Marvin Minsky's “The Emotion Machine”: Chapter 2 “How our brain can control itself, despite its complexity”

Original author: Marvin Minsky
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§2-9 Models of self and self-consistency

To solve a complex problem, you need to develop a plan, but then you need to realize it. Having a step-by-step plan will not help you if you tend to drop the case before it is completed. This means that you need to have some level of “self-discipline,” which, in turn, requires a sufficient level of self-consistency, which you can predict, to some extent, to predict, to some extent, what you are more likely to do in future. We all know people who make clever plans, but rather rarely bring them to life, because their models of what they actually do are not consistent, to a sufficient degree, with their real actions. But how can a car consisting of a trillion synapses in general be predictable? How can our brain control itself despite its complexity?

The answer should be this: we learn to imagine things incredibly simple, but extremely successful.

Thus, we consider how significant that we can describe a person using words. What makes us squeeze the whole personality into a short phrase, like "Joan is neat" or "Carol smart" or "Charles is trying to behave stately"? Why should one person be generally neat and not neat in one thing and promiscuous in another? Why do such traits even exist? In §9-2 of the Trait, we will see some ways in which such things can arise:

In the course of each person’s development, we tend to develop certain attitudes that become so rigid that we (and like our friends) can recognize them as certain functions or traits, and use these attitudes and knowledge to build a picture of ourselves. Then, when we try to formulate plans, we can use these traits to predict what we will do (and abandon plans that we will not do). Whenever such predictions work, we feel satisfied, which leads us to further educate ourselves in accordance with these simplified descriptions. Thus, over time, our imaginary features each time become more real.

Of course, all this self-image is extremely simplified. We will never be able to learn about our own mental processes, and everything that we call our traits is just a set of coherences that we have learned to perceive. However, even this may be enough to help us live up to our expectations, so this process may ultimately provide us with a feeling like “self-confidence”.

We all know the value of having friends who usually do what they say. But it’s much more beneficial to be able to trust yourself when you tell yourself that you will do something! And, perhaps, the easiest way to start trusting yourself is to make you agree with the images that you represent about yourself, behaving in accordance with your own image of yourself, which are described by a set of traits.

But how did these traits come about? Of course, this can be partially determined genetically - we can sometimes observe calmer or more excitable newborns. And, of course, some features may be the result of developmental features. One way or another, other traits seem clearly derived from contacts with our personal printers.

Is there any risk of having connections with too many people? This can lead to an attempt to model yourself based on too many features. A person with coherent goals should usually show himself better in business than a person burdened with conflicts, because the latter needs more time to acquire skills that will help to achieve the observed traits. Consistency also makes other people feel safe in your surroundings.

This also applies to ourselves: if we change our minds too sharply, we will never be able to predict what we will do next. We can never do many things if we cannot “count on ourselves.” However, on the other hand, we must be able to compromise. It would be rash to begin to implement some long-term plan, with the mood not to take on another goal until you complete this plan. It would be especially dangerous to change yourself in order to never allow any changes in yourself again.

If the child has only one imprinter, or several, but with the same sets of values, it will not be difficult for the child to understand what kind of behavior is approving. However, if the imprints of the child have conflicting goals, this may make it difficult for the child to choose the values ​​that should be developed, or it may end up with a huge amount of ambition, of which only a few will develop sufficiently. Nevertheless, in the end, each of us must deal with diverse people with different ideas, so there may be advantages to the model of having multiple printers.

Most printers will take care of the values ​​that are acquired by their children, therefore, they may try to deter children from being attached to persons of “dubious nature”. Here is an example in which we see a similar concern by the researcher about his car!

In the 1950s, Arthur Samuel, a computer designer at IBM, developed a program that learned to play chess so well that it began to beat some of the great human chess players. The quality of the program improved when it competed more strongly with players. However, games against weak players reduced the game's program level, so much so that the programmer was forced to turn off the learning mode. In the end, he allowed to play with this program only to people who participated in the championships of games of the master class.

When someone interacts with you, they are more likely to have their own communication goals, so you should try to evaluate their intentions. Imagine exactly how recruits are recruited into cults. First, they remove you from all familiar places, and then they force you to “decide” to break all your social ties - especially your family ties. Then, when you are torn away from all your friends, it becomes easy to undermine all your defenses - until you are ripe for accepting their own prophet, seer or saint as your seal. These experts actually know the patterns by which any stranger can program you using methods that can help suppress and supplant the ideals that you have.

We face similar conflicts in other areas. While your parents wanted to maintain your well-being in your head, businessmen may be very interested solely in promoting the wealth of their firms.

Religious leaders may wish you well, but they care more about their temples and sects. And when leaders awaken your pride in your nation, you can expect that you will be ready to sacrifice your life to draw a blurred border. Each organization has its own intentions and uses its members to advance.
Maverick: I hope you did not say that literally. An organization is nothing more than a circle of people involved in one thing. She may not have any goals on her own, but she has goals that these people support.
What does it mean, once someone assumes that a system has an intention or goal? Section §6-3 will discuss some conditions in which a process may have its own motives and goals.

§2-10 Public Sealers

We discussed only how applied learning can work when the child is next to the Sealer. This may also be due to a phenomenon in which crowds of people are influenced by other people who “understand the public” when appearing in the media. One way to make a person feel something desired is to put forward some evidence. Nevertheless, it seems more effective to use the so-called “reviews”, which may not show the product at all, but only assumes that the use of this product is approved by some popular “celebrity”. Why does this method work so well? Perhaps because these specific people are able to trigger a printed response, and thus more accurately modify the personal goals of their audience.
Sociologist: Perhaps this happens only because when a “celebrity” occupies a “central stage”, it makes other people focus on this area. Then, when most of the audience becomes involved, the rest feel compelled to join them.
What happens may have a similar explanation, but we still have to wonder what makes the “stars” popular. Physically attractive traits can help, but these actors and singers use something else: they are experts in sensing a person’s emotional state. Competing athletes are expert liars, and so should our popular leaders be the same. Generally speaking, perhaps, in order to become famous, it helps to have some special tricks that make every listener feel that "this person who communicates with me is very important." This makes the listeners feel more involved, and, therefore, they are forced to respond to the “star”, despite the fact that there is not a dialogue, but a monologue!

