For a while now I've been trying to quantify emotions in a literal/evolutionary context. We speak of how we feel, but what does that really mean? And we describe emotions as what divide a conscious, living being from a machine, but I've never heard an explanation for the mechanism of emotions or how it would differ from auto-generated protocols programmed into an AI.
Recently I had an epiphany that I think may be a coherent description of what emotions are in a functional context. I'd love to hear you guy's feedback and ideas on the topic 🙂
Emotions: Neurological patterns that developed as responses to deal with our environment. They are our experience of 'meaning' (the value and narrative we apply to a certain concept) and of 'motivation' (the vector our neuropsychological causality is running in the moment).
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?
To organise my thinking on this I find it useful to consider the evolutionary development of existence from matter, to life, to mind, and the functional differences which have occured via these transitions. In this way we can contextualise and contrast what function emotions in general serve and why they would have arisen at all in the evolution of the universe.
The divisions made here, especially between life and mind, are not fully worked out, however are sufficient for this discussion. This first bit may seem unrelated to the question but I promise it’ll be tied together later.
Matter – is apparently mechanical/non-teleological. Does not involve negative feedback loops that seek to reach and maintain the state of a system within some defined parameters. Perturbations to the system therefore result in either minimal (system is robust) or significant transformation towards higher entropy (system is fragile). No ontological distinction between inside and outside exists. Associated with movement/directionless transformation.
Life – is teleological. Involves complex integrated negative feedback loops that seek to reach and maintain the state of a system within parameters appropriate for continued existence (maintenance of autopoiesis/self-reproduction across time) according to physiological feedback signals aka homoeostasis. Perturbations within some range can be adapted to and may even increase system adaptability (anti-fragile). Perturbations beyond specific ranges result in system-level breakdown of autopoiesis aka death. With the introduction of specified parameters for system maintenance, an inside and an outside is clearly established, the boundary indicated by that 2-dimensional surface beyond which perturbations prompt adaptive responses which seek to converge back to homoeostasis. Instinct (systems of homoeostatically organised movement that extend the will of the entity from inside to outside) and semiotics (systems of reference that enable adaptively approximate representation of outside to inside) emerge here.
Mind – is teleological. Involves complex integrated negative feedback loops that seek to reach and maintain state of a system within appropriate parameters for continued existence according to conditionally constructed mental models based on perceptual feedback interpreted through the lens of implicit belief systems about the meaning of stimuli. Perturbations to belief system within some range prompts adaptive modification of said system, beyond some range prompts destruction of belief system and indeterminate liminal chaos until an appropriate substitute can be found or constructed. The boundary that is introduced at the level of Life is both extended outwards and made more flexible, to include objects, spatial/territory, and other entities e.g. one’s children, family, peers, country etc. The boundaries can also exist around specific beliefs. The process of semiosis is extended from an a priori genetically encoded structure with limited definition and scope (eg predator, prey, food source, mate etc) into an arbitrarily expansive definition and scope (but still built on certain semiotic fundamentals which scaffold meaning), which can now include arbitrarily expanded theoretical context which informs the meaning of a given presented stimuli. There are contradictory optimisation directions which exist in the social life of many mentalised creatures, such as self-interest, offspring-interest, and group-interest, which can force more in-depth cognitive processing to seek as close to optimal solutions as are available within constraints of intelligence, time till decision is necessary etc. There are also contradictory optimisation directions implicated by consciousness of the time dimension (eg. consume resources now or save for later?). Emotions emerge as signals presented to consciousness to indicate relevant information or adaptively effective actions, in relation to these complex domains (as well as others which I wont explore here), and multiple signals may be presented at once, or summoned from memory/belief systems for further unification into a near-optimal conceptual (and thus behavioural) vector.
