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What, gentle reader, do you think is the most likely way for the human race to go extinct?
Asteroid strike? Unlikely at this point. Scientists have already started tracking asteroids and are constantly coming up with better and better schemes to divert asteroids away from Earth.
Nuclear war? Also highly unlikely at this point. The Cold War is over. The USSR is one with the dodo bird. If global-scale thermonuclear war were ever going to happen, the Sixties were the most likely time. There may be a nuclear exchange one day, but I don’t think a humanity-killing war is a significant risk at this point in time.
Climate change? Global warming? W-a-ay too slow to threaten our existence. The most climate change can be is a massive pain in humanity’s rear end.
Terrorist release of a biological weapon? Far more likely than the previous three, alas, and the current nightmare of the world’s security agencies. However, right at the moment, I don’t think the technology is easy enough for the average idiot terrorist to use.
But there is yet another way for the human race to remove itself from the Universe, a possibility not yet widely known, but soon will be as technology continues its unstoppable advance, far and away the most likely possibility of all.
Willingly. Happily. Jumping into extinction with both feet, completely aware we were wiping ourselves out every inch of the way. Vanishing with a huge smile on our collective faces.
Consider the following logic, gentle reader.
POSTULATE: A human is his brain, and his brain only. When the human’s brain dies, the human dies too. The human stops perceiving the Universe, and the Universe stops perceiving the human. The human’s feelings, thoughts, and personality all go to zero, and the human vanishes from the Universe forever.
So, if this postulate is true (it actually hasn’t been tested in a laboratory), what is the practical definition of reality for a human?
Your eyes see an image---and an electric current goes flowing from your optic nerves into your brain and ultimately generates more currents in your brain as your brain processes the data and turns it into images, the sense of sight. Your tongue tastes food---and current goes flowing along biological wires straight to your brain, where more brain currents flow as it is processes the data into the sense of taste. Your hand grasps an object---and again current goes flowing to the spine and upward to your brain for yet more processing and generating yet more brain currents to generate the sense of touch.
All your body’s sensors send every single bit of their information to the brain, where the end result is to cause brain currents that generate physical sensation. Touch, sight, smell, hearing, taste are all brain currents.
So reality is just brain currents. Just the electrochemical currents flowing through your brain. Just charged ions flowing between all those dendrites and neurons in your brain.
That’s what reality is for a human, man, that’s all reality can ever be. Just those brain currents. If those brain currents quit flowing, reality blanks out.
And this is significant---because?
Well, up until recently, the human race had no way of controlling our brain currents. We were forced to accept whatever agonizing reality, whatever agonizing brain currents, the Universe forced upon us. And make no mistake, for the vast majority of the human race, over the entire two-hundred-thousand-year span of our existence, the most common thing the average human has felt has been pain.
The pain of being exposed to raw Nature in all its brutality. Freezing cold, blistering heat, floods, blizzards, tornados, tsunamis, earthquakes, landslides, droughts and the associated famines, mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, leeches, snakes.
The pain of disease and infirmity. Cancer. Heart disease. Diabetes. Stroke. Blindness. Deafness. HIV. Bubonic plague. Smallpox. Typhus. Polio. Diphtheria. Cholera. Tetanus. Yellow fever. Malaria. Tuberculosis. Leprosy.
The slow pain of getting old, the thousand pains of aging, the mental pain of knowing the grave is close.
The pain of injustice and oppression. The pain of watching the nobles eat and grow fat while your children starve. The pain of being a slave, of living under the lash while others are somehow free, and you have to wonder why. The pain of watching cities get slaughtered because their side lost a war. The pain of watching people in other countries live lives of comfort and ease while you, you must watch children die because they got caught in a crossfire. You must watch hospitals be bombed with unending barrel bombs and artillery strikes.
And mental pain. The pain of abuse, emotional, physical, sexual, all happening to you while you were a child. The pain of failure. Couldn’t get a high-enough score on that test to get into med school or college, and that dream is over now. Couldn’t get that raise or promotion after ten years, and you know you’re going to remain in the exact same place for your entire career.
