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Utopias and utopian ideals are abundant in fiction, but they're often either fuzzily-explained or not actually functioning utopias.

As a premise, I was wondering if some mode of compelling people to share their experiences and perceptions would be a necessary prerequisite for any utopia to work.

It doesn't really matter what the technology is behind it: a hive mind; a magical system that switches people's consciousness between different bodies on a daily basis; some kind of modern technology that requires people to upload their own perceptions and experience others'...

By obliging people to experience what others do (with full perception - sight, sound, smell, emotions, etc.), surely there would be no room for mercenary behaviour or narcissism? It would be very difficult to implement such a system, but if we're talking about a 10th generation of this system, where this is simply as ordinary a part of existence as breathing, can you see any immediate reasons why this wouldn't work in a utopia?

Slight edit

What if it weren't compulsory? If people had the ability to (mutually) agree to share perceptions, would that get any closer to achieving a utopia? (Perhaps with an exceptional case made in court hearings or something??)

Imagine going to the doctor unable to articulate exactly what was wrong, and having a medical professional understand exactly what was happening to you. Or (maybe idealistically) being able to offer a wealthy politician a more full understanding of what life as a working class individual? Hopefully that would still encourage individuality and freedom of expression, while also helping to soothe some voices of dissent ("you just don't understand!!") by actually allowing them to communicate how they feel.

(It's really helpful to see the kind of problems that this utopian/dystopian society would run into - and see if there are any problems that can be worked around.)

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    $\begingroup$ That sounds terrifying and not a utopia I would want to live in whatsoever. There would be absolutely no privacy and it'd be very easy for to remove (or re-educate, as I guess this technology is forcing everyone to do anyway) anyone deemed "divergent". There would be no individuality anymore, and no free will. $\endgroup$ – Michael Sep 4 '17 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ With magic anything is possible, including making an utopia work. Without magic, compelling people to share experiences would only lead to a remarkable increase in the ability of people to dissemble, mask their feelings, and generally dissociate their public personas from their inner selves. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 4 '17 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP I'd go so far as to say that with the level of experience sharing that OP specifies (in that it includes emotions, and thus we can assume thoughs), people completely losing their sense of inner self would be inevitable. How could you continue being "yourself", when you "were someone else" for even an hour. Let alone constantly "being multiple people" as the question seems to imply. $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Sep 4 '17 at 18:54
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    $\begingroup$ Your question reminded me of one of the Cyberiad stories. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cyberiad - ctrl+f for Altruizine. TL:DR - it backfired spectacularly. $\endgroup$ – Kreiri Sep 5 '17 at 11:40
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    $\begingroup$ This idea of "utopia" sounds exactly like the Borg from Star Trek. $\endgroup$ – Brian Rogers Sep 5 '17 at 14:58
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Yes, creating a unified sense of self across all of humanity does seem to be one way of achieving "utopia".

I'm just unsure you understand the implications of the former. People wouldn't simply be experiencing each other's perceptions as if they were watching an educational movie. They wouldn't simply think to themselves "huh, I never knew what hardships being a terrible person caused other people, i'll stop my bad behaviour now!" and go on with their day.

Rather they would become each other. People wouldn't stop being narcissistic because they'd learned their lesson. They would stop being narcissistic because their former sense of self would vanish, "they" wouldn't exist anymore.

So don't imagine that in this "utopia" everybody will be super kind and sweet to each other as we interpret those elements today. In fact it's almost certain that if you visited this utopia, you'd see things which you probably associate with dystopia: a bunch of seemingly vacant, voiceless and willess "people" that have no personal drives, personalities or opinions: essentially just cells of a much larger super-consciousness.

Now it's entirely possible that this super-consciousness might be very happy and thoughtful and virtuous. Just don't expect to see any of that by observing the bodies it is made out of.