I think that mind emerged to mediate between conflicting vectors on the raw life/instinct layer, and that emotions signal specific motivational vectors/adaptive cues to consciousness, which then chooses between them (the difficulty (sometimes impossibility) of optimising the chosen solutions to these often contradictory options being a source of existential vertigo as well as ongoing complexification/refinement of the psyche’s belief, value and habit systems). Specific emotions in specific situations typically come attached with implicit beliefs about how that situation is likely to play out, with the interpretation of the experienced situation modulating which emotions arise and to what level of intensity. The interpretations are typically conditioned by past exposure to similar situations that were interpreted in similar ways, with functionality varied by whether they have been properly digested (relativised, constrained by contextualised perception and other motivations, therefore regulated and balanced (balanced = maintains balance between contradictory motivational vectors)) or not (infinitised, not constrained by contextualised perception and other motives, therefore imbalanced (imbalanced = balance between contradictory motivational vectors breaks down such that one gains predominance and all others become irrelevant for the period of imbalance)). The experience of emotion may be unnecessary at the level of instinct because there is no gap between stimulus and response – the stimulus signal is interpreted unambiguously and the motivational vectors are defined singularly with respect to each specific stressor, therefore the appropriately adaptive response from the organism is clear. However it seems likely that qualia still exist in these creatures, perhaps some kind of proto-emotional qualia. In relatively simple organisms, there is therefore a very straightforward reaction between stimulus and response, and likely does not involve emotion as we experience it, and certainly does not involve emotion in terms of how it operates functionally in certain more complex organisms.
A key aspect of this difference is that instinct plays out automatically and is de-centralised, while emotions are signals and motivational vectors presented to a centralised consciousness. They carry non-linearly/parallel processed information from multiple streams, physiological, memory, interpretative, to summarise schemas of specific forms of relevance to consciousness, for further deliberation, examination, and ultimately choice for if, why and how to act. I think of them as altering the shape of the probability matrix of interpretative(conceptual)- and decision(values)-space. When the probability matrix hits 1 in a certain zone, and 0 in all others, a specific conclusion is reached or action is taken. When the probability matrix remains with distributed non-zero+non-one values, or with a singular spike but with sufficient detachment, one can still think about a situation clearly (thinking stops when conclusion is attained), while being able to take the data and impulse from the emotion/s into consideration. At the level of pure instinct, the probability matrix always reads 1 in a singular zone, because there is no nuance or flexibility in the interpretation of the stimulus (no thought involved), and no ambiguity or conflict between task demands. At the level of mind, the probability matrix is capable of being suspended at non-zero+non-one values across its whole scope, while also receiving influence from the instinctual layer, which becomes experienced as emotion at the level of consciousness. In this way, nuance of interpretation and action become possible, as novel vectors that synthesise emotion vectors into balanced perspectives and actionable plans become possible. Distance from immediate discharge of instinct opens up the space within which the flexibility of mental processing can occur. The primary utilities of this capacity to relativise and balance different emotional-motivational inputs to refine behavioural output are the regulation of behaviour in a social context - historically extremely important, in social mammalian hierarchies, a matter of life and death - as well as regulation of ones activity across multiple time-spans, also potentially a matter of life and death. Therefore evolutionary selection pressures selected for the generation and development of this mental layer which enables a creative and adaptive tension between thought and emotion to exist and guide organisms towards more effective survival and replication strategies.
Somewhat of a side note; In this understanding of emotions, we go beyond the ontology of fragmented materiality or mere computation/algorithmicity, wherein forces propagate through systems of interrelated parts but there is no ontological relationship of parts to wholes, only a functional relationship between parts. In the relation between emotion and consciousness, we have an ontological relationship between parts and the whole, wherein the whole is not composed of parts per se (phenomenologically speaking) but is the basic condition for the operation of any ‘parts’ within it. Consciousness/subjectivity is apparently a necessary mediator of this process, for some unknown reason. We can infer that consciousness is necessary for this, and that the apparatus of emotion evolved within conscious agents to enhance capacity to deal with the problems posed by evolutionary selection pressures, due to the fact that evolution is a highly conservative process, so takes the path of least resistance (given some degree of constraints of path-dependence), and that conscious operations are quite energy intensive. It would be interesting to speculate about ‘why?’ since, if it was possible to replicate the functions of emotion in an unconscious algorithm-like instinct-response system, it would have been done. Why has it not been done? This I think leads into questions of ontology, and the question of the fundamental difference between minds and machines. I do not have a sufficient ontology to map the relations that exist here, but it is clear that emotion and its processes go beyond mere mechanism, mediated in some fundamental way by consciousness, while retaining a functional utility within the context of mind, organism, and survival.
