evolutionary significance of emotions !!

Bill Skaggs skaggs at bns.pitt.edu
Mon Feb 21 14:05:08 EST 2000

ashwin kelkar <ashwin_k18 at my-deja.com> writes:

> > People who work in artificial intelligence have had great difficulty
> > getting systems to behave in intelligent ways by reasoning logically
> > from fixed sets of axioms.  My impression is that a better approach is
> > based on "value driven decision systems", which assign a "goodness"
> > rating to any given situation, and choose actions that they believe
> > will maximize goodness.  If you consider that emotions are the brain's
> > way of encoding the goodness of the situation, then I think their
> > existence and utility begin to make sense.
> This i agree with, it makes sense. Then is it that only humans are
> capable of 'defining' emotions ? well if emotions are the brains way of
> analysing situations fast and effectively then are we the only ones
> with enough reasoning to determine what causes them or 'what' we feel.
> If this is so then we should be able to control emotions consciously
> but from personal experience i have found this tough. i do not believe
> animals can control their emotions. If we cannot define what we feel
> then they cannot be called emotions but will have to be called instincts
> which ar like the *axioms* we begin our life with. Thank you

Think of it like this:  what we call "happiness" is a surrogate for
the fitness of our genes.  Their actual fitness cannot be precisely
calculated, of course, but our brains have evolved the ability to
calculate an approximation of it, and we call this "happiness".  Thus,
actions or events that increase our happiness tend by and large to
increase our likelihood of propagating our genes -- not always,
though, because the approximation is imperfect.  (Also, there are
diseases such as mania/depression where the approximation breaks

Evolution has created brains that try to choose actions that maximize
genetic fitness.  The brains do this by maximizing the best computable
approximation of fitness, which is happiness.

Now, it should be obvious that genetic fitness cannot be increased
merely by wishing that it was so.  Therefore, it ought not to be
possible to increase happiness by wishing either -- otherwise the
correspondence between happiness and fitness would break down.  In
order for happiness to serve its biological function, the only way to
increase it ought to be by taking actions that increase genetic

	-- Bill

* -- A footnote:  "genetic fitness" is a technical term that can be
     defined approximately as the expected total number of
     great-grandchildren (or as the expected number of descendants in
     the N'th generation, where N is large).  There is absolutely no
     implication that higher genetic fitness means that a person or
     organism is "better" in any ethical or moral sense.

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