Sep 172000
 

Can you say you are really happy so long as you feel happy? Or are there any requisites besides mere feelings?

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1. Feeling deceives you

Even if you have your arm or leg amputated, you will feel as if you still had it. That is called a phantom limb. The stimuli on the amputated section are felt as those at the end of nervous system and you have an itch or an ache in the phantom limb. This phenomenon is not confined to arms or legs. All of our senses can be deceived in the same way.

Suppose a businessman, who was inspired by it, established a brain management company. This company takes out brains from customers’ bodies, connects them with wire, keeps sending pleasant stimuli to them and has them live a happy life throughout life. Though brains have lost their bodies, they are under an illusion of still having them. Following a program the brain management company prepared beforehand, you fall in love with a fantastic sweetheart, get married to her/him, succeed in life, win a reputation, make a fortune and finish happy life, ascertaining that all of your descendants succeed like you.

Let’s visit this company. In this company, each brain connected with many wires is kept in a tank. While you are looking at this strange spectacle, the president of this company approaches you about making a contract to have your brain managed in exchange for providing him with all of your property. All of brains that have already contracted with the company tell you that they are happy. Are you inclined to live in this virtual paradise?

This question is similar to that of whether to join cult religion consecrating all your property to it. Maybe you would not believe in the brainwashed cult followers, however happy they seem to be. You would look down upon happy-looking brains and leave the company, murmuring, "It’s not true happiness."

2. What is the true happiness?

What is the difference between what we regard as true happiness and the virtual happiness of brains? You feel happy, when you are well spoken of, but it might be just a compliment. You also feel happy, when you have overcome difficulties and succeed in something, but it might be accidental and not because of your effort or talent. Your happiness may be just an illusion.

There is no essential difference between our real happiness and the brains’ virtual happiness. To confirm it, let’s consider what conditions are necessary for the taken out brains to feel happy.

First, it is necessary to make the brains believe that they are experiencing not fantasy but reality. If the brains knew that their happiness is just an illusion, they were no less happy than those who see a happy ending movie. So, the brain management company must delete the entire acquired data including the memory of the contract from the contractor’s brains, initialize them and make them start afresh.

Second, just as having only sweets makes the taste paralyzed, receiving only pleasant stimuli ever since their birth does not make the brains happy. So, the company must make the brains have painful experiences as well. Therefore, they must lead the same kind of life as ours.

3. The feeling of sustainability

The true happiness is not different from the false happiness on the sensuous level, but different as to whether the ground of happiness is near to or far from the truth. Whether a belief is true or not is verified by whether it can contribute to the survival of systems that believe it in the long run. What if the brain management company should go bankrupt? The true happiness must be sustainable.

By the way, if one morning you woke up to find yourself a brain without body connected with wire in a tank and were told by a stranger, "All you had experienced ever since your birth was fantasy provided by a brain management company, but I am sorry to say that the company went bankrupt today and we cannot continue the services any longer", what would you do?

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  10 Responses to “What is Happiness?”

  1. It’s the sort of question the Matrix asks. My question is, if you accept the existence of God (which I am by no means asking of you) as, to put it in Descartes words, an “evil genius” who lets drop each mote of truth only after encased in illusion, then you can accept that everything, with or without the rare exception, is illusion. This being so, under the original assumption, can happiness exist at all or only an illusion of happiness, and can the two be equated in a system where illusion is present but God is not? So, whether or not sensory stimulated happiness is true happiness, first requires we define truth, happiness and establish whether or not the two can even be separated. Is happiness, like many say of love, true within itself? Can it be seen as the truth within illusion?
    For those that believe God is happiness as well as deliverer from illusion, I would guess the answer is yes. When it comes down to it, does the fact that everything is illusion or not have any effect on the state of happiness. I would say that it could conceivably either way, which is why happiness and its roots have yet to be very well explained within philosophical terms. For most, happiness is more of a functional term than a conceptual term. From a functional standpoint, the question seems pointless and is in fact, but from a conceptual standpoint, the conundrum is immense, and due its subjective nature, conceivably one to remain among the great mysteries.

