Saturday, October 04, 2008

minsky 3: from pain to suffering

Overview of Chapter 3 of The Emotion Machine (summary, online draft, buy)

"Emotions are different Ways to Think."

When I reread this chapter it seemed to have two separate parts:
Sections 3-1 to 3-4 is an extended discussion of whether pain and suffering is a mystery
Sections 3-5 to 3-8 is building on Freud's idea that our minds are battlegrounds between basic instincts and higher ideals

What is the connection between these two parts? I think Minsky is using pain and suffering as one example of basic instincts. This sets the scene for the contrast of the Freudian conflict later in the chapter.

Pain and pleasure have many similar qualities. They both constrict one's range of attention, both have connections with how we learn, both reduce the priorities of one's other goals. Pain protects our bodies but destroys our minds. In an evolutionary sense this might be a programming bug that evolved before our higher level intellects

The extended discussion on pain, suffering and grief is very interesting and punctuated with some great quotes (from Woody Allen, Dennett, Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde). Minsky is a great writer as well as having great ideas.

One deficiency of behaviourism is that it only observed the actions of what people do while ignoring questions about what people do not do. Negative expertise is a very large part of every person's precious collection of commonsense knowledge. Negative expertise might work through Critics, each of which learns to recognise some particular kind of potential mistake

Types of Critics:
  • Corrector - declares you are doing something dangerous
  • Suppressor - interrupts before you begin an action
  • Censor - prevents "incorrect" ideas occurring to you in certain situations
Freud was on the right track. The human mind is like a battleground, there are continual conflicts between our animal instincts and our acquired ideals


Human thinking does not proceed in any single, uniform way

On the issue of controlling our moods:

If you could switch all your Critics off then nothing would seem to have any faults ... everything now seems glorious

If you turned too many Critics on, you'd see imperfection everywhere ... ugliness ... if you found fault with your goals themselves, you'd feel no urge to straighten things out, or to respond to any encouragement

Sometimes we use one emotional state to combat another emotional state. For example, you might call up an image of a Challenger to use jealousy, anger or shame to combat sleep

Why do we need such fantasies, why aren't we more rational?
  • concept of "rational" itself is a kind of fantasy because our thinking is never based on just pure logic
  • directness would be too dangerous, if we could turn Hunger off we might starve; if we could turn Anger on we might fight all the time; if we could extinguish Sleep then we might wear out bodies out (these considerations shaped our evolution)

1 comment:

Mark Miller said...

I don't know if Minsky talked about this, but in the "fantasies" list, might he have talked about love (the romantic and parental kind)? Without it we might not reproduce.