Emotions: Heroes (or Heroines) or Demons? (Do I HAVE to be politically correct?)

I have noticed in the films we have been watching, and others I have seen over the years, that cyborgs/androids/AI/robots, etc., generally (not always) seem to lack one thing:  emotion.  That is, they lack emotion unless they experience some kind of revelation or crisis, then all of sudden emotions come into play and either save the day or result in massive destruction.  This isn’t always the case but I consider major “characters” over the years: HAL, Data, The Terminator, various robots/androids in The Twilight Zone or other sci-fi films/programs.  Absent are basic emotions of fear, hate, anxiety, apprehension, alarm, humor, laughter, etc.  I am just wondering why that is.  Also interesting is that when androids and such do express emotion, many times it is pre-programmed.  In other words, the artificiality of the emotions is founded upon what the human engineer who created the android thinks should be displayed.  The android (and I am using that term generally for sake of being all-inclusive) is not able to develop its own personality based upon experience and internal genetic predispositions.

Are we to think that the intrusion of emotions somehow makes us lesser than we are supposed to be?  Does Spock really think if he buries his emotions he will be a better person?  Does the display of emotion really indicate a lack of self-control?  Interestingly though, when emotions are infused in those created characters, it somehow saves the day for the humans involved, albeit not so much at times for the AI.  In many cases there results in some kind of bonding between human and android, somewhat like the human characters and Androids in I, Robot.  I really and ultimately have no answer here, just a quick observation and conclusion for which I am sure there are a myriad exceptions I haven’t mentioned. #mscedc


  1. This is a really interesting point, Philip – thank you for writing. I wonder in general about the privileging of ’emotion’ (over, perhaps, rationality?), even among humans, and whether that links in particular to the point you’ve made about the pre-programming of emotion.

    Do you think this is reserved exclusively for androids? Or do you think there’s some sense of pre-programming of emotion among humans too? There appears to be some policing of emotions – in response to any event there is a spectrum of ‘normative’ emotions, and anyone behaving outside of that is treated as other, incorrect or suspicious. The digital space may affect this – allowing more or less freedom depending on the space, the possibility of anonymity, and a whole host of other factors.

    I guess I’m just thinking aloud about whether we’re all (human, android, or otherwise) subjected to powerful forces which dictate the right way to behave AND the right way to feel. And – if this is the case – aren’t we all androids?


  2. Hi Helen. You’re post is really right on point. I do believe that generally, we are programmed from early on how we are to react emotionally to different stimuli. We pick this up from parents or other family members, church groups, or friends. I know people now who react the same to trauma or happy events in their lives. The emotional void is almost palatable sometimes. Then again, I know others who seem to overreact to just about anything. I don’t know really how much of this is written into our DNA or how much is learned from personal experience or the experience of others. I definitely think that we are programmed to channel our emotions to flow with the event, and any deviation from that (skewed one way or the other from social norms) is viewed as maladjusted behavior. It’s really too bad when you think of how much this stifles our desire, and need, to express our personalities as they really are. I wonder, without doing more research, how much this stifling results in preventable mental and emotional distress over the long-term.

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