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Suppose the ultimate hedonist state whose stated goal and ideology is to maximize total pleasure. The state invests in development of the most powerful drugs that produce pleasure while striving to minimize their adverse effects such as addiction syndrome.

Now, someone suggests that the state may better try to genetically modify people instead of developing drugs. So that people were constantly feeling pleasure.

Is it logically possible? What end result this development could lead to? People with big brain, people with no brain, destruction of economy etc?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Frostfyre, Bellerophon, AlexP, Draco18s, Mołot Jun 13 '17 at 22:43

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ We have organs that develop all kinds of chemicals. You are essentially asking "Is it possible that an organ can develop chemical X." Possible? Why not? You might want to add the science-based tag, otherwise "is it possible" questions are practically always "yes," and the answer "Just use magic" becomes the norm. $\endgroup$ – Loduwijk Jun 13 '17 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ Your examples reveal the broadness of your question. If everything from a lack of brain to a ruined economy may be a conceivable result, then asking for the conceivable result makes this either too broad or primarily opinion-based. Voting to close. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jun 13 '17 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ This is way too broad. Just ask whether permanent happiness is possible and leave out the social impact stuff. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Jun 13 '17 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre and Bellerophon, it seems that those implications are extra points and not the main question point. However, I do also suggest OP removes "What end result this development could lead to?" and change the following sentence to more of a "Would this lead to more enlightenment or less? Economy boost or economic destruction?" Even better would be moving those two sub-questions out and making then their own, separate question(s). $\endgroup$ – Loduwijk Jun 13 '17 at 16:17
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    $\begingroup$ Please provide the quantitative definition of pleasure which you are using. (The word "total" implies that pleasure can be measured in the form of an additive quantity; the word "maximize" implies that the quantity in question is a real number.) If you don't know how to express pleasure quantitatively then your question is meaningless. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 13 '17 at 17:04
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I have a feeling you'll have to modify the question to make this answer invalid, but the natural answer is to induce people to have more offspring.

In your question you state the goal of the society is to "maximize total pleasure." Total pleasure is most easily maximized by simply maximizing the number of individuals, rather than maximizing individual happiness. Thus, the easiest solution is to simply have everyone reproduce like rabbits, maximizing the number of individuals that can be happy. This is a known issue in creating naive utilitarian societies whose value metric is the sum total of everyone's happiness. There's also several other issues. Maximizing happiness turns out to be something we've spent a long time thinking about and yet still aren't very good at!

Of course, if you ignore the philosophical side of things, and focus on chemistry, the story is a bit harder. The concept of pleasure is noticeably difficult to pin down. Every time we think we fully understand it, something else changes our points of view. One of the real challenges of such a chemical change is that the society changes when the chemical is introduced. If everyone is suddenly in extacy and needs no further outside stimulus, it's highly likely that everyone will starve. If you rely on machines to feed them, eventually the machines will break down (and we have to start playing with the philosophical questions about whether the machines are happy).

On the short term, electrical stimulation of neurons has a track record of being effective. There have been studies which show it possible to induce everything from euphoria to orgasm using electrical stimulation in the spine (the study I remember reading about was actually intended to explore a different side of electrical stimulation for rehabilitative purposes, and discovered this effect by accident). However, in the long term, the brain is an amazingly capable balancing engine. It eventually tunes such simple stimuli out.

On the long term, my recommendation would be to take lessons from those groups that claim to have the secret of eternal happiness. Many groups, from religions like Buddhism, to spiritual groups such as those of yoga, claim that if you practice their art for long enough, you can achieve a continuous state of bliss. Interestingly enough, all of them suggest a very subtle bliss -- not something over the top. Perhaps thats the place to start.

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One becomes accustomed to 'pleasure', and always wants more. So, a society that achieved natural pleasure, wouldn't discard drugs, they'd just go looking for even more powerful drugs that could push beyond the natural pleasure.

It doesn't matter how fast your car might go - you'll always want one that goes faster.

Eat your favorite food every day, and you'll end up wanting something else.

Love that new outfit... until it's not new any more.

True pleasure is often the delta between what you were accustomed to, and what that pleasure is derived from. When you get used to it, you will want another difference to experience.

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Pleasure, from a physiological point of view, is due to the action of endogen opioid molecules which stimulates the same receptors activated by drugs. For example endorphines, which are secreted after physical activity and give a sense of wellness, stimulate the same receptors used by morphine.

Also for endorphines hold the increased threshold which applies for some drugs: the organism is quickly used to a certain dose, and requires higher doses to deliver the same effect.

Therefore genetic engineering to increase the secretion or the receptors of endogen opioids it's not viable.

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  • $\begingroup$ You say that because people develop tolerance to drugs it is impossible to genetically engineer people who feel pleasure much more intensely. What if the genetic engineering doesn't work in the narrow way that you assume it does? What if the genetic engineering removes our ability to develop a tolerance? $\endgroup$ – BobTheAverage Jun 13 '17 at 21:20
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There is scientific evidence of existence of pleasure centers in the brain.

Stipulating some genetic modification able to stimulate them with some external signal (radiation, vibration, smell, whatever) is, more or less, trivial. It mostly would be reinforce certain mechanisms that are already present (and widely used in concerts, rave parties, advertisement, etc.).

This would have the added benefit (for the government) to be able to control it (turn it off in case of mob uprising) and to localize it in "pleasure honeypots".

Having it somewhat localized (in places where you cannot stay forever or in temporized bursts) can also alleviate the addiction problem (leading to hardening and requiring higher levels to get the same pleasure level) and avoid complete collapse of the society due to everybody being in a continuous stupor status. On the contrary it could be used as stimulus (reward) to have people work more.

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The premise implies the state is already undertaking mass production of pleasure-inducing drugs; in this scenario, you're changing the means of production of the drugs, from industrial production external to human bodies, to organic processes within human bodies. That means that a lot of questions about how the drug works will be moot: it will work much the same either way.

Presumably this would mean that industrial production of the drug will decline. How significant that is depends upon how difficult the drug is to synthesize, and how the economy is organized.

One difference would be that it would be much more difficult to refuse the pleasure-inducing drug -- it's harder to control the production of your own glands than to refuse to take some pills. Also, people might be inclined, over time, to regard the effects of the genetic engineering as "natural", since it's present throughout life. Socially, psychologically, and physically, it would be much more difficult to avoid the use of the pleasure-inducing drug.

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