As the science of gene manipulation advances, we may one day find ourselves able to easily alter our own desires and ambitions to suit our particular situation. I would suggest that all our actions are in service of our emotions, that rational thought only allows us to more efficiently serve our feelings. Our minds let us work hard right now for a grater reward in the future. Some are simply slaves to a compulsion that will never really pay of, but it is still an emotional drive. Hopefully for those people, getting there is all of the fun. In any case, we do what we are compelled to do or not to do.
One of my questions come when I think of using my rational mind to decide how I want to feel about certain things, when how I feel is the very thing driving my rational mind, motivating it to make the decision. Will the act of changing my motivations cause my feelings about changing my motivations to change? Will I be stuck in a loop of changing priorities, or will it all average itself out?
I suppose the ideal of this technology would be to put your subconscious and your immediate desires in sync with your long term goals. Stop your brain from only getting immediate pleasure out of eating pastries, when your long term goal is to be a ballet dancer. Also to potentially put your long term goals in sync with society and the environment. If it did work that way, I think it would make for a very happy, fulfilled, and productive society. Extraordinary people may already be very in sync, so putting more people in sync may give rise to a lot more extraordinary people, raising the bar for remarkable people. However it may also bring up a lot of issues with personal identity, even though it leaves people with the freedom to chose their own path. I would venture to say that many peoples idea of themselves revolves around the things they know they can not change.
At first some people would likely resist making such a change, even if it were beneficial in every way to themselves, the people around them, the whole of society, or even the world; if for no other reason than losing the self they already know. However, I think the first generation born with this tech available would have no problem with it at all. Young people in general are already trying to find themselves by trying on different identities online all the time. They just don’t yet have very good tools to make deep and direct changes within themselves, or an easy way to know what they are truly suited for. Most of childhood and schooling is spent trying to figure it out, all the while being shaped in ways they don’t understand.
The consequences of potential tech like this is certainly far reaching. Maybe it would allow people to first chose where they want to fit in, and then how they want to stand out, all while best serving their world and being happy about it. Of course for every benefit, one can imagine a possible detriment. There may be a whole class of people, lets just call them The One Percent, who refuse to change themselves, even if it makes them miserable to stay as they are. Instead they use their influence to force the rest of society to alter itself to suit them, thereby stifling some of the potential advancements born from this great surge of motivation. Then again, that doesn’t sound too different from today. Some of these future influential people may have goals of serving the species or improving the world, while others may not. It would be a crap shoot.
Then there is also the potential of governments trying to force people to make themselves suited to specific environments and tasks, or engineering them that way at birth like worker bees. There have been countless science fiction stories about oppressive governments stifling their citizens for the supposed common good. They are always regarded as distopias and used as a cautionary tales. I take some issue with the very common notion in these works and other cautionary scifi, particularly Hollywood friendly scifi movies, that there are some things human kind simply shouldn’t try to understand and control. Why? Where should we draw the line? Who should decide? Have we already gone too far? Is it even possible to stop? I think most people go by their gut feeling to answer these questions, i.e. their emotions, and they often disagree.
What if everyone in this theoretical society was completely happy and fulfilled? Well, there wouldn’t be much drama for the story. Current cautionary tales have to appeal to peoples current emotions and ingrained sense of self. In fiction like 1984 and THX 1138, the system that trys to control humanity always becomes unacceptable to the protagonist, it’s always an imperfect shoehorn fit that barely works. If everyone got to do whatever they wanted with even more freedom than we have now, but it just so happened that the government had long ago decided what you will want under certain circumstances, I don’t think anyone would have a reason to complain. It may be true that things will never be perfect, or that everything is already perfect, depending on your perspective. But problems do get solved beyond the point where any reasonable person worrys about them. They just reveal or create more subtle problems. If ever a situation arose that wasn’t already planned for in our genes, adjustments could be made, and even if we didn’t want them, I don’t see any reason to assume we’d be any worse off than we are now. Again that might sound off putting to some, but really, what you end up wanting is already out of your direct control, determined partly by your genes and partly by the experiences you’ve had in your environment. A phrase used often is, “The heart wants what it wants.” we are already slaves to it. We only sometimes go against it when our brains tell us we must to avoid pain or receive a greater happiness in the future.
I’m reminded of the pig from “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” He was happy to be eaten. He was engineered to best suit his situation. Whether it feels right to us now or not, I can’t imagine thinking it’s worse than eating a pig who doesn’t want to be eaten. Maybe it’s a nihilistic or hedonistic way of looking at things, but at least in these various scenarios of emotional and motivational manipulation, we wouldn’t have to wonder what our purpose is in this life. We could choose it for ourselves, or it may even be printed on our birth certificate.
In my mind, none of this has an effect on our freedom to make choices as it exists today. It could simply cause us to further evaluate the nature of choice. If a choice is simple and obvious so much so that you don’t even have to think, is it really a choice at all? Does the complexity of a choice have anything to do with it’s validity? Yes, discussing human motivation does easily take me down the path of discussing free will. But that’s a topic for another night.