Every February I agonize over the Valentine's Day Dilemma. How can I show my girlfriend, whom I’ll call Emily, how much I love her? Should I get her a funny card, or a romantic one? Turkish delight or chocolates? Dinner at a fancy restaurant, and if so, which one?
Emily has quirky tastes. The best gift I’ve ever given her, the one she most appreciated, was a dish scrubber with hemp bristles. After hers lost its bristles, she couldn’t find a replacement. When I spotted one in a housewares shop and bought it for her, Emily was ecstatic. A dish scrubber! My gifts usually disappoint her, because I have a hard time guessing what she really wants.
The Valentine’s Day Dilemma is related to what I call the solipsism problem. Emily and I and all sentient creatures are locked in our private worlds. We send each other signals--visual, auditory, tactile--but no one really knows what anyone else is thinking. Faulty signal interpretation inevitably leads to disappointment and squabbles, the dismal downside of romance.
These problems could be overcome if Emily and I were linked with wifi equipped, AI-enhanced, optogenetic brain implants, which would render traditional methods of romantic communication as obsolete as smoke signals. The implants would have apps for specific tasks. A gift-giving app would query Emily’s brain about what she really wants for Valentine’s Day. Replicas of Mesopotamian owl figurines? Glow-in-the-dark Tarot cards? Dinner at that Soho restaurant that serves only soy-based food?
The app would go on the Internet to purchase gifts and make reservations. Emily would adjust the settings on her implant so it responds to my queries without alerting her conscious self, which can then be pleasantly surprised. As Emily likes to say, Easy peasy lemon squeezey.
Other apps could ensure that our Valentine’s Day dinner goes smoothly. The "Cyrano de Bergerac App" could express my romantic feelings for Emily more eloquently than I can. Another app could filter out negative thoughts I might have about Emily. Not that I ever have negative thoughts, but just in case. The app could block transmission of thoughts that aren’t really negative but that she might take the wrong way.
If Emily talks about something that fails to hold my interest, my implant would commandeer my language and motor centers. I’ll nod, maintain eye contact and emit appropriate verbal responses while privately composing another blog post about the mind-body problem.
The implants could resolve disputes that arise when Emily and I recollect past events differently. Example: Emily: “I keep telling you I hate white chocolate, and you keep giving it to me!” Me: “I distinctly remember you saying you love white chocolate!” Our implants would check recordings of our interactions to determine who’s right.
Actually, such petty disagreements would never arise, because our implants would resolve potential conflicts before they reach the level of our awareness. It would be like having a team of super-smart couple-counselors working 24/7 on our relationship without any conscious effort from us.
Our technologically enhanced love will be perfect, harmonious, unblemished by human frailty. Every day will be like Valentine’s Day, except much, much better.
Self-plagiarism Alert: I have posted versions of this column previously.