Affective Valence

Valence, as used in Psychology, is an objects intrinsic attractiveness/”good”-ness or averseness/”bad”-ness. All things have a good, bad, or indifferent valence.

Affect, as used in Psychology, is a concept used to describe the experience of feeling or emotion.

Affective valence refers to the emotional/motivational significance of an object. A growling lion, crouching in position about to pounce, takes on extreme negative affective valence if you are the thing about to be pounced on. You will instantly be flooded with negative emotion upon recognizing the lion and driven away as fast as possible. Water, to those stranded and thirsty in the desert, takes on a similar extreme affective valence, but in the positive. Water to the desperate desert dweller impels action towards the object, and the desert dweller is flooded with positive emotion. Something with an extreme affective valence grips our attention, it propels action, and it motivates us, but how exactly does a thing gain such affective valence?

An object’s affective valence is dependent upon the subject, and more specifically the subject’s “heaven” or “hell“. The “heaven” of an individual, is the subject’s promised land, the land of milk and honey, the heavenly future which is desired by the individual. The “hell” of an individual, is the subject’s fearful future, comprised of torment, pain, suffering, and all things which threaten or punish. A heavenly conceptual future may change depending on the subject’s condition. For instance, the hungry dog’s heavenly future would most likely include tasty food, or any food if the dog is starving. Conversely, our hungry dog’s hellish realm would be comprised of further deprivation and eventual death by starvation.

Notice the incredible malleability of the subject’s interpretive structure. The subject’s perspective, often enforced by biological needs, can change drastically and rapidly depending on the context. For the man who has just recognized the near-by terrible, crouching, growling lion, the heavenly future is comprised of any future which includes him not being devoured by a lion. His interpretive structure shifts rapidly and dramatically, a gun, which maybe was once thought of as dangerous and not to be touched (assuming this was the man’s philosophy towards guns before hand), all of a sudden assumes incredibly positive affective valence. All things other than his safety, the lion, and the gun, to the man threatened by a lion, instantaneously assume zero affective valence.

Let’s say the man grabs hold of the gun, shoots the lion, and walks away free of harm. After some time contemplating what in the world just happened, and as his system stabilizes, his interpretive structure begins to change once again. Maybe the man realizes he is hungry and eats. Then, the man regains “normality” and his heavenly realm of a high-status corporate job regains affective valence and propels action towards the office.

Our literal worlds change constantly, and these changes are biological. Our worlds which we experience are constantly being twisted and turned depending on our needs, our dreams, our heavens and our hells. The experiential world depends on the experiencing subject, otherwise experience cannot be had. Yes, objects seem to exist outside of the subject, but without the subject, how to interpret those objects becomes incredibly difficult. The right level of experiential resolution is dependent on the subject, and if we zoom in or out far enough then all things are the same. The proper level of experiential resolution is a curious problem, the level is completely dependent on the experiencing subject, and not the object. How then can “this” world exist without the experiencing subject? Without living, interpretive, experiencing creatures? Maybe it can not. This is quite mysterious.

Living minds divide up the world and determine the level of interpretive, experiential, existence. But, not necessarily willingly, we our bound by our physical bodies and their needs, these needs even allow for experience to be had. Limitation, the chains of problems and needs, seem to be a requirement for existence itself, otherwise there is no heavenly or hellish realm, there is no interpretive structure, there is no experience to be had, there just is.

Things gain meaning based on the interpretive structure which we inhabit, based on our desired heaven and fearful hell. Things gain meaning thanks to our problems, our chains, our limitation. Limitation is a prerequisite for a meaningful life. Limitation, problems, allow for objects to gain affective valence, to guide our beings towards the promised land, and the experience of this progress makes us feel wonderful, useful, and makes life worth living. If we had all things, absolutely everything, with nothing to do, we would bash in the walls of our structure simply to experience meaning again.

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