Dial H for Happiness

I’ve just finished reading Philip K Dick’s masterpiece, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Such a beautiful work. I find myself getting more and more into science fiction, because, as I’ve said before, we are increasingly living in a world where ethics and technology are mixing in strange ways that only sci-fi writers have really considered.

Dick’s novel, for example, considers the future of mood management. The characters in his novel all possess special mood diallers, or happiness machines, which connect directly to their brains, so that they can dial up various moods at will: 341, for ‘Long Deserved Peace’. 888, for ‘The Desire To Watch Anything On TV’. 38, for ‘A Positive Sense of the Limitless Possibilities Rising Up in the Future’.

The characters grow dependent on this mood dialler. They schedule their moods for the day. Except for the main character’s wife, who for some reason chooses to dial ‘Bleak Depression’, just because it feels more real to her.

Fantasy, of course, and yet civilization is increasingly enabled by mood management, via Prozac, Valium, Lithium, Cipramil, Olanzipine, beta-blockers, alcohol, caffeine, high sugar products, tobacco etc etc. These are, in many ways, mood diallers, that help us manage our moods to get through the complex daily demands of advanced civilization.

Is it somehow ‘fake’ to artificially manage our moods with external stimulants? If we invented a cerebral device that could dial our moods, would we be somehow cheating our nature if we fixed the dial on H for Happiness?

I asked Lord Layard this, the so-called ‘Happiness Czar’ for the British government. He thought that if a perfect drug was invented that made us all happy, then we should take it and the government should provide it. ‘The greatest happiness of the greatest number’, even if it involved us all walking around in happiness headsets, receiving little electrical jolts of bliss every few seconds.

As for me…I still harbour an outdated and no doubt reactionary belief in the human soul, in the idea of the soul’s journey towards self-realization of its own divinity. That means I believe that, sometimes, unhappiness is not meaningless. It is our soul telling us to change how we live, to deepen our self-awareness.

That was certainly my experience of anxiety – it was the soul telling me my psyche was out of balance, that I needed to worry less what others thought of me, and learn to accept myself. If I’d just dialled ‘Deep Self-Acceptance’, then I would never have learnt that lesson for myself, and I would end up utterly dependent on my mood machine for self-acceptance. So I wouldn’t really have accepted myself at all, I’d have accepted the new, upgraded and artificial version of me.


  • Olly R says:

    Rather unfashionably, I am a big fan of the philosopher Berkeley, who had some very funny ideas. One of them is that the only things that actually MAKE anything happen in a causal sense are souls/spirits, and that our common sense of cause-effect is just contingency, not causality. So the billiard ball doesn’t MAKE the next billiard ball move, but it is a necessary if-then relation, like anything else bumping together in time. For Berkeley, only WILL makes anything happen in a causal sense, because all causes are first causes; by saying that something is a cause, one is saying that it initiated it, i.e. started it from scratch. Therefore every cause is an act of creation, a first cause. The legal system understands this pretty well, hence the notion that if you didn’t will it to happen, it was an accident, and if you did, it was your fault, i.e. you STARTED it. How can that be if we are just bumping around like billiard balls? The only way is if you interrupted time and started something completely afresh.

    Now, one point of this is that in Berkeley’s scheme there is spirit moving creation all the time. The other point is that if a person is going to use their soul/spirit, they have to be a cause and experience themselves as such; they have to initiate things and feel as though control over choices comes from within. If a person is truly in charge of themselves, truly strong enough to make their own choices from the heart, without being subtly coerced, pressured or pacified into action, they become divine, they realise the action of soul. And once in a position of feeling that one is making choices, and authoring one’s own life and behaviour, the person becomes fulfilled and healthy. Jung also believed that human will is a manifestation of soul. He referred to a person who did not initiate their own agenda, simply responds to others, acquiesced to their demands and morphed their personality to fit in, as suffering from “soullessness”. He saw this as a great root of neurosis. I also believe the soul is something we can loose. It is a gift that can be taken away, or can atrophy if it is not used. This is tenuously related to your above post, but what can I say, it came to mind!

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