Monday, April 10, 2017

Ya Feels Ain't Reals

OK, this bullshit has got to stop.

For reference, Endtown is a vaguely sciencey fictiony comic about a post-apocalyptic future where underground formerly human furries are hunted and slaughtered by the last remnants of humanity. At some point some protagonists stumble across a dimension-hopping ship powered by (what else) "emotional energy" because dilithium crystals are, like, sooooo last week.

This sort of babbling pissed me off even more in the recent RPG Torment: Tides of Numenera and its reliance on emotion as some sort of universal force and overuse of telepathy. I was especially disappointed when The Bloom, a glorious city-sized biological monstrosity which humans occupy as internal microparasitic flora, was infantilized as feeding on humans' emotions. It was bad enough when Monsters, Inc. trotted out this sort of idiocy, but at least Disney had the decency to label that a kids' movie. Look, I get why writers might be tempted to take this shortcut, as building up dramatic effect largely hinges on displaying characters' emotional reactions and it helps move things along to shoehorn emotional displays in as a plot device.

Only one problem: there are no emotions. There never will be. Emotion is not a "thing" and cannot be. The very concept is merely a shortcut we use to express certain states of neural excitation which interlink more primitive aversive / attractive stimuli with higher cerebral functions. They're just predictable electrochemical gradients which facilitate learning, memory and habit formation. If you posit a spaceship which runs on "emotional energy" then it would also run just fine on the neural impulses sparked by viewing the color purple or remembering your multiplication tables. Epilepsy would be a feast!

Naturally, the real issue is catering to the lowest common denominator. All of your readers / viewers / players have emotions, no matter how stupid they are. Even the most troglodytic, drooling imbeciles (even Trump voters) can feel, so glorifying feelings allows them to imagine themselves useful, lends them some implicit importance. Fuck that.

There is no such thing as emotion. It's an artifact of our material underpinnings, of flesh and electrons, a shadow on the lens, a discernible pattern within matter but not matter itself, just as we ourselves are patterns dependent on matter and not matter itself. Our brains exist. We do not. Thought does not exist. Emotion even less so, as it's just a minor subset of the myriad patterns of information flow which might be said to constitute a mind. The energy and matter which make up the physical system being organized by and as a mind can be considered a power source, transmitted and fed upon, sure, but not the organization itself, as some nonsensical atomos of feels. You might even suppose a system which requires input delivered in the precise quanta of neural signals, but then you'd still be discussing matter and energy. Electrons would flow, hydrocarbons would be hydrolyzed, synapses would flood, and these tides would need to be intercepted, tapped, siphoned. If The Bloom consumes its victims' fear, then it would need to physically excise the neurons responsible for propagating the reaction pattern we term "fear" within our brains, or tap every efferent pathway from the amygdala until this shrivels and atrophies, or bleed certain circuits of dopamine.

Want to fabricate pretextium crystals for a SF setting, some ludicrous phlebotinum or another to justify your plot? Fine. Wonderful. Emotion ain't it. It's not an unknown force, but a composite of known, low-key forces which divorced from animal muscle wouldn't even power a toaster.

Maybe The Bloom absolutely needs electrons at just the exact specifications of a human brain. However, there'd still be no difference between emotion and composing a symphony. More importantly, this would have to be the stupidest fucking way to get your jolties. As anyone who watched those towers upon towers of comatose human bodies in The Matrix might say, that is a long, long way to go for a 70 millivolt battery!

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