Marvin Minsky

Marvin Minsky regarded as the father of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no more. He left this physical world at the age of 88 last Sunday. This is a great loss to the world. But his exemplary works, his lectures, his books and his quotes still make him alive in this world and it will be a great guiding force for researchers in AI, Cognitive Sciences and other related areas.

Although I have read about his work in my younger days, the first time that I came across more seriously on his work was during my seven years stay at Infosys somewhere in the starting of the year 2010.  That was the time I got interested to know more about the area of Emotion Modelling and Emotion Analysis. I together with my colleague (Nirmal, one of the author of this blog site) started to think about what is emotion. Even though, at first, we came across many papers talking about emotions and its negative implications for a human-being in this world we had a feeling that emotion is not that negative as proclaimed in the works that we had collected, rather it should have more positive implications. Unless otherwise it would not have survived the evolution.

So, why did we think that there is more positivity into it. The reason is simple to say but hard to realise. Just think about a human not having any emotions at all. People will say then that what is the big deal he won’t show any expressions, that’s all. Answer to this is you are partially right but you have not understood emotion completely. You are seeing only the behavioral aspects of emotions but there are two more aspects to it. One is the physiological reactions that happens inside the body and the other one, which is the main thing – many will forget or not realise – is the inner feeling. So, when we study about emotions we may have to look into all three aspects. Coming back to the example that we were talking about unless you have emotions is there a way to change the monotonous way of thinking, to prioritize the things you need to do, to know/be aware of the importance of a thing/or an entity? This is what made us to think about the positiveness of emotions. That was the time we came across two of the works done by the legends in this field: (1) Herbert Simon and (2) Marvin Minsky. Herbert Simon in his work said that

“emotions perform the critical important function of interrupting normal cognition when some unattended goals require attention and servicing”       [Herbert Simon 1967]

Minsky in his book on Emotion Machine stated that

“emotions, intuitions, and feelings are not distinct things, but different ways of thinking”

The confidence and the ecstatic feeling that we got when we came across these two statements gave us cannot be explained in mere words. This turned a new leaf in our work. Yes, of course that’s why we call Minsky a legend, right? There may be many many in this world who would have got a new leaf in their life like us. This turned in a new chapter in our thinking and now we are sure that if we need to model emotion then cognition should not be left. Rather, we have to work towards a holistic unified model not a model that has “holes”in it!

All the more, Nirmal sent a mail to Minsky about some of our thinking on emotion treated as human’s resource for problem solving. Surprisingly, he had time to reply to that and that too with lots of positive notes! Such is his humility to answer even patzers in the field like us! That’s why he is a stalwart, is it not?

In fact, every page in his book on Society of Mind deserves at least one PhD work!

I had collected some of his quotes from the Internet and prepared a video out of that. All credits to the original posters of the quotes. This is a very small tribute to him.

 

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Emotion and Reasoning

We are familiar with emotions. We are familiar with reasoning as well. What is the connection between the two? Are they related? If yes, how closely are they related? Isn’t it interesting to think this way?

Even though they seem to be completely different things, they share a wonderful relationship.

Have you thought why our emotions are different when an accident happens to a stranger compared to when an accident happens to our dear one?

In the second case, the dear one is more relevant to us. Hence any mishaps to the dear one are also more relevant to us.

Here we can see the role of reasoning in emotion. Before an emotion is onset, so many factors are considered and reasoned. In this example, when we witness an accident, our mind picks up a lot of information about the accident. It checks whether the event (in this case, accident) is relevant to us or not; if yes, how good or bad is it for our survival, etc. Now, our own situation is considered like what is the level of the resources (like physical energy, possibility for help, self-confidence, etc.) available in us. According to our own state and the nature of the event, it is decided how much active we should become and how much should we be defensive, aggressive, etc. This decides on our emotional state. Of course this reasoning can happen both consciously and subconsciously. Anyway, here we can see that emotional process uses reasoning as a tool to decide on the emotional state.

Similarly, there is a role for emotion in reasoning as well. Reasoning is always dependent on the emotional state when it is done. For example, your friend would react in different ways if you mock him when he is happy compared to you mocking him when he is angry.  This shows the difference in his reasoning under the influence of different emotions. Another influence emotion has on reasoning is through goal management. Here, the word goal means aim – the thing that we want to do. Emotion has a big role in deciding or managing our goals. The best example is revenge. A person takes revenge because of his anger, sadness, frustration, etc. Here, these emotions set a goal in the person’s mind to harm the other person involved. Now, his entire reasoning is with respect to this goal. Hence emotion influences the way we do reasoning.

We can see that emotions and reasoning are interlinked and interlaced. They support each other, they complement each other; sometimes they also oppose each other. All these happen at different levels of reasoning and emotions. Isn’t that a beautiful relationship?

Theory of Emotions

In the last post we discussed about the evolutionary traits of emotions that gives the evolutional perspectives of emotions. As discussed there are several other models that are formulated in the literature. We will take three of them in this post and discuss them in a more informal way. Consider these three statements:

  1. We cry and (so) we are sad
  2. We are sad because we cry
  3. We are sad because we cry and understand that something has gone wrong totally against our expectation

We can explain the three theories using the above three statements.

