Friday, November 30, 2012

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Nature or Nurture: Socialization, Social Pressure, Reinforcement Learning, Reward Systems: Current Virtual Self - No Intrinsic Integral Self, but an Integral of Infinitesimal Local Selfs - Irrational Intentional Actions Are Impossible- Akrasia is Confused - Hypothesis about Socialization and Eye-Contact as an Oxytocin Source

Аn article, inspired as an answer to a post by Russell Wallace at the AGIRI's AGI List, "Killer Application"

Need to put explicit links to some of the references, if anyone cares: ask, and I'll update it, otherwise I'll add them later.

(C)  Todor "Tosh"Arnaudov , 29/11/2012***
Personal AGI Coaches

I agree that one of the early applications of thinking machines will be managing, advising, coaching, suggesting and assisting in all kinds of human activities ("intelligence/mind augmentation"), I myself am working in this direction too, and there are already such applications - Siri etc. are such.

I'd say that the simplest form of such "assistants" and memory augmentations are all kinds of writing, the "to do lists", having a daily-routine, then computer programs, the now obsolete electronic organizers starting from the simple PDAs with alpha-numerical keyboard to put in notes and phone numbers etc.

Working and playing with somebody is better than by yourself, but it depends on the partner also, I don't think it's that simple and straight.

I have experienced personally cases when engineers work better without frequent supervision and intervention (in case of subordinate relations, not peer-to-peer), there's also a business wisdom of delegating responsibilities to the employees in order to make them more confident and more productive, otherwise they would be more dependent and would ask for frequent or immediate feedback, which in some cases is too much of an overhead.

Peer-to-peer interaction can also has negative outcomes to productivity and cause distraction or chatter. So it depends...

"Akrasia" as doing something "against own good will" is Confused

As of the "akrasia", I'd partially challenge the concept. IMO the philosophical confusion comes from the lack of physiological knowledge, wrong assumption and overgeneralization. There's no integral self, i.e. the brain is not an integral system.

It self-organizes and integrates the parts, because they are connected to each other, but this happens at the expense of "bugs" and apparently "irrational" behavior, because brain was not created at once and those integrations and effects were not planned.

Body and repeated sensations of self integrate "self" in the POV of the prefrontal cortex, and of an external observer. However there are many competing subsystems that are patched over each other, the highest level "executive function" is strongly influenced and entangled with older systems, which creates a mess of mechanisms and motivations. The limitation of the body actuators (and of the basal ganglia) reduce the possible physical actions and make the body appear as having an integral personality/mind/soul.

Philosophers who are searching for a global and valid-all-the-time non-contradicting integral "will", "moral", "good will" for all possible cases, face those paradoxes of "doing something against one's better judgment" (as cited in the Wikipedia article).

Integral of Infinitesimal Local Selfs over given Period...

Current Virtual Self - A Snapshot of the Virtual Simulators in the Brain

I've discussed in (see... 2002, 2003, 2004, Analysis of the sense... ) that if you do something intentionally, that means without your hands being pulled with a wire from another explicit causality-control unit (an agent), or without another agent to force you with a loaded gun etc., then that's what your current virtual self/"will" has chosen as the best action given the experience and the possibilities it understands, and given the time-span and rewards that it sees from its own perspective, at this very specific moment of decision/action, computed for a selected time-period etc. That self is virtual and "exists" at the moment of acting, e.g. moving your hand, grasping something etc. In the next moment there might be another virtual self, which has other goals and motivation, which are valid for the next moment, but they might be "inconsistent" with the past or the next, because the underlying model is covered under the skull and in the long history of experience.

An analogy can be an Integral of Infinitesimal Local Selfs, in Calculus terms - a Calculus of Self...

Sometimes, for some cases, in some situations, different virtual current selfs match and are/appear as stable, because the set of possible actions is limited, and because brain has also stable parts and configurations as well (at certain resolution), but the point is that "irrational" and "not-consistent" actions are not really such. I claimed in those papers, and still claim, that "irrational voluntary action" is a nonsense.

If something seems "irrational", that means that the observer hasn't recognized either the correct agent, the correct "rationality" or both, or hasn't done with sufficient resolution in order to predict it right. The concept of "rational" (as "consistent") is confused and primitive.

Due to the mess in human cognitive and physical reward system *, the moral values can change all the time and the "good or bad" - too, especially if it's something "abstract", i.e. not directly linked to feeling of dopamine, oxytocin, etc. which can have very fast effect.

