This is a follow up to this question I was told to revise: If all work is automated, what will humans be able to do? After consideration I think that the only way to salvage that question is to break it up into more questions, so this is the first one.
I have a strong intuition that humans need to pursue some goal or purpose in their lives. Lacking that they can never be happy, since they will struggle with a feeling that their life lacks sense or meaning.
Some people never develop such a purpose; instead, they adopt attitudes such as hedonism or decadence. However, behaving in this way - correct me if I'm wrong - is known to be a trap that ruins lives of those who do so and this is mainstream psychological knowledge. Such people will often fall to various addictions and, when dying, are likely to think they have wasted their lives. It is necessary that one's actions reach beyond oneself and impact reality around them if they are to provide sense, meaning or accomplishment, and this is not the case if one falls to hedonism or decadence.
A few times, when I was presenting views like these, I was told that I'm hellbent on employment for some weird reason even though, demonstrably, humans do not absolutely need to be employed to lead happy and productive lives. I do not believe I'm hellbent on employment. If employment, on its own, serves as a purpose of life, then we reach a weird loop: I work so that I can earn my wage so that I can survive one more month so that I can work some more. This is circular. I'm sure many better purposes can be found. Still, this... I guess this is a purpose, so lacking a better one, it can work. (Although it does carry a risk of disorders such as workaholism). But this is only true providing that this work is, in any way, sensible, that it does impact the reality around the person who does this work. If one is getting paid for a tiring, grindy work that is clearly senseless, that serves no real need then it cannot give a sense of accomplishment.
It would, however, be much better to pursue a purpose through work while still getting money from it; for example, a physician may draw a sense of accomplishment from treating their patients, which will, incidentally, also give them money so that they can survive. Others, such as monks, can pursue what they believe to be a Higher Purpose even without being employed at all and yes, this may bring happiness - perhaps it may even be one of the best ways to reach happiness.
It is also not necessary to serve a single purpose. For example, it would be perfectly valid to work 8h/day as a janitor while drawing and publishing art on sites like DeviantArt in spare time. The work as a janitor, like I described above, while not great, can serve as a purpose since it very clearly fills some real outside needs and impacts reality around a person. Publishing art can supplement this, provided that other people appreciate this art. However, drawing just for oneself and never gaining others' appreciation is not sufficient here, since it does not reach beyond the person who does this, which - again - to my intuition is a necessary condition. This does not mean that such actions have no place in one's life; it does, however, mean that they are not sufficient to provide one a sense of meaning of their lives nor a sense of accomplishment.
A possible full automation of all work, which may happen if research in AIs and robotics becomes advanced enough may greatly limit possible activities that may provide a sense of purpose. If everything is already done and therefore there is no real need for humans' work then there is no outside need to fill nor is it possible to have any impact on reality around a person. By developing AIs humans may provide themselves everything, at the cost however of losing all agency. This is tantamount to locking themselves in a golden cage.
Without agency there are only two viable activities that may serve a purpose or inject meaning in one's life:
- Full devotion to the supernatural; the life of a monk, as I described above. However, for this, one must first believe in the supernatural. Also, and perhaps even more importantly, not everyone is cut for a life of a monk and even the Bible seems to say that.
- Full devotion to interpersonal relationships. However, in practice, it rarely happens that such full devotion to interpersonal relationships can drive a life in a healthy way on its own. Even housewives do works such as housekeeping to supplement just being in a relationship with their husband and children. If someone really solely and fully draws a sense of life only from a relationship with someone else, with nothing else to supplement this, then such relationships are commonly described as possessive, dysfunctional and unhealthy.
As a result I fear that full automation may have a nasty side effect of removing the sense of life from humans and as a result causing a plague of severe depressions and suicides.
I admit I have no hard arguments to back up these intuitions. At best I guess I could provide some quotations, like I did in the aforementioned question, but I cannot even find the exact quotes, so I won't bother.
Note it is not my intention in this question to discuss whether research in AIs has the potential to fully automate all work nor if this will lead to people losing their sense of life; now I only wish to ask if humans, indeed, need agency over the reality around them for their lives to have meaning. I only mentioned AIs for context.
Is it true, as my intuition tells me, that - with the possible sole exceptions of those who chose to become monks - humans require some agency over the reality around them if they should find some purpose in their lives, which in turn is necessary for them to have a sense or meaning of their lives, to have some sort of accomplishment, without which they cannot be happy?