Wireheading: A World Without Negative Emotion
In Larry Niven’s Known Space stories, a wirehead is someone who has a chip implanted in their head that constantly stimulates the pleasure center of the brain. While this idea is currently only one of science-fiction, there is no doubt that this technology will exist in the near future. There have been countless experiments that have given human patients access to electrical stimulation of different regions of their brains, and the results are quite clear. In his essay “Physical Control of the Mind,” José M. R. Delgado, M.D. wrote that “studies in human subjects with implanted electrodes have demonstrated that electrical stimulation of the depth of the brain can induce pleasurable manifestations, as evidenced by the spontaneous verbal reports of patients, their facial expression and general behavior, and their desire to repeat the experience.” (Delgado wrote this essay in 1969). When shocked, some regions of the brain produce pain or other negative emotions, but others, such as the mesolimbic dopamine system, result in extreme pleasure. This pleasure is said to be beyond that of food, drugs or sex. It is pure pleasure, something that the human body cannot ever tire of. Where as the actual objects of desire that give us pleasure can grow less pleasurable as they are attained more often, the actual feeling of pleasure knows no bounds. Stimulation of the pleasure center of our brain makes boredom an impossibility; the chemicals that produce feelings of discontent or boredom would simply not be present.
But do we even want this? If you were offered a device that offered you infinite pleasure and the complete elimination of all negative emotion, would you say yes? The image of one’s self being hotwired to blindly feel happiness sounds a little too much like Brave New World at first thought. Wouldn’t we become unproductive and wholly hedonistic? What would happen to relationships, the notion of money and all other aspects of “normal” human society? I think a better question is why do all of these institutions exist in the first place, what is their purpose? At a basic level, we want pleasure. We have jobs to get money to buy things that make us happy. We are eternally searching for products/people/ideas/experiences that will make us happy. In fact, the only reasons we even experience pain, fear, jealous, malevolence, sadness, hatred, etc. is because those emotions increased our chances of survival back when reproductive success was the ultimate goal. Evolution has brought the human race to the point where we are never at the extremes of well-being and ill-being for too long. There is constant fluctuation between these poles of emotion, making our natural mean mood quite neutral.
With wireheading technology, however, this medium does not have to neutral anymore. With the “evolution” to Homo evolutis, we can raise our normal plateau of existence to a pleasurable level that we now consider to be an extreme. Wireheading is not soma, nor is it a ideological fantasy. It is a possibility that is moving constantly towards becoming a reality.
For more information, visit wireheading.com.