Friday, May 27, 2011

Happiness as a Multiparametric Optimisation.

Men usually find some degree of happiness in the satisfaction of their desires. The hungry man is a happy when fed, the thirsty man, after a drink, the poor man in the achievement of wealth. Human nature being what it is, is made up of a multitude of desires which are frequently in conflict with one another. For example, our desire for leisure is against our desire for for wealth which we achieve through work. Our desire to look attractive is opposed to our desire to eat lots of sweets, and so on.

Our happiness then can be thought of as the degree to which we have satisfied our desires. Considering the multifaceted nature of our desires, each "facet"being a parameter of happiness, our degree of happiness can be considered as a sort of reflection on the  multiparametric satisfaction of our desires.

As said before, some of our desires are in conflict with each other and therefore satisfaction of parameter X may come at the expense of parameter Y.  Philosophically speaking, the task at hand is similar to that of the engine designer; how do you optimise for happiness given conflicting human desires.

From a systems point of view, system optimisation will occur somewhere between the extremes of the conflicting parameters. In other words, total system optimisation will occur at a point where the individual component parameters may not be completely satisfied. Now this is very important, since it explains a lot of human cognitive pathology and folly.

Consider human sexual satisfaction. The hedonist may argue that sex is the ultimate pleasure and that satisfaction of this one parameter will lead to happiness. (This of course is a simplification, but bear with me). Consider the following "Sexual Happiness Decay curves", for three hypothetical women, a 10, an 8 and a 5 respectively.

We see that sex with a "10" is much better than sex with a "5" but over time, due to factors such as familiarity and habituation, over time  the pleasure from each act tends to diminish. There is nothing like the rush of the new. The natural strategy to then to optimise sexual pleasure is to try and recreate the "rush" of the new.  The following graph illustrates this strategy. (Each new curve is a new partner)
The theory being that by changing the partner a recreation of the initial satisfaction state can be achieved. In reality, the easier the "prey" is to catch the less pleasure that one gets from it. The strategy then for the sexual hedonist is to achieve a steady supply of new lovers to keep his sexual satisfaction at a high state. The problem is though, most humans do not live on sexual satisfaction alone, and need other things such as companionship and love from others. Now true abiding love, seems to be a time dependent phenomenon. A love/satisfaction curve could hypothetically be drawn as below.
(N.B love as opposed to infatuation)

Now consider a man who meets a "10" and sticks with her, a graph of the sexual pleasure/love curves could be visualised as follows:
Now note, his system happiness is greater than his potential sexual happiness after a while. Compare this to the "player approach":

By optimising for one parameter, sexual satisfaction, he has traded this off for deep abiding love. The rapid turnover of partners never lets deep abiding love develop. There is no doubt that he may be sexually more satisfied than than the man above, but his total "system" happiness is less than in the above graph. This is the dark side of "Game"; it's a uniparametric optimisation of the multiparametric human system.

Of course these graphs are simplifications, but they illustrate the logic behind a lot of human folly. The systemically optimised man, at any given point finds that any one of his particular desires remains unsatisfied, if he is unable to see the "big picture view" of his condition, he may be tempted to focus on one parameter at the expense of all the rest.

The thing to realise about earthly happiness is that it is not a satisfaction of every human desire, but a balance of them. A lot of human misery is caused by seeking a uniparametric solution to the problem of unhappiness. In trying to satisfy every one of our desires, or even one fully, happiness eludes us.