any one which will bring them to a lower energy state will do. Lots of things will do and the given process will work the same way. In the same way, a biological process takes its inputs to its output whenever it is triggered. The triggering is itself a categorization of unlimited different possible circumstances into those which trigger and those which don't. It is general, it's a category, it's an abstraction, so considered. Processes are fundamentally general things, not specific things.

Biological information processing systems are abstract in this way. They collapse a variety of different circumstances into a single category, perhaps defined as those things to which one responds in a particular way W, so as to respond in generic and useful ways to survive and reproduce consistently over evolutionary time. Only general mechanisms can achieve such a survival outcome, because circumstances change and vary, yet responses must be effective. Given a limited set, perhaps vocabulary, of responses, abstraction follows logically. H.

Emotional Merger is a subcategory of Abstraction. When information is removed, abstraction occurs; this is merger. When a new emotional frame is applied, all the scene elements built up in the previous frame are merged and their support information sources are then read from and specified, consistent with the new frame, as relevant or irrelevant within that frame. From the perspective of the new scene, the details of the old were merged out initially, and now have become specified more relevantly, if not ignored.


My theme elsewhere is emotional liberation (see initial and latest Bliss Theory). The topic of Merger overlaps and supports this theme.

Consider what might happen in a merging transition of some utilitarian or ego-bearing emotional frame to the no-frame of the unspecified, or to the inclusive emotional frames of universal love or of the perception of the body as including the universe, or to the high virtue frames of service, humility, trust, or forgiveness.

It is strangely possible to have a new emotional frame which does not populate your world with more story-telling, score-keeping, emotion-binding bullshit that's all about you. And following the approach developed here, it is evident that when the frame is one which doesn't help you calculate and attend to your ego-ballooning measurements, then emotional binding itself can be left behind, like the relatively detailed bear moving logically to the root of the tree of knowledge, becoming a warm night's moonlit shadow, or perhaps a bit of emotionally-unbound, space-inhabiting light.

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Copyright © 2022 Thomas C. Veatch. All rights reserved.
Written: January 25, 2022; Developed further: August 30, 2022; Some polish 1/30/2023.