Moulton Lava

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Sunday, June 01, 2008


The following appears on page 93 of Rosalind Picard's 1997 book, Affective Computing, in Chapter 3, Applications of Affective Computing:

Emotions In Learning

—Mr. Spock, Star Trek

Curiosity and fascination begin many a learning episode. As the learning task increases in difficulty, however, one may experience confusion, frustration, or anxiety. Learning may be abandoned because of these negative feelings. If the pupil manages to avoid or proceed beyond these emotions, then progress may be rewarded with an "Aha!" and accompanying neuropeptide rush. Even Spock, the unemotional patron saint of computer scientists, frequently exclaimed upon learning something new that it was "fascinating!" 

Dr. Barry Kort, a mentor of children exploring and constructing scientific worlds on the MUSE (Multi-User Simulation Environment) and a volunteer for nearly a decade in the Discovery Room at the Boston Museum of Science, says that learning is the quintessential emotional experience. Kort says his goal is to maximize intrigue—the fascination stage—and to minimize anxiety. Kort suggests that all learning systems have affective states, and that future autodidactic learning systems will exhibit such recognizable states as curiosity, fascination, puzzlement, confusion, frustration, insight, satisfaction, and confidence.

Today, on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, the continuing series, "In Character" takes up the fascinating character of Spock.

Here are some excerpts:

Fascinating — four syllables and one arched eyebrow — that's Spock, just as much as his pointy Vulcan ears.

D.C. Fontana was a writer for the original Star Trek series, which ran from 1966 to 1969. She says that singular "fascinating" conveyed interest, skepticism and — layered deeply in there — a kind of wonder.

Nimoy found fascination in Spock's status as an outsider.

"When [Gene Roddenberry] hired me to do the role," Nimoy says, "he gave me a very interesting dynamic to work with, in that Spock's mother was human, his father was Vulcan. He was sort of a half-breed."

And as such, he was prone to some internal conflict.

As Spock's mother Amanda explained in one episode: "When you were 5 years old and came home stiff-lipped, anguished ... I watched you knowing that, inside, the human part of you was crying."

"I think that's one of the most interesting things about Spock," says Nimoy. "It's not what you're getting, but what you don't get — what peeks out occasionally."

Click on the link to read and listen to the rest of NPR's "In Character" feature on the fascinating character of Star Trek's Science Officer Spock.


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