20 Feb 2009

Bostrom, "Why I Want to be a Posthuman When I Grow Up," 6 Emotion

How do you feel about experiencing unknown posthuman emotions?

Nick Bostrom

"Why I Want to be a Posthuman When I Grow Up"

VI. Emotion

It was easiest to articulate what posthuman levels of lifespan are. They are quantitatively greater, but qualitatively homogeneous (healthy throughout). It was more difficult to express what posthuman levels of cognition are, because there are qualitatively different sorts of intelligence. And yet it is most difficult to clarify what posthuman emotional capacities are. For in this area we see enormous qualitative variations in what we deem to be emotionally valuable states and capacities.

Some cases are clear, however. A person who is suicidally depressed would be better off having their brain chemistry rebalanced. Having healthy emotional capacities will allow him to return to an enjoyable and rewarding life.

Now consider that people also try to enhance their emotional capacities beyond theraputic purposes. Some people try to reduce or eliminate aggression-responses in aversive situations. We might meditate to obtain emotional repose. Or perhaps we try to overcome our fears and phobias. In fact, life for many of us is a journey of character development.

So very generally speaking, we might define emotional enhancement as being increased excellence in our emotional character. "A posthuman emotional capacity would be one which is much more excellent than that which any current human could achieve unaided by new technology." (11)

Some argue that there is a maximum possible increase of emotional well-being. Bostrom argues that there are posthuman emotional states we cannot even imagine now. They are of a qualitatively different variety, so we cannot even guess what they might be like. Consider how children have difficulty understanding what romantic love feels like. There likewise may be posthuman emotions we will not know until we feel them.

Generally speaking, we consider pleasure, fun, and excitement as one important dimension of emotional well-being.

Of course, an over-heightened joy might become mania. But also people show a capacity for extreme bliss without pathological consequences.

Bostrom for now puts aside arguments against the possibility for such emotional enhancements. He rests instead in saying that we know there to be levels of emotional well-being that are currently unattainable. If technology allowed for them, they would provide worthwhile "modes of being."

Nick Bostrom. "Why I Want to be a Posthuman When I Grow Up." Forthcoming in Medical Enhancement and Posthumanity, eds. Bert Gordijn and Ruth Chadwick (Springer), 2007.
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