h+ Magazine

Fall 2009...

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62 Fall 2009 " ...dopaminergic and opioid enhancement can be pleasurable... amplifying mesolimbic dopamine function leads to increased exploratory behavior... gaining control of our own reward circuitry allows a choice... ResouRces The Hedonistic Imperative http://www.hedweb.com/ The Great Designer Baby Controversy of '09 http://www.hplusmagazine.com/articles/bio/great-designer-baby-controversy-'09 Olds and Milner "Wireheading" Study http://www.hackcanada.com/ice3/wetware/electrical_brain_stimulation.html New Harvest http://www.new-harvest.org/ trustworthy. Unfortunately, indiscriminate amplification of oxytocin function would only work if it were universal. Its use would make a powerful instrument of social control and an ideal tool for predators. Today, sadly, we often have good reason to be suspicious of governments and of each other. So yes, pro-social drugs and gene therapies have numerous pitfalls. But somehow we need to bootstrap our way into becoming civilized. h+: Pleasure pathways are primed by high risk/reward behaviors. As suffering decreases this risk/reward instinct becomes less of a motivator. This means humans will be progressively less likely to take big risks to reap greater rewards. Is this a positive shift in human behavior, and in this shift are we losing something uniquely adventurous and impulsive about the human spirit? DP: We live in an era when advanced technology poses existential and global catastrophic risks. Any interventions that promise to reduce our propensity to risk-taking should be seriously evaluated. As you note, however, there are subtler risks to the future of humanity than the apocalyptic scenarios well-known futurists discuss. Some kind of botched paradise engineering might lock humanity into a second-rate utopia of the sort you describe. A stagnant world of soma-like contentment is very different from a world animated by heritable gradients of bliss. How can humanity guard against inadvertently creating some other kind of Brave New World that blocks the fullest expression of life in the universe? One possible answer is that postgenomic medicine will let us choose not just our normal baseline of happiness, but also our baseline of "adventurousness." Thus both dopaminergic and opioid enhancement can be pleasurable, but amplifying mesolimbic dopamine function leads to increased exploratory behavior, whereas long-term enhancement of mu opioid function alone leads to greater quiescence. Gaining full control of our own reward circuitry allows a choice of what kind of person one wants to be — an adventurous extrovert or thoughtful introvert, for instance. I'm not really satisfied with this answer because it's unclear whether temperamental "adventurousness" can be adequately distinguished from recklessness. I'd simply argue that no one should be forced to suffer as now for the sake of an abstraction like "the human spirit." h+: There's an old saying that Utopia is ultimately unattainable because no matter how perfect things are, people will always find something to complain about. How do we modify human behavior to trim back the complainers? DP: Discontented people have arguably been the motor of human development. This is one reason why it may be prudent to recalibrate our hedonic treadmill rather than dismantle it altogether. When we enjoy gradients of lifelong bliss, the functional analogues of discontent can drive (post)human progress. Maybe getting rid of suffering isn't the culmination of civilization, just the start. James Kent is the former publisher of Psychedelic Illuminations and Trip Magazine. He currently edits DoseNation.com, a drug blog featuring news, humor and commentary. "

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