Bye darling

dance500

Isn’t human behaviour wonderful?

This is just a trivial post but then I’ve had a lazy afternoon, so what do you expect? I went downtown, as I usually do of a Sunday, and watched some dancing. But I got there not long before it finished, so I strolled up into Thorpe Park, to watch people instead.

There were no murders going on, this being Flagstaff, and I couldn’t make up my mind whether to cringe or be envious of the guy singing and playing guitar at his girlfriend, so I watched a foursome, milling around near a car. I’ll call them Janet and John, and Peter and Jane.

Janet and John were approaching sixty, I’d say, and Peter and Jane were in their thirties. Jane was carrying a little dog, which was a useful distraction to all (a function usually served by babies). John, the older man, wore a cowboy hat and a moustache that he must have bought to go with the hat. That’s about as complex as he got. Janet, his wife, was more interesting. She had a sort of “nursey” air to her, but she was incredibly awkward and nervous, emitting little giggles to fill the silences. (She had those shoulders, Holly!) They were obviously Jane’s parents, and they hadn’t seen her for ages. This visit had clearly not been long enough by a factor of at least a thousand, but hell, Peter has his limits.

The thing is, they were all trying to say goodbye, but they couldn’t make it happen. Each would say a little piece and make sure it had a good trajectory, ending on the fundamental tone. Perfect. A momentary silence while everyone took their places for the finale, and then Peter would give Janet a hug. The trouble is, Janet would then giggle, shrug her shoulders and say how nice it was to have had more than one hug today. I think she got four in the end, so she must have been thrilled.

But her voice would always tail off, because she really didn’t want to see her daughter go. And that left the tune unfinished, so John, ever gallant, would then step in and say something to cover the gap – crack a joke, probably, given the way everyone took a conspiratorial step forward into a huddle and then erupted backward again. And that would give Jane time to think of something to say, or the dog would make a contribution and Janet would tickle him under the chin. And everyone was back where they started.

Peter made a solid move towards the car, and Jane put the dog inside. But she didn’t follow through, and came back out to appease poor Janet’s wistful look. And so then Peter would have to give her another hug (“Goodness, that’s THREE hugs I’ve had today!”) and the dance would start all over again.

I watched this for about half an hour and I felt so sorry for them. They were poised on the threshold of leaving but just couldn’t climb that last step. So I stood up, yawned, dropped my coffee cup into a trashcan and started to walk off, stage left. And immediately, Peter leapt for the driver’s door, Jane got in, Janet got a grip and John’s moustache breathed a sigh of relief. Mission accomplished.

SOMEBODY had to leave or they’d have been there still.

There’s no point to this post, I just wanted to remark on how beautiful and complex human communication is, and how subtly poised and balanced. What a wonderful world!

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About stevegrand
I'm an independent AI and artificial life researcher, interested in oodles and oodles of things but especially the brain. And chocolate. I like chocolate too.

23 Responses to Bye darling

  1. Norm says:

    And how delightfully observant you are, Steve.

  2. Stark says:

    I hate good byes. It’s always the hardest for me. 🙂
    And yet, I never give hello’s enough time to digest in my mind either! My mind races too much to get to the good things in life. Slow down, brain! Observe more! 🙂

  3. Matt Griffith says:

    Woops, it seems to have put me back as Stark, huh?

  4. Lynne Grand says:

    Where is the “good” in goodbye ?

    And there is surely no “hell” in hello !

    sis x 🙂

  5. mszola says:

    I don’t want to hijack the thread, but I found this article and thought you might find it interesting, it talks about babies’ development. (It’s Zola from the previous post, btw)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/opinion/16gopnik.html

    • stevegrand says:

      Hey Zola, hijack away – it was hardly an intellectual post in the first place!

      Lovely article. Thanks for that! How anyone can think children are dumb I don’t know. When I think what I managed to learn in my first four years and then compare that to any subsequent four years, I can’t believe how STUPID I’ve become!

      • mszola says:

        I think the article hit the nail on the head where it said “Adults focus on objects that will be most useful to them. But as the lever study demonstrated, children play with the objects that will teach them the most.”