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    $\begingroup$ Gotta love Unity: rickandmorty.wikia.com/wiki/Unity $\endgroup$ – jo1storm Sep 5 '17 at 8:48
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed people become one, just like the Borg . It appears that the inviduals are satisified, but I am not sure whether you would consider this to be an actual utopia. $\endgroup$ – Dennis Jaheruddin Sep 5 '17 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ @DennisJaheruddin I certainly wouldn't call it a dystopia though. I don't think using words which are normally used to categorize the nature of a civilisation is particularly useful (hence the quote marks when I use the word 'utopia') in this circumstance. Because this "collective" wouldn't be a form of society. It would be a completely new, higher lifeform/mind. But even if it isn't really a utopia (as it isn't exactly a society), atleast we can say that a hive mind could potentially be used to acheive a state of unified bliss. $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Sep 5 '17 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ It's a stretch to say "it's almost certain that... willess people that have no personal drives, personalities or opinions" If your neighbor and you put your consciousness into a blender and mix, what comes out could have drives, personalities, opinions. Some output opinions could be a less-intense average of the two input opinions, but still there. Some opinions might even grow stronger, as in "Now I know without a doubt from their own point of view that those (insert any commonly-ridiculed group here) are lying, lazy loafers!" $\endgroup$ – Loduwijk Sep 6 '17 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ Also note that experiencing something doesn't necessarily have to make you agree with it. If your thoughts were blended with someone else's, you may well have all the experiences and emotions tied to something you passionately hated before the blend, and you might not be able to reconcile the two. This could lead to increased suicide for some people. $\endgroup$ – Loduwijk Sep 6 '17 at 21:24
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Some people honestly enjoy others' suffering. All that compulsory experience sharing would do is intensify existing issues. A sadist would simply get a stronger "fix". A serial killer would get a fuller sense of his victims lives slipping away. The rapist would gain a stronger sense of power by experiencing the victim's helplessness.

Another question is that this does not address is physiological deficiencies that express themselves "socially". For example, scarring on the corpus callosum can result in the physical inability for a person to experience emotion (called alexithymia ), which leads to an inability to process many normal social signals. While this might enable physiologically normal people to experience what the alexithymic does, the converse would not hold true.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think that's true. Obviously, there is no data on what telepathic humans are capable of, but IMO other people's corpus callosum's would compensate for the person with alexithymia and work for them using some processing power to allow the person some, if not complete, emotion. $\endgroup$ – tox123 Sep 4 '17 at 21:59
  • $\begingroup$ That might be a good angle for a story to explore, much like the Thomas Covenant books explored leprosy. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Sep 4 '17 at 22:10
  • $\begingroup$ @tox123 by that token, neurological blindness or deafness could also be compensated for telepathically. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Sep 5 '17 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ for brain related blindness/deafness, yes. nerve related, no. $\endgroup$ – tox123 Sep 5 '17 at 10:56
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    $\begingroup$ @tox123 I realize there's some handwavium here (telepathy), so I may be following the logic too far. How would that work anatomically? Since the brain is, ultimately,a large nerve bundle, and it has been experimentally established that real and imagined experiences both fire the same activity in the brain, I would expect the opposite to be true. Link: pdfs.semanticscholar.org/c5b4/… $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Sep 5 '17 at 12:28
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Compelling everyone in a society to share the experiences of others, might bring about a commonality of purpose and thought generally, but would that be Utopia?

Maybe society might change in this way, but what would happen as a result of this, I feel, would be a loss of individuality with all experiences shared. Will people be willing to share their life experiences? If all your experiences are shared, what of your life is truly yours?

And will everybody view shared experiences in the same way? Will everyone want the same experiences? Unless we all become very similar in nature, experiences enjoyable to one person can be very unpleasant to another. Do we want that commonality?

Putting everyone through the same life experiences may be illuminating, but the simple compulsion element will be a form of imprisonment - forcing experiences upon people who do not want them. Some experiences are unpleasant anyway - punishing, even. Is it fair to punish others unnecessarily, simply because one person has had a very nasty experience? One person with PTSD is bad enough, for example, but can that society care for that one person if everyone must experience it, and possibly develop it?

