Could robots ever have emotions?

Would the emotions expressed by a robot ever be “real”?

To get at this question we first have to take a look inside ourselves to see what happens when we experience and express emotion. Look under the hood so to speak and see what’s going on.

Now to do this I don’t think we need to have some special form of access say to the brain. We don’t need any other form of knowledge or experience than what is universally available to everyone by virtue of the fact that as humans we all have emotions.

So here’s my description of what happens when I experience emotions.

There is a circumstance or event that happens. When I become aware of this event and if I care about the constituents of the event I experience gladness, regret, excitement etc.

Now how do I know I am experiencing an emotion? What is it that informs me of this?

Very often it is a change in my heart rate, a feeling in my belly or just a general change in the tone of my experience.

A spring to my step or a falling feeling in the stomach.

Why I feel what I feel or rather why I interpret the sensation as either a positive or negative emotion isn’t as immediately available as the immediate experience of the emotion so I am compelled to generate a theory.

The theory that makes most sense to me is that our preference is the determining factor behind how I interpret my emotion.

If I want the outcome of the event it is good; if I don’t want the outcome of the event it is bad.

Why do i prefer what I prefer? I don’t know is the simple answer.

The best narrative to use to understand preferences is that of programming.

The only difference between my preferences and a computers programming is that I was programmed by nature and the computer was programmed by man.

Now to the robot.

Some people will say “a robot cannot have real emotions because it is just programmed to do what it does.”

That is to say that when event x happens the robot’s programming tells it to express so and so emotion.

How would the robot be told this?

There may be a certain transistor that turns on or a group of transistors that turn on in a specific pattern.

I don’t really know enough about computers to know how but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that some form of a signal will tell the robot how to act.

Well what is the difference between the physiological changes that occur to my body that tell me I am angry and the signal that tells the robot how to act?

I mean anger is the physiological changes accompanied by my interpretation of them.

The robot has both of these characteristics. There is a signal and programming that tells the robot how to interpret the signal. The signal acts as a result of external stimuli.

Don’t you see that this narrative is a perfectly adequate narrative for what happens to us when we experience emotions?

You may say that the robot isn’t conscious. I won’t go into that claim here but say it isn’t.

So what?

Consciousness is present in all of our experiences. And emotion is one of those.

You are not always angry. You are not always conscious.

Does consciousness need to be present for emotion? I think not.

Consciousness is a kind of emptiness. A space for stuff to happen in and for and to. As such the stuff happening to consciousness would still be happening if consciousness were not aware of it.

Your breath is a perfect example of this.

Really this issue is the result of a false dichotomy we have drawn between nature and man. Real and artificial.

Man is a continuation of nature. He is nature.

If the products of human activity are not natural than neither are termite mounds.

It seems reasonable to assume that anything man produces will share some very basic and fundamental features with man.

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The hubris of thought

A very common trap we fall into with our thinking is the belief that reality has to conform to our thinking.

This is shown in the ontological argument for the existence of God.

The ontological argument goes:

God is that than which nothing greater can be thought.

That than which nothing greater can be thought (we’ll call it god from here on in. Think of God as a variable; like an x in algebra) can be thought of as existing and not existing.

God existing is greater than god not existing therefore we cannot think of God as not existing.

All well and good but the final clause in the argument is the trap I am talking about.

Therefore God must exist. (implicitly: because we cannot think of God as not existing)

What we have done here is show that using certain laws for thought – playing a certain thought game as Wittgenstein would put it – you cannot think of God as not existing. The trap is to then extend this beyond the limits of thought itself. Why should reality conform to laws of thought?

This trap is so common because I believe it is something we are born believing. It’s behind the belief called naïve realism. We all believe that the world outside of our experience must conform to the world of our experience without ever having any proof for or against this belief.

Another example of this way of thinking, of how we extend the rules of thought to illegitimately (without any ground) make claims about reality is the idea of infinite divisibility.

Numbers come from counting and counting is a process that is reversible. You can go on into infinity and you can go back to infinity. You can also count within a number (1, ½, 1/3, ¼ etc). This capacity is something our brains can do.

We can do loops and such things with ease. But is reality infinite? Is the space out there that we experience infinitely divisible? This is of course an empirical question and because of that and the nature of infinity it is impossible to answer. But we just assume without too much trouble that this must be the case.

Always try to maintain the distinction between the thought and what it is a thought about and let the thought be determined by the object of thought. Don’t try to put a square peg in a round hole.

Journal of my Journey towards Understanding: Heidegger: Is there a Being-Toward-Birth in Heideggerian ontology?

It seems to me that birth shares a lot of the features of death.

It’s my own-most past action.

Though if Dasein exists before being thrown out of the womb then it could be said that whilst in the womb biological birth was Dasein’s own-most-potentiality-of-being-in-the-world.

Wait there; I’m being stupid.

Let me define the term “Birth” as the beginning of Dasein’s existence just as “Death” is defined as the end of Dasein’s existence.

So is there a being-toward something in my past?

I think I’m using being-toward something inappropriately here. Could being-toward something include the imagining/remembering of a past event? If so then Dasein could never be in the mode of being-toward its own birth because I don’t know about you but I don’t remember being born.

Actually that’s stupid; I’m making the mistake of taking the moments of Dasein’s existence as objectively present things and saying “we can’t be toward-birth because we can’t remember it happening” but neither can we remember or imagine what death is like. Both present a kind of void.

But still I think that the question “Can there be a being-toward birth?” Is just as important a question as “Can there be a being-toward-death?”

If there is to be a potentiality-for-being-whole surely a being-toward-birth is as necessary as a being-toward-death.

Also it doesn’t share the feature of being-toward-possibility because it has already happened.

Birth shares a lot of the features of death except indefiniteness. This is because looking back nothing is indefinite; it always happened at a particular time, particular place and was a particular action or event.

“Yesterday at 2pm I juggled for 10 minutes in my hallway.”

But future events and actions are always indefinite. Firstly you cannot be sure – no matter how determined you are – that it will happen.

Also when Dasein is authentic it is faced with a plethora of possibilities that constitute its situation and in the mode of resoluteness it’s reticent so the activity it will choose to do from the mode of resoluteness is indefinite.

Birth shares with death in that it would be my own-most. Even though I cannot look forward to my birth as I can my death; birth is still my own-most because only I was born and no-one else.

I am certain that my birth occurred; I am, I exist.

It’s non-relational because I don’t remember my birth and so can’t communicate authentically about it with others. (I may be misunderstanding the term “non-relational” there because I think non-relational may have been used to designate the fact that nobody can take my place and die for me; which would still mean that birth and death shared this feature because nobody can be born for me).

An interesting question that just popped into my head “At what point, as what phenomena, would the existence of a new Dasein be disclosive to another Dasein?”

The kicks felt by the mother and people placing their hands on the mother’s gravid belly?

One of the key features that birth shares with death is that of individuation and freedom – or would freedom be in Heideggerian terms resoluteness?

If I look back to my birth I don’t remember signing anything that obliged me to act in such and such a manner. Even if I did I would have to have signed something previous to that to make the first signing binding and something previous to that and so on.

I think here I’m getting at thrownness; once you realize that you are thrown into your situation and all that entails you realize how you are not obliged to do anything but can if you choose engage in any of the possibilities that are disclosed to your understanding in the situation.

Maybe the most distinguishing feature of birth is that at birth you are at your most vulnerable to falling-prey to the They.

Maybe biological birth is a movement from one state of a comfortable lack of freedom (the womb) to another less comfortable state that lacks total freedom but contains more freedom than the womb; that is the movement into the inauthentic they-self of everydayness.