In this post I talk a good amount about the future of happiness, but I want to expand further on what this might look like once we become digital lifeforms.
Here’s some background from the future.
Humans have been seeking immortality for thousands of years. Ever since we’ve been afraid of death, really. Which is since we’ve been alive.
There are a few ways to achieve immortality. Some people think you can through religion. But most don’t really believe that. If they did they wouldn’t wear seatbelts or be so afraid of death.
Others know that if they die they’re really dead. So they try not to die. They’re hoping for advances in science that can keep their bodies alive forever. We’re a long ways from that.
The best chance we really have is in moving our minds (our souls, really) to digital form. This is hard right now because we don’t really understand the brain. And the amount of information in it is massive compared to the computer resources we have command of.
That’s the part that’s going to change the fastest.
The combination of us understanding the brain better and us being able to store unbelievable amounts of data will lead to us being able to transfer our minds to computers.
This will be further accelerated by artificial intelligence. When that happens it’ll be able to design better ways of storing us digitally. Assuming they play nice.
The point of all this is that humans moving to digital form is an inevitability assuming only that we don’t destroy ourselves.
The digital happiness problem
So that’s where we start this journey. I see a fundamental problem with our ability to achieve happiness in digital form, and I see this being a function of the following conflict:
- Much of happiness is based on overcoming struggle. Violence. Hunger. The drive to procreate. Etc.
- The human tendency seems to be to eliminate struggle and flaws as a way to achieve happiness.
These two things are in opposition to each other.
We are evolution’s sock puppet
There is a critical piece of knowledge we must understand if we are to pursue happiness in a world where we have the ability to craft our own nature. And that is the fact that it is evolution that has goals, not us. We have simply been hardcoded to pursue evolution’s goals and then receive pleasure from achieving them.
We’re evolution’s sock puppets. We’re the sock, and evolution is the hand.
Think about what makes people happy.
- Being tall
- Having healthy kids
- Being published
- Having nice cars
- Having attractive and/or successful mates
- Having our kids have all these things
Take a step back and ask yourself if those are your goals, or evolution’s goals.
Of course they’re both. But they’re yours only because they are evolution’s first. Evolution programmed us to want what we want. And that programming is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to change.
Why evolution’s illusion matters
So why does it matter if we have evolution’s goals? It matters because it gives a clue into how happiness is generated in humans.
In short, it’s generated by achieving the goals that evolution has for us. Survive. Procreate. Be popular. Be famous. Be stronger. Be prettier. Win.
Evolution wants us to win. And when we win we are injected with pleasure.
If we survive the winter in a log cabin in the 1700’s, we win. If we have a health family, we win. If we have smart kids who do impressive things, we win.
It’s about competition. It’s about struggle. It’s about overcoming against the environment and against the other players.
Once we’re digital we can control the environment
The problem with happiness in the digital world is that we get to control the environment. We get to control ourselves. Maybe not at first. And it’ll be hard to do it completely.
But once we understand how the brain works, and where our various desires and fetishes and hangups live, we’ll likely set about the task of deadening them or removing them.
And that’s where the problems start.
Desires are the cause of public shootings. They’re the cause of domestic violence. Genocide. Murder. Income disparity. Poverty in a world of plenty. All these things are caused by powerful desires within the minds of humans.
They tell us to gather. Store. Collect. Hoard.
They tell us to win. And they compel us to do the best we can do do so. People who have more capability to, along with less restraint towards pushing down everyone else, will generally rise to the top. And those without the capability, or those who refuse (to whatever degree they can) to play the game, will sink to the bottom.
The problems come when the desires to be successful are strong, yet the ability to be so are not there. Or when there are constraints that otherwise prevent it.
Men want women. Men want fame. Glory. Respect. And when they can’t have these things there are strong reactions. Violence. Extreme introversion. Widthdrawl from society. Cynicism. Basically the maligning of the human spirit.
So it will be natural, once we are able to, to excise these harmful desires from people, the way we’d try to do the same with a homicidal tendency or other mental defect. We’ll remove these desires as defects, in other words, because they so often lead directly to pain and suffering.
And that will be where the mistake will be made.
The link between overcoming struggle and happiness
We’ve all heard that you can’t have good without evil, and I generally take that as a moral lesson fit for third-graders. But I do think it’s true that you cannot (generally) have happiness without struggle. I think for most people happiness is defined as overcoming struggle. 1
So if we start removing our so-called “vices” in the name of achieving harmony and reducing strife, we’re quite likely to fix ourselves out of a soul. We can lose the very things that make it interesting to live.
I’m can’t say this with any authority, but but sadness might be better than feeling nothing. At least you’re feeling something, and at least there’s something pulling you forward and a chance to make things better.
If we remove our drives to achieve it will fix the problem of people not achieving what they wished they did, but it will likely create a much worse problem.
Many people will simply turn themselves off once they are properly educated with both liberal ideals and a deep understanding of the laws of thermodynamics.
They will come to understand a few key things:
- Their desires have been removed because they cause harm. The downside is that they don’t really care about much anymore, but that’s ok.
- They use energy by being alive. It costs storage and processing for them to run around thinking and being alive.
- It’s selfish to consume energy that could be used for other things, especially when you don’t really care about much anyway.
So many digital humans will simply submit the request to be deleted. Out of social responsibility. Out of altruism. Out of boredom.
Tailored drive insertion to the rescue
So here’s where it gets fun.
These things are like rubber bands. Stretching out, pulling back in, stretching again. We’ll have trends where everyone pushes to have fewer “lower” instincts, because they caused tragedy X, and crisis Y.
And that will happen on a mass scale.
