Emotion as a Property of Information Part 2: Engineering Joy


     If emotion has a physical basis, then it is possible to engineer emotions to stably maintain more optimal states. While such an endeavor might raise concerns regarding its apparent connection to recreational drug abuse, it is important to understand that recreational drugs represent an extremely crude form of emotional engineering. Using current street drugs to alter one’s mood is like trying to fly by jumping off a cliff while holding a pair of cardboard sheets. More rationally engineered pharmacological agents (i.e. antidepressants) are somewhat better in this respect, but still very primitive. To rationally design more positive emotional states, I propose that human and animal brains should be transferred to a more easily modifiable substrate and undergo cognitive rewiring consistent with joyful sentiments described by an information-structural theory of emotion.

     In this scenario, biological brains would first be gradually replaced by equivalent, engineered neural prosthetics. By maintaining continuous information transfer between neurons and machine components, the uploaded consciousness would not be a mere duplicate as in scan-copy mind uploading. Each neural prosthesis would contain some form of neuromorphic circuitry that simulates the region of the brain undergoing replacement. Such simulations would likely require multi-compartmental models of neurons along with fairly advanced learning rules and perhaps some models to approximate the effects of gene expression alterations due to non-synaptic chemical signaling. Note that a complete synaptic and dendritic connectome for the individual would also be necessary. This might be obtainable by MRI microscopy or similar technologies (this is a complicated topic, so I will cover it in depth elsewhere). The prosthetics would carry a dense array of nanoscale sensory and stimulatory equipment on their surfaces, allowing for detection of neurotransmitter release from presynaptic neurons and for stimulation of postsynaptic neural activity.

Engineering Emotion Figure1

     Once the brain is completely replaced, consciousness might be transferrable to another location by temporarily inactivating part of the computerized cerebrum and connecting the rest to a supercomputer that simulates the inactivated part by an electromagnetic (or similar) conduit. After this connection is established, the remaining part of the brain still housed in its host body could be inactivated and then the supercomputer could turn on a simulation of that same part, completing the brain inside the supercomputer without breaking the continuity of the individual’s conscious experience. Since uploaded minds would exist in a programmable environment, they would be much more amenable to emotional engineering than biological brains.

     In order to emotionally enhance uploaded consciousness, a quantitative understanding of emotion will be necessary. Fortunately, many of the technical challenges associated with mind uploading are similar to the challenges associated with a quantitative theory of emotion. By studying the neural correlates of emotion and relating them to experiences, we might make strides in developing this theory of emotion. I suggest that mapping neural circuitry at the resolution of individual dendritic spines will be sufficient to understand the physical correlates of human emotion. This assumes biologically realistic models of individual neurons, but it is arguable that such models already exist in the form of multicompartmental conductance-based models equipped with learning rules. I would propose that relatively minor improvements are required to model single cells. The more challenging area is likely understanding neural circuitry throughout the human brain as a system. Currently, we can only speculate about universal informational principles that might underlie emotions. For instance (mentioned in part 1), many positive emotions might involve stable positive feedback loops. But by studying the brain, we could achieve enough understanding of emotions to replicate and augment them in a non-biological substrate.

     Emotional engineering might yield spectacular results in the long term. Post-singularity, we might convert entire worlds into computronium, allowing for a simulated paradise to be designed. Organisms living in this simulation could choose to live with minimal capacity to suffer and tremendous capacities for joy, love, and wonder. Though some might claim that this would be a “false bliss,” I argue that existentialist philosophy counters such claims. In existentialism, emotions are real and meaningful by virtue of being felt. If an emotion is truly positive, fulfilling, and lasting, then there is no reason to condemn it simply because it has been engineered. We might explore the universe as well, accumulating more matter to transform into computational joy-substrate. I would suggest that, the more processing power we acquire, the more we could intensify our positive emotions. Eventually, the entirety of the cosmos might be optimized for joy. This would not be a hedonic device, its happiness would possess a spiritual component. The universal brain would act as a technological nirvana, a resplendent celebration, a sonata machine.

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