There is a hedonistic school of thought
August 16, 2002 7:15 PM   Subscribe

There is a hedonistic school of thought which holds that future generations will experience a level of happiness and sense of well being beyond even the finest china white heroin rush and that this will be the norm. While I do agree that our understanding of mental health is limited to our advances in neuroscience, I just can't see how this is healthy or even remotely possible even within the next 500 years.
posted by Modem Ovary (49 comments total)
 
I'm a little confused myself. What is euphoria? If a person doesn't have a "normal" frame of reference, how would that person be aware that his mood is elevated?

Oh, wait, they lose me here: "Suppose, for a moment, that the reproductive success of our DNA had been best served by coding for ecstatically happy vehicles rather than malaise-haunted emotional slum-dwellers."

Gahhh. "Malaise-haunted emotional slum-dwellers"? Is that the sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament?

I need to go lie down.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:45 PM on August 16, 2002


It's healthy because depression is a detriment. The hedonistic engineering of permanent pleasure and happiness into the neurochemistry of its willing citizens should, along with clinical immortality, be the primary focus of any future society. There is nothing noble or sacred in suffering, or even slight discomfort.

While the human mastery of neurology has a more distant delivery date than other sciences, there is no reason we can't start down the path to utopia within 40 years other than social barriers placed up by luddites and pro-misery "ethicists."'
posted by bunnytricks at 7:47 PM on August 16, 2002


Why would any one want a life with out struggle or a little pain. Now I am talking about Knife in the Eye pain, but the pain of heartache, or rejection. Pain and struggle is what makes a person grow. If you know some one who is rather shallow in personality, they most likely had it pretty easy in life. I mean look, most great art come from some distress that the artist had.

If this is true, life is going to suck.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 7:57 PM on August 16, 2002


"It's healthy because depression is a detriment."

Why, and "a detriment" to what?

I mean, if you believe in the theory of evolution then you must believe that there's a valid purpose behind depression, or "bad moods", right? Nature doesn't just create something for no reason, does she?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:58 PM on August 16, 2002


OY. That article was very long, with a lot of links to look at. That said, it was interesting. The idea of bioengineering our moods is fascinating, though relegated in the past to science fiction. Ian Banks comes to mind with many inhabitants of the Culture engineering their moods.

I believe that the near future brings a lot more research into biopsychology, and with that a lot of different kinds of drugs. I'm not sure it's such a good thing to be messing around with the make-up of our heads but I think that, in time, and after making lots of mistakes, they'll figure out a way to make humans a happy bunch.

I will put forth that being happy all the time is far from a good idea. Much of what makes us human is our ability to feel pain and sorrow and anger. Combined with happiness, I believe that these emotions are very important towards our inventiveness and creativity in all aspects of our lives.

It's a yin yang thing. You have to have the pain with the pleasure.
posted by ashbury at 8:01 PM on August 16, 2002


"There is nothing noble or sacred in suffering, or even slight discomfort."

Its how we deal with pain as well as pleasure that help to define who we are. Perfect happiness should be a goal, but one that should never be attained. Its the very act of striving that defines humanity. The hope, right or wrong, that there is something better out there.
posted by madmanz123 at 8:04 PM on August 16, 2002


The first thought I had after reading all this was, "God, what would certain aspects of the world be like had Hemingway been happy?"

A populace sated is a populace sedated.
posted by WolfDaddy at 8:05 PM on August 16, 2002


mr_crash_davis: Nature and its hamfisted method of evolution are obstacles to overcome, not an altar to lay prostrate before. Just because something is natural does make it ideal, right, and good. It's time for humanity to begin the task of using the minds that nature accidentally gave it to improve upon its basic form.
posted by bunnytricks at 8:05 PM on August 16, 2002