        That’s probably an evolutionary thing. Picture a group of us living in a cave with a few babies crawling around on the floor. While it might be fantastically fun to crawl around with the babies and work on the theory of gravity, everybody’s hungry, and if our group is going to survive, somebody is going to have to go out and get some food. After we all go out and fetch that mammoth, then we can all crawl around until the next time we need food. 😉

        Seriously, though, I don’t necessarily see one as better than the other because both mindsets are needed.

        I think it’s a mistake to try to impose the adult viewpoint on children, though, as this study points out.

        It’s funny you should say “how can anyone think children are dumb?” because
        I remember reading some study somewhere that said that many American parents had no idea what was developmentally appropriate to their children and grossly overestimated things like self-control–in short, they saw them as little adults.

        I remember a girlfriend of mine getting very frustrated with her son, and having been there done that with my own children, I remember saying “but honey, he’s just a dumb baby!” And what I meant wasn’t that I thought my godson was dumb, because he was a bright little boy, but rather that I was trying to find a way to tell her that she was imposing her sensibilities on him and it was her mindset causing her frustration, not her son!

        Anyway, I don’t mean to ramble, but I do have one more question. I went back and re-read Growing Up With Lucy after I posted last week, and I wondered if your ideas about brain function have changed significantly (did you decide the method was a dead end?) or do you pretty much see it the same way with perhaps some refinements?

        I’m really interested in this because I think I may have a paradigm to explain emotion that fits in *very* well with the way of thinking about the brain that you have in the book.

        I realize you’re working on your new Creatures and Lucy may be the last thing on your mind, but this may also translate to the game.

      • stevegrand says:

        Since I wrote the lucy book I’ve barely had a chance to think about it. I lost a little faith in some of my ideas, but not all. I’d be interested to hear your ideas, though.

      • mszola says:

        As you’ve said yourself, emotions seemed to be different and somehow set apart, but what if emotions are simply another sense and not really apart at all?

        I think it’s safe to say that emotion itself is extremely basic, and that the more complicated a creature gets, the more emotions it displays.

        When I was young, we had a house next to a pond, and there were plenty of garden toads around. Like any normal child, I quickly learned I could catch them.

        And what happens when you catch a toad? Generally, it promptly pees on you. But if you pay attention, you will also notice that the toad breathes fast and you can often feel a very rapid heartbeat.

        Most people would say “the toad is scared”, and I think that’s a fair assessment, especially when, if you continue to hold it and offer no harm, it apparently calms somewhat, although it will take off the moment it has the opportunity.

        But, as has been said “a feeling is something you feel in your body”. We give it the fancy name of “emotion” and talk about it in the abstract, but the fact is that we will respond to an overwhelmingly novel and threatening experience with the exact same kind of physical responses the toad has, right down to the peeing.

        To me this suggests that emotions are as much of a basic building block as any sense is. The more complex the creature, the more complex the emotions. Cats, for instance, exhibit fear, but they also exhibit contentment, playfulness, trepidation and annoyance among other things.

        That the primates are quite similar to us goes without saying. Elephants seem to experience many of the same emotions we do, including sorrow when a companion dies. There’s anecdotal evidence of the same for whales and dolphins.

        I suspect that emotions are the elusive ongoing “state of the organism” assessment, the thing that creates the so-called “drives”.

        I don’t know if this is original thought. It may be that this has all been said before, but in some ways I think I have a unique perspective due to my background.

        I am a programmer who started out as an anthropology major, which is an interesting juxtaposition of disciplines, LOL!

        I’d be happy to continue to discuss/debate, please feel free to email me zola AT zolaweb DOT com if the subject captures your interest.

