David Pearce – The Naturalisation of Heaven and the Hedonistic Imperative

David PearceIn 2013 David Pearce gave two talks at the  Science, Technology & the Future conference in Melbourne Australia  – he is a British utilitarian philosopher who believes and promotes the idea that there exists a strong ethical imperative for humans to work towards the abolition of suffering in all sentient life. His book-length internet manifesto The Hedonistic Imperative outlines how technologies such as genetic engineering, nanotechnology, pharmacology, and neurosurgery could potentially converge to eliminate all forms of unpleasant experience among human and non-human animals, replacing suffering with gradients of well-being, a project he refers to as “paradise engineering”. A transhumanist and a vegan, Pearce believes that we (or our future posthuman descendants) have a responsibility not only to avoid cruelty to animals within human society but also to alleviate the suffering of animals in the wild.

Pearce is the owner of BLTC Research, a website that was set up by Pearce in 1995. Based in Kemptown, Brighton, UK, the site publishes online texts in support of the biochemical and biotechnological methods by which its proponents believe sentient suffering could be abolished in future generations.

In 1998, Pearce co-founded the World Transhumanist Association (WTA) with Nick Bostrom, an Oxford philosopher. The association, which later changed its name to Humanity+, advocates transhumanism — an ideology and movement which has emerged to support the recognition and protection of the right of citizens either to maintain or modify their own minds and bodies so as to guarantee them the freedom of choice and informed consent of using human enhancement technologies on themselves and their children.

In 2002 Pearce co-founded the Abolitionist Society with Pablo Stafforini, Sean Henderson, and Jaime Savage, in order to help promote the idea of abolitionism of suffering and to discuss the implications involved with a wider range of audience.

Pearce sits on the board of Elsevier’s journal Medical Hypotheses and holds a position at the advisory board of Lifeboat Foundation.[10] He runs a web hosting company.

The Hedonistic Imperative

The Hedonistic Imperative outlines how genetic engineering and nanotechnology will abolish suffering in all sentient life.

pearce david interview with adam fordThe abolitionist project is hugely ambitious but technically feasible. It is also instrumentally rational and morally urgent. The metabolic pathways of pain and malaise evolved because they served the fitness of our genes in the ancestral environment. They will be replaced by a different sort of neural architecture – a motivational system based on heritable gradients of bliss. States of sublime well-being are destined to become the genetically pre-programmed norm of mental health. It is predicted that the world’s last unpleasant experience will be a precisely dateable event.

Two hundred years ago, powerful synthetic pain-killers and surgical anesthetics were unknown. The notion that physical pain could be banished from most people’s lives would have seemed absurd. Today most of us in the technically advanced nations take its routine absence for granted. The prospect that what we describe as psychological pain, too, could ever be banished is equally counter-intuitive. The feasibility of its abolition turns its deliberate retention into an issue of social policy and ethical choice.

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This manifesto combines far-fetched utopian advocacy with cold-headed scientific prediction. The Hedonistic Imperative outlines how nanotechnology and genetic engineering will eliminate aversive experience from the living world. Over the next thousand years or so, the biological substrates of suffering will be eradicated completely. “Physical” and “mental” pain alike are destined to disappear into evolutionary history. The biochemistry of everyday discontents will be genetically phased out too. Malaise will be replaced by the biochemistry of bliss. Matter and energy will be sculpted into life-loving super-beings animated by gradients of well-being. The states of mind of our descendants are likely to be incomprehensibly diverse by comparison with today. Yet all will share at least one common feature: a sublime and all-pervasive happiness.

This feeling of absolute well-being will surpass anything contemporary human neurochemistry can imagine, let alone sustain. The story gets better. Post-human states of magical joy will be biologically refined, multiplied and intensified indefinitely. Notions of what now passes for tolerably good mental health are likely to be superseded. They will be written off as mood-congruent pathologies of the primordial Darwinian psyche. Such ugly thoughts and feelings will be diagnosed as typical of the tragic lives of emotional primitives from the previous era. In time, the deliberate re-creation of today’s state-spectrum of normal waking and dreaming consciousness may be outlawed as cruel and immoral.