Some philosophers don't get it and treat self as a constant, it's like integrating a constant - it equals 0.
Brain is not abstract and constant, it's more like a complicated function - it has specific needs at specific moments, which are caused by specific sensations stored now or before 10 years in specific circumstances etc. which are associated with specific physical sensations ("gut feelings", projected eventually to the insular cortex**).

Brain constructs generalizations out of those specific experiences, but there's a lot of noise and variations, and also working and short-term memory (recent activities and experiences), the environment of every precise moment and the declarative/autobiographical memory contain many specifics, which can be called internally in a sequence that seems "random" for an external observer, while it may have it's very specific reasons, grounded in experience.

Such an observer, - who is assuming "rationality" wrongly as something that he believes is "good", "best" etc., rather than what's best for the agent's own estimate, - wrongly concludes that if somebody breaks his apparently wrong model, he acts against "his good will". NO, it acts against the WRONG model, following its own will. If an agent does something "against his will", then that's not his will.

"Will" is considered as something abstract and independent from the body, e.g. if "you want to quit smoking, but you don't", therefore "you have a weak will". In fact yes, it is separated from the body as the decisions may be initiated by the PFC, and the statements of will might be just words, while the real non-verbal actions are driven by lower dopamine-shortcuts, such as nicotine addictions.

* We've discussed this on the AGI List, see also below
** See also Demasio's works

Akrasia, as "watching too much TV, realizing that it's a waste of time" or "eating too much and not practising sports, knowing that it causes obesity" - in my opinion there are simple reasons and I don't think the reasons have been much different in the past.

Do the average people 100 years ago used to study Vector Calculus, Maxwell's Equations or did they constructed cathode-ray tubes or radio equipment or did they studied all kinds of sciences in order to make new inventions, instead of just going to the pub, theater, cinema, chatting, flirting, reading newspaper articles about crimes and random news from the world?

The reason why they didn't and why they preferred simpler "social" activities, is that the intellectual activities require cognitive profile and capacities that a small minority of the population have, and the long-term goals are hard for the mind even for the gifted ones. One reason - the relation to present or to the future present is questionable and unclear - as noted in the famous Einstein's quote about people that love chopping woods, because they can see the results right away.

In physiological terms, there are dopamine shortcuts, or we may call them short circuits - humans *are* "wirehead"s - which are making long term activities harder, at the expense of short term ones.

There are easier, simpler and cheaper short-term activities providing the desired "drugs", why shooting for something long-term that's uncertain?

The long term ones have to have some kind of immediate measurable effect in order to keep the interest and compete with the activities which provide feedback immediately. There we are some of the effects of the clumsy AI/NLP and other fields in the academia, where small, incremental and "completely provable immediately right now, with no delay" results must be presented, even if they are globally very vague or meaningless.

It's also an illustration about how bad and weak human brain's executive function is, and how pathetic working memory can be - that's one reason why we need to take notes and pin to-do notes on the wall.

Russel Wallace:>The most powerful weapon against akrasia is social pressure. Our minds
Russel Wallace:>are programmed to act based on encouragement and discouragement from
Russel Wallace:>other people, not to operate autonomously; but the old social
Russel Wallace:>institutions have largely broken down.

Socialization in its local form has simple physiological reasons (see below), besides that we are all made dependent on others' decisions and actions. We are forced to try to satisfy some kind of authority or society's need in one way or another, because otherwise we get punished or deprived of something.

I don't think social pressure is universally constructive, it's often horrible and destructive. That's how many political and religious systems have degenerated into monstrous killing and torturing machines, and the massacres were justified with nonsenses like "to save your soul", "because of God", "for the nation", "for the race and the species" and all sorts of "social" fake abstract concepts. None of this is for society, it starts from satisfying the sick brains of the freaks who led those movements, together with the neurotransmitter-wirehead needs of the masses who follow, sometimes the latter is related to the threat of adrenaline-cortisol-pain-etc. caused by the forces of the sick brain ruling that "society".

The social pressure forced the people to obey, or they obeyed, because they were too much susceptible to be ruled and to obey, even if the commands were insane.

That's also how mediocre artists can get famous, in a milder form of social pressure - they please some big amount of humans, then many other who are not artistically qualified follow just because something was already popular, sometimes in a vicious circle driven largely by low urges and distribution advantages - some "important" ones who tell what's important to the "society".

Issues with Like-Dislike Voting in Web 2.0 and Social Media, and Various Defects in Social Ranking and Rating Systems - Confused and Vague Design and Measure - Psychology of the Crowds - Corrupted Society Preferences and Suggestions. In Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, TV Networks...