      • stevegrand says:

        I don’t want to be a damp squib or anything – not at all – but yes, it has been said before. In fact my Creatures game relies very heavily on this perspective: Emotions like fear, hunger, boredom, etc. are modeled as chemical concentrations (states of the organism, exactly as you say). Changes to those concentrations result in the production of bursts of reward or punishment chemicals, which act on the synapses in the norns’ brains to promote learning. So the emotions act as drives, which modulate learning and cause the creature to act in ways that tend to minimize them. The norns are also able to sense the levels of these emotions via chemoreceptors attached to neurons, and so they can learn things like “if I’m hungry and I see food, I’ll feel better if I eat it”.

        So yes, I completely agree with what you say. And I agree that toads “feel” fear, etc. too. (The scare quotes are there because there are two kinds of “feel” – the ability of the brain to SENSE fear, and the ability of the conscious mind to FEEEEEEEL fear, as one correspondent put it to me once, and I don’t know that toads are conscious in the appropriate sense).

        If anything, I think the higher emotions like grief and embarrassment may just be new colors mixed from the basic palette.

        There are other functions of emotions too – I think I listed a few in my Lucy book.

        So I hate to disappoint in the sense that this isn’t new, but I wholeheartedly agree with you, and I’ve no doubt you have a unique slant on it too. It’s so easy for people to say “oh you’re too late – William James said all that a century ago”, but who cares, because everyone has their own unique viewpoint to contribute.

      • mszola says:

        Well, I think we add a level of abstraction to it, just like we do to something like sight. We see a sunset and say “what a beautiful sunset”, but the sunset itself isn’t inherently beautiful, beautiful is a concept of our own. But no matter how many layers we put on it, the basic physical reaction is the same.

        I was reading the Creation book over the last few days, I didn’t realize I had it too, we’d moved and I’m still unpacking boxes of books since we have so many, but I have to read it again because it’s complex and that usually takes a few readings to fully absorb.

        The thing is, I think it’s continuous feedback. In Lucy, you talked about the signals going in both directions, and I think that part of the signal that’s going out is that assesment of location in relation to optimum.

        I think part of the reason the emotions seem so mysterious is because we all respond so differently to the hormones and chemicals that give rise to them. If they gave both of us a shot of adrenaline in an identical dose, we would not react the same way for a multitude of reasons, including physical size and substance processing. The threshold at which I “feel” something may be different than the threshold at which you “feel” something, just due to biology.

        Then we can add the complexity that we can self-generate emotional states with our thoughts, which actually I think is that predictive facility you speak of. I imagine having a fight with someone and feel a lesser version of the emotions that I would if I’d actually had the fight.

        I remember seeing this sensitivity in my kids. My son was an easy baby, the type that cried only when he needed something and calmed down very quickly. My daughter, on the other hand, I can only describe as “passionate” in that she wasn’t hungry, she was STARVING, she wasn’t angry, she was FURIOUS. The best laugh I ever had over a report card was from one of her earliest teachers who said one of the ongoing goals was to help my daughter “express her needs in a less stressful manner”.

        It would be interesting to see what happened if “responsiveness to drives” was added to your creatures. I can see where both more and less sensitivity would be a survival advantage, depending on the situation.

        I fully agree that we will never create AI without emotion. I suspect that the biggest reason for the whole attaction to the idea of cold, emotionless logic is just a reaction to the inconvenience of dealing with messy emotions when there’s so many more interesting things to be doing!

        If I’m programming something and stop to have an argument with my husband that keeps me from thinking about my code, it’s easy to see why I might wish for a world where decisions are based only on facts rather than feelings, LOL!

      • stevegrand says:

        Hey Zola,

        I’ll keep this conversation on the blog if that’s ok, even though it comes out as a stupidly narrow column. Part of the reason I set this up was that I was spending hours every day having interesting conversations with people but nobody else ever got to see them.

        > she wasn’t hungry, she was STARVING, she wasn’t angry, she was FURIOUS.

        I married a girl JUST like that! 🙂

        > In Lucy, you talked about the signals going in both directions, and I think that part of the signal that’s going out is that assesment of location in relation to optimum.

