Marvin Minsky's “The Emotion Machine”: Chapter 2 “We want to create a car that would be proud of us”

Original author: Marvin Minsky
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§2-7 Relations of newborns and animals

“We want to create a car that would be proud of us.”
- Danny Hillis, 1983
Baby Carol loves to explore, but she also likes to be near her mother, so when the distance between them grows, Carol tries to quickly reduce the distance. But as soon as she finds herself alone, Carol begins to cry and look for her mother. Exactly the same behavior also occurs when Carol’s mother is nearby, but Carol experiences anxiety or fear, for example, when a stranger approaches.

Naturally, this addiction stems from our infantile helplessness: not a single baby will survive if it leaves parental care. Of course, this happens, not because babies cannot move on their own for a long time, but due to the disadvantage that in the first few months babies cannot follow their mothers. Fortunately, people usually do not suffer much harm from this shortcoming, because we have developed a feedback system: Carol’s mother is almost always aware (to varying degrees at different times) of what is happening to her daughter, and therefore her attention quickly returns to the child at the slightest suspicion if something goes wrong.

It is clear that the survival of each child depends on communication with the people who are responsible for his well-being. Therefore, in earlier times, it was often assumed that children became attached to those who give them physical care, and that is why many psychologists gave this person the name “Caregiver” instead of using a word like “Sealer”. But more systematic studies studying attachments suggested that this theory was wrong:
John Bowlby: “The fact that a child can become attached to other people of the same age or a little older clearly shows that the creation of feelings of attachment can develop and be aimed at people who have not done anything to satisfy the physiological needs of the child.”
In this case, what factors determine the circle of persons to which our children are attached? First, Bowlby acknowledged that physical characteristics can play an important role, because they provide children with the opportunity to learn how to be well-defined individuals. But in the end, he came to the conclusion that there are other more important factors:

  • The speed with which a person reacts, and
  • Intensity of these interactions

This care usually rests with the parents of the child, but may also apply to children whose parents are especially careful in choosing a company for their child by carefully choosing a circle of friends from the offspring of their companions and friends, and especially from those who are most interested in children. And when someone chooses a school for a child, this someone can find out everything about the staff and the curriculum, but also about the goals that the students pursue.

What happens when a child loses its Sealer? It seems that the absence of the Sealer creates a special kind of fear and powerful impulse to find your Sealer.
John Bowlby: “Whenever a small child is removed from his mother not of his own free will, he feels trouble. And if he is placed in a strange environment and strangers look after him, the feeling of great misfortune will increase. The way he behaves is a series of ordinary reactions. First, he spends all his energy searching for his mother. After meaningless attempts, he despairs, but nevertheless, remains concerned about the absence of his mother and longs for her return. After some time, he seems to lose interest in his mother and emotionally withdraws from her. ”
Bowlby continues to describe what happens after her mother returns:
“However, if the time spent separately is not too long, the child will not be removed from his mother. Sooner or later, after reuniting with the mother, the child’s attachment is restored. Henceforth, for days, or weeks, or for a much longer time, he insists on staying with her. In addition, when a child feels that he may lose his mother again, he begins to experience great anxiety. ”
We see a similar property of affection in various groups of primates related to us, such as chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans, as well as in our more distant relatives - monkeys. It should also be noted the discovery of Harry Harlow that, having no other alternative, the monkey will be attached to an object that has no behavior at all, but has some characteristics associated with “comfort”. It would seem that this confirms Bowlby’s view that attachment is not related to “physiological needs” before we improve this definition and introduce the baby’s need, which Harlow calls a comfort contact.
John Bowlby: “Very detailed observations made by Jane Goodall about chimpanzees in the Gombe River Reserve in Central Africa show not only that anxious and suspicious behavior is manifested in separated individuals not only in captivity, but also in the wild, but this stress from separation continues throughout the childhood of a chimpanzee. ... Until young individuals reached the age of four and a half years, none of the travelers saw them without their mothers. After this age, such behavior is rare. ”
[John Bowlby, p. 59 Separation]
When the mother and the child are separated by a large distance, they communicate with the help of the special sound 'hoo', to which the parent or the offspring reacts, as Jane Goodall herself reports:
“When the baby ... begins to move away from his mother, in any case he makes this sound when he gets into any difficulties and cannot quickly return to her. While the baby’s locomotion is not very well developed, the mother immediately responds to this sound and immediately goes to the rescue. The same sound is used by the mother when she gets to her babies and is going to protect him from potential danger, or, sometimes, when she tells her baby to stay while walking. Thus, the sound 'huu' serves as a rather specific signal to restore contact between mother and baby. ”
What happens in other animals? In the early 1930s, Konrad Lorenz noticed that recently hatched chickens, ducklings or goslings attach to the first large moving object that they see, and they will subsequently follow this object. He called this phenomenon “imprinting”, because this phenomenon occurs with incredible speed and constancy. Below are some observations about this effect.