James-Lang theory relates to the second one. It says that because of our physiological reactions to certain events we get emotions/feelings. Some models like Damasio’s even differentiate between emotions and feelings. But for our understanding we take both as same. To say more clearly this theory states that due to experience of some event we get into some physiological reactions like shivering, trembling, rise in heart rate, dryness of mouth and so on and because of this we get into various emotions. Although this theory does not hold good with the present researchers in the field there is some truth about this theory in some specific situations. For example, the drug addicts experience various physiological reactions then get into various moods/feelings/emotions. The main criticism of this theory is that viscera react slowly — people experience emotion then feel the effect in the viscera.

Cannon-Bard theory relates to the first statement, i.e., we cry and (so) we feel sad. Cannon opposed the view of James-Lang theory and showed by experiments that thalamus is the key for all of our emotional reactions and when that occurs almost at the same time physiological reactions are also produced. But he did not mention clearly if the physiological reactions is only because of emotions. To confirm the importance of thalamus he showed that when we remove the thalamus the body ceases to produce emotions.

The two-factor theory formulated by Schachter & Singer relates to the third statement above. It says that emotional reactions are generated by both the physiological reactions (arousal) and cognition. External events causes physiological reactions in us and some understanding of the events like how relevant it is to us — painful or pleasure; how important; and other contexts like social implications and so on. Because of cognition there might be inhibition and exaggeration. We as an individual experience these physiological changes and try to interpret these changes. Likewise, when we understand the events we infer it in many dimensions (also called as appraisal) like relevancy, how important, social context and so on and this creates a kind of feeling in us. These two factors lead us to some feeling which we call it as emotions. Schachter & Singer in 1962 showed this using a very nice experiment described here.

There are many other theories for emotions built over the years that we will take up in the next series of blogs. But coming back to the three models described above obviously the last model carries more weight in the sense that it is more appropriate to the reality in this modern era. It is also interesting to see the evolution in the understanding of emotions — James-Lang theory was formulated in the 19th century (this theory is not generally accepted these days), Cannon-Bard theory in the early part of 20th century (not so accepted although for some specific situations it works) and the two-factor theory in the later part of 20th century (the most agreed upon theory out of these three).

Evolutionary Traits of Emotions

Study of emotions has gone through investigations in various different prespectives: psychological, philosophical, computational, neuro-biological, evolutional and so on. Reseachers from different areas have defined various models for studying emotions and other related stuffs. But till now there is no universally accepted model. Partially this is due to the lack of proper definition for emotions itself. According to this article published in 1981 there are 91 definitions for emotion defined by various people from different areas.

In this post we mainly concentrate on the evolutionary aspect of emotions. These evolutionary traits have been talked about by many researchers (some are Darwin, D. Watt) in the literature.

First we have to agree on the following hypothesis in order to understand the evolutionary traits of emotions:

“Every human/animal or (may be?) any biological system tries to survive, by some means, any kind of internal or external attacks”

What would have been the main objective when human/animal started to live in this world? Obvious. Yes, it is Survival! First, the body has to take care of its equilibrium. Then he (see the note1 given in the bottom!) has to defend himself and survive any internal or external attacks; find something to eat or drink to energize his body. Once this two things are more or less guaranteed then he can think about pleasure, happiness, joy, fun, passion, setting/achieving his goals and so on. This is the philosophy of any human-being. Now we try to relate this philosophy to the following:

  • Homeostasis
  • Emotions
  • Cognition

Homeostasis takes care of the internal imbalances in our body and keeps our body in an equilibrium. Hence it takes care of the physiological part and makes him survive the internal issues in his body. Once this is taken care he thinks about the survival from the other external things/forces. For this the evolutionary extension called as emotion helps. If he is faced with many issues emotions tell him which one to take first. It also helps him to interrupt what he is doing and makes him to be ready for the situation. Emotion also helps him to communicate instantly and to apply it as a problem solving tool (that is to take action to survive the dangerous internal and external events). Once these two levels are taken care the next stage of evolution is cognition where he is able to use the information, gain knowledge, analyze, infer, apply logic, compute and build new things from whatever he knows. So the emotion can be called as a “evolved supervisor” for homeostasis while being at the service of homeostasis and likewise cognition can be called a “evolved supervisor” for emotion while being at the service of both the homeostasis and emotion. This evolution does not mean that its one way, i.e., homeostasis ->  emotion  ->  cognition. The evolution has come to a stage where all three are interdependent. This shows that the evolutionary perspective of emotions but there are other models too in the literature that are different from the above. For example, of the many, three of them are

  1. James-Lang Theory
  2. Cannon-Band Theory
  3. Two factor theory

We will discuss about these three in the next post.

Note1: Those who feel that I am a male chauvinist please replace he with she and him with her wherever appropriate!

Note2: This is with respect to the second post on emotion vs thinking, Marvin Minsky, in his book The Emotion Machine, feels that the emotion is not especially different from the processes that we call ‘thinking’ (see this).