I loved Animal's response... and I would have responded much the same way... I love delving into my Fi, what it's like, how it feels, what it means to me... it's not an easy thing to convey. I feel like there are so many thoughts and experiences behind a single feeling... and so many feelings behind every thought...
Umbi did a brilliant job of cleanly delivering the mechanisms and the why's and the how's <3
It's a great question and very fun to chew on
Emotions are (chemical) flags/alerts that the system is out of balance. The alert should be examined because the adjustment may need to be internal, not external. The emotion is meaningful, though the first interpretation may be incorrect.
Basically, Umb's reply simplified 😛
"Flag" and "alert" are terms I used to describe emotions with when I was a teenager to help myself put my them in their place. It helped me value them in a setting that devalued appeal to emotions (church, ironically), but it also put some distance between us and helped me to be objective about them.
What are Emotions?
@umbilicalsphere @teatime - Yes, precisely. Umbi you are brilliant.
Where the ethicists have it right is that this bio-computer is immensely relevant to us, and has millennia of wisdom that we should not discard lightly. To say they are "just" bio-chemical algorithms is to undermine something that is highly intelligent, and a kind of sub-folder of the akashic records.
Yet we need not mystify emotions. We can both see emotions as entirely mechanical processes while honoring their sophistication as our first approximation of how-to-be in this reality, and also not use them as exclusively the only source we rely on for our processing and decision-making. After all the neocortex developed new centers/layers of processing to compete against the older computer and override it when necessary (the brain is highly self-inhibitory) and it would not have done so if it --too-- wasn't necessary and evolutionarily advantageous.
Yet we need not mystify emotions. We can both see emotions as entirely mechanical processes while honoring their sophistication as our first approximation of how-to-be in this reality, and also not use them as exclusively the only source we rely on for our processing and decision-making.
It may be too simple to say we "need not" mystify emotions. What would happen if all mysticism was removed from emotion?
I'm not a philosopher or a biologist, but from the little understanding I have, I can use some examples - there are 'lust chemicals' released when we feel attraction to a person, but the lust chemicals run out after two years, to be replaced by a different chemical that brings us comfort. Lust chemicals run out after two years because that's the time it takes for a couple to have a baby and for the man to protect the woman while she nurses the baby to health. At that point we may have the comfort chemicals with our partner , but on a purely chemical level, we could just as easily run off with someone else who arouses lust. However, this would not be as good for a baby, at least in modern society. Perhaps in tribal society it's completely irrelevant because the adults nurture & provide for all the children and that's that. But is it good for the soul? Does this lifestyle teach us what long-term relationships teach us? What would happen to art, music, language, inspiration - if there was no mysticism around your obsession with "The One," no highly personal romantic story around your relationship?
And the same goes for all relationships. Friendships, parents... we have some mystical associations with other people and events in our lives, and these are the types of experiences that drive us to become more than we are.
Even "special snowflake syndrome" is a biological imperative. If you didn't love & care for your own special offspring more than the next kid (at least in this society), there would be chaos. If you don't have a sense of your own worth and specialness, you don't compete, take on big projects and fight through hardship to realize your visions.
Mysticism around emotions evolved for a reason, just as much as emotions did, and the aim to 'dismantle it' would never work. There's a reason it's there, a reason it's part of our emotional structure no matter who we are. The T "ego" may aim to be sober about their emotions, yet this aim in itself is not completely sober, because emotions by their very nature are designed to inspire us due to their profundity.
I do agree that it's important to balance emotions with reason, and not to be run by 'pure emotion,' but I also wonder - who does this? How many people are really run by pure emotion? I've never met anyone who says it's a good idea to be lost in emotion with no reason at all; yet I meet people constantly who talk about others getting lost in emotion.
I think what they're talking about is being lost in overthinking and ego. Emotion on its own does not "take someone over" and drown out their reason because emotion is always in flux. Rather, it would be ego which does this, and ego is a combination of emotions & beliefs, ideas. Ego is a thought, rather than purely an emotion, although it is a fixated thought that is motivated by biological imperatives including the need to see ourselves as special.
