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What I've been thinking about...

David Pearce
"Hedonic Set Point"
The Abolitionist Project

Another excerpt from David Pearce's talk on The Abolitionist Project.  See my overview here.  The Abolitionist Project is nothing short of ridding the world of human suffering.  How can that be bad, right?  Well, the gist of the project is that suffering coming from the external world can’t really be eradicated.  What we must do instead (says Pearce) is eradicate the feeling within ourselves.

The idea of self-tinkering to change my emotions leaves me feeling a little creeped out.  However, what Pearce has to say in this 1.5 minute clip is somewhat persuasive.  He talks of a hedonic set point - a level of happiness around which we vaccilate - and Pearce would like to elevate that point.

In my own life, I often find my happiness level rising and falling in ways that don’t seem to relate to the events.  I’ll simply feel “up” for no reason, or likewise “down” despite everything being fine.  Imagine reacting to some event in the two different moods.  Say you get into the car one morning, and it makes a terrible noise and won’t start.

  1. If I’m down, this could cause a near meltdown.  I’d stress over not showing up to work on time, the difficulty and expense (and feelings of helplessness) that come with auto repairs, etc.
  2. If I’m up, I might just mutter “damn”, make the necessary phone calls, and then whistle my way to the bus stop.

If we want to be charitable to Pearce’s view of self modification, I think we could say he’s just talking about modifying ourselves to be “up” in this sense more often, or even always.

  • Hyperthymia - The term “hyperthymia” implies an energetic, confident, active, sometimes irritable but essentially normal personality type who is successfully balancing a multitude of projects and relationships.

To argue the plausibility of genetically modifying for happiness, Pearce brings up Hyperthymia, a “disorder” usually considered to be in the bi-polar family, but with almost entirely positive effects.  There seems to be evidence that this positive disorder runs in families (along with it’s less positive cousins), suggesting that a person could be genetically modified to favour Hyperthymia.

The idea of modifying my own wants (or genetically modifying those of my successors) seems so complicated and dangerous to me that I can’t yet to commit to being for or against.  Still, Pearce makes the best argument for this that I could imagine.  He allows me to keep my current preference architecture intact, and just feel better all the time.  Hmmm…