Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Waiting for Happiness

On Fucked-ness

Human welfare is not merely a function of income (broadly defined as you like), but also of one's past income, and of the incomes of others.

The hedonic treadmill and status competition are important characteristics that enable organisms to successfully compete. They also ensure that we will never be able to actually achieve the happiness we imagine. Being satisfied with what you have, in terms of income and social position, is a biological suicide proposition.

We may not be willing to step into the Experience Machine. But we must not fool ourselves into thinking that this is because there are real things in the world (intellectual or otherwise) that we value more than pleasure. It is because many of us lack introspective access to the fact that all we value is pleasure. We imagine there is a difference between real experience and pretend experience, between made-up stories and the "real" story of our lives we tell ourselves. To satisfy our need for a sense of meaningful existence, we must paradoxically imagine realness. Unfortunately, "realness" is often measured in terms of one's effect upon the experiences of others, or upon the material substrates of that experience, inside and outside human bodies. Experience, however, remains all there really is.

We are evolution's nightmare machines. And there are billions of us, imposing our nightmares on each other and on the rest of the natural world, in the service of imagined future happiness that will never come.

Luckily for our genes, and at great cost to ourselves, we have evolved self-deceptive biases so that we fail to realize this and don't kill ourselves.


  1. 'We are evolution's nightmare machines'. I adore this line. Only recently I started thinking about how the world is objectively horrifying - beings who think they have free will, in a deterministic universe that does not care about them, striving to find glimpses of emotions that make them less aware of the world, like happiness. We really do live in a shared nightmare.
    I wonder if anyone in the LW or OU community will actually respond to this post. I've never seen any debates like that here.

  2. Unsurprisingly, the Ligotti book brought home the horror aspect of it to me. Puppet monsters are creepy but realizing you ARE a puppet monster is unsettling enough that we can't really do it - our minds protect us from fully believing it. As Ligotti admits.

  3. Sister Y, I just recently finished Ligotti's book and thoroughly enjoyed (is that the right word?) his musings on pessimistic literature. However, I was a bit confused as to exactly what he meant by us being puppets.. Does he mean that we are like puppets in that we are moved by the "strings" of our innate "will-to-live"? That is to say, our inherent need to survive in some cultural context and entertain ourselves so as not to be bored and experience ennui? I was a bit confused by that..but perhaps I missed something.

  4. To further explain..he used a lot of metaphor which gave a good mental picture, but often I was confused as to what his metaphors pertained to particularly. I would agree with him, if he was asserting Schopenhauer's basic premise of a certain "will" (puppet strings) driving us along..motivated by the double edged sword of survival/boredom and discomforts of being alive. However, he also seemed to allude to consciousness itself being a puppet master.. This I have a harder time trying to understand. Consciousness may be a nightmare, but why a puppet master? Unless, he was referring more to the driving motivations of the Will which I originally thought he meant.

  5. I haven't read the book myself but I am thinking his idea of puppetry is to do with our lack of free will, and how all our actions are predetermined by our environment/genes. (Some studies show that people make a decision seconds before they consciously admit to having done so etc. Look up the evidence on google if you are unsure.)

  6. Oh I see..We are determined rather than free/will. I can go along with that. I would say, whether or not we have free-will, nature is a nightmare..our fate and tendencies, driven by genes and environment and circumstances contribute to this definitely, but just the fact that there is a "moving forward" that goes nowhere is enough to make this a nightmare of sorts. We are always lacking..something is always not quite right.. life is suffering..the first noble all ties together (though don't take me as a Buddhist or anything..I think much of it is pipedream hogwash..things like enlightenment and karma..Ligotti does a good job threshing through these pleasant but hopeless dreams). We are born, and now we must deal with it.

  7. compoverde,
    You said: "I would say, whether or not we have free-will, nature is a nightmare"

    If we have free will, there's that tiny little chance we can lessen the number of people that go through all this... It is a nightmare nonetheless.


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