        Yes, that makes sense. If the brain is servoing then it ought to do the same with emotions too. I liked what you said about imagination and emotions. You must be right – it can’t simply be a unidirectional association – “oh yes, I remember last time I had a fight I felt angry and scared, so I’ll intellectually expect that this time”. When we imagine ourselves in a scary situation we actually BECOME scared and our adrenaline levels rise. So that HAS to be a bidirectional thing, just as you say. It was Wm. James who pointed out that many emotions are visceral, so our thoughts must be generating physical sensations that our brains then recognize. But it’s interesting that it can happen at a consciously initiated level.

        Also interesting is the way we can imagine some emotions but not others, suggesting there are several ways they’re represented. It’s pretty easy to become sorrowful, just by thinking about it; it’s harder to feel genuinely scared but we can do it – complete with raised heart rate and blood pressure; yet it’s impossible (for me anyway – can you do it?) to feel physical pain imaginatively.

        > It would be interesting to see what happened if “responsiveness to drives” was added to your creatures.

        That was possible – the reaction kinetics were mutable. People certainly reported “neurotic” norns! I don’t remember any sociopathic ones, but who knows?

        > I suspect that the biggest reason for the whole attaction to the idea of cold, emotionless logic is just a reaction to the inconvenience of dealing with messy emotions when there’s so many more interesting things to be doing!

        Hmm, or maybe it’s just that most AI researchers are not that touchy-feely! I blame the Greeks myself – all that “head ruling the heart” crap.

        > If I’m programming something and stop to have an argument with my husband

        I know that feeling! 🙂

    • mszola says:

      >I’ll keep this conversation on the blog if that’s ok, even though it comes out as a stupidly narrow column. Part of the reason I set this up was that I was spending hours every day having interesting conversations with people but nobody else ever got to see them.

      Oh, I don’t mind. LOL! I was just all excited about finding the blog and didn’t want to veer it off in a direction you didn’t want or bore everyone to tears, thus I just wanted to offer the option, that way you could say privately “Zola, been there, done that, not interested!” if there was a need.

      >I married a girl JUST like that! 😀
      *laughs* And I bet there were times when you were just angsted out. I adore my daughter, she’s just lovely, but there are times when I wish mightily for an off switch on the sturm und drang.

      >Yes, that makes sense. If the brain is servoing then it ought to do the same with emotions too. I liked what you said about imagination and emotions. You must be right – it can’t simply be a unidirectional association – “oh yes, I remember last time I had a fight I felt angry and scared, so I’ll intellectually expect that this time”. When we imagine ourselves in a scary situation we actually BECOME scared and our adrenaline levels rise. So that HAS to be a bidirectional thing, just as you say. It was Wm. James who pointed out that many emotions are visceral, so our thoughts must be generating physical sensations that our brains then recognize. But it’s interesting that it can happen at a consciously initiated level.

      >Also interesting is the way we can imagine some emotions but not others, suggesting there are several ways they’re represented. It’s pretty easy to become sorrowful, just by thinking about it; it’s harder to feel genuinely scared but we can do it – complete with raised heart rate and blood pressure; yet it’s impossible (for me anyway – can you do it?) to feel physical pain imaginatively.

      I find I can remember the emotions I have around physical pain but I can’t literally relive the pain itself, and yet, one’s memory is certainly good enough to cause one to cringe if one sees someone else skin their knee or hit their thumb with a hammer.

      I wouldn’t count the actual sensation of pain as an emotion because it’s driven by what, for a lack of a better term, I’ll call a primary sensory response. I don’t want to be using weasel words, so let me further define primary sensory response as the reaction of the cells to an outside stimulus. Like the cones and rods in the eye reacting to the light falling upon them, for instance, or the vibration of the cochlea in response to sound waves. Pain is first and foremost the actual reaction of the cells to an event.

      But then you have the feelings to go along with it. First is probably something along the lines of “BAD! This is very BAD!” because if emotions are the nonstop feedback on the state of the organism, that feedback should be saying “Houston, we have a problem.”

      Sometimes other feelings can quickly override the pain itself. I did something utterly asinine a couple Mothers Days ago. We had made a nice meal in celebration, and I wanted to put some butter on the carrots. We keep extra butter in the freezer, and of course the stick in the refrigerator had been used up (else I wouldn’t have a story), so I had a frozen stick of butter and was just chipping off small chunks with a fork.

