Marvin Minsky's “The Emotion Machine”: Chapter 2 “The Sealers”

Original author: Marvin Minsky
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§ 2-3 Imprimers

“Now, shame is a mental measure of shame, in which we shrink from the realization of shame, and not from the consequences of actions, and we can only assume what opinion is made about us, it follows that the people in front of whom we feel shame are those whose opinion matters to us. These people are: those whom we admire; those who admire us; those whose admiration we wish to achieve; those with whom we are confronting; and those whose opinion we respect. ”
- Aristotle in Rhetoric 2.6
Our language has a huge number of words to describe our emotional state. When we described Carol’s game with mud, we should already have used a dozen: attraction, confusion, anxiety, self-confidence, disappointment, anxiety, frustration, fear, addiction, pleasure, pride, satisfaction, shame and sadness.

Why do we have such states at all, and why are there so many of these states? Why did Carol feel grateful and proud when she received praise from her mother? And why does this all, somehow, exalt the goals, making them more desirable?

Student: You have already started discussing that she should have something like “connecting elements” that make her react in this specific way - just like Aristotle said, because of her mother’s concern. But this doesn’t explain why praise alone cannot make a goal desired, and it depends on, mmm ..., I can’t come up with the right word to describe this - “the person to whom she is attached”?

Psychologists often use the word “caregiver” to describe “the person to whom the child is attached.” They cannot say 'parent', or 'mother' or 'father' because someone else can play this role - for example, grandparents, a nurse or a family friend.

However, “guardian” is not a necessary word because (as we will see in §2-7), such connections can form without physical contact. In any case, it seems strange enough that our language does not have a special word to describe this most important interaction between people! So, below I will introduce two new terms: they will both be based on the old word, 'imprinting', which has long been used by psychologists to describe the process in which young animals learn to adopt the habits of their parents.

Imprimer: A sealer is one of the people a child is attached to.

Impriming: a specific way of learning new values, which works only with the presence of a printer.

Of course, staying close to the parents helps the offspring to remain safe, but in people, it seems, this has a different effect; when we are next to the person to whom we are attached - those whom we can call our own 'Sealers' - we find that our way of thinking has changed in a certain way. Carol's concern with her cup full of dirt probably began as a usual desire to play with things that were at hand, and was only an activity that was exciting for attention. But when she receives approval from one of her Sealers, she felt a special surge of pride, which increases her current goal to a higher priority - and in the future she will find that such a goal has become more respectable for her.

We constantly set goals, but we always end up throwing them. Why is it sometimes incredibly difficult for us to continue to work on what we were going to work on? In § 9-2, we return to the discussion of self-discipline and self-control, and here we only mention that these connections can also help us to continue to achieve our intended goal - either because of the hope that we will satisfy our printers or because of fear to disappoint them.

Why does the Sealor praise have a very different effect than the stranger's praise? I don’t know a single brain study that could reveal the mechanisms involved in this system, but you can easily follow the logic of the evolution of such a mechanism: if a stranger is able to change your primary goals, they can force you to do whatever they want, only changing what what do you want to do!

Children, having no protection from this world, would have a much lower chance of survival, so evolution will select children who can resist this effect.
Student: I like the idea that affection encourages our children to accept our values ​​(although you may have encouraged me to agree with you using your role as a Sealer)

As far as I know, it has not been proven that any one part of our brain is involved in this activity, but in § 2-7 some evidence will be discussed that breaking the child’s attachments can worsen his development. Future advances in brain scanning methods should tell us more about how these mechanisms work.
Student: Even if we knew more about how affection affects us, we still need an explanation of the power of pride and shame.
The final chapter of this book will offer some ideas on what feelings are and how they work.

§ 2-4 Applied learning reinforces goals

“Each of us has beliefs about the proper forms of behavior, thoughts and feelings. We acquire our standards, rules and goals through acculturation ... and each of us has acquired a set specific to our particular environment. In order to become a member of any group, we must study this group. Life, based on our internal sets of standards, or the inability to live by them, is the basis of some very complex emotions ”- Michael Lewis in [Shame, The Exposed Self, 1991, Free Press, New York.]

When Carol's loved ones condemn her, she feels that her goals are unworthy of embodiment or that they themselves are unworthy of their goals. And when she gets older, then even when her Sealers are very far from her, Carol may still be wondering how they can feel: Will they approve of what I did? Will they approve what I'm thinking now? What mechanisms can be involved in experiencing such sensations? Let's listen to Michael Lewis again:
“The so-called emotions of self-awareness, such as guilt, pride, shame and arrogance, require a fairly high level of intellectual development. In order to feel them, an individual must have an idea of ​​himself, as well as a set of standards. They must also have an understanding of what success or failure is, and the ability to evaluate their own behavior. ”
Why does the growth of these personal values ​​depend on the affection of the child? It is easy to see why this could have developed: a child who has lost the assessment system of his parents is unlikely to survive. In addition, the parents themselves want to receive the respect of their friends and peers, so they want their children to behave in a socially acceptable way, and we saw several ways for children to learn these behaviors:

  • Negative experience: When the method used fails, the person learns not to use this subgoal.
  • Positive experience: When the method used is successful, the person learns to use this subgoal.
  • Antipathy: When a stranger scolds a person, a person learns to avoid such situations.
  • Securing censorship: When the imprint scolds a person, a person reduces the value of his goal.
  • Securing praise: When the imprint extols a person, the person enhances the meaning of his goal.

We have already seen how subgoals can be combined with serving our goal - the way that says Use a Spoon can be related to the Fill Mug. But when your imprinter praises you, some kind of machinery magnifies your current goal, making it more worthy, by increasing its place in your cloud of goals.


However, this picture does not tell us anything about how these processes actually work, so we need to create some theories about how connections work to “raise” goals. Firstly, it should depend on the patterns that recognize when the praise comes from the printer:

Student: Why do you insist that using the “AND” element requires both praise and the Sealer?
One of the features of the difference in people is that we can study the same things in different ways, and any psychological event can have several consequences. If attachment-based learning exists, this is only one part of the picture.

Student: But there is something missing in this scheme, because even after the goal level is raised, the “Fill Cup” goal will still float without any associations that could cause it.

In fact, this idea is not finished yet. It makes no sense to learn something new until a person is able to extract this knowledge when it is appropriate. This concept raises many questions, for example:

  • What exactly can each new goal become attached to?
  • When and how should they occur?
  • What type of priority should they have?
  • How long do you need to maintain this knowledge before getting rid of it?

There are no simple answers to these questions, because all these reasons should involve most of our mental machinery. However, it is difficult to understand how to think about such things without a set of ideas about the “levels” of mental activity. Our brains have many systems that can be trained - and how these systems have evolved over the years, they can tend to form rigid hierarchical structures, because each piece of newfound knowledge is built on things that we have learned before.

For example, during daily thinking you need to constantly monitor the “level of detail” of descriptions. When the plan seems to work well, you want to “dive” into the development of details, but when you feel that you are stuck, you want to “look” at the situation from a height, instead of investing time in sub-goals that may not be relevant. [See §§ Level-Bands]

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 only as “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 an AI robot from the Douglas Adams cycle of hitchhikers in the galaxy and the Hitchhiker movie in the galaxy movie.
  • 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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