Wednesday, May 2, 2018

On Happiness or Who am I and why am I unhappy?

Everyone wants to be happy. Happiness is one of those things we philosophers describe as good in itself. This means that is good without needing to add anything to it. It is also an end in itself. This means that one seeks it without the purpose of using it for get some other thing. Socrates sought happiness through philosophy (by this I mean that he saw philosophy as the means to the form of happiness...I won't defend this claim here but it shouldn't be too much of a stretch for most who are familiar with Plato's works to see where I'm coming from) and Augustine sought happiness through the love of God.

Modern American Society would likely see both of these previous attempts as 'outdated', 'old fashioned' or even 'primitive'. After all science tells us a lot about happiness right? Brain scans like fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and EEG (electroencephalogram) along with blood test can show us all the workings of the brain from an electrical and chemical perspective. Further, we can take the data and identify a number of chemicals (dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, endorphin etc.) present that correlate or predicate experiences that can be identified or associated with happiness. From here drugs can be produced that will either supplement these chemicals or trigger our own increased production of these chemicals, hence doctors can prescribe happiness.

Assuming all human experience is reducible to chemical and electrical impulses in our brains that should be the whole story. Problem solved...but it most certainly is not.

Science can recreate the sensation of happiness based upon observations of our brains whilst we’re happy but that is not the same as making us happy. Happiness persists after the sensation of happiness has passed. This passing transient happiness can be called chemical happiness. Chemical happiness leads to addiction because whether we are aware of it or not we become capable of properly identifying the sensation of happiness with the chemical cause of our transitory happiness and begin to seek out the sensation alone which leaves us feeling empty once it has passed. True Happiness remains as a feeling of satisfaction after the sensation of happiness has left us. Thus we feel satisfied instead of empty and are less likely to seek out the sensation alone as the satisfaction that remains is a far more pleasant experience.

A Neuroscientist sympathetic to this account of the experience of happiness may be so bold as to create a chemical cocktail that will place the proper chemicals in our brains at the precise times needed to give us the boost of happy feelings as well as the satisfaction feelings in an attempt to avoid the empty feelings that lead to addiction. The only trouble here would be to somehow trick the recipient of these chemicals so that they don't associate the taking of the medication with the subsequent happiness feeling. Once that association is made the recipient will likely discover that the chemical therapy is the source of happiness and seek it out, further exasperating the problem.

So what is the solution? Guiding each individual on a exploration of themselves where they learn the true external and internal triggers that cause their brains to produce those very same chemicals. Does this assume that humans are Pavlovian flesh robots, who merely need certain programming to be happy? What does this mean for issues of freedom and will power? My suspicion is that Freedom and Will Power are the source of the answer to human happiness. But that is a topic for another time.