Human Emotions Are Evolving

7/29/20



tldr: Our technologies are extensions of our senses and thus necessarily alter our emotions. In attempting to maintain homeostasis in reaction to the ever more “unnatural” realities surrounding us, our emotions and senses will begin to contort and evolve. As a result, differentiated people will self-select into infinitely differentiated communities and lifestyles.


I was reading McLuhan’s Understanding Media, and was struck by Ch. 4 “The Gadget Lover”. Here McLuhan provides a caricature of how advances in a certain field of technology make us further numb on a subset of emotions, in a way combination unique to each medium.

Since he attributes the cause to how technologies effectively act as extensions of ourselves, we’ll take a look at such potential effects for generative AI technologies, inspired by the recent meteoric rise of GPT-3.

Some current generative technologies that correspond to each sense are:

The others are lagging a bit behind the above [1]:

We’re going to talk about how these technologies, which are growing more powerful than ever before, are changing the development of our human emotions:

1. Technology is exponentially morphing our emotions

Our technologies are essentially extensions of our senses and thus necessarily alter our bodies emotionally. In attempting to maintain homeostasis in reaction to the ever more unnatural realities surrounding us, our emotions and sense will begin to contort and evolve. This phenomenon continues through the delivery of ever-sharper and more specific doses to certain “buttons” that trigger our human emotions, and the numbing of all the diverse emotions in between that round our existence out. Facebook’s divisive effect on human culture via pride. Twitter’s text based content encouraging wrath and moral superiority rather than empathy and the mending of misunderstandings, mistakes, and wrongs. The way Postmates, Tinder, Uber, Instagram, Amazon satisfy our sins of gluttony, lust, sloth, envy, and greed will be given a run for their money. Our vices and sensations will stretched harder than ever before, and our virtues numbed. We are addicted. We need a stronger dose than ever before. Certain emotions have the power to grip, guide, and dictate our actions and behavior.

Given GPT-3’s ‘generative’ nature, I predict the near future’s emotional effects will be heavily dominated by generative technologies sharpening, in particular, human ‘greed’ (generate more) and ‘envy’ (generate mine). King Midas would be extremely jealous, now that we can finally “control” it (depending on who you ask).

Graphics: Here we add a visual analogy for how our human “emotional profile” will change, depicted by the roundness/spikiness of the ball. Imagine that our different emotions are plotted along the surface area of the ball. When a certain emotion plays a more dominant role in a person’s behavior, that is represented by a spike growing at that point. The distance of an emotional point from the center of the ball is proportional to how extreme that emotion is in a person.

Note that these shapes should not be taken as absolutes but rather relative comparisons to each other. This is also a rather loose analogy—maybe the real shape shouldn’t be a sphere, etc.

colorful rubber balls

1st: Above we visualize our existing set of emotions, vices, etc. Our emotions are fairly level with each other; most humans are not extremely gripped by any of our sins or emotions; we self-regulate for a generally balanced experience, as currently defined.

On an absolute level, this photo might not even be accurate anymore—one might be more accurate to say this photo showed humans before the Neolithic Revolution. But for relative comparison, let’s say this is 2020.


slightly spiky rubber balls

2nd: Certain emotions are sharpened, while those not directly exploited by our technology is numbed. You could even argue that the left image is the profile of a child, and the above image is that of a bitter/prejudiced adult. Anyhow, we are saying that the population overall will change in this direction by the time they are mature. Year 2035.

very spiky metal ball with barbs

3rd: Eventually our emotional profiles can be visualized as such: extreme peaks and relative troughs in the landscape in between. You can imagine each spike is a very particular niche of our emotions triggered by a certain piece of technology. Troughs in between are the emotions whose activation potentials have been numbed. Year 2050, and exponential growth is ahead!

GPT-3 will continue to make human society more powerful and fragile than before, as did the technologies before it. But our emotions and the human experience are morphed beyond recognition. Because we consciously recognize the few things we want to satisfy for ourselves, playing by the same policy nowadays with what we’ve built for ourselves–which used to be a proper evolutionary strategy in a resource-poor, dangerous world–is making us lose more of our humanity every day. This is not necessarily a bad thing; change always happens. But we are undoubtedly evolving into something else beyond human.

A Series of Counterarguments— primed on the topic of Evolution

Counterargument A, in response to the above: There is a a potential silver lining, where perhaps the bubble of how we are swayed by information online will pop–when we consciously disable each of our buttons, to preserve our sanity. Because we now consciously recognize the power and manipulative potential and source of text, the text loses its value and effect. As McLuhan has discussed, the flooding of our visual stimulation through text results in our homeostatic tendencies to reduce our receptiveness to this input. One piece of evidence for this is seen in the movement of fact checking . It’s going to be a long war where the winner is still yet to be determined. Unfortunately, there is a continuous fog of ability between human generations. The worry is if this gap will continue no matter what (current Gen Z will be roasted by their children for not understanding **_ technology). Our innovation is occurring faster than our own species understands it, and soon the mechanisms we create for ourselves will result in our own downfall. At least, with our existing social and political dynamics. For instance, one thing that might be explored here is disenfranchising people above the age of ___ to vote or serve in elected positions. Or create a mandatory limit to government service. (Not saying I condone this, just thinking about what people might think of (but clearly I did too I guess))

Counterargument B, addressing A: The above argument is hinged on success through Lamarckian evolution vs Darwinian evolution, i.e. that the individual can evolve and change in a manner impactful enough to cause meaningful change throughout the population. A timely arrival at the silver lining, which your argument’s strength relies on, will be greatly slowed if only Darwinian evolution turns out to be possible. And this slower this change occurs, the more likely it is for humans to simply grow in division and animosity, similar to our current path.