The chicken quickly begins to follow a moving object.

  • Imprinting appears shortly after hatching.
  • The imprinting reaction ends a few hours after hatching.
  • The effect of imprinting is permanent.

What moving objects does a chicken attach to? This moving object will usually be the parent, but if the parents were removed, then the object of imprinting may be a cardboard box, or a red ball, or even Konrad Lorenz himself. Over the next two days, when the duckling follows the chosen parent, he somehow recognizes the object of his following and no longer follows the other geese. When the gosling loses contact with his mother, he stops eating or exploring things, and instead searches for his mother and makes beeping sounds as a sign that they are lost. Then the parent answers them with a special sound, and Lorenz noticed that this answer should be given quickly enough to establish imprinting. Later this one is not necessary in this sound,

These beeping sounds, as well as the 'hoo' sounds Jane Goodall noticed, suggest that other interaction signals might have evolved from such signals. In any case, the chicks can feed themselves soon after hatching, so imprinting does not depend on eating behavior.

Regarding the end of the imprinting period, R.A. Hindi found that these chicks became fearful of moving unfamiliar things, which made him suspect that imprinting ends when this fear replaces a further sense of “following”. Similarly, many human babies show a lasting fear of strangers, which begins to develop at the beginning of the second year of life.

Bowlby’s study of young children showed that when they are out of print for more than a few days, they may show signs of loss of communication over a much longer period. He also gives similar results when other researchers removed rhesus monkeys from their mothers:
“From all these studies, we can conclude that not only a single separation lasting more than six days at the age of six months has tangible consequences after two years in newborn macaques, but that these effects are proportional to the time of separation. Thirteen-day separation is worse than six-day separation; two six-day separations are worse than one six-day separation. ”
- Bowlby in Separation, p. 72
It is noteworthy that even children (and monkeys) who are mistreated can remain attached to an aggressive printer.

To what extent has affection-based learning evolved from more ancient forms such as imprinting? Of course, people are very different from birds, but both babies share similar needs, and perhaps they got these behavioral patterns from early warm-blooded dinosaurs. For example, Jack Horner found that some dinosaurs built egg nests with bird nest structures. Further advances in genomics can help us understand this connection much deeper.

Returning to humanity, we must ask how infants distinguish between potential printers. Although some researchers have reported that babies can learn to recognize the mother’s voice even before birth, usually newborns learn first, mainly through tactile, taste and olfactory contacts, and only then learn to distinguish voices and begin to respond to the appearance of a head or face. Initially, we can assume that this is done by detecting things such as the eyes, nose, mouth, but there is evidence that the mechanism of perception is much more complicated.
Francesca Acerra: “four-day-old babies look longer at their mother’s face than at someone else’s face, but not when the mother wears a scarf that conceals the hair contour and the outer contour of the head.”
This researcher found that such babies are less responsive to facial features and to more global characteristics. However, this does not occur until 2 or 3 months of age, while children especially distinguish faces. This suggests that our visual systems use different methods of analysis at different stages of development, and perhaps the very first such feelings serve to attach the child to the mother! In any case, Lorenz was amazed that his ducklings could not distinguish:
Conrad Lorenz: “The duckling who remembered the image of a man will refuse to follow anyone except the man, but the duckling will not be able to distinguish a small, slender young girl and a large old man with a beard. It is amazing that a bird, brought up and impressed by a person, should direct its model of behavior not only in relation to one person, but to the whole species of Homo sapiens. ”
I do not think this behavior is very strange, because all the geese look almost the same to me. Perhaps more importantly, the gender distinction of adults can be established at this early time of development, although it will manifest itself in behavior much later.
“A jackdaw for which a person has replaced a parent will direct his sexual instincts not at his former parent, but at any relatively unfamiliar person. Gender, in this case, is absolutely not important, but the object must definitely be human. It would seem that the former parent is simply not considered a possible "spouse" or "spouse."
Some studies have shown that after such contact, some of these birds, of course, will be able to perceive other members of their species. Nevertheless, this phenomenon is still a serious problem in increasing the number of endangered species, and for this a standard policy is being adopted to minimize human contact with chicks so that their preferences for people do not lead in the future to abandon mating with individuals of their species.