Bunnytricks, as a sufferer of dysthymia and one who is an optimist and works to acheive happiness, I would submit myself to a little bio-engineering of my own dopamine receptors in a second. But I would want to have a sense of balance more than anything. How would we be able to cope with problems if our internal loci of control are set perminantly on "extremely happy?" Some people have a disorder where they can't feel any physical pain and can seriously injur themselves. Wouldn't the same apply if you're incapable of feeling emotional pain? I'm not exploring the ethics of this approach; just weather or not it's realistic and safe.
posted by Modem Ovary at 8:07 PM on August 16, 2002


err. doesn't make it ideal...
posted by bunnytricks at 8:07 PM on August 16, 2002


It's healthy because depression is a detriment. --bunnytricks

Severe depression is indeed a detriment. The normal depression that we all go through from time to time is healthy; it allows us to appreciate the good things we have in our lives. In essence, depression is a tool.
posted by ashbury at 8:07 PM on August 16, 2002


bunnytricks, which of modern man's inventions would still have been invented if everyone were in a state of bliss all the time?

The automobile? No, because it's not necessary to get from one place to another quickly. Everyone would be perfectly happy to move at walking speed.

A spacecraft? Why explore the galaxy when we're absolutely blissful here on Earth?

The telephone? Who needs to speak to anyone else when the mere joy of existence is enough?

It's the disgruntled human being who invents something that advances knowledge, not the blissfully happy everything's-wonderful stoner.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:11 PM on August 16, 2002


Will orgone be involved somehow?
posted by drezdn at 8:17 PM on August 16, 2002


Perfect happiness should be a goal, but one that should never be attained.

The hedonist argues that it's physically impossible to achieve perfect happiness. That the brain will regulate itself once the ideal situation is attained and begin feeling melancholy for no reason; this as a result of evolution brought about from millennia of pain and suffering.
posted by Modem Ovary at 8:17 PM on August 16, 2002


Whoa...THE RESPONSIBLE PARENT'S GUIDE TO HEALTHY MOOD-BOOSTERS FOR ALL THE FAMILY

This is not The Onion, right?

On a related note...I've often thought that plants have reached or nearly reached that level of well-being.
posted by jaronson at 8:17 PM on August 16, 2002


Just because something is natural does[n't] make it ideal, right, and good. --bunnytricks

This statement, where does it come from? Is this according to you or is this a thought that the general population holds? EIther way, I don't really agree with it. I don't agree that human beings have the right to alter anything and everything because we want to or because we can. I don't believe we've been given the right to be the overlords of anything, much less Nature, especially since we have such a hard time taking care of ourselves.

I'm not even sure we have the right to bioengineer ourselves, but I'm not naive enough to think that we won't try our best to make us even better than Nature made us.
posted by ashbury at 8:22 PM on August 16, 2002


Mr Crash Davis, I agree...you're exactly right. But extreme hedonists put bliss before everything, thereby making it the ultimate priority. Phones? Lights? Motorcars? Not a single luxury. Who cares if you're happy happy happy! It would make a great soylent green-esque novel.
posted by Modem Ovary at 8:22 PM on August 16, 2002


Humans are inherently happy little animals. Depression and other mood disorders are disorders that science is just beginning to help us take care of. Those who have never suffered clinical depression --or know someone who has-- should count themselves as lucky. It just isn't feeling bummed or blue. It is terribly debilitating.

A utopia to me would be a world without depression. But striving for a utopia where the goal a feeling of happiness that makes a good dose of ecstasy look like watching grass grow is something else.

It brings to mind that old science experiment where they hooked up a mouse so that when it pressed a lever an electrode or something would stimulate the "pleasure center" of his brain. That poor bastard mouse pulled that lever until he died.

The reason most people O.D. is because they want to get higher. I think that is something inherent in our species as well: If it feels good do it, and to feel better do more. If you experienced the euphoric feeling of an orgasm 24/7, what would you do to get off?

