chris kirkland wrote:
Because undifferentiated pleasure destroys purposeful activity, as
Stathis notes, presumably there is strong selection pressure against it.
If we were naturally uniformly happy, then who would be motivated to
What's less clear is whether we'll need to retain "ordinary
unhappiness" - or ultimately any kind of unhappiness at all.
Why can't we engineer a motivational system based on heritable
_gradients_ of immense well-being? Retain the functional analogues of
(some of) our nastier states, but do away with their unpleasant "raw
feels". If gradients are conserved, then potentially so too is critical
discernment, "appropriate" behavioral responses to different stimuli,
and "informational sensitivity" to a changing environment. On this
scenario, rather than dismantling the hedonic treadmill (cf. heroin
addicts, wireheading, or Huxley's soma), we could genetically
recalibrate the pleasure-pain axis. Hedonic tone could be enriched so
that we all enjoy a higher average hedonic "set point" across the lifespan.
One can see pitfalls here. Genetically enriching the mesolimbic
dopaminergic system, for instance, might indeed make many people happier
and more motivated. But if done ineptly, the "enhancement" might cause
mania or even psychosis. Also, depression/subordinate behavior seems to
have evolved as an adaptation to group-living in social mammals. The
ramifications for human society of abolishing low mood altogether would
be profound and unpredictable. But in principle, a re-designed
motivational system based entirely on (adaptive) gradients of well-being
could make everyone hugely better off.
Idle utopian dreaming? Well, yes, possibly. But I think in the
near-future there will be selection pressure for heritably enriched
hedonic tone. Within the next few decades, we are likely to witness a
revolution of "designer babies" - and perhaps universal pre-implantation
diagnosis. Prospective parents are going to choose the kind of children
they want to raise. Most prospective parents will presumably choose
(genotypes predisposing to) happy children - since most parents want
their kids to be happy. When human evolution is no longer "blind" and
"random", there will be strong selection pressure against the
genes/allelic combinations that predispose, not just to clinical
depression etc, but to "ordinary unhappiness" as we understand it today.
Since ordinary unhappiness can still be pretty ghastly, I think this is
a good thing.
Note that we have already bred dogs to be (or at least appear) happier, less
aggressive, more playful, and more social, than the wolves they descended from.
So by conventional selective breeding it can already be done -- which suggests
that it has already been done. I wonder if there has been enough time for
cultural selective breeding to have caused human beings to have cultural
differences in emotional disposition?
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