So what would really be the result of being sober about emotion, in creatures who are designed to be inspired by emotion, to love, to do 'crazy things' to protect their loved ones and to actualize their visions? At that point are we even dealing with humans anymore, or are we designing some otherworldly creature without the same biology?
In sum, I want to know what would be lost and what would be gained by the approach of having an entire human society which removes the mysticism from emotions and views them purely as mechanics. Realistically.
Thank you everyone for your replies! It's great to see such a rich conversation emerging out of the original question 😀
@Animal - You have a lot of great points, especially in what you say about the individualized form of emotions. Have you studied much in the way of Jungian psychology? I resonate a lot with your reply, as it parallels what I've learned about the structure of the psyche from Jung's writings. I'd love to see your book when it comes out 🙂
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…
This is a beautiful example of the symbolic manifestation of meaning - it sounds like white associates to a complex concept and layered set of emotional evocations for you ^^ I think you're very right that emotional responses become personalized over time, and that the individual's particular emotional landscape contributes significantly to their personality. This may well be inevitable, for if emotions are indeed the body's fundamental way of responding to the environment, it would only make sense that they adapt and morph to meet the demands of life as it is experienced over time.
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.
You seem to be describing the layers of collective and personal unconscious here ^^ The collective unconscious would be the universal, primal content, and the personal would be the content stored from experience and the resultant interpretation of the universal content (archetypes). What you say rings true, personal and collective content does intermix, and primal concept is filtered by the particular form of the individual, producing a specific image/character/narrative.
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?
This is precisely my question. If we did indeed come to understand how emotions function, and write a program that operates in the same manner into adequate hardware (quantum computing systems, I imagine), wouldn't it be that such an AI would be able to feel like we do? I do think our failure to replicate a sentient, emotive entity is mostly due to a lack of knowledge and technological capability.
And from your most recent post..
Mysticism around emotions evolved for a reason, just as much as emotions did, and the aim to ‘dismantle it’ would never work. There’s a reason it’s there, a reason it’s part of our emotional structure no matter who we are. The T “ego” may aim to be sober about their emotions, yet this aim in itself is not completely sober, because emotions by their very nature are designed to inspire us due to their profundity.
I do agree with you that mysticism is part of the emotional experience. But I've seen that it is possible to make the meanings associated with experiences conscious, therefore changing the emotional response. At this point in my life, after going through a lengthly individuation process, I'm actually no longer capable of being 'taken' by mystical feelings or beiliefs. I've found being aware of the actuality of what's going on frees my will from the grip of emotional causalities. I can still feel mystical, but the original profundity has been traded out for practical understanding.
@UmbilicalSphere - I love your logic! Your explanation forms inevitably from one premise to another in an impressively coherent way. And you include such well articulated detail.. As said, brilliant reply 🙂 There is so much here to respond to, but I'll keep it to the most important/intriguing points, so as not to drown the thread with my post! XD
Instinct (systems of homoeostatically organised movement that extend the will of the entity from inside to outside) and semiotics (systems of reference that enable adaptively approximate representation of outside to inside) emerge here.
You've defined both Instinct and Semiotics (what sounds like the basis of the archetypes, and even of the function of symbolic thinking overall) very keenly here. Thinking of it in this way, Semiotics seems to roughly correspond to Perception, especially the Worldview function. And Instincts roughly correspond to Judgement, especially the Articulator function. This is if I'm boiling down the definition correctly, with Semiotics = behavioral map, Instincts = process of response to stimuli. Do you think perhaps the cognitive functions emerged from this primitive basis?
I think that mind emerged to mediate between conflicting vectors on the raw life/instinct layer, and that emotions signal specific motivational vectors/adaptive cues to consciousness, which then chooses between them (the difficulty (sometimes impossibility) of optimising the chosen solutions to these often contradictory options being a source of existential vertigo as well as ongoing complexification/refinement of the psyche’s belief, value and habit systems). Specific emotions in specific situations typically come attached with implicit beliefs about how that situation is likely to play out, with the interpretation of the experienced situation modulating which emotions arise and to what level of intensity.