The pain of getting hammered, over and over again, from all sides, all the time, with pain that never stops, never lets up, caused by forces you don't understand and have no way to control.
Pain is still the most common thing a human feels, even today.
Right, gentle reader?
Soon, very, very soon, we’ll be able to make all those painful realities, all those painful brain currents, go away forever.
And live forever in the process.
Because we’ll be able to make whatever brain currents, whatever realities, we want.
We will build a computer that will take the place of our bodies’ sensors. Sight, sound, touch, taste, hearing currents all will be generated by this computer. We will remove our brains from our bodies and put them into carefully prepared boxes, “Happiness Boxes,” to make wiring the computer into our brains easier, and also because with our bodies gone, we will no longer be vulnerable to any of those horrible infirmities and diseases.
We will be essentially immortal, then. We will have time to figure out how to keep the brain healthy permanently, and to make the Happiness Boxes self-repairing.
We’re never going to die.
And the most important step of all, the step where we make all pain go away forever: We program our Happiness Box to make whatever brain currents we want. We will never feel pain again. We will be happy for all of eternity.
Don’t think such a strange, insane thing as a Happiness Box could ever happen?
Gentle reader---the project to build Happiness Boxes started DECADES ago.
Billions and billions of dollars have already been spent, and are continuing to be spent, developing computer programs to generate brain currents, realities that we would rather experience.
What do video games do? Totally immerse the user in a different, better, more pleasurable reality. Look at how they have developed over their lifetime. The drive from the start has been to design a game that felt completely, absolutely real. People love that. They better a particular video game replaces reality, the more people buy that video game.
Seen those VR goggles that have come out lately? Two of the five senses, sight and sound, have been displaced. Look at the people wearing them. Are they living in their own separate world, no longer living in our normal, shared reality? Are they living in a reality where they can’t really be hurt, can’t really feel pain? Are they in a reality where they are happier than their normal reality?
Are their sight and sound brain currents being generated by a computer?
You could easily stick a label on VR headsets: “Happiness Box 1.0”.
Video game development will not stop until all five senses have been displaced. The end result will be a program (developed by a totally unconscious process!) that will be completely perfect for a Happiness Box.
There are three fundamental problems to building Happiness Boxes. The first is to build a computer and write software to generate realities. As we have just seen, that problem is well on the way to being solved. The second is to build the Box itself, a device capable of sustaining the human brain. The third is not obvious and a bit strange.
Development has started on putting on brains in boxes. There's this Russian billionaire who wants to put his brain in a box so he can live forever. He's got a billion dollars. He'll get it done. He'll get a box he can put his brain in. It won't even be that long. We'll just borrow his design.
Now that weird third problem: Your thoughts, memories, and emotions have to be able to be edited and controlled by the computer. That is one BIG requirement to being in a Happiness Box. There are two reasons for this.
First reason: The user may NOT know he is in a Happiness Box, in a controlled environment. That has to be forbidden knowledge. The very first action a Happiness Box computer would take would be to wipe the knowledge the user is in a Happiness Box out of the user's brain. That would take EVERY bit of the fun out of it, the knowledge that victory was always guaranteed.
Second reason: If a software glitch happens and the user becomes aware reality is not consistent, instead of being happy, the user will be unhappy and confused. The chance of a glitch will be especially high in the beginning. So the computer has to be able to re-set the brain if necessary. The user's thoughts, memories, and emotions have to be able to be monitored and changed by the computer.
The average layman will not be aware of this, but the scientists, bless their little hearts, are working night and day on figuring out how to control brains, too. Here is but a small sampling of what the scientists are figuring out how to do:
- Emotion adjustment
- Erasing memories One
- Erasing memories Two
- Editing memories One
- Editing memories Two
- Brain Needle Insertion
- Nanobot Mind Control
- Memory Implantation
One slight result of all this brain-editing. There is one thing you lose going into a Happiness Box. Your free will. Since certain thoughts and memories can’t be allowed, and your brain can be re-set at any time, you lose all your free will going into a Happiness Box. But hey, the neuroscientists are telling us there is no free will anyway, so no problem there, right?
