Marvin Minsky's “The Emotion Machine”: Chapter 2 “Conscience, Values, and Own Ideals”

Original author: Marvin Minsky
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§2-5 Learning and pleasure

When Carol tried to fill her bucket, she tried several experiments before she got what she had planned by using a spoon. When she understood that her goal was achieved, she felt satisfaction and a sense of the reward received, and then these pleasant feelings somehow helped her to learn and remember the experience. So, this process involved many steps:

  • Carol filled her bucket with a spoon.
  • She realized that her goal was achieved.
  • Then she felt satisfied with her success.
  • Then, somehow, this satisfaction helped her remember the experience.

Now we are pleased that she felt satisfied, but what functions are provided by all these feelings, and why does this process require so many steps? What role can pleasure play in the process of creating memories? Why couldn't Carol just remember which method worked and which didn't?

The answer is that “remembering” is not at all a simple process. At first glance, it might seem that this process is quite simple - just drop a note into a box and then take it when it is needed. But when we look at this process in more detail, we see that it has a large number of steps: Initially, you must choose what information this note should contain and find an adequate way to present this information, and after that you should give this note a set of links, such that, after saving parts of this message, you could reassemble them.
Everyman: Some say that our brain remembers everything this way, if you cannot remember some event, it means that some part of the brain suppresses this memory.
This myth of “photographic memory” is not supported by evidence. Many experiments come to a consensus that we don’t remember very much. [See §6-2]
Student: And what about the old idea, which says that for our achievements we simply “strengthen” the reactions that led to this successful outcome? In other words, we simply connect the problem that we encountered with the actions that led us to the solution.
This is a simplified way of describing how learning can work when we consider it from the outside, but it does not explain what is happening inside the body. For both the “problem we encountered” and the “actions taken” are simple units that we can put together. Therefore, you must first choose some method for describing the “if” and “then” relationships of a particular pair of events. Then the quality of what you learn will depend on the nature of both of these descriptions.

Thus, in order for Carol to study, her brain must create some description of the methods that worked - as well as, possibly, the methods that failed. But after her efforts to fill the cup, what kind of action should deserve a reward for achieving ultimate success? Should Carol explain her success by the pair of shoes she wore, or by the place where this event happened, or by the presence of cloudy or clear weather? What if she smiled while using a fork, but frowned while using a spoon. What prevents her from learning irrelevant rules, such as: “Do you need to frown to fill a cup?”

In other words, when people learn, it is not only about creating connections, but also about building structures that connect connections, and no theory of learning can be complete if it does not take this mechanism into account. In addition, we may need to present not only these external events, but also some accompanying mental events.

So Carol needs some kind of technique to decide which thoughts she thinks should be presented in what she remembers. And she will need some way of storing these notes so she can remember when she needs them.
Student: You still haven’t explained when feelings arise, for example, the pleasure of Carol’s success
In everyday life, such words as suffering, pleasure, fun, and grief are rather routinely used, as if these words were related to the mental state of people we know. But when we are asked to describe these states of mind, we are usually lost and confused in words, because mental states, which we call feelings, are a complex cascade of processes. For example, it would seem that we are talking about pleasure when certain resources recognize some processes that help us determine what our latest activities should receive a fee for recent success. Toward the end of the book, we will return to the question of how we do this “Award of Payments” and what effects give us the sensation that we call pleasure.

§ 2-6. Conscience, values ​​and personal ideals

“I never wanted to commit suicide, perhaps because I wanted to know more about math.” - Bertrand Russell
One of the things that makes us different from animals (with the possible exception of elephants) is the enormous duration of our childhood. One of the consequences of this phenomenon is that no other species accumulates so many and such diverse types of knowledge, and no one seems to come close to our human traditions and values.

What kind of person would you like to be? Are you careful and helpful, or brave and risky? Do you follow the crowd, or do you prefer to lead the crowd? Would you rather be calm or driven by passion? Such personal qualities depend, in part, on the person’s heredity. They are also formed by our networks of social connections.

As soon as our relations with a certain person are formed, they begin to perform many functions. At first, they keep their children close to their parents, which provides children with food, protection and communication. But also (if our theory is correct), connections have a special impact on how children learn, providing each child with new ways to redistribute priorities. In addition, the self-conscious emotions that come with these connections have other extremely specific effects. Pride seeks to make you more confident, more optimistic and adventurous, while shame makes you want to change yourself so that you never again find yourself in such a state.