^This is a wonderful description. I've had similar thoughts about the mind/intellect emerging to *refine* the instinctual responses. As you indicate, direct response has worked historically but it can backfire due to its linear nature. This is especially so in cases where two vectors conflict, and even more so in the complex environment created by social species. What you say about the specificity of implicit beliefs and emotional evocation mirrors what Animal spoke of - our experiences both form and are formed by the idiosyncratic interpretation of emotions. This is how living creatures tend to adapt, I've noticed. Experience adjusts mechanisms/methods, which then alter response, which determines how adjustments will be made down the line.
We can infer that consciousness is necessary for this, and that the apparatus of emotion evolved within conscious agents to enhance capacity to deal with the problems posed by evolutionary selection pressures, due to the fact that evolution is a highly conservative process, so takes the path of least resistance (given some degree of constraints of path-dependence), and that conscious operations are quite energy intensive. It would be interesting to speculate about ‘why?’ since, if it was possible to replicate the functions of emotion in an unconscious algorithm-like instinct-response system, it would have been done. Why has it not been done?
I don't have the depth nor breadth of knowledge in philosophy that you do, and I may be misinterpreting your question. But it seems to me that you already answered why emotions only exist in conscious (what I would term 'sentient') beings. If we take consciousness to mean the capacity for complex awareness and abstract thought, then what you say makes perfect sense - that emotions are our experience of instincts and semiotics interpreted by the higher mind/cortex. They cannot exist as a separate part of the psyche, because they are indeed an emergent effect of the processes of the more primitive aspects of the nervous system being filtered by the processes of the more recent aspects.
Does this make any sense?
Emotions are (chemical) flags/alerts that the system is out of balance.
I think the basis of what you're talking about makes sense, but it may be *too* simplified to describe emotions as 'alerts' to a lack of balance. They can also be signs of proper balance/homeostasis, such as the feeling of contentment or satisfaction when a need or goal is met. Beyond this, there are also the sensations of beauty and the religious/numinous response. I think these things could be said to be more experiences of resonance than warnings of imbalance.
@Auburn - That's a great video! ^^ Thanks for sharing it. I hadn't heard of Yuval Harari before, he's quite brilliant.
I agree with what you say. How you describe emotions as the 'first approximation of how-to-be in this reality' goes along with a thought I've had for a while too. In a way, the evolution of the brain is like the focusing of a camera lens. First there was the general, fuzzy perception of reality at the most primitive layer of the reptilian brain, then with more processing power things got a little clearer and more specific at the level of the mammalian cortex, and finally we have a high level of fidelity and clarity with the neocortex. As our capacity for processing increased, so has our capacity to approximate reality.
I do agree with you that mysticism is part of the emotional experience. But I’ve seen that it is possible to make the meanings associated with experiences conscious, therefore changing the emotional response. At this point in my life, after going through a lengthly individuation process, I’m actually no longer capable of being ‘taken’ by mystical feelings or beiliefs. I’ve found being aware of the actuality of what’s going on frees my will from the grip of emotional causalities. I can still feel mystical, but the original profundity has been traded out for practical understanding.
This really caught my interest. I've gone through a lengthy individuation process myself, yet it seems my aims and conclusions diverged from yours in some fundamental way. If it's not too personal or invasive, I would be very curious to hear more about this journey. I'm particularly interested in what you mean by 'mystical feelings and beliefs' specifically, and what it's like to feel mystical but not be 'taken' with them. I've also developed a lot of practical understanding of what emotion is and why it's there (for myself and others), but my emotions have become deeper, more connected to the collective unconscious as you mentioned; my heart has become full of love and forgiveness, without having to stifle anything... everything feels alive, raw, real and natural. It's easier to cry when I'm sad, to be vulnerable and reach resolution with my loved ones, to express love and needs, to be there for others, to listen, to be present, to feel at one with the world. Emotion once felt like a raw nerve, isolating and embarrassing me, but now it more often feels like vital energy, connecting me to the cosmos.
I'm curious how this worked for you, and when I have a chance I can talk about my individuation process too and why I reached the conclusions I did about emotion.