I wonder if such contacts can form a person’s sexual preferences?
All this can help explain why our children developed infantile helplessness: children who left their mothers too early did not have enough knowledge to survive, and therefore we had to develop the ability to increase the learning time from our Sealers, not relying on risky life experiments .

§2-8 Who are the Sealers?

The jackdaw, seeing pigeons next to a lot of food, painted herself white to join them. Pigeons, until the jackdaw said nothing, assumed that another dove came to them and missed the jackdaw to the source of food. But when one day the jackdaw forgot to be silent, the pigeons drove her out, because of a voice unusual for the pigeons. When the jackdaw returned to its tribe of jackdaws, they kicked it out because this jackdaw was different from the rest of the jackdaws in its color. Therefore, desiring two outcomes, she received nothing.
- Aesop's fables.
How many people can have Sealers? Many young children have only one imprinter, while others can have two, three, or more. In the event that a child has several Sealers, are the relationships with them interchangeable or do they perform different functions and purposes? If a child creates several sets of ideals, will this enrich his personality, or will it worsen his development because these discrepancies do not allow to form a single image of his personality?

When do connections begin and end? Even small children soon begin to behave differently when they are in the presence of their mothers. However, as a rule, before the end of the first year, the child does not protest against separation from the mother and begins to learn, worries about the signs given by the Sealer about leaving, for example, when the printer starts to put on a coat. At this time, they also begin to show fear of unusual things. Both of these fears will begin to diminish in the third year of the child, so much so that the child will be able to attend school. Nevertheless, we do not see the same decline in the role of other similar feelings, both related to a sense of oneself and applied feelings. These feelings persist for a longer time, and sometimes for life.
John Bowlby: “In adolescence, other adults can acquire the same value that is equal to or even greater than the value of parents, in addition, sexual attraction to people older than their age becomes more pronounced. As a result, the individual variation in behavior, which was already great before, becomes even greater. In the first maximum deviation from the norm are adolescents who broke the bond between themselves and their parents, on the other - those who remained too attached to their parents and could not direct their attachments to other people. Between the extremes lies the vast majority of adolescents whose attachments to parents remain strong, but relationships with others are also important. For most people, communication with parents continues in adulthood, influencing behavior in various ways.
And what happens in other animals? In those species whose members do not remain in the herds, attachment remains until the offspring can live independently. Many species differ in female behavior. For example, in some animals, the mother will actively displace young individuals as soon as a new litter appears (possibly due to evolutionary selection against inbreeding), while in others, attachment will remain until puberty or even later. In the appendix (p. 182), Bowlby mentions a phenomenon that stems from similar behavior:
“In females of various species of ungulates (sheep, deer, bulls, etc.), attachment to the mother can continue until old age. As a result, a herd of sheep or a herd of deer is built from a young mother who follows her grandmother herself, grandmother follows her great-grandmother, and so on. Young males of these species, by contrast, break the bond with their mother to achieve puberty. From this moment they become attached to older males all their lives, with the exception of a few weeks a year during the rut. ”
Of course, other species have developed different strategies that are better suited to different environments. For example, the size of the herd may depend on the nature and prevalence of predators, etc.

Why do we need Sealers at all, and why should we be so keen on how our brain selects them? Why not simply exalt your goals in response to the criticism or praise of any person? There is a great reason why we have developed selectivity in this matter: if any stranger can program our goals, you will be in danger, because strangers are less inclined than our relatives to take care of our well-being.

However, “welfare” can mean various things. For example, Bowlby argued that our connections mainly contribute to the physical safety of our children. Here is the argument for his position:
“This protection from predators is by far the most likely link building function supported by three basic facts. First, an isolated animal is much more likely to be attacked than those who remain in a group with other individuals of a kind. Secondly, the creation of bonds is especially easy for animals that are particularly vulnerable to predators due to age, size or conditions. Thirdly, such behavior is especially pronounced in anxiety situations when a predator is nearby. No other theory currently matches all of these facts. ”
Here, Bowlby's main work was to refute the then popular belief that the main function of creating relationships is to find a reliable source of food. Instead, he argued that physical assistance (including nutrition) does not play a decisive role in attachment, and a sense of security, on the contrary, was most necessary. I suspect that this theory has been proved to a large extent for animals, but it is also suitable for people, given how the formation of relationships between people greatly contribute to the acquisition of high-level values ​​and goals.

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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