Reimagined and Revamped. Fighting the spread of nonsense often feels like a Sisyphean task. However, the joy is in making the information available, not the hope of conversion.

TechBit: New Emotions

Need some help from you folks out there. Wife and I were talking last night about horrible man who recently killed his family. We started talking about how emotions affect our perception and logic. I thought of something weird.

It seems clear that some people, at some times, lack some emotions like compassion or guilt (for example I can't even imagine the emotional abyss required to allow yourself to kill your kids, particularly toddlers). But given our normal range of emotions that we identify, why couldn't there be emotions that we do not have.

When I mentioned this, my wife looked at me strangely, laughed and then asked "Like what?". Of course I couldn't answer. I didn't mean to imply that I knew, just that perhaps they could exist. As an example, presume life evolves on another planet, why would we expect that they have the same emotions (never mind values) that we do.

How would we identify a new emotion that we as humans don't have? If in 30,000 years we evolve a new emotion, how would we recognize it?


On 1/28/09, 12:32 PM , carnifex said...

When dealing with such internal spaces I'm not sure it's possible to do more than construct very rough analogies with each other, let alone people/things that are very different. We can only assume that what I call guilt, or any emotion, is the same thing you experience, barring a very advanced and accurate neural scan, preferably when we don't know it's going on.

Even then, the internal context of both our experiences may not be evident. I suppose it depends on the resolution of the information extracted.

For aliens, we'd really just have to find analogs. Find similarities, make fun of each other for being "dumb" where we differ, and make the best of it. As to us evolving "new" emotions, I don't think that's likely. The ones we have arise from brain patterns that have largely been beneficial, from a living long enough to breed and thrive perspective, at the individual level, and any changes are likely to be slow drifts within those unless some radical environmental pressure arises. Global warming is a big deal, but it isn't likely to cause people with strange brain bits to be significantly more successful at breeding than the baseline.

For that matter it isn't like humans evolved these emotions, per se. My dog seems to feel affection, anger, fear, happiness, sadness, and jealousy.

You should read Blindsight, by Peter Watts. Not intrinsically related, but your question sparked similar ideas for me.

On 1/28/09, 3:10 PM , Anonymous said...

Quick thought experiment... If a person has no memory and no concept of future and past, would they have any emotions at all?

I'd argue that they wouldn't have any emotions. I think emotions are based around past experiences and fears/desires of the future. They're based in our reality of dealing with situations in our life. Some emotions thankfully are rare, for example, dread of imminent death. But again, it's based around receiving information of a future event and the resulting fear.

Unless an alien species has a very different survival strategy, I think they'd have an identical set of emotions.

I also think that emotions have evolved to promote survival of the individual and their genetic information. In my opinion all emotions are a blended combination of a basic set that have come about from this evolution.

I don't think you can "wish" a new emotion into existence, anymore than you can come up with a new color that no-one's seen before.

On 1/28/09, 3:21 PM , Techskeptic said...

That is an interesting way to put it, but I think the analogy works the way I want it to.

I didnt mean that we could "wish" a new emotion. But I can think of a case where someone can see a new color that no one has seen before. If someone develops the ability to see into the ultraviolet or infrared wavelengths, like some animals can, they would in effect, be seeing a new color that no one has ever seen before. Strangely they would not be able to describe it any more than I can describe the color orange.

It is this evolutionary process with regard to emotion I was thinking of. Could there an emotion developed in time (like 30k years) that is more happy than happiest anyone today can ever be that it could be considered a new emotion? More angry than present human angryness?

Yeah, its weird, I'm not really going anywhere with this. It was just a thought.

On 1/29/09, 10:44 AM , carnifex said...

I think it's a fascinating thought. It's been chewing away at me since you posted it.

While perhaps a creature with no sense of history or expectation would be, effectively, emotionless, it would also not be something you'd really want to try and talk to.

With any emotion you can find pathological extensions. Brain chemistry so wired for it that the emotional response is overwhelming. Anger becoming overwhelming rage, for instance. Envy to the point of submersing the self to assume the self of another. Happiness that is brainless euphoria. That one I think only comes about via drugs though =). Not sure there's a lot of new territory on the current branches is all I'm sayin'.

In one sense it's actually easier to describe emotions than colors, because you can tell people what the emotion(s) makes you want to do. If I call something blue, you have to make some blanket assumptions about the equality of our internal representations. If I'm experiencing anger at someone, I can describe it as wanting to yell/hit/burn that person, a general set of action desires that anger has become shorthand for. So, one the one hand it would seem that emotions are innately tied to what we can do with the rest of the body mechanism, which makes total sense to me, and on the other hand any new emotional state can be described by either talking about the actions said state makes you want to perform, or via the zen expedient of performing such actions.

Comparing it to vision, frequently, as my spotty memory recalls anyway, a species with an uncommon visual sense doesn't really have full access to the "normally" visible spectrum. Perhaps existing sociopaths already have an alternate emotion, filling the niche left empty by empathy. Mostly the violent ones just seem, to me, to revert to more reptilian behaviors, but I haven't exactly studied it or anything.

On 2/13/09, 4:23 AM , Buffy said...

It's not an emotional abyss that leads you to murder yourself and your family. It's an extreme form of self-hating and loathing which makes you destroy everything related to you because you are so hateful.