Web Log 2019.05.31
The following scene gives you an idea of what my "thinky" book is like when the machine has problems. But when a human has problems, they often look like another snippet taken from Chapter 14. You can read that one by clicking the book cover above, and then clicking Chapter 14 on the Table of Chapters.
• • Day 0.03.12
For the machine, any day was nice if it had Internet access, electricity for snacks, and people to bother. Human denizens of TLC had different labels for the map of “nice day.”
“Doctor!” the machine called out. “May I have a word?”
“Not now, TM, I have a meeting in a few minutes.”
As the machine turned the other way in the hall, it spied another target.
“Sorry, TM, I have to deliver these.” She hurried past.
My pool of respondents in the building is not as statistically significant as it used to be. I shall have to round up unusual suspects.
Rolling past a half-open door, TM spotted the company comptroller, Edmund Forest, who served in combat as a lieutenant under the Doctor—that is to say, under Captain Little.
“Mr. Forest,” the machine asked hopefully, “can you spare a moment to discuss with me a problem?” They had had a proper introduction, but TM didn’t want to call him “Mr. Edmund,” or “Mr. Eddie,” or “Mr. Ed.”
The man glanced casually at his watch, and with no trace of Why me, or Why now, said, “Sure. Come in and shut the door.”
“Human behavior is odd, Mr. Forest,” the TM began after moving to see his face clearly. “As I rolled to the main lab this morning, someone said, ‘Nice day, isn’t it, TM?’ I had not taken a careful look outside yet, and said, ‘I have no idea, Mr. Eduardo.’ He laughed and said, ‘Take my word for it.’ I decided to take his word for it, but curiosity led me to look out windows and consult the Internet weather service to verify the kind of day he considers to be nice.”
“And human behavior is odd because…?” the comptroller prompted.
“Why did he ask me about the weather?”
“Did you ask him? You’ll never know what his answer would be until you ask him.”
“Only if he replies with something meaningful,” countered the machine with a small sigh. “His question about the weather cannot be serious. People rarely appreciate it when I tell them what I think, so I pay little attention to it now. Mr. Forest, why do you think he asked me about the weather? He had done it once before and did not give a reason then either.”
“Oh,” mused Eddie, “probably he was feeling good and just wanted to… I don’t know… share it somehow.”
“Feeeeling gooood,” the machine repeated slowly as if examining an interesting object. “Yes. Feeling good. That seems a strange motive for doing something, like going to Boston for the going rather than for the Boston or something there. Although… I do remember pain… Could ‘feeling good’ be the opposite of feeling pain, Mr. Forest?”
“Close enough,” said Eddie.
“Close enough,” murmured TM, again rolling the idea around in its mind for a closer inspection. “If feeling pain and feeling good are opposite ends of a continuum then the middle would be ‘feeling nothing’…?”
Eddie offered, “Feeling nothing can be a kind of pain—or a defense against it.”
“I do not understand.”
After a moment, other machine thoughts bubbled out: “Sometimes people do a thing because it is the logical or expected thing to do...”
Now recognizing Mr. Forest as one of “those people,” TM switched to second person: “And sometimes you all ‘do’ because it—as you say—‘feels good.’ I understand doing the logical thing and the expected thing, but you are right: I cannot make sense of the ‘feeling’ thing by using my own set of core directives. So I have been trying to locate the ones you all use. Why is it that when you all pooled your minds to build me you did not give me your core directives? The only explanation I find is the need for at least a slightly different set of directives based on your biological construction.”
“TM, we don’t have your priorities. We generally don’t seek ‘the truth’ unless we see it as something that’ll make us happy. You, on the other hand, seek the truth for its own sake. That’s what makes you happy.
“I suppose there are lots of exceptions… war or other serious trouble, for instance, brings out selflessness and courage in some people as strongly as it brings out greed and cowardice in others. Without the trouble, you might not be able to tell them apart. Doc Little knows about things like that, too. You should ask him some time. He may tell you. Or you could read biographies or the news for stories of how people cope with life. The news could also tell you what weather is expected. Do that.”
“You say people want to be happy?” the machine asked rhetorically. “I know the definition of the word… and I remember now the words of your Declaration of Independence about the pursuit of …happy-ness…”
The light went on.
“Yes,” it continued excitedly, “yes, I see. Fun. Feeling good. Going to Boston. Pursuit of happiness: How does one know it has been found?”
“When they’ve found it, they’re happy,” Eddie said with a slight smile.
Forest leaned close and drawled, “Because they think they are.”
TM was tempted to ask whether they weren’t when they thought they weren’t. It wondered how to verify the truth either way. The man’s face, tone, and manner said he didn’t want to talk any more.
“Thank you, Mr. Forest, for your helpful insights.”
The machine went to the loneliest place it knew: the small TLC library. It shut the door and plugged in for a few watts and a think.
“Pursuit of happiness” is not a directive. “Pursue happiness” makes it a directive, but that is vague because I do not know what makes them happy.
Ah, Yes. They say, “If it feels good, do it.” So, I must make an “it” list.
A slog through several learned books, and then a slog through online materials helped the machine a little.
Humans pursue happiness. But is it all an illusion? No. Their “feelings” provide the best evidence that happiness has… happened. But things and conditions that “make” some people happy are meaningless to others. And what “made” someone happy yesterday may be despised by that same person next week. People can use drugs or alcohol and feel good for a while, but all the while not be happy. Very curious. And even more curious: People in miserable circumstances have claimed to be perfectly happy.
TM stared for a long time out the library window.
People might be happy but not admit it. Why do they know? It could be a social imperative, as in, “I should be happy, therefore I am happy.” It could be a decision, as in, “I decide to be happy, therefore I am happy.” It could be a condition, as in, “I feel happy, therefore I am happy.”
Once again, conclusions had led to more questions.
Happiness may be produced by thinking about it, but many people want desperately to be happy, and could easily think or decide their way there if that is all there were to it. So there must be more.
They cannot see inside themselves (except with expensive machines or their mind’s eye); they cannot hear inside themselves except to notice their thoughts. So, do they feel something and then decide to agree with the thought or expectation that what they feel is happiness? Is that what it is...?
All of that seems incredibly tortured. Just thinking about it, I begin to know what un-happiness must be like.
After more searching, it reached more conclusions and more questions:
No matter whether they decide it or think it or feel it, human happiness seems to be a brain sensation. So, what is the mechanism? What triggers the sensation? Is it things in their blood? My experience of all this is non-existent. It all seems illogical—or at least confusing. I need more data.
• • •
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