Then there will be billions who say, “Enough with this. I’m tired of being bored. Our desires are our soul. Reinject me with the base human desires that you extracted from us when you “improved” us. We demand it.
So there will be entire “retro” communities where they’re embroiled in struggle. Fighting for food, for mates, to survive the winter.
There will be many tears. And many deaths. But also many victory shouts, and orgasms, and fist pumping.
What to do?
The admins of the world (partially organic and native, and largely digital) will have serious conflicts in their deliberations. Do you let people become primitive because it makes them feel more alive? Or do you strip them of their primal urges so that people can get along with each other?
The admins are like the government, by the way. Except for, more represented by the people. And they’re drafted more than anything. It’s a hard job to be without lower desires and just look after other people. Like parenting.
Injecting custom desires
I think the conclusion we/they will arrive at is the fact that we need desire for happiness. Plus we need to accomplish goals as a species. So we need drives. We need goals. And we need incentivization for the right types of action.
So I think we will inject desires into people. Desires that produce meaning and happiness when fulfilled. But that, when they are achieved, the outcomes are good not just for the individual but also for the whole. Desires to help others, for example. Or to save people. Or to be a good cop. Or to rescue animals.
The issue with this is that if you’re injecting a desire in someone to be good, and giving them the tools to do so, do you still praise them when they do good? Of course you do. Why? Because that’s the outcome you want. And you therefore reward it.
I suppose the fact that people aren’t responsible for their actions will have long been obvious to the protectors/admins. They know it’s an illusion. The only question is what percentage of others know as well.
So much of humans’ ability to go on with their daily lives hinges on our ability to forget how meaningless and silly our lives are. And being able to forget our pain. To forget all the bad things that have happened. All the bad things that people have said about us. If we had perfect recall of things things we’d be debilitated.
Our human brains seem to obscure these types of things as a self-defense measure. And it’ll be interesting to see how the protectors manage this. They’ll need to do something similar, but it’ll be far more calculated, and therefore under a lot more scrutiny. And it’ll feel a lot more creepy.
But again. I see few alternatives.
The point is that once we have full transparent control of what the stimuli are to people’s brains, and we can also control the machinery that processes that input, we’re going to be basically controlling lab experiments. We can make people love being beaten, or killed. Or anything. And we can control whether those things happen.
At that point it just starts to become arbitrary.
The next generation of cultivating human happiness: Fantasy Injection
I think what will happen at some point is that people will come to the protectors and ask to be injected into fantasy worlds.
They’ll pick them. They’ll be crowdsourced for the best experience. People will work on tasks for half a year knowing they’re about to be injected into a perfect world.
Examples will include being Superman. Or the most beautiful princess in the world. Where all the princes come to fight for you. And you end up saving the world and being ravaged by your favorite prince. Or you’re the prince who does the ravishing.
Or you wake up as Superman the baby, inside the ship to Earth. You experience the difficulties and such, except there are many more girls, and money, and sports, and you just crush all of them. Then you become Superman, and you fight foes. And you win. And you get with more girls. And so on.
But you’re a provider in the real world. Your real body died 4,389 years ago. And now you, and most everyone else, live inside the Unity Machine. And the protectors make sure everything runs smoothly. Which largely means people aren’t filled with primitive desires to win at everything.
But now people are sad. Empty. They want to want. They desire to desire.
So the protectors start building environments where people can go and be what they want to be. But it’s not like a game where you go play for an hour and come back.
You go live that as a lifetime. So you’re a superhero that rules the galaxy in that world. And they make it for you 100%. Not really, though. You just won’t be able to tell the difference. Anywhere you fly at Warp 18 fills in instantly, the moment you go there. It’s real to you.
But in reality the engine is filling in reality as you look at it. Kind of like where quantum mechanics looks really weird when you observe it. Like we’re seeing the failings of the rendering engine. But I digress.
But you know this before you go in.
Your job before your vacation was related to everyone’s job–finding a way to avoid the Heat Death of the universe. That’s what individuals work on in our post-human world. We are all injected with a mental mutation that allows us to see and approach problems in a slightly different way, and we sit and crunch on how to wormhole out of our universe into one that either doesn’t have our Second Law Problem, or one that is farther back in the cycle.
That’s the day job.
But we do it imbued with a manufactured desire to help humanity, and all other species, survive the death of the universe. Many know it’s an imbued desire, but they voted for it because it’s a good idea, so it’s ok. Maybe they voted to have the knowledge of it being artificial removed as well.
Anyway, vacations are great. They’re real-life adventures on the grandest scale. With you as the star. And they go as long as you want them to. Controlled by the protectors and yourself outside of the adventure.
What if everyone just wants to live in those?
Another possibility is that the processing of each person might not be needed at some point. So maybe people just go from adventure to adventure, all within the artificial environments run by the protectors.
Maybe our world is one of those, created for Genghis Khan, and they just forgot to turn it off after he exited.
I think this will be a likely outcome of trillions of humanish, digital life forms living in a unified system. The merging of experiences will blur the lines between individuals. The removal of primal desires will deaden our senses of self.
And people will either ask to be deleted or to be injected into a false world with both desires and the ability to win. The protectors, who are really just a few of us on duty keeping the whole thing going, will indulge them because it’s a sad job to watch 58 trillion people mope around aimlessly all day. They’d rather see them happy chasing romance and defeating evil foes with swords and magic. Especially since it’s all just simulated.
That could very well be the future of human happiness.
- There are people who can be happy with very little. Just by harnessing the inner peace available to all of us. Monks, for example. And anyone who is really proficient at mediation. But that’s a hack, in my opinion. It’s no common and not part of this equation.
- Thanks to Kundi Xue for having this conversation with me again, and helping to solidify a number of these thoughts.
- Image from ubergizmo.com.