      You will probably be utterly unsurprised to hear that the fork slipped? It did, and one of the tines of the fork went through the pad of my finger!

      And what I remember most clearly, aside from the jokes about taking the phrase “go fork yourself” to new heights, was feeling completely disgusted with my own stupidity, and that far outweighed any pain, although I imagine the painkiller they gave me at the emergency room for the first couple of days after the injury had a lot to do with that. 😉

      So I personally would differentiate between the pain that is a physical response and the mental discomfort we associate with emotional pain, which is very easy to remember indeed!

      The thing that I find most interesting about emotions is that they can generate a level of feedback sufficient to produce a primary sensory response, like when something startles you and you’ve jumped away before it registers consciously that there is a danger, even when that danger is not physically present. Ever jumped a foot when the psycho in the movie leaps into view?

      > Hmm, or maybe it’s just that most AI researchers are not that touchy-feely! I blame the Greeks myself – all that “head ruling the heart” crap.
      But doesn’t the head *have* to rule the heart in the end? Otherwise there would be no impulse control whatsoever. Picture a room of two-year olds….

      >I know that feeling!
      *laughs* Happily single now, thank you!

    • stevegrand says:

      You’d have to call fear a direct sensory response too, though. Albeit maybe “secondary”. We’re responding to the direct stimulation from heart-rate monitoring cells, stomach acid cells, etc; it’s just that they’ve been triggered by a rise in adrenaline, which in turn was triggered by the brain (possibly entirely reflexively and unconsciously, as in arachnophobia). And even when we’re embarrassed, like when we’re stupid enough to stick a fork through our finger ;-), a lot of the reason we KNOW we’re embarrassed is the fact that we suddenly sweat and have orientation responses that are controlled reflexively in the brainstem. So it sounds like most, if not all emotions happen on several levels, from the sensory and physiological through to the intellectual. Perhaps the only real difference with pain is that there’s no mechanism for triggering pain receptors using any part of our brain. That would make evolutionary sense – nociception has to be fast and reliable, so there’s no time for mucking about with feedback.

      > Happily single now, thank you!

      Heh! Me too. You don’t live near me by any chance? Just wondered… 😉

      • mszola says:

        >You’d have to call fear a direct sensory response too, though. Albeit maybe “secondary”. We’re responding to the direct stimulation from heart-rate monitoring cells, stomach acid cells, etc; it’s just that they’ve been triggered by a rise in adrenaline, which in turn was triggered by the brain (possibly entirely reflexively and unconsciously, as in arachnophobia). And even when we’re embarrassed, like when we’re stupid enough to stick a fork through our finger ;), a lot of the reason we KNOW we’re embarrassed is the fact that we suddenly sweat and have orientation responses that are controlled reflexively in the brainstem. So it sounds like most, if not all emotions happen on several levels, from the sensory and physiological through to the intellectual. Perhaps the only real difference with pain is that there’s no mechanism for triggering pain receptors using any part of our brain. That would make evolutionary sense – nociception has to be fast and reliable, so there’s no time for mucking about with feedback.

        Yes, that’s why I was trying to define what I meant by my words more clearly.
        When I say “primary response”, I am speaking of the direct reaction of cells to the stimulus. So the emotion of fear would be secondary response simply because it arises in response to the direct sensory data, *but* fear can also create its own primary response in the form of jumping or running or what have you. If that makes any sense? But it shows that two-way feedback wonderfully, doesn’t it?

        >Heh! Me too. You don’t live near me by any chance? Just wondered… 😉

        LOL! I live in West Virginia. I have a friend from Derby UK and we’ve decided that the area I live in is similar to Derby except the mountains are folded more closely so the valleys tend to be narrower. After living in Flagstaff, you’d probably consider them hills.

        That being said, if it turns out you’re giving a lecture in Pittsburgh, I might be induced to leave my cave… 😉

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