Truth isn’t Stranger than Fiction: Paradise Engineering.
Perpetual happiness is something to strive for, they say. As in it possibly exist.
I’ve seen some utopian/dystopian stories that focus on this topic (and mostly show why it won’t work). There have been many examples of fiction with the premise that humans in the future life with eternal happiness, but somehow something is missing from their lives. Some examples are Brave New World, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, and recent favourites: VASE, a short story from Exurb1a.
The plot is quite following the same pattern: people, whether it’s the whole population, or some individuals, have found a way to be live and having constant bliss, and there’s something wrong, somehow. Morally, ethically.
Fiction, somehow almost always emphasize the prudent side of technology. Other than suffering, I believe that the common theme for science fiction is how science goes wrong, at least from some books or movies that I consume. Jurrasic Park and other Chrichton’s works. Terminator, Transcendence, and even the new genre of not-so-distant-future like Black Mirror, as well as some of Phillip K. Dick’s books. It causes catastrophes, and it is too powerful for us, and we are so absorbed with self-entitlement as the smartest species, it might be bad, for our own good.
Suffering has existed ever since people become conscious. We are aware, of being despite having the best safety net compared to other animals. It’s been a major subject of religion, let’s say Buddhism and philosophy, let’s say Nietzche. Suffering is so tied with human, and I realized I started to wonder when I was a child when I see the law of jungle in documentaries. Is the mom of the zebra sad if her kid was eaten by lions like that? Why some animals left sick member of a group? Why not feed them collectively? Not until I am old enough to understand, they simply maximize the potential of survival. On the other hand, our means of survival, most of us at least, is no longer access to food, or shelter. It’s labour exploitation, systematic injustice, and of course, the inevitable on planet destruction. We are aware of these, we empath, we feel powerful yet so helpless. Welcome to the life of homo sapien, or is it evolving to homo sentient?
For coping with that, we tried many ways, binge-watching, binge eating, reading self-help, watching ted-talk, visit a psychiatrist, experimenting with drugs, travel, practising mindfulness, buy beauty products, listen to music, had plenty of sex, become avid user of social media, write on medium, and many other things. They all give some sense of satisfaction, for some time. But again, it’s fleeting. No matter what method we try, it wears off. It’s called the Hedonic Treadmill. We want the sense of fulfilment so bad, we always try to cope with the pain that we feel. Not always major pain of course, but even boredom is identified as pain. Until we realize, that pain — just like any other bodily sensations — come and go and it’s part of our lives. Perpetual happiness like what heaven offered, is simply not possible.
But then, introducing David Pierce. He said it’s possible, and he is actively trying to make it come true. I think there are not many people who take him seriously. The project is not well-known, and even he said it’s implausible, yet he also stated that it’s feasible. He argues that technology can replace suffering with bliss. There are three ways of achieving this (and he stated the pitfall as well) based on his manifesto:
- Wireheading or manipulate existing brain oh how to connect more neurological parts and stimulate the pleasure region by electrodes. In my imagination, you are required to wear something on your head that contains or attach the electrodes, probably like a hat, or helmet, or implant, that will get access to stimulate that region. Yet, this might inactivate the other sensations as well, might be dangerous if we lost sense of hunger, even thirst, and it is *possible* to simply turn us into an organic supercomputer with no feeling left.
- Designer Drugs or as we read on Brave New World, the happy pills. We have some substances that the users describe as giving you happiness. Instead of pleasure (which normally delivered by dopamine, usually found in recreational drug and alcohol), it wants to enhance happiness and sense of well being (like in SSRI antidepressants which normally used to treat depression) Most drugs that cause addiction are illegal, and some antidepressants still cause other effects and have various results. Pearce argues we are able to design drugs that lasts longer than the drugs that most people consume these days. It normally causes might lower awareness of surrounding and won’t be achieved without well-equipped safety by surrounding.
- Genetic Engineering or CRISPR baby, in a nutshell. I think this is what he emphasizes the most, about predisposing happiness traits in babies. He called it Genetic Recalibration. Some mental illnesses are caused biologically, some people have more tendency to have it if it’s written on their gene. Species change over time due to two main factors: selection and mutation. Normally nature tends to make us procreate with someone with more survival advantage: it makes us reproduce organisms better suited to their environment have more chance of surviving. With CRISPR, it is somehow possible to *edit* the genetic predisposition that normally takes a long time for species to achieve. It is something as a very hot topic for scientist and we will see a long way, on how it is developed.
I would like to believe — and I hope you would too — that one day we will work out how to encourage longer-lasting contentment in the brain. We’re still slaves to our evolutionary roots, unfortunately. And evolution didn’t have much interest in making us happy creatures. Perhaps with the right alterations, the right lifestyle, the right chemicals and cardio and nutrition, we’ll kill whatever it is that keeps us perpetually racing after happiness, and actually make it a lasting contentment condition. What we know now is, we exist, with enormous, self-aware brains.
We might not get to experience to feel the eternal bliss, although it might happen for humans’ descendants in the future. We cannot expect the scientist to speed up making things better, they are trying, they are manifesting. For now let’s explore this world with curiosity, wonder, and kindness.