  2. If it were not for reality, there would not be illusion either. That is to say, if everything is illusion, everything is reality. You said, “So, whether or not sensory stimulated happiness is true happiness, first requires we define truth, happiness and establish whether or not the two can even be separated. “The dichotomy of spiritual happiness/sensory happiness is different from that of true happiness/false happiness. The brain management company can have brains enjoy spiritual happiness. The definition of happiness is quite easy. Happiness is the state you feel happy. But it is another question whether the happiness is based on truth, namely maintainable for a long term.

  3. You stated that, “Second, just as having only sweets makes the taste paralyzed, receiving only pleasant stimuli ever since their birth does not make the brains happy. So, the company must make the brains have painful experiences as well. Therefore, they must lead the same kind of life as ours. “Physiologically, happiness is caused by the release of dopamine in the brain. The release of dopamine is triggered by “pleasant” sensations. This is why these sensations make us happy.
    There is likely an evolutionary explanation as to why some sensations make us happy and some do not (e.g. we are programmed to enjoy sexual intercourse so that we can produce offspring). If this brain management company continually released dopamine into the brain by triggering these nerve centers or direct injection, the brain (and you) would be happy. Pain is not necessary for this release.
    Pain is needed in real life because we are dulled to pleasurable sensations after repeated exposure to them. Painful sensations provide a counterpoint to which we can compare pleasurable experiences. With a direct release of dopamine in the brain, no attenuation effect would be observed. Pleasure is dopamine.

  4. Can we say that happiness is dopamine, just because we always observe dopamine in the brain when it feels happy? Dogs wag their tails, whenever they are happy. It is, however, absurd for us to catch their tails and wag them to please them. Wagging the tails is just an accompanying phenomenon and never happiness itself. Nor is dopamine.

  5. Perhaps I was too hasty. Happiness is not dopamine per se. But our experience of happiness from a sensation comes from the dopamine that is released in our brains. I do not believe your analogy is strictly correct. Dopamine is a cause of happiness, whereas the tail wagging is an effect. Happiness, in the dog too, comes from the release of dopamine. It sees sensations as pleasurable if these sensations release dopamine. Of course, my whole argument breaks down if even one instance of happiness without dopamine is recorded. But to my knowledge this has not been done, and I truly doubt it will be. The brain is a biochemical machine, not a metaphysical entity. And dopamine is the biochemical cause of happiness.

  6. Generally speaking, if A is a cause of B, A must temporally precede B. Does dopamine temporally precede the feeling of happiness? Maybe, no. That is why I said dopamine is an accompanying phenomenon. Granted dopamine is the cause of happiness, it would be an effect of the object of happiness in turn. If dopamine is released in the brain of a living thing, regardless of whether the cause of dopamine contributes to its survival or not, it will not be able to survive for a long time. Therefore, dopamine cannot be the first cause of happiness.

  7. You are right in that dopamine is the accompanying phenomenon of happiness, and the actual sensation is the primary cause. But, the question still remains: would a brain artificially infused with dopamine be happy even without painful events as comparison? I would still say yes, as dopamine can produce happiness without the need for the actual sensation. In other words, the actual role of the sensation is to release dopamine in your brain, which produces a feeling of happiness.

  8. If it were not for the right direction, there would be no left direction. If it were not for pain, there would be no pleasure. This is a logical or conceptual truth. You do not have to try any experiments to confirm it.

  9. Can a happy person think that they are sad, or does this mean they are sad? In other words, is happiness defined on a subjective individual basis or can it be defined by the external world? This seems to be the core of our disagreement. You appear to be saying that even if an individual were given a lifelong fix of dopamine, they would still not be “happy” because they would have nothing to compare it to. They would think their euphoric state to be normal. What I am saying is that we would call him happy by comparing his experience to our own (assuming we have experienced pain). This makes him happy to us although not to himself. It seems to be only a matter of opinion about what the “correct” definition of happiness is. Still, it has been an enjoyable mental exercise.

  10. You said, “What I am saying is that we would call him happy by comparing his experience to our own (assuming we have experienced pain). This makes him happy to us although not to himself. “The imaginary man will not be happy compared with us. Feeling is relative and not absolute.

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