The next section discusses what happens when a child has no Sealers - and the result can be extremely disastrous. But adult children and adults can imagine how the Sealer who is absent near them can react to their unusual actions or ideas, evaluating the proposed new goal. We all know this experience: to predict (and then respond to these expectations) what our Sealer will do if he sees our actions, and then we give these feelings various names, such as “morality”, “conscience”, “knowledge about what is right and what is wrong. ”

To make such an “internal imprint”, the child must build some model that can predict the reaction of the Sealer. How could this child think of this model? First, he may not think about it at all, because the rest of his mind does not have access to these processes. Or this model may seem to the child as the presence in his mind of someone else, perhaps in the form of an interlocutor. An imaginary Sealer can even be seen embodied in some external object - for example, a rag doll or a baby blanket. We discuss similar models in §9.

What if some other part of the child’s brain can find a way to take control of a system that raises the priorities of its various goals? Then such a child could praise himself and with the help of such relationships he could choose what goals should be supported, or the child could condemn himself and thereby create certain restrictions on his activity.

At this stage, the child will, in fact, have his own internal system of values, which is usually called “conscience”. Perhaps Freud described a similar process when he suggested that the child could “introspect” the relationship between his parents. If a child can gain control of this system, he can become “ethically autonomous” in the sense that he can change his early sets of acquired values. However, if most of these values ​​remain valid, their subsequent changes can lead to internal conflicts in which the child will resist the received settings from his Sealers.

What determines which ideals will flourish within each individual human being? Each family, culture, club or group develops different social and moral codes, inventing some ways to assess what is right and what is not. These codes of conduct have a huge impact on all of our organizations. They form the customs, traditions and cultures of peoples, professions, clubs and religions. They can even force these institutions to value themselves above all others, as well as make their members gladly die for them in endless series of battles and wars.

How do we develop these powerful standards and codes of conduct? Below I mimic several philosophers:
Naturalist: I deeply believe that ethical values, by their nature, arise on their own. Of course, everyone should be good by nature, until the moment when their mind is not destroyed due to education in unnatural conditions.
Rationalist: I am suspicious of such statements because “deeply” and “self-evidently”, apparently, only means the following: “I can’t explain why I believe this.”, And “I don’t want to know what makes me believe me in that. ”
Specialist in public relations: There is no absolute basis on which our moral and ethical values ​​are built. All of them are based on social agreements and contracts that each of us concludes with other people.
Socio-biologist: This is a pretty clear concept, with the exception of one thing: no one remembers that he agreed to such things! The best idea is that “morality” is based on traits that we developed in ancient times, how certain breeds of dogs were bred so that they became attached to only one owner. In terms of people, we call this property “loyalty”.
Without a doubt, such traits are partly based on genetic heritage, but they are also based on contagious “memes,” that is, ideas that spread from one brain to another as part of cultural heritage.
Fundamentalist: Our values ​​flow straight from inspirational religious texts, and woe to those who violate them.
Theologian: Some ethical rules can be inferred from a logical conclusion.
Logic: Logic only helps us understand what is implied in the assumptions we make. She does not say anything how these assumptions can be used.
Mystic: Reasoning lives only in the mind, and they are divorced from reality. You will never achieve enlightenment until you learn not to think so much.
Sometimes a person can improve his skill by suppressing the desire to think about this skill. But if someone rejects the majority of psychic criticism and relies too much on primitive instincts, this can slow down mental development.
Existentialist: Whatever goal you choose, you must ask yourself what purpose this goal serves and then you can see your predicament: we are all stuck in a completely absurd world.
Sentimentalist: You are too preoccupied with the search for human goals. Just watch the children and you will see curiosity and playfulness. They are not looking for any specific goals, but enjoy finding something new and getting pleasure from their discoveries.
We like to think that children's play serves nothing, however, when children seem joyful and free, it can be simply purposefulness hidden from their minds. You can see this manifestation more clearly when you try to remove them from your tasks. They explore their worlds in order to see what is there, explaining what the things they see are, and imagining what else can be in this world, exploring, explaining and learning among the children who most closely match their motives and goals. The playfulness of childhood is the most demanding teacher that we now have. No one in the lives of these children will ever make them work so hard.

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
Playing with Mud
Attachments and Goals

Attachment-Learning Elevates Goals

Learning and pleasure
Conscience, Values ​​and Self-Ideals

Attachments of Infants and Animals
Who are our Imprimers?
Self-Models and Self-Consistency
Public Imprimers
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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