Such speculations may currently sound fantastical. Yet the ideas behind this manifesto may one day be regarded as intellectually trite – albeit today morally urgent. For as the genetic revolution in reproductive medicine unfolds, what might once have been the stuff of millennialist fantasy is set to become a scientifically feasible research program. Its adoption or rejection will become, ultimately, a social policy issue. Passively or actively, we will have to choose just how much unpleasantness we wish to create or conserve – if any – in eras to come. David Pearce - the Hedonistic Imperative Chapter 1 - The Naturalisation of Heaven

Prophetic Narratives: Will Humanity’s Successors Also Be Our Descendants?

David Pearce spoke at Humanity+ @San Francisco in 2012 – Accelerating technological progress leads some futurists to predict the imminent end of the transhuman era and the dawn of posthuman superintelligence. But what is superintelligence? How does intelligence relate to sentience? What are the Explanatory Gap, Moravec’s Paradox, and the Binding Problem? Will nonbiological machines ever be more than zombies? This talk explores three different narratives for the major evolutionary transition in prospect. In the first narrative, biological humans will rewrite our genetic source code, recursively self-edit our own minds, and bootstrap our way to full-spectrum superintelligence. Mastery of our reward circuitry will deliver life based on information-sensitive gradients of bliss. In the second, Kurzweilian narrative, cybernetic brain implants will enable humans to fuse our minds with artificial intelligence; and also allow humans to scan, digitize and “upload” ourselves into a less perishable substrate. In digital nirvana, the distinction between biological and nonbiological machines will effectively disappear. In the third scenario, most closely associated with mathematician I.J. Good, is a combination of Moore’s law and the advent of recursively self-improving software-based minds will culminate in an ultra-rapid Intelligence Explosion and an era of nonbiological superintelligence. Posthuman superintelligence may or may not be human-friendly. How strong is the supporting evidence for each of these prophecies?
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Interviews

Alleivating Suffering & achieving Hedonic Zero / Altruism

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The Naturalisation of Heaven – The Lotus Eaters – Happiness & Motivation

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The Hedonistic Imperative outlines how genetic engineering and nanotechnology will abolish suffering in all sentient life. This project is ambitious but technically feasible. It is also instrumentally rational and ethically mandatory. The metabolic pathways of pain and malaise evolved only because they once served the fitness of our genes. They will be replaced by a different sort of neural architecture. States of sublime well-being are destined to become the genetically pre-programmed norm of mental health. The world’s last aversive experience will be a precisely dateable event.David Pearce
I predict we will abolish suffering throughout the living world. Our descendants will be animated by gradients of genetically pre-programmed well-being that are orders of magnitude richer than today’s peak experiences.
– p.114 Ethics Matters by Peter and Charlotte Vardy – SCM Press, 2012David Pearce
Video Interviews

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8 Comments

  1. Recent interview with David Pearce at the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne, Australia on a nice sunny day

    This part discusses the Hedonistic Imperative, and some discussion on various objections.

    http://youtu.be/v07VZIQyoMc enjoy 🙂

  2. I a. Thinking, tongue in cheek, ( tic) that what you’ll are wanting to do is create Angels. Your descriptions pretty much describes them.

    I spent many years trying to give mine something to laugh about just to see if I could get a chuckle and break the monotony of no extremes at all.
    If it worked or not I am not certain, but I do think so at times it did, only they did not show it.
    Ah. Bingo

  3. Information sensitive gradients as in finding the actual hilarity in information that can be explained with logic and that holds also future humor,
    such as the orgasmic bliss, vrs indiscriminate humor over something like the Three Stooges?

    I read another post thread yesterday where the person was discussing the attributes of one who has transcended within the waking up process of life.
    What I find interesting here is that what you are describing is pretty much exactly what many of the proponents of higher evolution describe as the way to know when one has transcended, only most of these people have obtained this via meditation and other quote unquote spiritual practices.
    I am just comparing the two here noticing the similarities. One does not experience, they say neither intense sadness, nor intense awe, or at least, is not overwhelmed by it…to the point of hilarity.

