Reply To: What Are Emotions?

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  • Type: SeFi
  • Development: lll-
  • Attitude: Unseelie

I’ve done quite a bit of thinking about this topic too, some of which I’ve explored in my novels, using a system of symbols and more.  It’s too extensive to share here, especially before the book is published.. but, for now, I’ll say that I believe there are a few different facets that make up emotions, and one is visceral while another is stored in memory.

There are emotions that are universal – anger, sadness, shame, fear – and they tend to occur across cultures and similar species. For instance, elephants feel shame when they’re sick, so they go away from the herd; this allows the herd to keep up its pace and to avoid catching the illness. Similarly, humans have too much shame to say whatever comes to mind, relieve themselves wherever they please, etc.. this would cause chaos in society and make things unsanitary.  Shame is, therefore, a biological imperative. Same with anger, fear, etc.

Beyond that, there’s an emotional scope within each person, which is part of their identity. Emotions have certain associations. To use myself as example, I have different colors representing different sides of my personal experience; and these connections evolved through my art. I don’t tend to ‘plan’ these things – I use whatever colors I feel like; but over time I develop my own language of color, based on lived experience of how those colors affect me and others. And I tend to find that I hit on universal themes, yet still the colors’ specific significance to me  is personal. For instance I associate white with my music. White reflects but doesn’t absorb, so it’s isolating and also helps someone to retain their core self. For me, it represents the time when I was untouched by the world, just doing what I do naturally. And music was my first language. Then I developed more and more associations with white… and as a consequence, black.  Each of these colors, and more, became associated with certain alter-egos, personal expressions, stories and facets of me, other people in my life, endeavors, etc…

I can go on about my inner language but it’s extraneous to the post so I’ll shut up. 😀  Point is, this is a highly personal system that developed over time. Even if the meanings of colors are somewhat universal (ie: white is purity[isolation], red is passion[blood]) …. the markers in my own timeline, and the emotions these associations evoke, are my own.

So in this sense, people have two layers of emotion. One is in the realm of personal identity and one is more primal, common to all humans and several other species too. The two intermix, and influence the expression of the other in varying degrees, but neither category on its own can comprise the totality of a human being’s emotional spectrum.

Beyond that, the way people experience visceral emotions can be personal, to some degree. Enneagram is a good example of a system that attempts to address this.

While  we all experience all 9 types, there are certain ones we get fixated on, and we repeat mental patterns to deal with that internal drama. These would be our enneagram types.  So even the way we process visceral, biological imperative type emotions, is not entirely universal.  While we cannot escape the presence of any of these primal emotions, the depth of the psychic toll of different emotional patterns and blockages, varies according to the individual. Other systems would agree with this (for instance, any system addressing chakras).  That some people have their deepest hangups around shame, some around fear, some around anger; is rather self-evident – even if we all experience these emotions as a consequence of being human.

In my own work, I’ve considered many layers to address this excellent question!   But you bring up a point beyond that, in asking, ‘what distinguishes us from AI.’  This is far beyond my scope. I can only address what I’ve studied and what I’ve experienced.  The “what ifs” of AI are too vast.  Why must anything distinguish us from them? Can we not program them to emote?  Is it the lack of biological imperative that prevents them from emoting the same way, or have we just not written a good enough program yet?

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