Thursday, November 27, 2008

Empathy from Logic?

I've been obsessed with the idea of empathy entering a logical mind since childhood. I was nine years old and my cousin gifted me Frankenstein on tape.

Frankenstein and MonsterIt was the unabridged version and quite different from the childish rendition I knew. On it Frankenstein's monster had a voice. He had debatable humanity and possessed human desires. He explained his story - the pantomime of a "birth" without parent. He explained the single mindedness of his journey to find Frankenstein and the horror that followed his befriending a blind man and later killing a child.

I felt sorrow for the orphaned being who sought companionship through a bride as deformed as he was. I felt his outrage at the scientist who created then abandoned him.

BlancaI wondered if all human bodies, deprived of knowledge and empathy would revert to logic.

Cut to Street Fighter the movie. By now I was a teenager who occasionally listened to her old tape. I watched the movie in typical sci-fi joy and practically cried when I saw how Blanca was being trained. Scientists locked him in a cell and forced him to watch video of horrible human cruelty. One scientist snuck in video of human greatness (although all I can remember was MLK's speech) and was eventually discovered. Blanca broke loose and I could barely breathe while waiting to find out if human empathy could have broken through hours of forced torture.

Tortured SpikeI returned to my old thoughts when Spike the vampire regained his soul on BtVS. Spike was a soulless creature who preyed with a "song in his heart." He fell in love with Buffy and sought to change - to be good and worthy of her. She rejected his advances - saying a creature without a soul was incapable of love. Reeling from the rejection he endured great travails resulting in his regaining a soul. The first time we saw him post-souling he was practically mad. He was babbling in a church about good and evil and we saw that for all his previous attempts at being "good" lacking a soul kept him from empathising with the human condition.

And now we have Ellison facing John Henry, the increasingly sentient artificial intelligence machine created in a basement. This week we saw it had the capacity for self-preservation. We saw that it had no basic concept of death or consequences. It replied with yes/no binary answers. Ellison's constant bible rhetoric finally came into play as he was asked to teach the AI the commandments - more aptly he was asked to teach it causality and to logically understand a person's pain.

I'm riveted.

A few weeks ago we saw Cameron learn to dance after watching a doomed teacher. The moves were exact (the actress is a ballerina) but it was a disturbing performance. Dance is an interpretation of music - it conveys a mood which a robot should not be able to understand without programming. It was a pantomime and charade.

We also saw Catherine Weaver face the dilemma of nurturing a child. She was caring for her - making sure the child was fed and properly crayonned but didn't understand her need for affection. We saw her mind compute that touch equals reassurance and then apply it to child rearing. It wasn't compassion but I was hoping it was a start.

Should John Henry develop empathy, would it only be a charade? Can a souless creature assimilate empathy or would it always be executing a series of logical commands?
Ellison meets John Henry


Jennifer said...

I'm not watching Terminator, but this was an interesting post and made me think of A.I., which was a horrible movie with a great concept. Also brings to mind the whole question of the nature of evil. Is it lack of empathy that makes a creature evil?

Anny said...

AI was one of my favorite movies for a long time - probably because I only saw half of it for a long time and didn't realize the movie kept going long after it should have ended.

I think we're dealing with perspective and a creature without empathy won't be conscious of its comitting evil. There's almost an innocence to the disregard for others that comes through when logic is the driving force.

Jennifer said...

How is that different from the "legally insane" argument? Innocent by lack of conscience? Does this apply to humans who lack empathy? Doing being "evil" by nature make you innocent?

Anny said...

These are questions I am constantly asking myself...and frankly idk. What causes a lack of empathy and how can you differentiate between someone who is developmentally challenged and the legally insane? If their ultimate behavior is the same how much does motive/awareness play into it?

I'm pretty sure I just rephrased your question without providing any answers Ha!

Jennifer said...

That's okay. It was kinda rhetorical. :)