Jaak Panksepp is somewhat a hero to us all and his ground-breaking work has provided a foundation on which we have built part of Motional. He finished his career as Professor of Integrative Physiology & Neuroscience at Washington State University and Emeritus Professor of the Department of Psychology at Bowling Green State University, but life began in more humble circumstances.

Jaak was born in Estonia in 1943 and fled, along with his family, to Germany via the Baltic Sea during the Second World War when Estonia became part of the Soviet bloc. The family emigrated to rural Delaware, America in 1949. At some point, during these journeys, Jaak was badly burnt and nearly died. It was noted that during this experience he was only calmed by the doses of opiates that saved his life, experiences that he reflected on and used in later life. Indeed, it feels profound that he later discovered the role of opiates in attachment bonding in the brain!

Jaak began his university studies in electrical engineering. However, while a student, he took a job working in the wards of a psychiatric hospital which was to massively influence his future direction. Jaak changed his course to psychology and then changed again to neuroscience completing degrees, Masters and Doctorates along the way.

As a neuroscientist, Jaak went in search of the emotions and found them. He proved experimentally, and communicated persuasively, that there are seven foundational ‘feeling’ systems that are not only universally shared by humans, but also shared by all mammals. Because these seven, electric and chemical pathways in human brains are virtually the same as in the brains of animals, he could experiment and developed a particular methodology of triangulation between animal and human responses.

Six of those systems inspire sub-domains in Motional: CARE, SEEKING, PLAY, RAGE, FEAR, and PANIC/GRIEF.

During his career Panksepp was widely published, scribed over 250 peer-reviewed articles and two seminal books ‘Affective Neuroscience’ and ‘The Archaeology of Mind’ (along with Lucy Biven), this despite suffering huge personal challenges including the loss of his daughter who died in 1991 along with three of her friends when their car collided with a lorry driven by a drunk driver. Tragically, Tiina was driving on the fourth day after getting her drivers’ licence.

Several years later, both Jaak and his wife were diagnosed with lymphoma. Jaak battled the disease without many colleagues being aware of his plight. In 2017 he sadly passed away during treatment. He was 73.

Further reading :

Davis, K.L. and Montag, C. (2019) ‘Selected Principles of Pankseppian Affective Neuroscience’, Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12. Available at: frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2018.01025.