There might not be much strength in the pure pattern-matching of Lamarckian/Darwinian evolution to this question of speed of emotional evolution. But there is high memetic power in the idea that the same pattern might hold between fields–perhaps an inexplicable, underlying truth on the lower frequencies of how “evolution” as a vague idea occurs.

Darwin says the minimum entity that can evolve / adapt is that of a population. This means that people with slight Aspergers in Silicon Valley have had a documented potential to fare slightly better in our modern resource- and stimulant-rich environment might continue to gain power. That all the cold, unsocial tech nerds are the ones that control power, money, and reproductive ability in society. Thus, I refute your argument by describing how what is celebrated as humanity so far will still fall to a colder, perverted version of our species’ past selves.

2. Biotech will hasten our emotional evolution into potential speciation

The intensity of experience demanded by some of these emotions could result in certain emotions effectively dominating over the human’s entire emotional profile; for instance, ALL emotions besides X, Y, and Z be dulled. The emotional profile might look something like this:

spikes coming out of only one side of a rubber ball

This is already apparent to a certain degree with the existing effects technological change has had on our society; it manifests in existing social bubbles of coastal liberal upper-class techies when relatively compared to other demographics in America (like the Vice documentary of Geary, Indiana). If you take one population’s emotional profile compared to another, and subtract the difference, you might get the above image.

(For some comedy, this is slightly related.)

The future of this process is one where, as always, effects grow exponentially. Interplanetary travel will induce further separation and spawn entirely new spinoffs and cultures, some so distinct that humans (the last time that that label meant anything) will be surprised at first when a certain outpost’s population demands to be labelled as a new species—then it becomes commonplace for the rest of eternity. We will laugh about the days we used to be one species.

At the most extreme, some species will be entirely focused on a single emotional ‘spike’. More commonplace will be species focused on a limited area, or range of emotions. Differences are declared; religions center around the conscious experience of a certain emotion, and the actions in their rituals are formed around such proclamations. Maybe some unique populations decide to only deal in absolute (opposites). Edgy “teenagers” might rebel by purposely using technology that cause them to feel certain different emotions. Some cultures might cast other emotions as taboo.

The morphing of the human conscious experience will be continued even further. In particular, biotechnology enables us to fundamentally edit our base conscious experience—via tools such as DNA editing, merging or interbreeding with other species, and drugs with irreversible physical / neurochemical effects (a la supersoldier serums in current pop culture like in Halo, or The Witcher):

an elongated ellipsoid with bumps (caption: augmenting something for sure)

The secret to consciousness might even finally be cracked and understood, resulting in further technology to alter how human consciousness (can we even call them that anymore?) interact and integrate (hive minds):

the elongated ellipsoids with bumps, that stack together (caption: appropriating “I’ve got stacks” from rap culture for use in the Existential Philosophy)

At that point, the conversation surrounding liberalism will be absolutely unrecognizable. What even is liberty or an individual when you and another person are literally the same entity? Different? Something in between? What about you and your government being conjoined on some dimension? I’d love to see what gerrymandering looks like at this point.

There will also be some hipsters—they want to go back to the good old days, like current subcultures that use vinyl records instead of Spotify and utilize polaroids (as covered in Zero to One). They take drugs that do their best to restore us back to the year 2020 (a long time ago). It’s not perfect, but pretty close.

a sphere rubber ball that is close to being smoothly spherical, but has some patterns of bumps here and there (caption: Its like getting plain vanilla ice cream at the Willy Wonka factory)

Those folk seem to enjoy it, while the rest of us wonder why they’re living in the past, which was of course worse than the present…. right?

There will also be certain humans who do not like their existing state, for a reason which (at their time) is still being researched by the growing scientific understanding of how everything is piecing together. It will never be possible to have all existing wants figured out, since the frontier of research keeps growing exponentially. And unfortunately, because injustice and prejudice will never go away, there will still be persecution. Perhaps some groups will be more liberal than others though. Hopefully, the raw increase of numbers means that there are more accepting corners for everybody. Some modern examples (warning: gross factor) here and here)

Those individuals might decide to break away from the emotional structure they were born with, seeking to live another type of experience they had heard about. At first it might not be possible technologically and these populations face the struggle of an impossible climb out of the neurochemical ditch they were born into. It’s too steep to climb out of due to the existing social environments and technical limitations at that time. But as the net population grows, so does the raw number of the members of any subgroup within it, so this establishes a market for literally every permutation of services / drugs one might wish for. Quick example from 2020 (that’s not related to drugs): there’s now a dating app within the astrology-focused vertical. Compare that to when dating apps didn’t even exist. It’s not as much as “unbundling” as it is “growth of a market for every vertical”—we should focus on the bottom up approach. [2]