I'm sure the 'recreational' drugs of tomorrow will make the drugs of today look like aspirin. And tomorrow's drugs may have fewer side effects. But no matter how good it feels, I think people will always want more. There is a difference between temporary bliss and permanent bliss. Society would pretty much collapse if everyone was sitting in their bean bag chairs staring at the ceiling.
posted by birdherder at 8:30 PM on August 16, 2002


"It's the disgruntled human being who invents something that advances knowledge, not the blissfully happy everything's-wonderful stoner.--mr_crash_davis

When I think of, say, Thomas Edison inventing the incandescent light bulb, I don't think he was saying, "I am tired of all this lousy, darkness..." No, I think truly creative genius thinks more like a child, a blissful child, if I may. I think they say,"Hey that's pretty cool, I wonder what would happen if..."
posted by jaronson at 8:34 PM on August 16, 2002


But don't we already have the same situation: everyone sitting in their bean bag chairs staring at the TV?

(Or, right now, the computer screen...)
posted by xil at 8:47 PM on August 16, 2002


bunnytricks: Just because something is natural does[n't] make it ideal, right, and good.
ashbury: EIther way, I don't really agree with it.

You disagree with the application of germ theory, medicine, etc? All of those ideas are unnatural in the way that they not animalistic.

I keep seeing a lot of neo-ludditism here which makes me think back to when people believed without a doubt that experiments on cadavers were unnatural and unholy and those who did so were wrong. The 21st century's cadavers are genetics, stem cells, etc and the reactionary element in us is still here.
posted by skallas at 9:05 PM on August 16, 2002


It would make a great soylent green-esque novel.

It already did.
posted by muckster at 9:26 PM on August 16, 2002


The hedonistic engineering of permanent pleasure and happiness into the neurochemistry of its willing citizens should, along with clinical immortality,

There's a reason Odysseus didn't stay with Kalypso even though he was offered immortality.

Or, as Wallace Stevens so rightly put it: death is the mother of all beauty. I can't even fathom a world where there is no pain, conflict, or suffering. It wouldn't be living.
posted by insomnyuk at 9:36 PM on August 16, 2002


The basic distinction nobody seems to be making here is between pleasure and happiness. Pleasure is a simple state, triggered by neurochemicals, easy to study, easy to induce chemically. Happiness is a much more complex phenomenon, difficult to define, and probably impossible to submit to the reductionist analyses of natural science. Pleasure is what you get eating ice cream, taking heroin or having an orgasm. Happiness is what you get from controlling your temper and your fears, treating those around you with love and respect, having self-confidence combined with humility, and doing work that challenges you and makes a contribution to the human race. I don't see how you could prove that happiness is reducible to neurochemicals, and therefore I don't see what kind of dope you could administer to induce it.

The people at this website don't seem to care about the difference. The result is claims like "Chewing coca leaves with a dash of powdered lime is a nutritious and energising way to sustain healthy mood." Their only problem with long-term daily coca use seems to be that it's bad for your teeth.

O brave new world.
posted by ramakrishna at 9:45 PM on August 16, 2002


skallas, your point is well-made. I don't have a problem with germ theory, medicine, and waver over gene modified foods (to name a few things). I did something wrong, which was have a knee-jerk reflex to the statement bunnytricks made. I should have explained myself better.

I don't agree with the statement because it's not a simple matter. Nature does not differentiate between right and wrong, we do. Nature does not have a set of morals to stand by, we do. Nature has some laws that we are just beginning to understand, laws that get broken and have repercussions that we are just beginning to understand. Nature is complex, yet we have this tendency to blindly do things without knowing what the ramifications are.

We decide on all kinds of things before we have enough information, such as your example of experimentation on cadavers being thought of as unnatural and unholy, etc. Often our decisions are based on wish-fulfillment and cultural morals, both of which change as time goes by. We think that it's okay to tamper with our biology but we don't really know what effect this will have, so we test our theories out on animals and plants. But by what right do go about doing this? We wish to make our personal environment better by using electricity and gas, but at the cost of doing irreparable damage to the natural environment. Once again, by what right do have to change our world and affect everything in it?

If we try to tame Nature, which includes ourselves just as much as the weather and our foods, we will more than likely end up killing what is beautiful in our world, if not kill our world outright because of our incomplete knowledge of how our world works.

