The Hedonistic Imperative
November 8, 2004 11:09 AM   Subscribe

Am I reading this wrong, or does this involve some kind of plan to genetically engineer human brains so that they are constantly experiencing the same kind of serotonin flood that is set off by Ecstacy?
posted by jokeefe at 11:58 AM on November 8, 2004

*grinds teeth, rubs jokeefe's shoulders*
posted by homunculus at 12:02 PM on November 8, 2004

Heh. *waves glowstick*

The article about the history of resistance to anasthesia is fascinating, actually. But I can't help thinking of this:

Why are we weigh’d upon with heaviness,
And utterly consumed with sharp distress,
While all things else have rest from weariness?
All things have rest: why should we toil alone,
We only toil, who are the first of things,
And make perpetual moan,
Still from one sorrow to another thrown:
Nor ever fold our wings,
And cease from wanderings,
Nor steep our brows in slumber’s holy balm;
Nor harken what the inner spirit sings,
‘There is no joy but calm!’
Why should we only toil, the roof and crown of things?

posted by jokeefe at 12:16 PM on November 8, 2004 [1 favorite]

Why do people even think of things like this?

It reminds me of an acquaintance -- a mercruially brilliant rototicist -- who once suggested to me that we should fill up the "junk" space in our DNA with useful information, like disease immunities and other things TBD. It didn't seem to have occurred to him that the "junk" DNA might actually not be junk.

In that same encounter, he also suggested that we should eradicate all insect life from the earth. He insisted it was possible, and was taken aback when I pointed out that they out-mass mammals and have absolutely pivotal roles in the ecosystems.
posted by lodurr at 4:44 PM on November 8, 2004

er, "roboticist"
posted by lodurr at 4:44 PM on November 8, 2004

"All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves." (>>)
posted by aaronshaf at 4:46 PM on November 8, 2004

posted by y2karl at 10:27 PM on November 8, 2004

Constant/permanent bliss - the very concept seems absurd. Either it's impossible -or- once attained, it will be taken for granted like nutrition is for the middle-class/rich -> it won't be appreciated. But generally, I find this fundamentally impossible.
posted by Gyan at 11:40 PM on November 8, 2004

Well, to what I take aaronshaf's point to be -- why?!

The only motive I can really think of is a desire to bring about the end of humankind. Why should we bother to actually do anything, if all we get is a little more joy? With no fear of pain -- and especially at a biological level -- we become mere automata.

And don't get me started on his use of the term "sentient"...
posted by lodurr at 5:16 AM on November 9, 2004

Too much good might make me miss bad, and seek it.
posted by phylum sinter at 6:25 AM on November 9, 2004

This would be the end of what it means to be human: we should be clear about that.

Not that us stock models have been doing a particularly good job of things. But still.

The hubris of Extropians and similar technology-worshippers is actually one of the few things I fear as much as fundamentalism. Those two forces are the Scylla and Charybdis we must now pass between.
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:40 AM on November 9, 2004

I used The Hedonistic Imperative for a philosophy project I had to compose during my freshman year of college in 1996. I'm amazed this is still around... in it's original design, too.
posted by Hankins at 8:42 AM on November 9, 2004

It's one thing to find places where people really have no reason to be suffering, and yet suffer, and try to help them biologically or chemically. But most mental or emotional suffering in the modern world is actually pretty much reasonable considering the state of affairs we face. So it would seem more sensible to try working from the causes rather than the effects. I mean, we wouldn't want people not get scared or feel worried if we discovered an asteroid heading to earth, right? Or should we just learn to accept annihilation if it's what happens... Likewise, perhaps our feelings of pain and sadness are not just punishments of the universe but reasonable responses to unfortunate events.

This reminds me of that "email by thought" post a while back. We are going to be faced with this choice over the next few generations - how much "reality" matters, and how much we can alter it at the most fundamental levels without giving up our "humanity" - or maybe by moving on into a "post-human" world. But that would have to happen piece by piece, which means the poor of the world would be pretty fucked over, I'd think.
posted by mdn at 11:03 AM on November 9, 2004

... how much reality matters ...

This is at the core of my feelings about extropianism, transhumanism, and posthumanism -- really, generically, about Cory Doctorow-style techno-optimism: It loses sight of what it's choosing to throw away. I seriously don't think they understand what they'd be getting rid of.

This is one of those things that's hard to have a rational discussion about, though, not least because the nature of humanity is something that's not readily exposed by reasoned words. It comes out well through stories, though, and one of my favorite stories to get me thinking about this is Catherine Moore's old short story, "No Woman Born". Losing touch with our human limitations, we lose touch with humanity. And we court a degree of arrogance that can only grow more dangerous as our power grows.
posted by lodurr at 12:47 PM on November 9, 2004

Beautifully put, lodurr.

(See also, with apologies for repeating myself.)
posted by adamgreenfield at 1:35 PM on November 9, 2004

Nicely put, both of you. I'm sympathetic to transhumanists to a point, but ultimately they just make me nervous. They do make for fascinating reading, though.
posted by homunculus at 2:44 PM on November 9, 2004

lodurr: Why should we bother to actually do anything, if all we get is a little more joy? With no fear of pain -- and especially at a biological level -- we become mere automata.

This 'project' doesn't (and can't) override nature, it just manipulates it. Either we are already automata or we aren't and this endeavour, if successful, can't change that.

adamgreenfield: This would be the end of what it means to be human: we should be clear about that.

No, it just would change what it means to be human. I doubt our human ancestors 60,000 years ago, had the same conception of what it "means" to be human as we do.

I've fundamental doubts about the possibility of this project, but don't see anything foreboding about it.
posted by Gyan at 12:36 PM on November 10, 2004

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