I cannot see it working.

= = Edited for making it non-compulsory = =

If it were non-compulsory, people would choose who they wished to share experiences with. To a certain extent this already happens - people gravitate to others with similar interests and similar outlooks naturally. Being able to actually share experiences by some emotional link, seeing things even clearer through another's eyes would reinforce those bonds - but these are people who already share interests and probably outlooks. More cliques develop, society becomes more segregated, there is a tendency to form groups each, assisted by the mind-link, polarise forming common opinions of other groups.

Society becomes more unequal, less fair, less like utopia - though some may like it, others will not.

Perhaps you randomize the sharing, but then it starts to become compulsory, again and, another consideration, if you are spending so much time in another's life experiences, how much time do you end up in your own, and how will you know it is yours?

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I suggest you watch the movie "The Circle" with Tom Hanks, it taps exactly in this type of "Utopia", and the problems it poses when you start invading the privacy of individuals.

A good read about this if you really want to dig deeper into "transparency" is "The Transparent Society" by David Brin.

In any case, it seems that it could be a good idea to enforce transparency "in the public area" (both in the "public space" for private people and overall for "public-serving entities"), whereas it is mandatory to maintain privacy in the private sphere.

Nowadays, "privacy" as such is never really there even in your "private" sphere, as we communicate through electronics that can be hacked/tapped very easily and data can be collected with or without you even being aware of it. And if invading your physical privacy is required, there are many (and growing) means to do so, from searching your garbage to letting a nano drone fly in your private home. :)

The concern here is that while "transparency" is often asked for civilians, it is rarely required for the leaders (and I'm not only speaking about politicians). Nowadays, on the contrary, private companies thrive on confidentiality, so if you would like to enforce "transparency" on them, I wish you good luck, especially given their overall lobbying power.

Until then, any privacy you give up as an individual is all to the benefit of the very ones who are in positions that are strong enough to demand strong secrecy in their offshore bank accounts and their "confidential competitive data", to mention a few.

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Forgive me for saying so, but your question sounds like the kind of thing my highly liberal friends would both suggest and honestly wonder why anyone wouldn't think it would work. The premise is usually along the lines of, "if you understood how your actions hurt others, you'd be disinclined to act that way." Thus, shared experiences would make the world an utopia.

There are at least three truths to remember:

1) The average person may even believe they would want this, but when forced to admit the necessary consequence of no privacy whatsoever, suddenly they would realize all the vices that would result in embarrassment on the low end and abject terror on the high end. We have all made mistakes and may even continue to do so, but to air all that dirty laundry? What such a world would soon realize is that the average person pretty much always feels some kind of pain — and it would be impossible to make all of it go away.

You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time — John Lydgate

2) Everyone has different desires (healthy and unhealthy). What happens if my healthy desire conflicts with yours (much less my unhealthy desire... but theoretically that's what you're trying to fix, isn't it?)? Will our shared experience lead to understanding, compassion, and charity? Or is it more likely to lead to jealousy, frustration, and depression? All people generally believe they have obtained some level of competence. What happens when shared experiences prove that what we thought we were is much more than we actually are? All to often, that quiet little illusion is what allows us to live our lives with contentment — to be proud of the work we've done. How utopic does the lowest person on the totem pole feel? Would shared experiences mean we're all pigeon-holed into our "place" in life? Would it remove ambition? What happens if someone deisres to start a new business only to realize due to shared experience that millions of people think it's a bad idea? What if those millions of people were wrong? Our current social media experience is far too close to what you're looking for already, and look what happens? Sometimes that instantaneous reaction is right and exposes evil. Sometimes it's wrong and hurts people badly. Shared experiences are simply the ultimate form of social media — meaning it's the ultimate form of making mistakes.

