If mood were voluntary

Suppose, through some future technology, everyone could dial in their mood, deciding how they feel at any given moment of the day. What would such a world be like?

If you need to focus for an exam, or pay attention in class, or maintain your poise during that potentially nerve-wracking job interview, just choose the appropriate settings. If later that evening you want to get frisky with your partner, no problem — you can both always be in the mood if you want to.

If you have a fear of flying, you can set yourself, pre-flight, to Zen-like calm. Or maybe you want the high that can come from drinking, without its debilitating side-effects. Just set your mood knob to “elation”.

Of course there would be limitations. The human brain has evolved built-in mechanisms at a very low level that compensate for any sustained deviation from the norm.

For example, if you try to set your mood knob to ecstatic for too many hours at a stretch, your brain will work progressively harder and harder to bring you back down. You could eventually crash, and go into a depressive tailspin.

But let’s say that these future technologies come with sensible brakes, so they don’t allow you to tweak your mood in ways that would actually cause you harm. Sort of the way an elevator will bring you up or down on command, but won’t let you crash through the roof or the floor.

Would people who have access to such a technology be fundamentally changed by it?

5 Responses to “If mood were voluntary”

  1. sally says:

    Isn’t this what substance abuse people do? Control their moods with drugs?

  2. sally says:

    Also people who take anti-anxiety or antidepressants do?

  3. admin says:

    Sorry, I wasn’t as clear as I should have been. Yes, we have anti-depressants today, but they are not connected in a closed loop with bio-feedback and machine learning algorithms.

    It’s a bit like the difference between being able to light a fire when you get cold, and having a thermostat that automatically maintains the temperature for you, while you go about doing the things.

    In the latter case, we can eventually take the context-dependent mood maintenance for granted. For example, when it’s time to get work done, your mood automatically shifts into gear to optimize for that activity. When you are ready to go to sleep, you automatically become relaxed and drowsy, etc.

  4. Phil H says:

    If you have read Dick’s classic “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep”, then you’ll know how this goes (p4):

    “My schedule for today lists a six-hour self-accusatory depression,” Iran said. “What? Why did you schedule that?” It defeated the whole purpose of the mood organ. “I didn’t even know you could set it for that,” he said gloomily.

    “I realised how unhealthy it was, sensing the absence of life, not just in this building but everywhere, and not reaching — do you see?”

    I think you can see from our existing use of legal mind-altering substances that anything attuned to the Virtues of the current age will be overused to extremes; you will become sick of working with professional, efficient and unflappable people, and resent having to turn up the dial to join them. Everyone will be expected to dial in sociability and gregariousness on company away days (yes, they could be worse).

    Ultimately, it would be a double-edged sword – as with caffeine and alcohol, it would help a group of apes live in very close company in some ‘modern’ fashion, but also produce new types of dissociation, mental disorders and schisms of the mind. And we will help our criminals by making such things mandatory.

  5. admin says:

    Phil H: The good news is that your comment was able to put me into a depressed mood without the need for any advanced chemical technology at all. So maybe the old ways are still the best ways. :-)

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