In 2003 I started looking at the science of emotion in order to determine if it would be useful for robots.  When I had to do an English paper that year (middler year writing @ Northeastern University) I decided it would be something about emotions, but I wasn't sure at first what the specific theme would be.  One question I had was, why do people often associate emotion with spirituality?

Is it simply that some people never bothered to consider how emotion works, so it just gets classified with other mysterious phenomena like spirits?  Or is it because religion has laid claims to human emotion?  I had a meeting with the pastor (or minister? whatever he's called) at the Unitarian Universalist church in Harvard Square.  I didn't record the meeting unfortunately (I couldn't afford recording devices back then) but he seemed to be familiar with some of the books I had read about emotions such as by Antonio Damasio.  One interesting thing that I remember him telling me is that the word "spiritual," or the modern usage and popularity of it, is actually relatively new.

So I'm leaning towards the premise that most people don't care how emotions or spirituality work and use them as umbrella terms to cover a wide range of stuff without much regard for details or theories.  But I would love to hear arguments against that.  For instance, the history of emotions in humans probably was not constant, so there might be some thread that is either new or is left over from old times that associate human emotions with intangible spirits or gods.

Tags: emotion, religion, spirituality

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This is very interesting.  I'm kind of of the opinion- although I have nothing to base this on- that emotions evolved alongside various language trees (because language isn't universal- I'll cite the source if anybody's interested) as a very useful social tool to allow better cohesion of groups.

 

Since this in many ways mirrors a similar theory I have about religion being a special case of the unlikely phenomena of group selection (the basic premise of my argument in this is that religion allows a group to grow and propagate it's belief without the need for biological reproduction- so the 'god of battles' case where each successive generation has people less and less willing to die for the idea fails to happen, because it is not truly natural selection that is acting upon them- it's behavior and group selection) it would fit that religious groups that propagate widely would also propagate similar emotional patterns- which would, among other things, be one possible cause for the disparity of facial expressions between the far east and the western world (as only the most visible example of this).

 

The argument that one or both of these could be useful for some kind of an artificial intelligence is one that has also occurred to me, but only if that artificial intelligence works cooperatively in groups;  even then, if I were to program this, I would make considerable changes as to how the emotion is experienced, dealt with, and what it can communicate- but this presupposes a lot of thought on things such as an AI's sense of it's own social image as well as the social images of everything else (in the context of social images of certain objects, actions, states or events, or by association with other entities of different social states, etc).

 

 

First I would caution against referring to a "science of emotions", certainly there has been an increase in the scientific investigation of emotions; however, there are huge gaps in our understanding that would preclude being able to reference a SoE. Rest assured however that people have been very interested in understanding how emotions work for some time.

Aspects of emotions that are, to some degree scientifically understood;

  1. If I recall correctly the evolution of emotion majorly predates mammals, having arrived with the reptiles and the appearance of the limbic system at the top of the brain stem. Despite what Hollywood would like us to believe, you can't really piss off a fish, but you can certainly piss off an alligator. Also you might consider the evolutionary usefulness of emotions like fear, and anger, in hostile competitive environments, on the other hand, affection, and compassion, are very useful in the propagation of the species.
  2. From psycho-physicists at the turn of the 20th century, with galvanic skin response, to modern neuroscientists with fMRI's, our ongoing endeavor to understand the physiological basis for emotions has made significant progress. We have located things like the pleasure center, we know which areas of the brain are active for some of the other emotions as well, but what we know is still far outweighed by what we don't know, tip of the iceberg kind of thing. 
  3. Psychometrics, the attempt to scientifically quantify, classify, and determine the individual differences of psychological phenomenon, has also been concerned with emotions. Our efforts along these lines have been far more successful with the other two aspects of the trinity of human, i.e. personality, and intelligence, than with emotions.
  4. Another organized effort for the systematic study of emotions, unfortunately, is conducted by Madison Avenue, i.e. the advertising industry, if I get on my soapbox about this however, I'm liable to rant for days.

So you see there actually has been a good deal of concerted effort to understand emotions in humans.

Emotions and spirituality are definitely not the same thing, after all spirituality is an invention of homo-sapiens, and the emotional centers of the brain are vastly older than our species.  Spirituality or religiosity, begins as a function of cognition, with immediate and sometimes huge emotional stimulation potentials within the individual. Religion taps into this feedback loop and exploits it better than any other thing I can think of offhand. Emotions are primal and extremely powerful, the have the ability to easily override higher brain functions. How is it people continue to believe the world is 6000 thousand years old, or that eternal life is a good idea?

So in my opinion they are not the same, but are intimately related, so much so that  emotional content, may be a necessary condition for spirituality.

As far as emotions being useful to robotics,  I would say no, not at this time, nor until there are some major breakthroughs in AI, and just to be clear, there are many orders of magnitude difference between AI and machine consciousness.

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