I may be somewhat off-topic but that is what bunnytricks statement immediately brought to my mind.
posted by ashbury at 9:47 PM on August 16, 2002


Maybe I don't WANT to reach Nirvana.
posted by HTuttle at 9:51 PM on August 16, 2002


You can't, Kurt's dead.
posted by ashbury at 9:53 PM on August 16, 2002


I don't think I would find my life pleasant or satisfying without a bit of sadness in it. I'm not advocating for clinical depression, nor am I saying that things that cause unhappiness shouldn't be changed, but... I don't know... melancholy is nice sometimes.

Physical pain and emotional pain both can feel like very much a natural part of a complete and happy life. Happiness is not a neurochemical state, and spending all your time in one particular neurochemical state will not make you happy.
posted by moss at 10:36 PM on August 16, 2002


HTuttle, nature's laws don't get broken. As for whether we have the right to alter our environment, well that was decided over a hundred thousand years ago, for better or for worse.

Why must there be suffering to make life worthwhile? There was a thread a while back about how people suffering from depression come to like it, or at least think it;s a worthy feeling, and that it is very difficult for them to break that and get better. How are statements like "melancholy is nice sometimes" (which I tend to agree with) any different? I am open to the idea that pain and suffering are important, but I'm not convinced these kinds of sentiments are anything more than a justification for the the suffering we have already done.
posted by Nothing at 10:43 PM on August 16, 2002


An attempt at justification, that should have been.
posted by Nothing at 10:44 PM on August 16, 2002


Here it is. And a relevent comment from the thread, posted by tittergrrl:

"My therapist has sent/showed me numerous articles which go into this hypothesis: that depressed people/low-esteem people nurture their sadness and it becomes part of their lives, and anything that might break that up is seen as undesirable."

So what is the difference between what she describes and the comments defending pain and sadness seen in this thread so far?
posted by Nothing at 10:49 PM on August 16, 2002


I like my pain, I need my pain. My pain is what makes me human, it is what makes me complete.
posted by insomnyuk at 11:34 PM on August 16, 2002




This sort of reminds me of the humans in Iain M. Banks' Culture novels. They no longer feel pain, as such, but instead have engineered it out of their conciousness and replaced it with a subconcious awareness of wellbeing, which is just as sensitive, but conciderably less debilitating (which is handy if you have a portable life support/repair machine in your bathroom).

They also take lots of drugs (in fact, they have a gland that can produce a hit of pretty much anything), and have probably been engineered to remove, or at least reduce mental disorders such as depression.

I'm pretty sure I'd like this to be the sort of future we have for ourselves. Physical pain isn't very useful for an intelligent mind when you can replace it with a simple awareness that "Oh, I've sprained my ankle, I better try to avoid putting too much weight on it", or "Erk, I just broke a bone, better get it repaired.. Isn't it handy I'm not just falling over in agony?".

Likewise, severe depression can be just as debilitating as extreme pain (in both duration and intensity, although not necessarily both at the same time). I don't see why we wouldn't want to remove our mind's annoying tendancy to become extremely sad and apathetic to the point at which you can no longer think properly or function in the world like you would normally, and to do so for weeks/months/years at a time for no particular reason.

That's not to say we want to engineer out sadness and despair, but you can be sure that when it comes to wanting to kill myself, I sure as hell want to be fully aware of all the facts at the time, and not just be the victim of screwed up neurochemistry that's helpfully stopping half my brain from talking to the other half properly.

Did I mention the Culture's "glands" let you decide to kill yourself just by willing it? I wonder how long they'd last if they had such unstable brain chemistry as us ;)
posted by Freaky at 3:16 AM on August 17, 2002


HTuttle, nature's laws don't get broken. --nothing

First, Htuttle didn't say this, I did. Secondly, could you explain this statement? You seem very sure of yourself and I'd love to know your reasoning.
posted by ashbury at 6:02 AM on August 17, 2002


As others have aptly pointed out, pain has a purpose. Physical pain saves your life to let you know something needs to be taken care of. Without physical pain, you might never notice the knife in your back (except when you go to take off your shirt at night, if you made it to night).

