In trying to make an artificial machine to emulate the processes going on in a living organism the problem of reward becomes a major issue. Simulating the chemical processes in the body is very difficult indeed. We might not like to think of ourselves as machines, but we are one way or another biological mechanical entities. Machines in the metal computer driven sense are not going to be rewarded unless they have a biochemical heart. A body is needed to feel the changes in chemistry. The extraction of energy from sugars and the countless chemical reactions precipitate a life form. Various complex chemical interactions will create significant changes to the flow and running of the body, some of which is described by us as feel good, rewarding.
The reward we get when handing in a lost item is felt inside. You don’t want to be given money, you care more for it getting to the rightful owner. Others take advantage and see the lost item as a reward for their deviancy. The prize money for winning a competition can be secondary to the reward felt for the accomplishment of beating so many people. Bringing a criminal to justice produces a change in the mind which can feel gratifying. We can be paid to do a job but the dedicated ones do it with more vigour if it is not just for the pay. Toiling long and hard, running stagnantly on a treadmill or lifting weights up and down over and over again causes the flow of endorphins, an inbuilt natural high. Solving a problem, finding a solution, changing the framework of interlinking memories in the mind creates a reward. The sense of accomplishment surfaces when you rearrange some disorder within a set of tasks embedded in your mind. Resetting the priorities and clearing the list of items to do that have built up during the recent period. Emptying the in-tray and looking forward to a new set of challenges.
Unsurprisingly the reward mechanism can to a fair extent be fooled. It can be overridden, creating an almost indistinguishable sense of pleasure as that gleaned through years of hard graft. It can be brought about by electrical stimulation or by ingesting certain chemicals - what is commonly referred to as drugs. When an animal is wired up with cables directly placed into their minds and access to a button to hit the reward they press and press, ignoring food and ignoring the animal on heat nearby. Like an addict disregarding the demise of their body. The effect can be to keep one’s attention off of would be priorities and onto abstract thought. You can forget the humdrum of daily life and move into a world of fantasy. You can get to a point where the highs are replaced by the zero state. You take more drugs to get out of the minus zone.
Drugs and electrical intervention fail to have an impact on certain types of reward though. There is a difference between unlocking rewards where you spend a lot of time and perseverance doing something and simply popping a pill. The mind and body are well connected. Exhaustion from a work out provides a spectrum of sensations somewhat different to simple chemical exposure. This is not to denigrate the potential for excitement in seeking new experiences from novel forces as if it is some kind of cheat. We might work hard to create comfort and have more opportunities and we may aspire to eat fine foods and experience a range of delights to diversify the types of rewards on offer. The scope of reward is quite wide and meaningful to different degrees in each individual.
If you have an ambition, you will have a great deal of knowledge, memories and experience relating to the objective. A massive amount of interconnected synapses are deployed to structure and ultimately make sense of the end goal. Only by persevering with the objective, working on it in stages to get it to come to fruition, will this type of reward be realised. If you want to climb a mountain you need to prepare the way. Find the equipment, travel to the site and work through a multitude of small hurdles to get to the top. You will have a lot on your mind to contend with. Each issue, at each stage, that is overcome adds to the sense of accomplishment. Adding chemicals to the body and artificially supplanting memories does not invoke the same level of reward as the real thing so to speak. You can only emulate success to a point. One has to go and actually do it to obtain all the feelings through being in the situation for real. However, a drug induced trip is an experience in itself that can’t be garnered from physical or mental actions. The change is what we seek. Change in how we feel. We do it despite any discomfort or anxiety that comes with it. Reward is all about how it makes us feel different for a while.
An employer can increase the salary as a way of rewarding people. Alternatively, they can make the job more fun, do things for the community and they can make the workers think they are doing something for humanity. A simple thankyou is a nice enough reward at times. We talk about getting paid for something as if money is in itself the sole reward. Hence offering more cash as an incentive does not always deliver as much as we might like to think. Some people will work for free as they enjoy the idea of making their thing available to all and sundry. Being a contributor is often a bigger enticement than physical land grab. The reward system is not necessarily about gaining physical entities; it is more about an internal mental dividend. Neither does it need to be a boost to boast as the reward satisfies the deeper self. If you are good at something, really good, you may be asked to take on a task. As you are not terribly keen, you raise the price. You think of what is sensible and treble it. You still get the commission. You reluctantly accept not because of the pay but because you now feel obliged. The more compelling, inviting, idiosyncratic project that you had on the workbench which would have brought in little income, but great joy to finish has to be put on the shelf for a while.
Amongst countless other things conversation is unmistakably rewarding. Telling other people about the things going on in our lives adds to the vital sense of well-being. How well we comprehend what someone really means play a part. The greater success we have distinguishing that what is said to that what is implied the more we get from it. Being able to translate body language, subconsciously or otherwise is exciting, stimulating. We like to transfer the concepts in our mind into the minds of others using words and gestures. This doesn't seem to be trick-able by artificial means, but it appears that the recipient of our wisdom or banal thoughts is often irrelevant. So long as we tell someone, someone that appears to be listening. If we feel that someone has heard and acknowledged what we have to say it is usually sufficient to get the pleasure. The reward is gained during and after the process of dialogue. We feel much better after going out and having a good talk with people compared to staying at home with no one to discuss things with. We need the reaction, we crave the verification that what we are saying has merit and this is not so easily achieved when you are talking to yourself. Though at times there is not a lot of real difference as the words are poorly archived in the minds of other people. It is just the impression that they got the gist of what you were saying and acknowledged the core principles.
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