Not everyone can control the crowd. What techniques can influence such a wide range of different minds so much? We need to know much more about the tricks that our leaders use to shape our goals. Could they include some methods by which they can establish quick connections with people?
Charisma, n. - A rare personal quality attributed to leaders that arouse popular devotion or enthusiasm.
What characteristics give leaders the ability to arouse feelings of charisma? Are there any special physical traits that act as “points of manifestation of charisma”?
Politician: Usually, a speaker has a good posture, a deep voice and self-confidence. However, although tall growth and a voluminous figure attracted attention, some leaders were insignificant in appearance. And while some powerful speakers speak their words with deliberate intentions, some leaders and preachers rant and scream, and yet they manage to get our attention.
Psychologist: In §2-7, you mentioned that “speed and intensity of response” is important for creating connections. But when someone makes a public statement, for these critical factors it is impossible to allocate enough space in the speech, because the speaker cannot respond specifically to each listener.
Rhetoric can create a similar illusion. A well-prepared speech can be “interactive,” first raising questions in the minds of the audience, and then answering the questions raised at the right time. Although you do not have time to talk with each person, you can interact, within your own mind, with a few typical listeners. Then, many real listeners may feel that they receive personal answers, although there is no genuine dialogue. One of the tricks for speakers is to arrange pauses so that listeners feel that they are speaking to them during a speech, but the pauses should not be so long that they reflect on contesting the messages they hear. In addition, the speaker may not need to be controlled by the entire audience. If you can convince enough people,

However, the crowd may take control of a weaker and overly responsive leader. Here is one of the great speakers who opposed this:
Glenn Cloud: “For me, the absence of an audience, the complete antonym of a large number of people, provides the greatest incentive to satisfy my own requirements, without taking into account the presence of intellectual appetite, or its absence, in part of the audience. In my own opinion, paradoxically, pursuing the most narcissistic attitude towards artistic satisfaction, one can best fulfill the main duty of an artist to give pleasure to others. ”
A person can even become attached to an entity that does not exist, for example, to a legendary historical figure, to a fictional hero of a book, or to a mythical martyr, dog, or god. All these heroes can become “virtual mentors” among other models that are in the minds of their fans. A person can even become attached to an abstract doctrine, dogma or creed, or to an icon or image that represents these things. In fact, when you consider these words, you will realize that all our attachments are connected with fiction. You will never create a connection with a specific person, but only with the model of that person that you made to present your basic concepts about this person, regardless of whether these people are parents or friends, or just temporary hobbies.

Thus, the idea that a person receives his goals from the Sealers makes sense in the very early years of his life. However, in later life, this way of getting goals fades into the background, as we acquire new types of mentors and find other ways to shape our ambitions.


In this chapter, some questions were discussed about how people acquire the goals that they pursue. Some of these mechanisms are instincts that come to us as a genetic heritage, but others are subgoals that we build to achieve other goals that we already have. I also suggested that some of our higher goals are created by special mechanisms that encourage a person to accept the values ​​of other persons, which, subsequently, become, as I call them, the Sealers of man.

The sealers are parents, friends or acquaintances, to whom a person becomes “attached” because they actively respond to the needs of a particular person, and they can cause us special feelings, such as guilt, shame and pride. At first, these Sealers should be present at the completion of some business, but older children can form “mental models” of printers, and can use these models to evaluate their goals when the printers are no longer nearby. In the end, these mental models evolve into those feelings that we call conscience, values, ideals and ethics.

The next chapter will carefully consider the groups of feelings and thoughts that we call pain, grief and suffering in order to understand why they can be regarded as a kind of way of thinking.

(I should note that the ideas of this chapter about Sealers are only my theoretical calculations and have not yet appeared in books on psychology. These ideas may be correct or not.)

Thanks for the translation, Stanislav Sukhanitsky, who responded to my call in the "previous chapter". Who wants to help with the translation - write in a personal email or e-mail

By the way, we launched the translation of another cool book - “The Dream Machine: The History of the Computer Revolution” .

Table of Contents for The Emotion Machine
Chapter 1. Falling in Love
The Love
Of The Sea Of Mental Mysteries
Moods and Emotions
Infant Emotions
Seeing a Mind as a Cloud of Resources
Adult Emotions
Emotion Cascades
Chapter 7. Thinking.
Chapter 8. Resourcefulness.
Chapter 9. The Self.

about the author


Marvin Lee Minsky (born Marvin Lee Minsky; August 9, 1927 - January 24, 2016) is an American scientist in the field of artificial intelligence, co-founder of the Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. [ Wikipedia ]

Interesting facts:

  • Minsky was friends with the critic Harold Bloom of Yale University, who spoke of him as nothing more than "the sinister Marvin of Minsky."
  • Isaac Asimov described Minsky as one of two people who are smarter than himself; the second, in his opinion, was Karl Sagan.
  • Marvin is a robot with artificial intelligence from the Douglas Adams cycle of hitchhikers in the galaxy and the movie Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (film).
  • Minsky has a contract to freeze his brain after death in order to be "resurrected" in the future.
  • In honor of Minsky, the dog is named the main character in the movie Tron: Legacy. [ Wikipedia ]

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