Saturday, January 04, 2020

Manufacturing Motives: Creating Desires

It has been suggested that a podcast about value should be able to say something about the value of listening to a podcast on moral value that I am planning to start in a few months.

In the previous posting I looked at the value of listening to a podcast in terms of fulfilling the desires that the potential listener already has. Such a podcast could fulfill the potential listener's desires in one of two ways. It could fulfill the desires directly in terms of being entertaining, containing a subject matter that the listener is intrinsically interested in. A clear and easy to understood speaking voice and good sound quality are important to prevent thwarting some of the listener's desires by preventing the podcast from being hard to follow or annoying. I am not guaranteeing that this podcast will have those qualities, but they will be required to give the podcast value to any given listener.

The other method goes as follows:

Spoiler alert: The method of creating value that I will talk about here is the method that will turn out to be the most important when it comes to morality.

What if I could create within you a desire that would be served by listening to the podcast. For example, assume that I could make an elixir and put it in your drink that would make you fall in love with the sound of my voice. Under the effect of this magical spell, you want nothing more than to hear my voice. You would then have a motive to listen to the podcast over and over again just so that you can hear my voice.

This illustrates the second method of giving somebody a motive to perform some action. One creates a desire that the action would serve. In giving them such a desire - and making them aware of the fact that the action will serve that desire - one gives them a motive to perform that action.

We do not have magical elixirs. However, we do have something else. Humans evolved to have a reward and punishment system. It is a pathway through the brain, fueled mostly by the neurotransmitter dopamine, whereby if you reward somebody for performing some action, then that person acquires a desire to perform that action. He already has a motive to perform the action - for the sake of obtaining the reward. However, over time, people come to value performing the action, not for the sake of the reward, but for its own sake. Similarly, if you arrange for it to be the case that a person is punished if he should perform some action - is given an electrical shock, for example - and you make him aware of this fact, you give him a reason not to perform the action. Furthermore, he will come to value not performing the action, not just for the sake of avoiding punishment, but for its own sake.

When it comes to activating the reward system, praise serves as a type of reward, while condemnation serves as a type of punishment.

This, as I said, has more to do with morality than it does with listening to a podcast. If we praise people who keep their promises and condemn people who break their promises, we give people a motive to keep promises. At first, they keep promises as a way of obtaining the reward - praise, and of avoiding the punishment - condemnation. But, over time, people come to simply like to keep their promises and to hate breaking their promises, even when they will not get caught. By giving people an aversion to breaking promises, you give them a motive to keep their promises even when they have other reasons not to, and even when they cannot get caught.

This suggests that if people were praised for listening to my podcast and condemned for failure to do so, then this will eventually result in people having a desire to listen to the podcast that would be served by, of course, listening to the podcast. Insofar as they have such a desire and know how to listen to the podcast, they have a motive to do so.

This, then, will bring up the question of whether there are reasons to praise people who listen to this podcast, or to condemn those who do not. There probably is not. However, the degree to which we can provide information that would be useful in making better communities, to that degree there might be reasons to encourage people to listen.

Are there reasons to praise people who keep promises and to condemn people who do not? Are there reasons, in other words, to create in people a desire to keep their promises that will motivate them to do so even when they otherwise do not want to? Actually . . . yes. There are a lot of reasons to do so.

What, then, is the value of listening to this podcast? Hopefully, I can make it pleasing or useful - such as to fulfill the desires you already have. It might also be useful in that it can help to fulfill desires you should have - desires that there are reasons to create. This is not beyond the realm of possibility. Insofar as this podcast can actually provide information that would be useful in creating better communities - making the world a better place, to that degree it may be useful to praise those who listen to it and to condemn those who do not, thereby creating within people desires that would be served by listening to this podcast.

That seems to be taking a huge step outside of the bounds of reality. Let's return to earth and answer, directly, the question: What is the real-world value of listening to this podcast?

Listening to this podcast will have value insofar as it is entertaining and provides useful information. The information that I hope to provide is information on the nature of value that will be useful in creating better communities - in making the world a better place than it would have otherwise been. Better communities, in turn, are those in which people obtain the benefits of their association with other people in terms of getting the things that they value, while avoiding the risks and harms that humans often inflict on others.

The value of listening to this podcast is found in the degree to which it is successful at reaching these goals.

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