It seems to me that someone's emotional balance is personal and there's no particularly "better" or "correct" way to individuate, even if in the end, we're all after something similar. What do you think?
On this topic I wrote a brief remark a few months ago
You're depressed because you just have a chemical imbalance in your brain. Yes, but why do I have this imbalance? This kind of reductionism is sometimes as helpful as telling someone they are poor because they spend more money than they earn, or that they are fat because they eat more calories than they burn. In a way it is just rephrasing the problem in a different light, and pretending this explains away the problem, or offers a solution. The secret to being rich is: earn more money than you spend. Yes, but the question here is precisely how to achieve this. Why is the brain having this chemical imbalance, what is it a response to or a reflection of?
So... I think I read Umbi's post as the mechanics of emotions and not at all that it's chemical...
I see feelings as being pretty much immediate, visceral, rich, and I love them... I'd rather feel something than nothing... I feel like there's a thought and/or memory behind almost every feeling... and loads of feelings behind thoughts and experiences... sometimes they're good, sometimes they're not so good...
But I would say they're pretty immediate and easy to conjure.
I see thinking as being more long term and calculable than emotions, but emotions are not without logic or meaning or reason or necessity... I think the mysticism of emotions lies in what the logic meaning is and, for some people, why people prefer them to analytical long term braining.
Thinking is fun... I like to think... It's like brain candy... But there's a point where I have to run around like a crazy woman with mud on my feet, paint in my hair, screaming songs, with a mouth full of chocolate, and a coveted mug of coffee in my hands! It just has to be done!
There are so many benefits to feels! I think the best and the worst of them are social... interpersonal relations go better for me when I'm out of my head and into the person... Also, as illustrated above, when I'm releasing my feelings and throwing them in the sky or on a canvas or in my writing... My fiance used to get a lot of poetry 😛 I like telling my kid's stories... I love my kids, playing with them, running amok...
It's hard to separate my personal experience enough to make an analytical post about why a computer couldn't embody these things... Or what mechanisms go into my more emotion based processes...
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed... in those moments, it's like peeling feels off a pile of feels to find the one that's actually what I need to look at and move forward from...
Emotions are magical
Mankind has been programmed with what Jung would call the transcendent function which allows us to bring parts of our unconscious into consciousness. So far, from what I understand about AI, Deep Learning has this ability to begin the individuation process and transcend. Unlike mankind, however, it cannot yet complete the process and individuate. It cannot yet totally consciously control its own programming. Emotional simulators May exist, but they act as a persona at best.
I wouldn't say emotions distinguish living things from non-living, as they're not in lower/simpler life forms, or plant life for that matter. 🙂
But as to the pertinent question of what emotions are, it seems plain to me that emotions are a form of energy. Kinda like wind in the sails of a boat. They help to "push" or move us in certain ways. A dry/emotionless will is a powerless will. It's nearly impossible to mechanically move yourself to do something just by the command of a stoic mind without being moved by an emotion or deeper feeling of some kind. Not impossible, just really, really difficult. So I see emotions as a kind of natural aid/'grace' to our motivational force.
They make many actions and decisions possible or render them easy. They also make certain things very difficult. Psychopathy is largely a defect of emotions. Not that psychopaths have none but that they lack some and in the area they lack, they exhibit great difficulty behaving in certain ways considered typical. That's how weak we are when our wills are left to their own devices without the pushes or pullings of emotion, be they experienced as pleasant or unpleasant. Emotion motivates.
We also make decisions with emotions then rationalize them with logic and tell ourselves we made the decision with our logic. We hardly ever do, though.
Emotions are also signals. They can be immediately detected. By us but also by other members of our species. They signal the meaning of certain social situations to us but also internal states. In me, they make believing in contradictory things literally painful and necessitate some kind of unravelling/detangling process, to make things align again so I can feel interiorly free/relaxed. They also encode the meaning of things so that sometimes they give you info before your mind catches up. A lot of 'intuition' is communicated through an emotional resonance and dissonance that means something.
Lastly, there are weather-like emotions that shift from moment to moment and then there's feeling. They are not the same thing. These weather-like emotions are irrational but feeling is very rational. It's a stable structure.