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In future, safer and more sophisticated analogs of wireheading may conceivably be on offer as an individual lifestyle choice. Implausibly, for sure, the freedom to wirehead might one day count as a basic human right. After all, an inalienable right to the "pursuit of happiness" was recognised by the Founding Fathers and enshrined in the American constitution. Yet the pursuit of wireheading or its analogs is not an evolutionarily stable strategy - whether for rodents, monkeys, or a future (post-)human civilization. In the era of mature genomic medicine, when the corrupt legacy code of our ancestors has been rewritten, our descendants may be animated by gradients of lifelong happiness far richer, multi-dimensional, and more profound than anything physiologically accessible at present. Globally, however, it's hard to envisage how individual well-being could be purely orgasmic, undirected at intentional objects. ["Intentionality" is the philosophers' term of art for the "object-directedness" or "aboutness" of thought.] Selection pressure doesn't favour higher vertebrates who neglect their pups.
Over millions of years, natural selection has favoured the "encephalisation of emotion". We've become brainier and (comparatively) more emotionally sophisticated. Raw feeling and emotion typically infuse neocortical representations of ourselves and our environment in ways tending to maximise the inclusive fitness of self-replicating DNA. Most recently, the rich generative syntax of human language enables us to be (un)happy "about" innumerably more notions than our hominid ancestors. Admittedly, the discontinuity represented by the imminent revolution in reproductive medicine - a major evolutionary transition in the development of life on earth - could in principle reverse this long-term trend to complexification. In the post-Darwinian era of "unnatural" selection based on premeditated design, we could, in theory, choose genes that make our children blissed out rather than blissful. But it's more likely our descendants will opt instead to enjoy a well-being for their children (and themselves) that is far more encephalised than our own. Posterity will be smarter. They may even be nicer. The tendency to encephalise feeling may accelerate, even as those feelings tend to become deeper, more intense and more beautiful. Our emotional palette may be expanded far beyond today's primitive Darwinian appetites and their crude sublimations. Thus our enriched well-being may be predominantly empathetic, sensual, psychedelic, cerebral, aesthetic, introspective, maternal, or forms of consciousness unimaginable to twenty-first century emotional primitives.
Our post-human successors presumably won't undergo the agonies of our laboratory rodents in pursuit of such exhilarating lives. In the new reproductive era, emotional well-being and prodigious will-power alike can potentially be genetically hardwired as a precondition of mental health. "Authentic happiness" doesn't need to be strived for. Like a sense of meaning and purpose, it can be innate.
Today, meanwhile, many people find it hard to get out of bed in the morning. Given the prevalence of chronic dysthymia, anhedonia and low-grade depression in even the "well" population at large, such inertia is scarcely surprising. Why bother to exert oneself if the payoff is so meagre? Depressive and unmotivated people are likely to find life "meaningless", "absurd", "futile". Nihilistic thoughts and angst-ridden mindsets are common. Feelings of inadequacy and failure can haunt the ostensibly successful. And the world is full of walking wounded whose spirit has been crushed.
Conversely (and for evolutionary reasons, less commonly), hyperthymic or euphorically hypomanic people tend to find life intensely meaningful. A heightened sense of significance is part of the texture of their lives. If our happiness is taken care of - whether genetically, pharmacologically, or electrosurgically - then the meaning of life seems to take care of itself.
Depressives, philosophers and hard-nosed scientists may respond that "the meaning of life" is cognitively meaningless, a verbal placebo empty of propositional content. Happy and hypermotivated people, on the other hand, find the meaning of life self-intimating, written into the texture of the(ir) world.
Chronic apathy, weak will-power, depressive disorders, and the nastier poisonous modes of Darwinian consciousness can in principle be remedied by 1] drugs, 2] genes or 3] electrodes. These choices are not mutually exclusive. The abolitionist project and any post-Darwinian civilisation based on paradise-engineering could in theory take advantage of all three. But each option is highly controversial.
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