Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Soma continued or Brave New World

Soma continued or Brave New World

I mentioned that I'm going to give a talk on this topic. It's going to be on Friday. In the meantime, if any of you have any words of wisdom you'd like to contribute, I'd appreciate the help. Brave New World is the backdrop for my talk, but I hope to examine more general topics.

In "Brave New World" society is designed and operated in such a way as to maximize peace stability. The way this is done is to follow industrial mass production techniques and management. Test tube babies are produced in quantity and quality according to the needs of society. Everything is done to create a stress-free population. Each class of (Alpha to Epsilon) people is inculcated through sleep-education to believe that it is the most fortunate. Promiscuous behavior is encourages from childhood and all appetites are satisfied either in reality or with the drug called "soma.". Where "1984" is about a society controlled by fear and pain, "Brave New World" is controlled by constant pleasure. No one has time to be alone or to think. It's a sort of steady-state Roman rule via bread and circuses.

The philosophical questions I'm going to ask the group to address are:
1) What's so bad about substituting chemical pleasure for "real" pleasure? Isn't it more efficient?
2) Is the pain of frustrated desire necessary for the production of poetry or art?
3) What do we mean when we say that a little pain is good for the soul.
4) In Brave New World total security from all hazards of poor health, old age, loneliness, frustration, etc. requires surrender of all liberty to the benevolent dictator. When we use Franklin's expression, "Those who would give up a little liberty to gain a little security merit neither," we imply that security and liberty are a zero sum game. Do you believe that an increase in security requires a decrease in liberty (for someone) ? With respect -Joel


Howard Pattee said...

From: Howard Re: Soma control
Dobzhanski said that nothing makes sense in biology unless seen in the light of evolution. I don’t see how one can evaluate artificial brain control programs unless you know why thinking brains evolved. What is the selective advantage of a “thinking brain” over primitive brains that function under genetic control (like insects)? Remember, evolution is about competitive and cooperative statistical populations, not individuals.
The answer is that learned behavior is much faster at adaptation than genetic change of behavior. Consequently, any decrease in learning potential by drugs is not likely to be a competitive advantage for the population, even if individuals may enjoy the drug.
Curiosity is the genetic instinct in higher species that stimulates learning, but it is risky (and often stressful) for the individual. I’ve seen Game Theory models that show why a population should have a wide variation of risk tolerance among individuals to optimize the population survival. I would think drugs that interfere with curiosity or reduce risk tolerance would not help.
The objection to both Brave New World and 1984 is government’s absolute control of the individual, which might itself result from learned psycholgy of how to control people. Human species spend too much effort on local competition and have not learned global cooperation. Making money and gaining power have little selective advantage in Nature. I think it is likely that we will competitively self-destruct or at least not survive as long as insect species.

joel said...

Hi Howard,

Thanks for the comments. Remember that in Brave New World, the species has already nearly self destructed (The Nine Years War). The dictatorship has designed a steady state in which everyone is happy and civilization is totally stable. Steady state implies no need for adaptation. Evolution is unnecessary. Brave new world has accomplished exactly what you say you want; the elimination of local competition and the establishment of global cooperation for the sake of survival of the species and general stability. with respect -Joel

Ira Glickstein said...

Joel, please let us know how your presentation went!

How did the group respond to your four excellent questions?

What are your opinions on these questions?

My answers:

1) Chemical pleasure (whether legal substances like caffeine, or illegal ones like marijuana or crack) are dangerous because they mess with the very brain that we depend upon to make rational decisions. Our society has tried to balance the danger against the good aspects of pleasure. So, coffee and alchohol (and maybe marijuana) are relatively weak brain disrupters, and, in moderation, are OK for most adults. Stronger drugs are dangerous because they cannot be used by most people in moderation. I would put "soma" as defined in Brave New World, in the "probably dangerous" category. However, once it is actually invented, I would allow it to be tested to determine if it blocks rational thought to an excessive level.

2) Pain of frustrated desire! Yes, I believe it is necessary for the production of some poetry or art. I think there are ecceptions - Seinfeld comes to mind. He is apparently the product of a happy home and he has lived a happy life. On the other hand, his partner Larry David is a person who persecutes and frustrates himself. Perhaps the genius of the Seinfeld comedy series would not have come out absent Larry David's habit of frustration.

3) A little pain is good for the soul. Absent the dark parts of a good painting or photo, we cannot appreciate the light aspects. Without some pain, our pleasure centers would be satiated and we could not appreciate pleasure.

4) Security vs Liberty.Total security requires total loss of liberty, and is not a desirable situation. However, when Franklin speaks of trading a little liberty to gain a little security, he is, I believe speaking of the continuation of British Coloniation. Being a British colony provided some security but deprived us of considerable liberty (taxation without representation). Our current situation with terrorism and rogue nations with nuclear weapons is quite different. Also, we live in a high-tech world where our enemies are using high-tech in their attempt to destroy us. We need to use high-tech to detect them. That type of trade of security for liberty is rational and necessary. We merit both security and liberty.

Ira Glickstein

joel said...

The talk went quite well. I spoke about plot for about 15 minutes and then asked the members to consider "soma" at their tables for awhile. Then we returned to "committee of the whole" format and I discussed the objections that TheSavage had to the Brave New World. A group discussion of the power of pain then ensued.

There was very little objection to chemical pleasure considering that the members are supposedly of a more conservative generation. My take is that they're all used to being on drugs of one form or another, so there's nothing shocking about soma.

My rationalization of my personal feelings against chemical pleasure goes like this. Pleasure can be divided into three catagories (at least). There is functional pleasure, i.e., pleasure wired into humans for the sake of motivating life sustaining activities. There is "guilty pleasure" (i.e. pleasure for pleasure's sake). There is cultivated pleasure, i.e., pleasure that is invented.

Since I like to get drunk once in awhile (maybe once a year), I chose drinking as an example. We are wired to desire liquid and feel pleasure when our thirst is satisfied. That's functional. Some enjoy drinking such large quantities of beer that they overload their bodies with water. That's pleasure for pleasure's sake or guilty pleasure. (I use that term because such pleasures are usually associated with the seven deadly sins.) Some enjoy drinking wine while savoring the component tastes, identifying type, variety of grape, year etc. The pleasure is associated with the drinking, but most of it arises from the satisfaction of exercising knowledge.

A drug which substitutes for functional pleasure could cause death to the individual or even the species. A drug which substitutes for a "guilty" pleasure has no consequence, unless the guilty pleasure itself is damaging. In which case, the effect of the substituting drug is positive. Finally, a drug which substitutes for a cultivated pleasure stiffles creativity and the quest for knowledge. That's bad in my book. With respect -Joel