Ramblings about Self and Emotion

18:41 Mon 12 Nov 2007
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At any given moment, while thinking (or thinking about thinking), we appear to ourselves to be somewhat rational, free-willed beings. We’re able to think (I think), and to control what we think about to some extent. We conceive of ourselves, mostly, as discrete and singular “I”s who are conscious and whose selves somehow belong to us.

But what does that mean? It doesn’t appear to mean that we have control over this self we call “I”. What we do control is still a matter of debate. We can train ourselves to some extent, and here the issue of who is training what seems pretty interesting.

Are we like little operators in a control room without a manual? We don’t really know what’s going to “work”, so we try something, and if it works we assume a causal link, and if it doesn’t we do the same? Are our selves mainly the agglomeration of tens of thousands of rules of thumb, shortcuts that we think make sense? We can definitely apply reason some of the time, but how often? With how much resistance? (Phobias seem like a classic case of a hardened “rule of thumb” ignoring reason’s attempts to intercede.)

This is directly related to happiness, at least if we think that happiness is a goal for us. We might not be genetically wired for happiness (I think it’s an open question), but I do think we can learn happiness. Do we have to want to, though, and if the motivation to do the things that we think will make us happy is lacking, who do we file a complaint with?

I’ve had trouble with motivation, with the move from intent to volition to action, for years. I’m far better at this than I used to be, although it’s not that clear why. I also suffer from lapses that seem rather random. In fact, many of the successes seem somewhat random too, in that it’s very difficult to predict what will be successful. Furthermore, I often have a lot of trouble controlling my emotions. I don’t tend to act out emotionally, so I have a reasonable buffer between emotions and actions (which is mostly a very good thing), but not acting crazy and not feeling crazy are different things…

4 Responses to “Ramblings about Self and Emotion”

  1. sean Says:

    One of the problems is language develops in the way rules of thumb do, so Reason has to struggle against the irrational nature of language to describe what the reasonable course of action is :-).

    On a lighter note:


  2. Tadhg Says:

    Interesting point, although it’s rather hard to separate our capacity for reason from our use of language(s)… Which just gets back to the issue of the inadequacy of either language(s), or our models of our selves, or both.

    As for the neurotic AI bot, that’s a cool story, but clearly requires a lot more research than testing against the flawed standard AI from Age of Mythology!

  3. sean Says:

    I’ve never played Age of Mythology, but if the AI is anything like the AI in the other RTSs I have played then I know what you mean!

    Often, peoples’ models of themselves are the result of inner dialogue. Turning what could be an observational problem (how does my mind actually work) into a descriptive problem (how do I describe how my mind works). The latter approach then turns into a struggle against the irrational nature of language. Of course, the juxtaposition of the idea of observing against the idea of the describing is a linguistic construction; so what I’ve just written is an example of what I mean :-). This may also interest you:


  4. Tadhg Says:

    Heh—I’ve never played Age of Mythology either, but comments about it led me to believe that it was just as flawed as every other RTS AI I’ve encountered (if it were not, then the game would have been hailed as a breakthrough in artificial intelligence itself, rather than being used as a testbed for another AI experiment).

    Are our models of ourselves the results of inner dialogue? Does this mean that we don’t have models before we have inner dialogue? Doesn’t our kinesthesia imply a model of our physical selves that has no need of dialogue or language? Establishing a clear line of differentiation between our physical selves and our “other” selves is clearly rather problematic. Nevertheless, yes, inner dialogue does provide some of our models of some of our selves, and does run into the problems you bring up. I have some doubts about the irrational nature of language, though. What is rationality? If we can express it, or what it is, we must be doing so with some language. If we cannot, then we cannot agree on what it is and therefore discussing it, or making assertions about it, seems rather dubious.

    I skimmed that PDF, it was quite interesting, although I’m curious about how their model accounts for the brain’s political reward centers overriding conscious reasoning… although I suppose that the reward circuitry might simply override or mask feelings of dissonance, making that irrelevant to their study.

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