One final step. Since we're going to be around for billions of years, we have to have ultimate safety. So we're going to have to put our Box in some perfectly safe place where nothing can touch it.
And that’s it, gentle reader, we’re done. All the wheels are in motion to solve all three problems. There could be a deliberate, conscious, world-wide project to build Happiness Boxes, and the results could not be rolling in faster.
(SETI scientists, take note. This argument generalizes to all sentients in the Universe. SETI’s chance for success is rigorously zero. All advanced aliens are in Happiness Boxes.)
Sometime within the next thirty years, I predict, the first Happiness Box will appear. It’s coming, man, E.M. Forster’s Machine, Star Trek’s Holodeck, William Gibson’s aleph, made real. Then the crisis for humanity’s existence will happen. It will seem to hit from out of nowhere.
Do me a favor and imagine it, gentle reader. Make it real. In front of you is a shining metal box, about three feet by three feet by three feet. Open this box up and you see all these fancy high-tech circuit boards and a hollow spot with all these wires and tubes leading to it. That is the spot where your brain will go, if you want, where you can live forever in perfect peace and harmony, in whatever reality you choose.
What kind of reality would you choose? Again, I ask you to imagine it, to be telling a salesman what kind of Paradise you want. Think about a reality where you would be happiest, in Nirvana.
Want to be a super-hero? Not a problem, cos-play gets real. You’re not going to be limited by the laws of physics.
How about Star Trek? Star Wars? Narnia? Middle Earth? Westeros? Hit the home run that wins the World Series? Be the star quarterback and win the Super Bowl? Win all the Super Bowls? Win a Nobel Prize? Win all the Nobel Prizes? Get all the girls?
How about all of these at once? All yours, man, just a few lines of code.
Let me tell you how they will sell it to you. They will tell you there is no such thing as “absolute” reality. One set of brain currents is just as “real” as another set of brain currents. The argument is correct. Strictly speaking, there is no physical experiment you can perform that will tell you whether or not you are in a Happiness Box. If you can detect no difference, then there is no difference.
Then the choice will be up to you, gentle reader, and every other member of the human race. Live in the so-called “real” world, in constant pain, struggle, and disappointment for the next thirty or so years, slowly weaken with old age, die and blank out, become a stinking corpse and rot in the ground.
Or live forever in perfect bliss in a computer-generated reality, a reality that has no detectable difference from the so-called “real” world, always winning, succeeding every time, completely unaware you’re in a Happiness Box.
What choice will you make? What choice do you think every other member of the human race will make?
Sure, you can choose not to go into a Happiness Box, and I'm sure many will refuse because they are certain that initial postulate---humans are their brains only---is wrong. (And they could be right, too. I repeat: This postulate has NOT been tested in the lab.) But, right or wrong, they'll die off. In a hundred years or so, all of those who refused to go into Happiness Boxes will be dead and gone.
Yeah, there's a halfway step, although it means being stupid, denying the logic that one set of brain currents is equivalent to another set of brain currents. Put your brain in a Happiness Box but still choose to interact with the Universe. But interacting with the Universe means taking risks. Eventually you will lose. A one-in-a-million meteor will hit your Box. A blast from a nearby supernova will knock out all your electronics at once. An earthquake will drop a mountain on you. A volcano will roast you in lava.
After you've watched enough buddies die because they chose to interact with the Universe, you will see the logic and choose to be safe, to find some perfectly secure, sealed-off spot and generate your own set of brain currents. Most likely this will involve going far off into space somewhere. There are plenty of places in space where nothing happens.
The final, equilibrium state is not in doubt. Only those who chose to go into a Happiness Box and not take risks---which means you will be in a computer-generated reality to keep from being bored to death---will still be alive in the end.
And poof, just like that, the human race will be extinct, collapsed into billions of Happiness Boxes, and gone from the Universe. Instead of going extinct against their will, they will have gone extinct by their own free choice.
And this is the most likely way the human race will go extinct. Step by inevitable, inexorable step, by a thoroughly logical process, a process that started decades ago, a process that is already at least one quarter completed.
Right, gentle reader?