Re: Seed AI and aesthetics

Elizabeth Childs (
Fri, 02 Jul 1999 22:07:05 -0700

> Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
> >

> > Actually, I'm still not quite sure where beauty and music and laughter
> > come from. I think it has something to do with sexual selection, but I
> > don't know enough to duplicate it. They don't get any more peculiar
> > than that.

I think at least some aesthetic experience has to do with terrain selection. For example, my apartment overlooks a courtyard with a fountain in it. When I open the window, I hear the pleasant sound of running water. Why is that a pleasant sound? Well, I would speculate that early humans needed to be near water, where animals go to drink, and can be hunted. Also, of course, we need water ourselves, and the most vegetation grows near water, giving the greatest likelihood for finding edible plants.

A study was done where subjects around the world were presented with four types of terrain - I can't remember now, but say conifer forest, African grassland, Artic tundra, and climax forest. People consistently chose as their first preference the type of terrain that they lived in. But, around the world, everyone picked the African grassland as their second choice. (Source: my vague memory of Psychology Today, circa 1984).

The article speculated that it was humanity's African heritage that causes people all over the world to make lush green lawns, whether the local ecosystem could support them or not.

Most people hate (but are fascinated by) snakes, spiders, sharks and scorpions; they like anything that looks like a baby, including cats and dogs. So many cultures have giant lizard myths (dragons) that I wonder if we don't have some aesthetic memory of the dinosaurs.

Of course most of these instincts are, for the most part, no longer useful. I would never tell someone else not to alter them. But for myself, the idea of no longer finding puppies cute and scorpions horrifying would really strike at my whole self-concept. (Scorpions! Creatures of horror! I had to work with them in the Entomology lab, and one day I opened the cage to find tiny, translucent, ghostly baby scorpions swarming all over the mother's back. I was rather fond of the four inch long Madagascar cockroaches, but my reaction to the little scorpions could not possibly be described as rational. If we find another intelligent species that looks and moves like scorpions do, I'll have to sign up for aesthetic alteration immediately.)