    But, your use of the words information sensitive vrs indiscriminate gives a hint, to me that you are not saying that joviality will not exist, merely that it will have a connection to further evolving and will not cloud the mind to further useful study?

    Wayne Dyer wrote a short fiction that I thought of while reading your article, specifically the parts of choosing what we want to feel…
    gifts from eykis by wayne dyer

  4. Ok, I am cracking up here. Maybe because it is past my bedtime or this is just really funny.

    You tell me. Following links from your article I’ve gotten to the Abolitionist and read this

    Actually, this dismissal of wireheading may be too quick. In the far future, one can’t rule out offloading everything unpleasant or mundane onto inorganic supercomputers, prostheses and robots while we enjoy uniform orgasmic bliss. Or maybe not orgasmic bliss

    And here is why I am laughing. You get that uniform orgasmic bliss long enough, you are talking about such a stimulation to the brain that this could become the singularity all by itself .
    You know, people like to do things together and intelligent minded people are curiosity and thrill seekers so you are going to have this going on in groups, so you will be doing. Group orgasmic bliss, stimulating whole new of the areas of the brain. Perhaps not new, but in such different ways that this alone is going to create the neorochanges that you are looking for. If you are talkin orgasmic, by its very nature stimulates de. Whole. Body.
    Ha.
    Ha.
    Ha.
    David I can see why you are laughing so big in All of those photos.
    Sushamae

    One of the things that article did was answer one of my questions that I have been asking for eight years.
    You can talk about and plan on changing politics, economics and the whole kaboodle, but how are you planning on Channing the hearts and mind of man?
    Of course it is at the cellular level. I equated to gears 8 years ago before I knew I how it could be done, making changes in the genetic codes. I was thinking slowly, In increments.
    That bliss stuff though, ecstatic, orgasmic changes the picture. How many do you have working now, actively on the cranial wire heading? There is a lot I don’t get in there yet, but I read this and cracked up.

    • Starrdusk Debi K, I’m delighted my writing made you chuckle – a mere foretaste of what’s in store. Post-human hilarity may be orders of magnitude funnier than the upper bounds of what’s physiologically feasible today.

      The crudest and least sociologically plausible scenario for posthuman fun draws on micro-electrode studies.
      (cf. “Scientists identify sense of humour”:
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/55893.stm)
      In future, neuroscience may identify the molecular signatures of pure hilarity and then massively over-express its substrates – inducing some kind of life-long comical analogue of wireheading.

      However, instead we may opt to recalibrate our default predisposition to find life amusing – allowing information-sensitive gradients of fun rather than indiscriminate mirth.

      I stress this is an option, not a prediction. 🙂

  5. Interesting.
    Though, I believe that all true learning and emotional growing comes from allowing yourself to often be outside of your comfort zone – similar to how an athlete is trained to push into an area of discomfort which builds them beyond a current level. Because I believe that a technological world is only possible by increasing specialization, this requires life-long learning – itself a type of training that requires that positive stress that allows creativity, analysis, and new ideas to flourish. Further, you must become comfortable with this frequent discomfort to reach and push past levels of proficiency. Would this necessary discomfort be diminished?
    Also, would the predator/prey animal relationship be removed?

    • Compare hedonic recalibration with uniform bliss. Life animated by information-sensitive gradients of well-being – but not a life of uniform bliss – is consistent with the preservation of your existing values. As you note, learning radically new skills does sometimes involve departing from your “comfort zone”. But temperamentally happy, psychologically robust people are actually more likely to embrace challenges than anxious depressives “stuck in a rut”. So other things being equal, hedonic set-point elevation promises richer opportunities for personal growth.

      Predators and prey? From an ethical perspective, I think we need to phase out human and nonhuman predation alike – certainly if we endorse the Transhumanist Declaration’s (1998, 2009) commitment to the well-being of all sentience. (cf.
      http://humanityplus.org/philosophy/transhumanist-declaration/) Until recently, this aspiration was mere utopian dreaming. But cruelty-free ecosystems are technically feasible later this century and beyond with recognisable extensions of existing technologies. Do we want to conserve involuntary suffering at all? (cf. http://www.reprogramming-predators.com)

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