Printed: 2020-07-15

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Timescales of the Hedonistic Imperative (6min 31sec)

September 24, 2014

IEET Contributor records IEET Fellow David Pearce talking about the future of the Hedonistic Imperative.

“The blueprint set out [in the Hedonistic Imperative] outlines only a cartoonish prototype of a mature post-Darwinian paradise. Its sketch of likely future neuro-scientific breakthroughs may well be wrong both in its few specifics and its projected time-scales. Experts in the relevant specialist fields will doubtless wince, at least in places. For The Hedonistic Imperative consists in a hand-waving, cross-disciplinary romp through dauntingly complex specialist topics. Inevitably, some of the pop neuroscience is simplistic to the point of parody. Eyebrows should be raised, too, at the dogmatic brevity with which various philosophical problems deserving book-length treatment are dispatched in a single sentence. The multitude of practical, medico-legal and socio-political problems which fulfilling our neurochemical Manifest Destiny will entail are largely passed over as well. These caveats are important. Yet leaving them aside, the biological program may be divided, somewhat arbitrarily, into three stages. They are here ranked in order of difficulty. Luckily, the stages happen to coincide in relative ethical importance, since crude harm-reduction, cruelty-prevention and pain-abolition are easier to accomplish than refining the architectural subtleties of paradise. Less happily, any biochemical description of the mechanics of the sublime just travesties the nature of the experience itself. The sub-academese prose below unavoidably debases what it aims to evoke. This is because of the contaminated associations of any terms associated with drug-abuse, genetic engineering, eugenics, or even the emotionally frigid atmosphere of the laboratory. Our present perspective on utopian biopsychiatry is jaundiced. For our education system virtually ignores the neurobiological foundations of all emotional life. Happily, that system also provides the formal tools for us to describe and escape from our predicament.”

“Unfortunately, there’s no way to map out the extent of our cognitive closure from within. This is frustrating. If quantum cosmologists can theorise about the first 10-43 second after the Big Bang, thirteen billion and more years ago, and still, rightly, be counted as practising hard science, it’s a shame that conjectures we do make about the living world a few thousand or million years hence have to be treated, not even as soft science, but as science-fiction. There are too many unknown unknowns to predict with any rational confidence. Merely extrapolating present trends is bound to mislead. The projected time-scales of even relatively predictable biomedical triumphs, e.g. the elimination of the ageing process, are vague. HI may veer towards heady speculation; but by the end of third millennium, life and consciousness may be more foreign to the contemporary imagination than even the most extravagant prediction dreamed up here. On the other hand, for all we know, some variant of the pleasure-principle is a universal - and universally intelligible - signature of sentient life; and its apotheosis in some sort of sublime cosmic orgasm is the ultimate destiny of the Universe. [This may overtax one’s credulity; the Big Bang indeed!] We simply don’t have enough evidence. That said, we may still incautiously proceed. Once suffering has been abolished, the era of old-fashioned moral choices will come to an end. The physiological mechanisms underlying the mind-brain’s value-creation processes will be unravelled during the invention of a pain-free world; but the kind of naturalised, mind-dependent value created by paradise-engineers after the phenomenology of nastiness has disappeared won’t embrace ethical categories in a sense we presently understand. The heroic moral urgency will have gone; indeed there is a risk that truly hedonistic themes as discussed in these sections of HI will divert attention away from the utter moral seriousness of the whole post-Darwinian project as conceived today. ” - Pearce



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