[ExI] Wrestling with Embodiment

Kelly Anderson kellycoinguy at gmail.com
Wed Feb 1 20:29:59 UTC 2012

On Wed, Feb 1, 2012 at 7:23 AM, Ben Zaiboc <bbenzai at yahoo.com> wrote:
> Kelly Anderson <kellycoinguy at gmail.com> asked:
>> ... if you had never experienced sad, how would you know the true
>> "meaning" of happy?
> I call Bullshit on this.

Sweet. I like an active conversation! Let's see what we can agree upon!

> It's like saying "If you never knew Green, how would you ever know the true 'meaning' of Red?"

Not exactly analogous because Green is not the opposite of Red. If, on
the other hand, you said "If you don't know what UP is, your
appreciation of DOWN is probably limited." then maybe that is not
quite so full of shit. Happy and sad are opposites, and if you can't
appreciate sad, then happy becomes the new base line. So if all you
experience is happy. Then there are times when you are more happy, and
times you are less happy. Less happy times might then be described as

Now if I say I can see red and green but not xrays or radio waves, and
apply that analogously to the happy-sad spectrum, then what you have
is simply an optimist... :-)  They would be somewhat sad-blind. They
would still have to experience a continuum of emotions for the words
to have any meaning. Can you or I really appreciate infrared or
ultraviolet? Only in a limited way.

> Sad, Happy, Green, Red, don't have 'meanings' beyond the experiences
> themselves (and any significance that we secondarily attach to them,
> such as Red = Danger, etc.).  They are just experiences, some more
> preferable than others (which is often an individual thing, overlaid on evolved
> responses).  They don't derive any more or less significance by being
> compared to each other.  So the only thing that makes sense is to say
> "If you've never been sad, can you be happy?".

Linguistics is all about the relationship of words to each other. Have
you ever noticed that the dictionary uses words to define other words?
Where do you start understanding? Everything in understanding words is
related to experience, and to the words we have previously been
exposed to. While you could give a machine the equivalent of some sort
of endorphin rush of happiness... if they haven't had sadness, would
they appreciate it as much? I think not. So they could have the tokens
"happy" and "sad", but it might not have the same meaning to them as
it does to us. In fact, they probably don't have absolutely identical
meaning to you and I.

> Suppose I invert your question, and say does sadness only derive 'meaning' from
> happiness? (In other words, can you only be sad if you've been happy?)

Yes. When I have met people in Haiti and Brazil who have never
experienced wealth, they are still glad to have a little money. But
they don't understand what it's like not to have to worry about where
your next meal comes from. Likewise, we have a hard time getting into
the mind of people who are ALWAYS worried about where there next meal
is going to come from. This different experience of the
poverty-richness spectrum gives meaning to both parties, and makes it
difficult for them to fully understand each other. Thankfully, the
neo-cortex gives us the ability to run a little simulation, but it
really isn't QUITE the same as actually having BEEN in abject poverty.

> Do you think it makes sense to say that if someone has never had any happiness in their lives, or very little, that makes their sadness somehow less significant than that of someone else who has been happy loads of times?

No, it merely makes them less familiar with the subject. The saddest
people I have ever met still have some happiness. But when your
baseline is at a different place than mine, that makes the meaning of
the words we use slightly different, at least to degree. If I put you
into the life of any of 80% of the people on this planet, you would
find yourself very sad, very quickly, because your baseline is
different from theirs. You would probably not enjoy living in a
favela, but some of the happiest people I've ever met live there.
Different experience... leads to different feelings in the same
context... leads to different definitions of the words.

My ex-brother-in-law lives in a bed in an open air hospice in
Singapore. He has no ability to walk or even move much due to a
brittle bone disease. Yet, he experiences some happiness, for example,
when we visited him he seemed happy about the fact. I would guess his
life is not as happy as mine has been. He derives pleasure in
different ways than we do. He has had to adapt to a sadder base line
in his emotional life. Things that would make you and I very sad are
simply part of his daily life. So, does "happy" and "sad" mean exactly
the same thing to him and I? Not exactly.

> If someone has had very little experience of pleasure, is whatever pain they experience therefore less painful than that experienced by a hedonist? (your example of a leper is a good example: Do lepers feel less pleasure than other people, purely because they feel less pain?)

<tongue slightly in cheek>
Yes. Lepers feel less pleasure.

Behavioral analysis of sexual dysfunction in Hansen's disease.
Faulstich ME.

Human sexual behavior is an interactive process including CNS,
hormonal, and sex-gland activities. This process can be disrupted in
males who have Hansen's disease if testicular atrophy occurs.
Elevations of centrally mediated luteinizing hormone and deficient
testosterone levels were found in a male with Hansen's disease whose
insufficient erections were secondary to atrophic testes.
Quasi-experimental (A-B) analysis provided evidence for the efficacy
of testosterone treatment for such a condition.
</tongue slightly in cheek>

> I say no, absolutely not.

Seriously, if you have severe nerve damage, you don't feel things, and
many physically pleasurable activities are limited. My former
girlfriend had fibromyalgia, and I can assure you that there were many
pleasurable activities that she could not participate in. Now I am not
in her life, and perhaps surprisingly, she is not very happy about

>> And would beings that did not have emotions be
>> able to understand those of us who do know emotions?
> I can't really comment on the likelihood of 'beings without emotions',
> although I suspect it's not very,

I think we agree on this point. Though it's probable that simple
creatures don't have emotions...

> but in general, what you are saying here is "would beings incapable of X
> be able to understand other beings capable of X?".  I think the answer
>is "Of course not", at least with regard to X.

What you're saying here is that being incapable of flying makes you
unable to understand birds? Maybe I buy that to some extent. I don't
think it rises to the level of being obvious though.

> Is a cat capable of understanding my behaviour when I'm looking for the
> tin-opener?  I know that the answer for at least one cat is a big "No".
> It can associate certain sequences of action and sounds with food, but
> that's a long way from understanding what I'm up to when looking for a
> tin-opener, and why I sometimes don't need one to produce food (it
> can't even understand the cat-flap, never mind ring-pull tins, although I
>may be dealing with a very dim animal here, even for a cat!)

I'm sorry for your adventures in feline dysfunction... :-)

> Seeing as almost all of our behaviour is driven by emotion, any
> being without an appreciation of emotions would likely find our
> behaviour incomprehensible.

I think a very intelligent machine could have a book learning
understanding of emotion without effing them... but that is different.
I think they could understand us, even if they couldn't empathize


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