Emotions, Puppies, and Winged Back Chairs
“Life is in ourselves and not in the external.”- Fyodor Dostoevsky
In separate experiments carried out by Mary Ann Simmel and Fritz Heider suggested that when we look at a complex situation in a street, a room, or landscape our brain does its best to understand and simplify the situation by projecting emotional ideas onto the objects.
Fritz Heider and Mary-Ann Simmel experimented with subjects who were asked to observe a short film where a triangle and a circle interacted on screen.
Many of the participants explained what they saw by using emotive language and ideas. They described a triangle and a circle having an argument, fighting, the circle attempting to protect his lover, and the “big bad triangle” attempting to steal away the circle.
Others, described a triangle and circle moving from left to right, then back again.
All this from a screen with a triangle and circle moving slowly, then moving quickly. Creating a feeling of emotion in the viewer.
Our brains must deal with enormous complexities each time we engage with our environment. The home is full of rooms that we have personalized.
Each room represents a different functionality. The dining room, the kitchen, the living room, all separated by a door, or portal, that keeps the room function clearly defined.
Puppies and Winged Back Chairs
The choices we make about furniture are emotional. A winged chair that reminds us of when we were children, mother or father relaxing in the chair on a Sunday afternoon, reading the newspapers. The puppy dog chewing a slipper in the corner. The sound of a Tony Bell ice cream van coming along the road.
Then, when we are adults, the warmth of our memories cause us to somehow end up in a furniture shop where we see a wing back chair that makes us feel relaxed and warm.
It’s not quite the right colour, but those wings remind us of the ears of a small puppy who liked to destroy dad’s slippers.
Our homes are emotional jigsaw puzzles that we are forever arranging, testing, and using.
We live together and make a home for two. We have a child and rearrange for three, a more complex situation; a child needs a very “emotional room”. A place to draw pictures of dinosaurs and crash toy cars against skirting boards.
Parents need a place to find a repose from the constant demands of an infant in need of love and care, food and stories about how all is well in the world — so they feel safe.
We keep contentious objects in our rooms. Televisions and computers, these objects that allow the outside world to enter our domain. They bring temptations, violence, bad news, and hopefully, stories of love and hope for us to become involved in. We like to mix it up a little, the rough with smooth, even in our precious homes.
Street Furniture and Wild Things
A lamppost becomes a tall and sad cartoon figure standing at the side of a street. Gas pipes slinking their way through a construction site might appear to represent copper snakes entwined in the plastered walls of a new home. If we want.
When it’s dark outside the function of the lamppost is more important than its story — or emotional value. When winter comes we are happy that the quiet copper snakes do their work for us. We enjoy the luxury of gas and fire that brings hot food and warmth to rooms.
A Sliver of Consciousness
Our brains are “highly developed”, but always faced with the problem of keeping up in a rapidly changing environment. This creates the problem of how to understand the complexities that we invent.
The conscious human brain seems to have developed mostly as a survival tool. We use it to figure out what something is, dangerous or friendly, useful, or to be disregarded.
The often repeated idea that all we needed to know back in the days of cave dwelling and dark nights was whether the strange noise at the threshold was a friend coming to visit, or a saber tooth tiger coming for dinner.
Today, psychologists tell us, those impulses and defence mechanisms continue to help us dodge busses and bikes, cars and run-away horses as we meander along a sunny street to meet a friend for lunch.
Our brains have evolved to anticipate, more than to quickly figure out the facts and figures of a thing.
We use emotional responses, and we do that much more quickly than a great mathematician calculates a simple equation.
Hence, the interpretation of a triangle and circle as two bickering lovers.
Facts are helpful, but emotions give us insight to make a quick response decision about a good or bad situation. Sometimes we get it all wrong.
Most people can admit to passing an object in a quiet street, sun going down, a little tired, maybe. Out of the corner of your eye you see a long and slender object, colourful patterns along its length; fear rises up, you skip a beat and turn to see a short piece of rope lying on the ground — not a colourful snake waiting to strike.
Such snakes don’t even exist in your country, but better safe than sorry. The primitive brain and its ancient defence mechanism is still at work. What fun we have.
Algorithms and Sneaky Jacobs Ladder
I think a lot about algorithms. I know nothing about how to make one, I have a smattering of thoughts on how to detect its patterns. But I do think about an image of something like a large dark eel that moves rapidly through sparkling electronics, it gets into such tiny spaces and twists and turns — each twist and turn has absolute meaning, and where it goes, and where it has been changes everything.
Its rhythms allow it to camouflage itself and hide amongst the data. It’s sneaky and helpful at the same time. It climbs enormous ladders of numbers, and tumbles happily into wells of packed and crunched data where it sifts and takes what it wants.
If only I could catch one of these algorithms as it moves at lightning speed through my computer — then, I could be rich.
My vision of the algorithm is my understanding of what it does. I need to update my thoughts on this with some deep study.
Lovers, Algorithms, and Fate
If I allow my own ideas of algorithms to dominate my thoughts, I will always react incorrectly to the obvious effect it has on my life. Will the Black-Algo-Eel find you and bring you back to my page? Why should it?
Do two lovers meet because the algorithm nudged them to visit a café at the same time, or was it their emotional needs that sealed their fate?
It occurred to me one day, that I thought about algorithms in a much too emotional way.
Emotional Points of View
But my emotional view of our most advanced idea of a machine is simply daft. I am being a caveman about the whole affair. All I want to know is whether the algorithm will help me or kill me. A good thought, but the wrong thought.
Our brains are slow. But what works best for us is to anticipate what might happen if we do something. We listen for the upcoming event, our feelings mean everything to us — without them, we become machine like and cold.
An algorithm is like an electric eel that is attracted to the right ideas and objects to accomplish a task without the emotions of satisfaction. It just does things and we benefit from it. Good algorithms make us happy, bad ones, think Fake News, create emotional confusion.
Our way of looking at the world, our immediate environment, and how we react to the spaces in our homes is an emotional reflection of our deeper selves. We can’t compete with an algorithm — that’s why we know that it is a threat to our own need to make decisions based on emotional response, not through the data that correlates and figures itself into a smart package of ideas.
If an algorithm, or AI, tells me that I should move the furniture into a better composition in my home, I know that it will be based on efficiency of movement and interaction when I move around in a room. I don’t want that, I don’t think you do either.
Efficient rooms and spaces look nice and shiny. They seem to make sense to analysts, but in the real world of flesh and blood, a world where the slivers of consciousness that we possess can hardly compete with an angry alley cat — let alone a saber tooth tiger, we don’t want perfect harmony of interaction.
Friction, conflict and the act of curiosity is what arouses the emotional will to live and survive. That’s what we need to keep going, enjoy things and fix things in the world around us.
At least an interaction between a human and angry alley cat is an emotional interaction.