Hello! Yesterday’s response was pretty staggering – thanks for all the comments and follows! Let’s hope I can maintain your interest.
Oscar Wilde once wrote that “the great events of the world occur in the mind”. It’s doubtful he had brain-to-brain interfaces in mind when he said it. If you’re one of those people who’s averse to hitting links, I’ll summarize it for you: scientists have demonstrated that neural activity can be communicated from one brain to another via an electronic link. I’ve had that link bookmarked for several months now because it worries me.
Life, as any Freudian psychoanalyst will tell you, is about the little things. More specifically, the little things that give us pleasure. Gratification is the strongest possible motivator: it’s the thing that makes us crave cigarettes, alcohol, cinnamon fireballs and cheeseburgers, even though these things are bad for us. On another level entirely, it’s the thing that makes Heroin fiendishly addictive and leads people to base-jump from rooftops. It’s also the thing that makes sex worth having: if sex was a public service with no more satisfaction than that of jury duty, the human race would have died out long ago.
So if we’re geared towards pleasure and away from pain, brain-to-brain interfaces are surely a dangerous and scary thing. Since pleasure is one kind of neural activity (don’t believe those people who’ve read a little “philosophy” and start spouting that “Cartesian Dualism” nonsense – these people are dangerously insane and shouldn’t be invited to dinner parties) and, theoretically, any kind of neural activity can be communicated and induced in another being, then we’re two steps away from everyone having a diode implanted in their head that makes them giggle and froth at the touch of a button. The most exquisite bodily experience possible is the flick of a switch away: a euphoric sensation beyond sex, beyond food or love or human comfort, a pleasure beyond any you’ve known: all you need to do is find someone else to share it with you. Future refinements would mean that you wouldn’t need the other person: you’d just need to get the signal that stimulates you in all the right places.
Great, right? Except there’s one problem. If pleasure forms the basis of our interactions with the world then we shun negative things and gravitate towards the enjoyable. After all, enjoyment and pleasure are conceptually the same thing: nobody really talks about “enjoyable discomfort” except those weird people who like going to the dentist. Yet even that’s pleasure in a neuro-chemical sense – in these people pain and fear cause a commensurate level of pleasure, like the endorphins produced by a really good cardio workout. The pleasure principle sneaks into everything we do: it’s why we shun things that hurt us and seek comfort. It’s why we listen to music and watch movies. It’s why we induce gratuitous suffering in animals in order to get Veal, hot Lobster rolls, and Foie Gras. It’s why vegetarians are miserable-looking (they don’t eat anything pleasurable). It’s why we bond, fall in love, get married and become parents. Pleasure is the root cause and motivator for everything human life is about.
A brain-to-brain interface would bypass all that. If you can have the most sublime orgiastic experience, your mouth filled with hot garlic mushrooms while listening to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, at the press of a button, then naturally you don’t actually have to find anyone to indulge in your erotic experience, nor cook the garlic mushrooms or turn the stereo on. You can have it, all of it, now: no muss, no fuss, no fear of VD, no garlic stains on your sheets. It’s yours. Without consequence.
So I have a question to ask you, gentle reader (and if I can work out how to do the poll thing, I will set one up). If we find the key to the pleasure principle, how long will it be before society disintegrates entirely? A week, or a month? Or will it?
The reason I ask is because I have an idea bouncing around in my head for a horror story about a virus that kills off humanity. Yawn, I know, but stick with it, it gets better. Unlike other viruses which make you feel ill and kill you as your organs shut down, this virus will be something new – an evolutionary game changer, if you like – because it won’t make you feel ill at all. Rather, it will do the opposite: it will infect you with a feeling of absolute orgasmic euphoria that persists until you die. Most viruses fail because they make you ill – in the case of, say, Ebola, you quickly succumb and die, which is why Ebola hasn’t taken over the world yet: infected people get very ill, very quickly and don’t have enough time to spread it through a community. At the other end of the scale is the common cold: a disease so totally pervasive that it appears on every continent. The common cold is successful only because it doesn’t kill at all – it just makes you feel terrible for a short time. All other diseases appear on the axis between these two – things that make you feel really poorly and kill you quickly at one end, things that make you sort-of-ill and hardly kill anybody at the other (HIV is more or less the exception because the syndrome doesn’t appear for a decade or so and doesn’t actually kill you – the rampant spread of AIDS through the population in the late 80s can be attributed to the fact that HIV is totally symptomless right up to the point that Kaposi’s Sarcoma kicks in and you die).
This new disease, on the other hand, will spread quickly because it lowers inhibitions – an inhibition is motivated by fear, not pleasure – and makes you, in short, want to screw the whole world. A major component of the viral factor is that it’s spread by body fluids. Person A, or Patient Zero if you like, will feel good. Really, really good. Like, permanently on the brink of the most explosive ecstasy of his life.
Most people, inhibited, normal, healthy (maybe) people won’t have any contact with him, even though he’s suddenly become Slutty McSlutterson. However, there’s somebody out there who will – everybody knows somebody who will sleep with them, given half the chance – and that person will be infected. The disease spreads slowly at first, infiltrating the population by stealth. Looking at it statistically, you would see more affairs and subsequent divorces, lower levels of violence and crime, and small changes to people’s behaviour. Let’s not forget that inhibition forms the flip-side to pleasure, and so the infected people will be killed by things that require inhibition – deep-fat-friers, electricity, cars, etcetera. But gradually society breaks down. Bins stop being collected. Bills stop being paid. Consumerism collapses. Trades stop being made. Everyone is in the grip of a powerful orgasmic tide that blocks out all other considerations. They don’t need to cook or care for their young. They don’t need to dress nice or shower or play golf, because the euphoria removes all these needs. The infected die – make no mistake about that – not from the disease, but from starvation. They don’t care enough to eat anymore. Or they die of a cold they can’t feel, or from pain they’re unaware of. Their every need is taken care of. They die in the middle of the streets and fields with smiles on their faces.
And darkness and decay and eternal euphoria will hold illimitable dominion over all.