Emotional pain, as debilitating as it can be, is also needed. It builds us into beings which much better understand ourselves and our limitations. It's not purely biological as pharmcos would have you believe. There's a lot more to the equation.

I wouldn't wish either on anyone, but at the same time, recognize their importance to most people's life. Imagine a life where you felt nothing at the loss of a loved one, tragic death or not. No thanks.
posted by yarf at 7:09 AM on August 17, 2002


The question of whether we have the "right" to change our environment or not strikes me as odd. Where would such a right, or lack of one, come from? If you are religious, you could say it either was or was not given to us by a creator; if you are not, how can the question even exist? What "rights" does ANY organism have in nature? Answer: None. I bet the wildebeest I saw getting pulled down by lions on the Discovery channel the other day would have liked to have had the right not to be lunch - but it didn't. Nature doesn't confer rights.

Humans and our progenitors have been altering their environment since before even reaching the level of homo sapiens. That is what we are - we have evolved as tool users with large brains - and our using these naturally evolved skills to better our lives is every bit as natural as those lions using their teeth and claws and raw power to apprehend their lunch.

We can do tremendous damage to ourselves and to the environment when we do not use these skills wisely, but to question whether we have the "right" to do so just doesn't apply.
posted by John Smallberries at 8:49 AM on August 17, 2002


John Smallberries, I agree with you about how we change our environment, and have for many thousands of years. I am not talking about the use of tools to better our living arrangements. For the most part those changes haven't affected our environment in any long lasting way--as a matter of fact, human impact was negligible, if at all. Up until recently, the question of having any right to do anything didn't apply, because the effects of our actions did very little harm--we were living in accordance with the rules of Nature. Now that our technology has advanced to the point that we can destroy our world in many different fashions and many times over, I believe that we have to look at our world as an entity that has equal rights to those of humanity. Though many of us take the attitude that we are keepers of the world, we don't know enough about our world to make informed decisions. For that matter, we don't often care about what impact our decisions have on our environment, therefore we have ozone holes, acid rain, global warming, flooding, drought, famine and disease. If we chose to look at the rights of our world, perhaps we wouldn't have as many problems with our environment that we do today. We are not very good caretakers.

To bring this back into context with bioengineering ourselves into happiness, I don't think we know what sort of irreparable harm we could be doing to ourselves. We think that we have enough answers to make informed decisions about which direction we should go in regarding happiness, but ultimately it's about wish-fulfillment, not need. We don't need to engineer our brains to make us happy, we want to. There's a big difference.

In the context of making sick people better, however, you can find a good argument towards bioengineering, and this I'm not against.
posted by ashbury at 9:54 AM on August 17, 2002


yarf: the foundation of this proposal is the idea that we can get the same information in a less crippling fashion. I don't think anyone is proposing that humans should be engineered to feel nothing when they are injured. Rather, the idea is that we would notice the injury as a simple piece of information, and thus retain the ability to deal with it reasonably. Pain demands an immediate response, and it's not hard to do something that makes the situation worse in the long term.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:55 AM on August 17, 2002


When contemplating something like this, it seems to me the question is not about the value of suffering, but rather about the value of challenges, and the willingness to undertake them.

Challenges are distinct from suffering, thankfully.

Also relevant, The Gift of Fear.
posted by NortonDC at 11:44 AM on August 17, 2002


I'm sorry for the mistake, Ashbury, I must have been reading too quickly.

I am sure of my position that nature's laws don't get broken, but we may have different ideas of what "nature's laws" are. When I say nature's laws I am referring to a set of principles much like (and including) the laws of physics. I don't mean rules in the schoolyard sense, but rather those principles by which nature organizes itself. As such, they can only be broken insofar as our understanding of them is limited. (Example: that nothing goes faster than the speed of light is a well-known law of physics. If someday we go faster, that does not mean we have broken that law, but rather that we have to revise our understanding of it) Laws are human ideas, not natural ones.