Managers rise to the level of their incompetence — The Peter Principle

3) Finally, there are the inevitable psychopaths and sociopaths in any society. Most live their lives without causing a horrendous amount of pain, but some don't. What happens when our shared experiences reveals them for what they are? Is it even fair to subject everyone else to what such people have done and how they think? Is it fair to subject anyone to the pain felt by the victims of such people? How is society benefitted in that case? And what does it do about it? If the price a utopia must pay to be a utopia is to execute those who cannot fit into the utopic ideal, is it still a utopia? (It obviously isn't for the pychopaths and sociopaths.)

The bottom line is that utopias cannot exist so long as anyone is willing to hurt another, willingly or not. They cannot exist so long as anyone is forced to live a life contrary to their desires. They can only exist if everyone who thinks differently than you do is excluded.... That wouldn't be overcome by forcing (or not forcing) anyone to experience anyone else's lives/emotions/perceptions/feelings/reality.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you - all these thoughts are really insightful. If it's any consolation, this isn't the kind of world I'd want to live in; freedom of speech, diversity, and privacy are all pretty great things. I suppose at heart, this is all rooted in the more general question of whether any utopia is always destined to actually be a dystopia - like your quotation of Lydgate, "you can't please all of the people all of the time". $\endgroup$ – K. Price Sep 4 '17 at 21:33
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After reading the question, I contemplated a couple methods of implementation in order to consider the pros and cons. I will state them below, followed by the reason I don't think any of it would matter in the first place.

1. Replaying a random person's day as another person's dream

In this method, some sort of technology or magic or what have you records the lives of every person within the system and replays the full experience for another, randomly selected person. The replay really could occur during some type of cultural event; say a scheduled stop at a centrally controlled location or some sort of ritual. I just thought the dreams thing was neat.

  • Pros:

    • Everybody shares in everybody else's lives in a fair manner. By that I mean, assuming the system is maintained a truly random, then everybody gets to experience every aspect of life, without significant bias.
    • Assuming this is controlled by a central source and since the experiences occur as dreams, it is simple to explain away strange occurrences as "bugs in the system". This allows bad experiences to be taken with a grain of salt, and allows good experiences to be bolstered through a sort of confirmation bias.
  • Cons:

    • Random selection can spread mental illness from bad experience during formative years by doubling the occurrences of these events; once when they actually happen, and once when they get passed to someone else.
    • The second Pro from this list could be reversed and negative effects could be unintentionally reinforced while good effects are explained out.
    • In a truly random implementation, it is likely that a bell curve will exist where a small percentage of people get almost only positive effects, a small percentage of people get almost only negative effects, and most get some combo of both that end up cancelling out anyway.

    2. Selective Experience Sharing

    My thoughts behind this system are based on the assumption that those that govern or lead other people have the largest overall impact on society as a whole. This could be government officials, company CEOs, you name it; anybody deemed important enough. Intentionally targeting those people to share the experiences of others would be a way to have the largest impact for the smallest effort. In this system, when a person comes to some sort of power they would undergo some sort of process of taking in the experiences of others. Perhaps, for 182 days leading up to their inauguration (duration possibly depending on the impact of the office they are going into) they exist as an observer only in the body of a random person for a week at a time. Or, perhaps each day is a time-lapsed version of another person's last 6 months.

  • Pros

    • As mentioned, this is a bang-for-your-buck approach. High impact, minimum effort overall.
    • Allows the higher ups to see the struggles of the every-man.
    • Allows the vast majority of people to maintain their sense of self.
  • Cons
    • Does not give the less impactful people a way of seeing what it is like to be important and powerful.
    • Does not reduce slow shifts in cultural norms at a grass-roots level, focusing on more of a top-down approach.

