What will the world be like in, say, 500 years from now?
The world is too complex to make an exact prognosis, of course (honestly, we don’t have a clue what the future will be like just five years from now). However I believe some developments are outright logical and will lead to predictable results in the long run, even if they are hard to imagine today.
One of these developments is the increasing sophistication in achieving happiness. Eventually, I believe, we will be able to stimulate our brain however we want to and become maximally happy. It may even lead to the scenario depicted in the 1999 movie The Matrix, where brains are maintained in a gelatinous substance and stimulated by computers electronically in order to create a fake, but perceived-as-happy reality.
This may sound crazy, so let me give you the reasons why I believe this is going to happen.
Happiness is our primary goal
First, we all aim to be happy. Even though happiness is only a by-product of evolution, it’s one of the most important goals in our lives (maybe the only goal with intrinsic value, as argued here). The happier we can become, the better.
We already “trick” nature
Second, stimulating our brains artificially to achieve happiness would be nothing new – we do it all the time. For example:
• Eating sweets
Nature has developed an incentive system that rewards us for consuming foods containing high concentrations of energy (e.g., sweet fruits), because energy is crucial for survival. However, eating food with an unnaturally high sugar content (e.g., sweets) is an unnatural overstimulation of our reward system.
• Consuming nicotine (or other drugs)
I don’t know the scientific explanation for how smoking can be rewarding to the body, but I doubt it helps to achieve nature’s goal (survival & reproduction).
• Having sex with contraception
Nature “thinks” we reproduce, but we don’t! We just want to get the good part without the bad (no, I don’t hate kids ;-)).
• Engaging in other “unnatural” activities that make us happy
Whether we’re playing video games, listening to techno music etc., most of the “modern-world” activities we perceive to be rewarding succeed in stimulating our incentive system in a positive way, but without necessarily serving nature’s goals. However, we don’t worry too much about that. As long as these diversions serve our purpose (achieving happiness) we welcome them.
It will be technically feasible
Third, humanity will discover ever more effective ways to stimulate our inherited incentive system in a positive way (without negative side effects). Ultimately, we will also understand how the brain works (the brain is still largely a black box to science today) and be capable of creating the world we want – a world full of happiness, free of suffering.
Personally, I draw two conclusions from this: one positive and one negative. The positive conclusion is that paradise on earth is indeed possible. The negative conclusion is that you (if you are reading this before, let’s say, the year 2100) and I have been born too early to experience it. However, we should look on the positive side: we’re literate, we live on more than $1 a day, we live in times of peace, etc. This puts us ahead of so many unfortunate people today and in the past, so we should not complain about our lot in life.