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.


Time is not the Healer!

There is a general belief among people that “time heals all wounds”. Is it really true? Has anyone who has lost his very near and dear one sometime in his life can say time has healed his wound?! Not exactly! Actually, it can haunt them after years, even decades.

Frijda says time heals no wounds! He goes one more step further and states a law, interestingly, called as The Law of Conservation of Emotional Momentum (quoting from his book on The Laws of Emotion): emotional events retain their power to elicit emotions indefinitely, unless counteracted by repetitive exposures that permit extinction or habituation, to the extent that these latter are possible.

Hence time is the not the answer to heal the wounds, rather, either it has to be overwritten by some other event, or you become habituated to it within the extent to which it is possible.  The effect of loss of a dear one never becomes a neutral event. Still life goes on for them. But does that mean the wound has healed? No. The studies have shown that anytime in future when the concerned person experience a stimuli that is similar to the original one, like, seen some unbidden images that resembles the dear one, that same fresh emotion can come back with the same or even more intensity. Likewise, there has been many instances that a person affected by a fire accident experiences a sudden shivering, panic like what he felt previously when he smells burning even after many years.

Thus as Frijda says beautifully “certain old pains just do not grow old; they only refer to old events”. So the time is not the healer!

Its not for Happiness but for Survival! (Laws of Emotion – 4)

Any human-being living in this world wants to be happy. We think that we strive for happiness and we believe happiness is the ultimate in one’s life. But biologically speaking its the other way! Our human mind is not for happiness but for instantiating the biological laws of survival! Although striving for happiness can be associated with the biological laws of survival, if you observe closely both are different. In the sequel, we will see how our mind is modelled for instantiating survival instinct than for happiness.

Frijda, in his book The Laws of Emotion, states a law called Hedonic Asymmetry that very well explains the above phenomena. Everyone in this world wants to live happily, but when they are happy do they realize it every day? Absoultely no! The reason is that we take it for granted. But, when a person goes through an ordeal, distress or a human rights violation he experiences it every day. The law of habituation says that even a so called hardship is habituated by the person after sometime but this happens only upto a certain limit. If this crosses a certain limit even a small hardship will look like a Himalayan problem and the reaction to this will be of a phenomenal order. Frijda says that the emotional nonhabituation for continuing negative events has no direct counter part for positive events. This is a big asymmetry!

Continuing pleasure, joy, relief will bring the person to a neutrality. In other words, positive emotional events do not addup unlike the negative emotional ones. Pleasure, joy, or relief depends on the change it has brought out to a person but it disappeares when it comes again and again. But pain or distress persists when adverse conditions happens to a person continously.

This gives a great lesson to all of us — emotions, for that, mind, are for signaling states that requires response. If there is no response required for some events then the signaling system swithces off. This is why happiness does not addup unlike the distress which adds up in a cumulative fashion. This shows the fact that our human minds are not made for happiness, that we always strive for, but for survival!

The Laws of Emotion – 3

After a small break here we go again!

In this entry we will discuss the fourth law of emotion:

The Law of Change, Habituation and Comparative Feeling:

First we take up the law that speaks about change and comparative feeling.

Frijda says emotions are elicited not because of favorable or unfavorable conditions a person is in but it is by actual or expected changes in favorable or unfavorable conditions. This explains that there is nothing like favorable or unfavorable conditions as such but it is always “with respect to”(theory of relativity!), i.e., there is no absolute conditions but only comparative conditions for emotions to be elicited. This, in turn, tells the important fact that we always have a frame of reference to measure the magnitude of the change. So it is not the magnitude of the event as such but the magnitude of the event with respect to your frame of reference which is the most important aspect to get one’s emotion elicited. This also shows how we perceive is important because for the same event there can be different frame of references and one can make upward or downward comparisons! For example, a student getting a percentage of 70% can be compared in a positive way or in a negative way. When we compare the same student to the students who have got less than 69% then it is upward comparison but same will be downward if we compare him with the students with more than 71%.

So far we have talked about law of changes and comparative feelings but still we have not seen the law of habituation. Habituation comes into picture when there is an iteration of some “favorable” or “unfavorable” conditions for some finite number of times in one’s life. Frijda argues that continued pleasures wear off mainly because we habituate it. This habituation in turn makes us, in some occasion, take something for granted! This shows that ones default state always increases with more and more pleasures! This habituation to positive and favorable conditions is directly connected to the notions called as hedonic treadmill and joyless economy.

As an example to the law of habituation we can take the most common example of spouses taken for granted after they spend awhile as couples. After being together for quite sometime they may not feel the love and affection when they are together but they will feel for the love and affection of the other only when they are missing their counterparts!

