Emotions, the Easy part

John K Clark (johnkc@well.com)
Tue, 12 Aug 1997 22:35:32 -0700 (PDT)

>"Emotions are the easy part. We'll have human-equivalent computational
>emotions long before we have human-equivalent reasoning."
> -- Eliezer S. Yudkowsky, official prediction.

I agree with you about that, I wrote a post on the subject you may find


Date: Sun, 30 Mar 1997
From: John K Clark <johnkc@well.com>
To: extropians@lucifer.com
Subject: The Emotional Computer


I don't like bad science fiction where the evil computer is intelligent but
can not feel, even in Star Trek only the humans have proper emotions,
the alien Mr. Spok could never quite figure them out. Considering Evolution's
experience in building such things, you could make a much stronger case that
a computer, or any alien form of life, might be able to feel emotions but it
could never be intelligent.

Nature found it much easier to come up with feeling than the ability to
reason, it's certainly came up with it first. The most ancient part of the
brain, the spinal cord, the medulla and the pons is similar to the brain of
a fish or amphibian and first made an appearance on the earth about
400 million years ago. According to Paul MacLean of the National Institute of
Mental Health it deals in aggressive behavior, territoriality and social

The Limbic System is about 150 million years old and ours is similar to that
found in other mammals. Some think the Limbic system is the source of awe and
exhilaration because it is the active sight of many psychotropic drugs,
there's little doubt that the amygdala, a part of the Limbic system has much
to do with fear. After some animals developed a Limbic system they started to
spend much more time taking care of their young, so it probably has something
to do with love too.

It is our grossly enlarged neocortex that makes the human brain so unusual
and so recent, it only started to get ridiculously large about 3 million
years ago. It deals in deliberation, spatial perception, speaking, reading,
writing and mathematics, the one new emotion we got was worry, probably
because the neocortex is also the place where we plan for the future.
If nature came up with feeling first and intelligence much later, I don't see
why the opposite would be true for our computers. It's probably a hell of a
lot easier to make something that feels but doesn't think than something that
thinks but doesn't feel.

John K Clark johnkc@well.com

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