Also that sheep-instinct is why people like us are marginalized, and "society-pleasing" ones who have 1/2 of the IQ and 1/10 of the expertise of people like us are often high in hierarchy and commanding millions and billions of dollars. They please "the society", i.e. what they do is easily explainable in terms that a bigger majority, or a part that is related more closely to financial and other social forces would understand and accept.

In the Planet of the Apes, the banana producers will rule the world

If you do or say or present something that's too complex or requires too much brains, or will produce results too far in the future and if you can't explain it in terms of short-term dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins or something else from the "useful" substances in the audience's brains - you'll look like a mad loser, you will even look "dumb" and "unadaptive".

The ones that produce fast-foods or sweets, or porn and sex-services are encouraged more by the society, because those "beneficial for the society" agents are associated with dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin etc. - the true "universal languages" of humanity, and the dirty true needs of the average humans. In the intellectual ones, it's to a lesser extent, in the average ones - they are slaves of this part of human physiology.

That's the mystical "happiness" which average people are looking for, and that's the "well-being" of society - dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin for all.

The ones who search for a more evolved, cognitive forms of rewards and happiness, are often oppressed by society, which doesn't get it - "find a real job, lazy philosopher!", "go code web sites or accounting software", "go dig-out potatoes", "why don't you pick some stones from the stone-pit?", "if you don't have your hands dirty, that's not work". Etc.. :-D


It's the technology and individualism that are trying to put the social monster (in the totalitarian violent form) to its end. It's not the society, e.g. "the psychology of the crowds". Crowds are monsters.

The person and the technology in the society is pushing society to respect the person, initially the amorphic monster of society/the state/the church/God/the king was supposed to be unquestionable ruler of everything.

Besides, while accepting the social pressure is sometimes reluctant, it's often also the "sheep instinct" for the majority of people - they just don't know what to do themselves and can't choose. That has to do with the Guppy Effect/the Ring Syndrome. We seem to be 99% males here, I suppose everybody has experienced this - if you walk on your own you may seem like a loser and be ignored, but if you walk with or talk to a woman in front of other women, especially if she smiles at you, then the other women will find you attractive and may throw jealous gazes to that other woman... That's a funny illustration of the force of the "social pressure" on women...


As of the physiological reasons - e.g. dopamine, oxytocin, endorphines, vasopressine and perhaps a few others shortcuts, another type of "wirehead" and another type of addiction in a more abstract sense - under stress, cortisol is high, it kills the oxytocin, you get anxious and feel bad.

Oxytocin cures it, so you search for social interaction, because you have discovered long-long time ago as a little baby, that when your mother touches and cuddles you*, and when you keep eye-contact with her, you relax and feel good.

I have two hypotheses about how the oxytocin case came to live (need to check some details deeper):

Hypothesis 1.:

1) Brain has some pre-wirings to generate oxytocin (such as cuddling and gentle touching)
2) Eye-contact is not pre-wired and not an inborn source of oxytocin, but brain is conditioned to associate oxytocin to "animate beings", which actually means "interaction" from the very beginning, because:
2'): Eyes are the simplest and the most unquestionable sign of a pattern and correlation (in my definitions, see 2003, 2004, 2010... ) related to "self-moving" objects (temporally matching inputs). Mouth/lips (smile, frown, laugh) should be also related, especially in the foundational semantics of the facial expressions, but I think that eyes are a more obvious and unquestionable correlation for unsupervised learning, and they are more powerful and directed, they can direct the attention to new coordinates, while the mouth can direct only towards itself by it's motion, compared to the static "background".

Eye contact in essence is synchronous motion/reaction of a moving object to some intentional changes, "intentional" changes means predicted changes in the environment (effectively some sensory input) to match with the real input.

That match is the cognitive part of the reward in my model of brain. Dopamine and oxytocin are means for the other type of reward: physical, that is the desired outcome to match the real input. Dopamine and oxytocin are desired, it doesn't matter how they are injected into the brain, and social interactions, hanging out with friends, petting a cat etc. are ways to get that injection.

For example, women apparently are more sensitive or more dependent on oxytocin than men, they have to be in order to get addicted to their children, and the "mother's love is the strongest" namely because they get oxytocin from the interaction with their children.

When both sources of reward - cognitive and oxytocin - are active together, they are associated even stronger.

Hypothesis 2.:

Eye-contact is also pre-wired to induce oxytocin from the beginning - there are evidences that new-borns actually do see from the beginning and they can imitate faces. This must be below the neocortex - I've speculated about the thalamus, but it's just a guess.

The feed-forward part of the facial expressions is hardwired tough, that's obvious, e.g. people can't fake a smile if they're not good actors and don't experience it. See ...