So, what does the law of habituation say when a person is faced with hardship continuously? Frijda says continued hardship lose their poignancy (up to a limit). For example, suppose a person, who uses his car to go to his office daily, loses his car for some reasons. Also, assume that he has to use public transport to go to his office for few months.  For the first few days/week he will experience the hardship of walking to the bus stop, waiting for the bus and so on. But after few days or weeks he will get used to it in other word he gets habituated to it.

The law of comparative feelings is also connected to envy. A person who has performed better in his/her exam might feel jealous seeing somebody else having scored more marks than him/her. In addition to this, it also has direct contact with Schadenfreude — a person who has got into some difficulty in his life sees his enemy has also got into more problems than him and feels better seeing that!

The Laws of Emotion – 2

We continue our discussion with the laws of emotion (from N Frijda’s book on Laws of Emotion)

The Law of Apparent Reality:

In the first law (in the previous post) we saw that an individual’s perception of the event is more important than the event itself. This law of apparent reality says that the meaning of the events are appraised as “real”. It says unless an individual sees/feels the event or the meaning of the event is true or at least believes it to be true it elicits no emotions. Also, it adds that the intensity of the emotion corresponds directly to the degree which the individual feels it is real. The reality refers to a more popular phenomenon in psychology called as time discounting – people, in general, prefer immediate rewards than larger rewards at a later time.

This law gives few more very important insights which we discuss in the following.

Knowing means less than seeing

Consider a person who is water phobic. We can not explain to him/her how to swim and ask him/her not to get freighten since he/she has the life support always in case some problem arises. Whenever he/she sees a water body he/she gets fearful and wants to turn his/her eyes off or even run away from that place. What it tells in general is knowing is less than seeing.

Words mean less than tone of voice

Imagine a girl telling the guy who is following her in sweet and friendly voice that do n’t follow me! Will it work in reality? Of course not. In reality the tone of the voice is more important than the words used.

Feeling means more than knowing

We might get to know some news that something has happened somewhere but unless it affects us directly it will not concern us much. For example, Frijda in his book says Chernobyl disaster was felt in Europe only after the imposition of restriction on consumption of milk. This shows that feeling means more than knowing.

Weakness of reason against the strength of passion

If an individual is very passionate in work he will not think about his health. He might work day in and day out not bothering about sleep which might affect him in the later stage of his life. Reasoning becomes weak when we consider passion.

The Laws of Emotion – 1

Most of us might have heard about Newton’s laws of motion. When we hear about the laws of emotion it might give a weird kind of a feeling – the main reason being that the emotions are the most idiosyncratic entity for any living being. So the general question we might get is how can we have laws on emotion. The answer for this questions is given by one of the most well-known researcher in the area of emotions – Nico Frijda

According to Frijda although emotions are more individualistic in nature there is a general underlying rule for emotions based on the events a living being might encounter. This underlying phenomena might be overridden by our own inhibitions for various reasons/factors consciously or in the sub-conscious state.

Frijda states nine laws of emotions we will take up the first two for our discussion in this post.

The Law of Situational Meaning

The first law states that not the meaning but the situational meaning is very important. The situational meaning of the event here refers to the full spatial and temporal context in which a specific event happened. Hence the main reason for an emotion to occur is not the event as such but the meaning he/she gets out of it when he/she is in some specific situation. This law may not be very evident because more often it is overridden by controls/factors such as social, cultural, spiritual and so on either consciously or unconsciously. This law might be very much evident if person suffers from some illness or the person is already in some motivational states like hunger, thirsty and so on. Under “ideal/normal” circumstances the law of situational meaning will be more evident. Very good example for this is “someone falling in love”.

The Law of Concern

The counterpart of the law of situational meaning is the law of concern. Emotions arise only when the event is of some importance to the person. It should be of concern either in a positive or in the negative way. If the concern is a positive one, i.e., for example, it exceeds the expectations of a person then he/she gets into a positive emotion. Likewise if the concern is a negative one, i.e., for example, a person lost his dear one, he/she gets into a negative emotion. Also note that this can lead to mixed emotions also – concerned person can get into both positive and negative emotions also. For example, a person gets a good job outside the country he/she may get into both positive and negative emotions. Positive because he/she was successful and negative because he/she has to leave the country leaving the near and dear ones. This is a very simple example to show the evidence of mixed emotions but in reality there can be much complex situations/concerns where person can get into a conflict/dilemma of what to select. The concern arises mainly because of expectations, goals and ambitions.

To be continued…

PS: The comments given above are all my takes on the book The Laws of Emotion by N. Frijda. If you feel something is wrong please correct me.

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?