3. Why none of it matters

One of the things we have to remember here, is that our experiences as humans, and our emotions and such, are stored in our bodies as a path of neurons and the electrical impulses and chemicals that they contain and transfer. While there are those of us that have unusual patterns in those connections, most people are wired pretty similarly. What this would mean is that, excepting a very targeted approach in the implementation, far-and-away the most experiences that end up transferred will be pretty dull and unimportant and if we are continually assaulted with those that are not, our chemistry will likely either find a way to normalize, making the most extreme occurrences seem uninteresting, or it will become much more extreme, giving everybody a sort of universal PTSD. Either way doesn't sound particularly fun.

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Utopias are such because they are very nice ideas that go against what is our ingrained instincts.

All tentatives to go in that direction inevitably find some "unexpected" side effect frustrating the purpose.

Your Utopia is no exception.

Even allowing there's some way to do what you propose (currently there is not and we have no idea if and when that could become feasible (likely answers are "no" and "never")), the first problem that comes to mind is: "who controls the process"? Any system can be controlled, hacked, has backdoors or, simply is governed by some humans; who will prevent the generic Joe Programmer to rewire system to put himself (and, possibly, some friends) into the wealthiest bodies that are around?

Even admitting the system is perfect and really randomizing, how can a society work when people is swapped around and a medical doctor is inhabited by a woodcarver or a priest?

Even if you manage to sort out such problems there remains the ultimate: nobody would have the reason to work hard and you would get a mass of Socialist Workers with no real push and no real future.

Sorry.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't think people's bodies get taken over by other people. You just relive their memories $\endgroup$ – Kat Sep 5 '17 at 5:25
  • $\begingroup$ I was with you right up until the end, then we diverged. I see no reason to assume that there would be no reason to work hard. Shared experience does not mean that you suddenly don't mind starving. Some things might decline though: why would anyone want to risk skydiving when they can just experience someone else's sky-dive? And then the number of different people actually doing it plummets. But farmers will still farm, porters will still port, and everyone else will still do something that lets them buy that food. OP has not done anything to remove work. $\endgroup$ – Loduwijk Sep 6 '17 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Aaron: I might gave misunderstood OP. I was under impression he implied swapping bodies for extended periods of time. this, to me seemed to point in the direction extended effort would not be worth the effort because soon you will have to relinquish control to someone else and begin again in some new place. If, OTOH, the experience is only transient and, worse, you retain knowledge you're not really the one acting then it would be nothing different than be forced to watch a very realistic film; many people would be gratified in really knowing they fare far better than that poor sod. $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Sep 6 '17 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ @ZioByte Ah! OP said "it doesn't matter what technology is used," but if you are going on a literal "body swap" and speaking strictly about that, then I can indeed see where you are going with the work thing. Yeah, that could be a problem. In that case, I'm with you through the entire thing. $\endgroup$ – Loduwijk Sep 6 '17 at 22:13
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Not all people experience empathy or have a conscience. Sharing experiences would not affect them and, in fact, they might actually use it against you. Psychopaths (or sociopaths) being the prime example.

You might say then. Well, what if we could fix these people? The answer is, apparently, that these type of people are necessary to an evolving society.

  • The Sociobiology of Sociopathy: An Integrated Evolutionary Model. Linda Mealey. 1995.
  • Antisocial personality disorder: An evolutionary game theory analysis. Andrew M. Colman and J. Clare Wilson. 1997.

An example

Imagine a world where no one lies because everyone experiences the pain caused when another is lied to. Everyone trusts everyone and is happy.

Then, one liar evolves who can lie without pain (the prototypical psychopath). Think of the havoc this person would cause to that trusting society (picture said society with Hillary or the Donald suddenly appearing).

People, then, apparently evolve to have a certain amount of distrust and to produce a certain amount of psychopaths to generate that distrust. And, a kind of equilibrium is reached for society and the species.

My engineering background leads me to believe that a utopia is always and necessarily a type of critically damped system. It may exist for a short period or as a steady state (i.e. so long as nothing at all ever changes). However, any perturbation in the system - no matter how small - and the utopia is gone.

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