Which is not to say that testing nature's laws cannot have consequences. If I step off a building, I will fall and be hurt. I did not break any law, but I put myself in a position to be negatively affected by one: gravity, namely.
posted by Nothing at 4:43 PM on August 17, 2002


You're correct, we haven't broken any laws of physics. You are also correct in that we are talking about two different definitions of Natural laws. Let me give a semi-fictional example:

A thousand years ago there was a great drought in North America. Many plants and animals died. Many humans died. Humans, flora and fauna died because the land couldn't sustain them. First the plants died, then the animals that ate the plants, then the animals that ate the plant eaters, then humans. What humans did in situations like this is, they moved themselves to a place that didn't have any drought. Hopefully there wasn't anybody inhabiting the land they moved to, but if there was, you'd hope they shared their resources. Most of the time they didn't and there would be a war. This is a Natural law: if the land can't sustain life, then life dies or moves away.

Flash to the present. Somewhere in Africa there is a horrible drought that has been ongoing for years. Same story as above, except that there's nowhere to go. The difference is that we have the technology to help those people by bringing in food and medicine and shelter. Unfortunately, we aren't really helping them because the root problem still remains--the drought. Because these people are getting helped, they do what comes naturally, they procreate, thus giving life to more people that need help and use up whatever few resources are available. It's a vicious circle that could be prevented by doing the unthinkable--allowing Nature to take its course, which would have a couple of consequences-- a)the people have to relocate to somewhere else, if possible, or b)they die. In either case, the land will most likely get back to its former glory and become habitable again.

I misspoke; we have not broken the laws of Nature, we are operating outside of Nature. And when we do that, the consequences are far-reaching and unknown until too late.

Anyway, if anybody is still reading this, I apologize for the sidetracking.
posted by ashbury at 6:33 PM on August 17, 2002


Society would pretty much collapse if everyone was sitting in their bean bag chairs staring at the ceiling.

Without physical pain, you might never notice the knife in your back.

melancholy is nice sometimes

I like my pain, I need my pain. My pain is what makes me human, it is what makes me complete.

It's the disgruntled human being who invents something that advances knowledge, not the blissfully happy everything's-wonderful stoner.

O brave new world.


David Pearce has compiled a large list of these sorts of objections, and his answers to them, should you dein to read it.
posted by Flimsy_Parkins at 9:17 PM on August 17, 2002


The biopsychiatry.com page is kind of a corollary to the main exposition of the guy's argument, which wasn't linked to. Effective responses to most or all of the objections given here are presented in the objections section.

Kind of a summary of some of the responses:

Feeling pleasure is not dependent on feeling pain and noticing the difference because a conscious experience is complete in and of itself. e.g., if you were locked in a room your entire life that only had the color blue, you would know what blue looked like even though you had never seen red. Same thing for emotional states. Some people are very happy or very depressed almost all of their lives; they still know how they feel even though they haven't felt a strong contrast.

Being in extremely positive emotional states most of the time doesn't mean there has to be no gradation between emotional states. In other words, instead of having a loved one die move you from "pretty much OK, getting by" into "extreme, debilitating grief for several months," it could be something like "extreme bliss" to "slightly less than extreme bliss." It's the contrast that's important, not necessarily which part of the absolute emotional spectrum you're on.

Even now, happy people are more productive, creative, and likely to try new things than mildly or severely depressed people. Yes, many famous artists and thinkers went through depressions, but they usually didn't produce much during them. They may have used their experience of depression in their art, but that doesn't imply that art produced without feeling depression can't be just as good. Maybe depression/melancholy/etc. is just an artifact of a certain historical period. Imagine arguing, "lots of great art is based on people's experience in war, therefore it is a bad idea for us to try to achieve peace, because we would lose that."