Saturday, May 1, 2010
Thalamic Nuclei - primary causes for Mirror Neurons? |Human Face - Important Aspect of Evolution | Cingulate Cortex | Nature or Nurture

On another hand, face mimicking causes the adults who see it to smile or/and to start playing with their face, so this is a case of interaction and causing predictable changes, or provoking changes in the "animate being". The babies are usually held or cuddled, which induces oxytocin due to the touches - then all kinds of interactions and play are associate that oxytocin with the dopamine, the cognitive rewards of pattern recognition, and the "animate beings", as recognized in the most basic way.

Also, when a baby is in distress, the ones who care for her would probably also be worried/won't smile, that's how a baby can associate it's distressed facial "expressions" (its gut feelings, including facial muscles proprioception) with others' facial expressions. A similar mechanism probably goes for smiling and associating own smile and feelings with the smile of others.

If distressed, the baby would be cuddled or held, which induces oxytocin, which is an antidote to the circulating adrenaline and cortisol. That's how "bonds" are created.

Another form of social "pressure", the adult's reaction and disturbance by a baby's cry. There's a popular claim, that it's "evolutionary encoded" in order the mother to care for the baby. I think that's not necessary - we might have conditioned the spectral profile of our own cries, so it's not social, but self-induced. I claimed this back in this article:  Learned or Innate? Nature or Nurture? Speculations of how a mind can grasp on its own: animate/inanimate objects, face recognition, language...

(It might be encoded, in some of the lower nuclei, but it must be tested, for example if there are experiments with mother's reaction, if she was born deaf and started hearing in sufficiently old age).

Russell Wallace>The solution may lie in another quirk of the human mind: our tendency
Russell Wallace>to anthropomorphize; we instinctively attribute personhood to all
Russell Wallace>sorts of things - including, in some circumstances, computer programs
Russell Wallace>(2).

I wouldn't call it instinctive, but I assume that without it we wouldn't have attributed personhood to the other humans, possibly to us ourselves, too, because to the brain the self is a set of correlated sensations and mental states, the way to distinguish it from the others are some details about the feed-back and causality control (intentionality), and the consistency/stable correlations.

As of the other people - at a distance humans "don't look like humans", their angular dimensions are very small, they "don't seem to have" eyes, a face, hands, etc. They "are not humans", but points, circles, blobs moving, right?

In fact that also means "humans", because "humans" are also "points/circles/blobs moving" - the eyes and the mouth + radial and linear motion of the head, that's the initial visual image of "human" for a baby. There are experiments with babies and fake faces, initially they react like to a real face if they see a cardboard with two circles for eyes, then if it has also a nose and a mouth, and finally - if it's 3D or "real".

Then hands, arms etc. enter the equation, that includes baby's own limbs and body parts, the feedback from touching her's own body parts etc.

Since the beginning we see various humans (small, big, old, young, ...) from various distances, various positions, clothes, etc., various occlusions, various effects of their behavior. The general/essential part for the cognition is not that they are "humans", i.e. their biological substrate, DNA, all the trillions of molecules etc. but the way they appear, interact and correlate.

In order for this to work robustly, it must keep being correct up to the highest generalization and down to the lowest resolution and the fewest details, because as mentioned, it probably has started from two eyes/eye balls, which are: two matching objects, linearly transforming (moving, rotating) synchronously in parallel and reacting to intentional operations of the one who learns about humans.

Another case - when somebody speaks behind your back, you only hear it - it might be a record, or synthesized.

The same goes for radio or television, or for text as well - that's only sound or image or text coming from a box, or graphics on a piece of paper, there's no persons there. However it's important what it recalls from your brain, not what it is itself.

Only you yourself are an "unquestionable" person for yourself. The other stimuli which you attribute to animate beings/persons remind of *you yourself* and your own flow of thoughts, sensations, feelings, parameters.

It recalls emotions that you have experienced, thoughts that you have had - in one extent or another.

Human antopomorphize sets of (correlated) stimuli which are similar to his own intentional sensations.

The series continues....

(C)  Todor "Tosh"Arnaudov (Todor Iliev Arnaudov) , Тодор Илиев Арнаудов - Тош 

First Published: 29/11/2012
 30/11/2012, - minor grammatical correction;
 2/12 - "complex function" changed to "complicated function" (in order not to confuse with complex numbers)
25-26/5/2023 - a few typos noticed (require -- requires, loose -- lose), while translating to Bulgarian from the book "The Prophets of the Thinking Machine: Artificial General Intelligence and Transhumanism: History, Theory and Pioneers":

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