Can human consciousness be "felt" without complex emotions such as love, sorrow, anger, empathy ? If so, what would it be like ?

  • 1
    Immoral people are very much couscous, lack of empathy is called sociopathy. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychopathy#Sociopathy I don't think emotion ties much to conciousness. Jun 7, 2014 at 0:18
  • Please unjumble your questions and ask them separately if you yourself can recognize they are jumbled.
    – virmaior
    Jun 7, 2014 at 5:01
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    Are people with Alexithymia conscious? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexithymia
    – Dave
    Jun 7, 2014 at 16:47
  • Sure. They have drugs for that. Any disassociative tranquilizer will produce the effect you're interested in.
    – user4894
    Jun 8, 2014 at 1:32
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    I think consciousness can be felt as long as one "thinks" even if S/he does not feel complex emotions
    – Amr
    Jun 30, 2014 at 12:55

3 Answers 3


I agree with the comments that this is pretty broad, but here are a few possible takes on it that seem to mostly agree:

Augustine depicts in his description of the mind that the mind, the knowledge of the mind, and the love of the mind, are three separate things and yet part of the same thing. For Augustine, a proper mind at least must have love (charitas) for itself.

For Descartes:

Descartes's definition of “passion” works by honing in on stricter and stricter senses of the term. In the first place, passions are simply those “functions” of the soul that are not actions: namely, perceptions. But since actions, such as volitions, can themselves be perceived, Descartes prefers to restrict the term to those perceptions caused by the body. Even this is a bit too broad, and so Descartes defines passions proper as “those perceptions, sensations or emotions of the soul which we refer particularly to it, and which are caused, maintained and strengthened by some movement of the spirits” (AT XI 349, CSM I 338-9). Descartes thereby locates passions squarely in perception, although he gives a nod to other views by calling them “emotions” (motions, changes, agitations, disturbances).

A consciousness without passions or emotions would be a consciousness without perceptions of anything - it's hard to imagine how that would work.

For a final example, the view of the Stoics (a word which popularly has come to mean "unemotional") included rational emotions, in opposition from passions, which they saw as irrational. Since the mind is rational, to be without any kind of desire again doesn't make sense - the mind must include rational responses even to what Stoics considered indifferent things.

Two common themes through all three of these cases:

  1. It is not the emotions that cause the consciousness to be felt, but it is the consciousness that uses the emotions for its purposes.
  2. A mind, being rational, will necessarily have some kind of emotion. The difference between an ordered and disordered mind seems to be the disordered mind has the presence of irrational emotions.

Yes. Source: personal experience.

I have alexythemia, so I can tell you exactly what human consciousness without complex emotions is like.

I have emotions, but often do not experience them.

Since the only instrument that I have to gauge with is the very one I am trying to evaluate, I have no other frame of reference. To me, this feels "normal". I know it is not normal, analytically, only because I remember having experienced strong emotions in the past.

In extreme cases, I have the physiological symptoms of extreme emotion, but am only aware of the emotion because I analyse my physical reactions and the surrounding circumstances.

I would not make a good poker player because I have too many "tells" that I am not aware of, but at the same time other people find me hard to read. I do not respond well to most social cues, but must be explicitly told if I need to change something, which I will readily do.

Don't try to give me hints with a sarcastic "Thank you", because it will always be taken literally. I may recognize it as sarcastic an hour or more after the fact, but it will not register at the time it is important.

Prolonged conversation about anything that is not task related is awkward. Physical contact is a neutral to repulsive experience. I need a certain amount of human contact to stay sane - say the amount of contact involved in a fast-food drive through once per day. I become edgy in crowds, although I can usually function in a crowd.

I am very comfortable in a group whose focus is performing a specific task, but not comfortable in the same group in a social situation.

Is this what you were looking for?


We can dissociate 'consciousness' from 'goal directedness', in which case António Damásio's 1994 Descartes' Error becomes quite relevant. Damásio is a neuroscientist/neurobiologist who discovered that certain brain lesions would cause two simultaneous effects:

  1. inability of patients to access emotions
  2. inability of patients to use 'practical reason'

Practical reason is the ability to form long-term goals and then successfully achieve them. From Somatic marker hypothesis:

VMPFC patients also have difficulty expressing and experiencing appropriate emotions. This led Antonio Damasio to hypothesize that decision-making deficits following VMPFC damage result from the inability to use emotions to help guide future behavior based on past experiences. This damage prevents rapid emotional signaling to bias behaviors toward appropriate responses to simplify the process. Consequently, VMPFC damage forces those afflicted to rely on slow and laborious cost-benefit analyses for every given choice situation,[9] which degrades accuracy and response-time.

And from Descartes' Error:

When emotion is entirely left out of the reasoning picture, as happens in certain neurological conditions, reason turns out to be even more flawed than when emotion plays bad tricks on our decisions. (xii)

Perhaps this helps in distinguishing what role emotions play in consciousness?

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