You could imagine a caveman saying, "When someone breaks their leg, they suffer severe physical pain for a long period of time, they can't keep up with the tribe, and they likely die. That is how we learn that you shouldn't do things that may make you break your leg." Of course now we've eliminated most of that pain using medical technology, but we still know not to break our legs. Similarly, that a certain situation is bad could be learned by feeling a tiny emotional "twinge" instead of long-term, devastating pain.

As regards "unnaturalness": aren't human beings part of nature? How can something they do, then, be unnatural? Is what's "natural" only that which is done by beings below a certain level of intelligence or technological development? There seems to be this idea that we could stop technological development, which is "destroying the environment," etc., and just stay forever in some pre-technological utopia. There are two problems with this: (1) the past was almost certainly _more_ painful for most beings than the present; and (2) it's impossible to stay stuck in the past anyway. The nature of Darwinian evolution requires that any life form will eventually become more and more complex, develop increasingly advanced technology, wind up at a place kind of like where we are now, and either transform itself into some superintelligent/(relatively) non-suffering form, or destroy itself.

My opinion is this: there are a lot of people suffering horribly in the world, and it is our ethical duty to investigate any possible means of eliminating that suffering, "natural" or not. That doesn't mean we should do things recklessly, but it does mean that we can't go backward, keeping things the way they were, or are now, forever.

I think a non-pain-feeling, super-intelligent "posthuman" would still have a spiritual/existential problem to solve-- i.e., what's the point in existing anyway? But it's better to wipe out whatever suffering we can before trying to figure that out. When you see someone lying bleeding in the street, you don't try to figure out the philosophical meaning of the situation, you do what you can to alleviate his pain and save his life.

It's true that we humans may not be smart enough to handle this, but Moore's law makes the development of superintelligent machines within a few decades pretty much inevitable (barring some hugely negative event).

It really looks like we're living on the verge of a huge turning point in the history of the human race. The next 50 years should be pretty interesting.

(Sorry, very long post, I know.)
posted by mcguirk at 9:26 PM on August 17, 2002


Happiness is a signal that things are going well, that we're on the right track. It's intertwined with thought.

If you tamper with that signal too much, you could contort your viewpoint to accept everything as begetting happiness, even destruction.

It's a crucial component to a feedback system. Tamper with it at your peril. If you are smart enough to engineer it and wield it with discipline and mercy, it can be a great thing.

This thread is thought-provoking.

Metafilter philosophy club, anyone?
posted by beth at 9:34 PM on August 17, 2002


That may be so, but we are smarter than the neurochemistry that makes happiness. We can think about mood and (usually) second-guess it. Besides, we've been tinkering with the system for millenia. Humans throughout all history have consumed psychoactive substances in order to make themselves feel better. Why not apply current scientific knowledge to the problem and come up with a more precise solution?
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:20 PM on August 17, 2002


The wonderful thing about human beings is that we will always try to better ourselves, no matter the cost. I just have a hard time believing that this is possible without losing much of what makes us human. I get this picture of millions of people aimlessly walking around with a bland smile on their faces, saying to each other "all is good, friend, all is good."

If there's a way to make us truly happy thru bioengineering; without taking away our ambition, wants, desires; our passion for honesty, morality and the need to do right; our need to create; our empathy; then I'm all for it.

It just sounds too much like a magic bullet that will make everything we dislike about ourselves disappear. What do they say? It's not the destination that's so important, but the journey?
posted by ashbury at 6:00 AM on August 18, 2002


we are smarter than the neurochemistry that makes happiness

Are we, though? What things that we have created to limit or eradicate misery have avoided being misused? Or at least being taken for granted?

(Not to mention being kept from the lower class, of course. If the slaves are too happy, they won't work so hard, right?)
posted by beth at 3:17 PM on August 19, 2002


Yes, those hedonistic crazies are all a bunch of drug-addled fools, bent on slavery and world domination! Beware their misguided and nefarious agenda!

No good will come of this I tell you! Doom, DOOM!
posted by Flimsy_Parkins at 2:10 PM on August 21, 2002


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