Climbing out of the rabbit hole

After a long hiatus I have decided to add to this little blog some more. I stopped for so long because my previous posts sent me down an unexpected rabbit hole. What was supposed to be a simple question, “what are emotions?” which I was asking simply to lay the foundation for a different question, put me onto a mission to find and explore what I believe to be a better answer than what was available. I stopped blogging because I was initially hoping to publish these ideas and, for some academic journals, blogging constitutes publishing in another venue. Since then, though, my life plans have moved away from academia and racking up publications is no longer that important. I have other goals for my work so I am not ready to spell everything out (the model has come a long way since the previous posts on this blog) but thinking and learning about emotions has led me to enough tangential ideas that I think I can justify taking another crack at blogging. So, let me tell you about my adventures in Wonderland…

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

New blogs

I am putting aside the philosophical pondering of this blog to start some applied blogs using the same ideas. They can be found at the website for my new consulting company, Emotalytics. One blog focuses on advice for one's personal life while the other focuses on advice for companies and professionals. Unlike the sporadic posting here, I am externally motivated and so will be posting to each one once a month.
Hope you like it!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Love Equation

Love is a complicated thing and finding someone who you can love and who will love you back is the first step down that desirable but complicated path. Making a romantic match is like matching two puzzle pieces when each piece is a puzzle itself. We have to consider all the complexities of each person and then only once we have a good picture of the individuals can we consider how well they would fit as a couple. But what actually determines fit? Both old wisdom and new science tell us a lot about what makes a good fit and the list is pretty long. It includes similar social and economic class, similar intelligence and physical attractiveness, similar political and religious views, difference in dominant vs. submissive, etc. These factors are a jumble, though, they all seem to help but none of them appear necessary or sufficient. Dating services work by shoving all of these factors together and then rating partners on how well they match up. This works because that’s the best service they can offer since they have a limited pool. They match you with your first, second, third, etc. best match until enough of the unmeasured factors also match up. What dating services can’t do is identify that threshold point between success and failure. To do that we need a unified framework that considers all of the factors together. This is where ecology steps in [1].

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Many fish in the sea: what biodiversity theory tells us about finding love

How do we find love?

It may feel like I am jumping the gun a bit, coming back after two years and jumping straight to such a big question, but those two years have been spent doing the experiments for my PhD thesis on the evolution and ecology of species coexistence. While I generally consider my thesis work and my emotions work as two separate bodies, this series of posts on romantic love is the most natural launching point as it represents the overlap of the two. It is a great transition from my pure science to thinking about more applied questions.

And anyways, people don’t really want to know what love is. What they really want is to know how to find it! People’s drive to find love (I will focus on romantic love as that is the most complete case) is a huge industry. Actually, multiple industries, fueling match-making websites and consulting services, countless books and talk shows, therapists, speed-dating events, and billions of man-hours of gossip and conversation.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

2c.ii. – Justifying love

Rationalizing emotions is not particularly socially acceptable and trying to rationalize an emotion as strong and socially important as love is potentially a dangerous endeavour.  I very much doubt I could get away with simply stating that love is the highest form of trust, acting to increase the propagation of our genes, but I do have supporting evidence.  The best arguments at my disposal are considering who we love, showing that my evolutionary model accounts for these choices, and showing how our responses to those we love correspond to what we would expect for targets of high trust in my general model of emotions. 

2c.i. A crazy little thing called Love

                What is love?  It’s a damn good question, one for which the internet simultaneously provides hundreds of answers and no answer at all.  The question is a matter of philosophy and religion, grazed by psychologists and all but abandoned by hard science.  Love is the emotion of the heart, of the soul.  It is what makes us act selflessly and often irrationally, even absurdly.  It is a gift from God or an odd by-product of culture, beautiful and all-important but beyond our explanation.  To get to the heart of it all: Love is what differentiates us from the beasts.

Well… wait, does it?  What is love really?  Can we discern its function?  And can we really say that only humans really love while everything else (e.g. I feel that my dog loves me) is simply personification?  This is the question I will attempt to answer here: what is love and why does it seem so extraordinary? So irrational? So… human?

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

3a. Personalities - programmed for a cave and a spear or suburbia and a credit card?

                Emotions act to simplify the world, summarizing our experiences into a few metrics.  So, for example, when you are trying to decide whether or not to eat an apple you don’t have to first recall every past experience involving apples.  Instead your emotions have already summarized each event and the results have been pooled into one value characterizing your past experiences as somewhere between very rewarding or very detrimental on average.  The general rules, such as both joy and pleasure increase trust, will remain fixed among individuals and species.  What will change are the parameters of those rules: how much weight is placed on pleasure versus trust, old versus recent experiences.  These parameters constitute our personality and while they will change overtime due to learning they must have an initial condition: our base personality, the component of our emotions most susceptible to evolution.

3. Personalities - adaptive humanity

                The model of emotions presented in 2B generalizes beyond humans to all organisms with the cognitive capacity to consider the past and the future.  However, as Robert Burns put to words in his famous poem To a Mouse, many believe that this consideration of past and future is a rare trait, bestowed on humans and maybe a select few “higher” organisms.  So let me revise, focusing on the result rather than the mechanism: any organism that learns, changing its behaviour based on past success or failure, likely uses the same cognitive processes which we experience as emotions.  They may not experience emotions in the same way as humans, but parsimony (things are more likely to change a little than a lot) suggests that in a general sense learning organisms probably have a similar experience to humans.  So, to understand the specifics of human emotions we have to move up one step to personality.  While our emotions characterize how we feel it is our personalities while characterize what we feel in a given situation.
In 2b I stated the rules determining the path you follow along the emotion decision tree.  For example, if you feel trust towards a target you will go down a path leading to invest-or-request as opposed to fight-or-flight.  Whether you feel trust or disgust though is, at the very least, a product of your naïve level of trust, your past experience with the target and similar targets, and how much weight you put on different types of experiences.  While traits like your naïve level of trust or the weight you put on direct versus indirect knowledge will change over time, they must have starting values, what I will call the base personality.  It is this base personality, the genetic component (the nature in “nature vs. nurture”) which natural selection shapes.  While there are clearly differences within species (just look at the range of personalities amongst children) there are larger differences between species.  It is these differences that lead to the young of social animals being playful rather than aggressive and predators being more curious than their cautious prey.  So what is the base personality of humans and, more importantly, what factors have lead to our current state?  This is the question I will attempt to answer in this series.