Or, maybe science will have advanced so far, that we can predict what a person wants to be in their future, and choices/changes can be applied soon enough such that they nobody ever feels anything less than perfect and 100% comfortable in your own skin.[3]

3. Abstract (he)arts

pablo picasso's night fishing at antibes

One interpretation of Night Fishing at Antibes by Pablo Picasso is that Picasso painted his own emotional profile and mental landscape via the abstract characters, shapes, and colors. The characters on the boat are said to represent his perspective of his own emotional profiles—yes, more than one! On the left is a kind of meek thing peering into the water uncertainly, off balance with a fishing rope tied haphazardly to his toe. On the right, the character is more concretely defined, particularly at the hand (the most defined portion of the painting). This evokes a relatively greater sense of resolve and impetus, but still contrasts with the hesitation as he has not yet struck the fish, which glows. These two fishermen might have portrayed the top emotional conflict on Picasso’s mind at the time.

On the right, the abstract mental representations of both his wife and mistress beckon to him (guess which one is depicted as more sensual). In the background is what is believed to be the Cheateau Grimaldi, where Picasso was staying at the time of painting this.

Part of why I like this image is how it so beautifully communicates what a person’s complex emotional selves might look like—how we feel, what triggers our emotions, what we fear, lust, desire, and see around us. Especially when it’s delivered in such a raw, even carnal depiction. I almost feel like the above is what the world might ‘look’ like if our complex brains didn’t process things so much, or something. Night Fishing provides a flexibility for numerous conclusions about meaning (as do emotional states) and a paradoxical feeling that it has clearly and starkly captured reality, even as a piece of abstract art. [4]

What would this painting look like in a universe of exponentially diverse or extreme emotional profiles?

Thanks for reading!

Notes

[0]

We can go deeper into the difference between text and image, since they both fall under the category of visual.

Images gives us more data than text (e.g. seeing a person talk on TV makes you more empathetic than just reading their words). So text, the most abstract form of symbolism we have, is literally the worst (best?) tool because it is like the most pure oil we could have thrown on this fire.

[1]

One meta-pattern is obvious here; the digital world is infinitely faster than the physical world due to the much faster iterative feedback loop (a la thiel’s “bits not bytes pls” stuff). And similar to Thiel’s run-in with Gawker, we take a look at how technolog

[2]

One idea for thought—which market is about to be grow big enough to be important?

You thought you could escape from paul graham, but nope:

From “How to get startup ideas”:

Being at the leading edge of a field doesn’t mean you have to be one of the people pushing it forward. You can also be at the leading edge as a user. It was not so much because he was a programmer that Facebook seemed a good idea to Mark Zuckerberg as because he used computers so much. If you’d asked most 40 year olds in 2004 whether they’d like to publish their lives semi-publicly on the Internet, they’d have been horrified at the idea. But Mark already lived online; to him it seemed natural.

Paul Buchheit says that people at the leading edge of a rapidly changing field “live in the future.” Combine that with Pirsig and you get:

Live in the future, then build what’s missing.

[3]

In the very near future, if we could suddenly magically customize what we look like, what would happen?

I predict people would immediately move toward local maximums. Americans towards white skin, blond hair, blue eyes, chiseled, sunkissed Venice beach movie stars. Chinese women towards Fan Bingbing. Then, visualize the population in a similar way—the same pattern of balls would appear. Taller spikes, deeper troughs. Everything is magnified, even from the small existing differences today of looks (and racism, understood implicit sociocultural biases, etc.)

There may be a second order effect. Similar to how extreme sensations result in desensitizing, there may be at first a spike of conformity followed by a gradual growth of diversity. In the case of America, since anyone can be white, being white loses its advantage. But this would mean that, since everyone at first converges to take advantage of the existing iterative situation, to first close the gap between the current haves and have-nots?

[4]

On the topic of the greats, there’s also a great potential for a new Romeo and Juliet competitor, except our titular characters will differ on exponentially different aspects than just what political faction their families are. Their chemicals literally don’t even align, but they figure it out—it’s a magical romance of interspecies reconciliation and love. Yay! Smash hit. Maybe someone can make one using GPT3 rn

[5]

Also, why hasn’t there been another Shakespeare or Picasso recently in the past ~100 years? You would As in, much better than everyone else by a long, long shot. We have great artists everywhere today, but nobody that’s not only universally appreciated but also by a huge gap.

You would figure that the Internet would further unleash some genius potential somewhere, someplace.

I’m not too sure myself, but I would guess that, with a pool of competition for attention that’s larger by sheer numbers, and with art being a rather non-objective field, it’s harder to stand out.

[6] List of examples found in the wild of “humans are sexual organs of machines”

[7] Power of media https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/igxfex/discovery_the_entire_scots_language_wikipedia_was/

Peanut Gallery (comments from Notion)

I’ve got my epi pen ready

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