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Nozick the Experience Machine

Nozick the Experience Machine

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Published by: a280872 on Sep 08, 2012
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TheExperienceMachine
ROBERT
NOZICK
RobertNozick(1936-2000)wasaprofessorofphilosOphyatHarvard
Universitv,
Inthisselectionfromhis
Anarchy,State,
and
Utopia.
hearguesagainstthehedonismof
Ben-
tham,forifpleasurewere
our
solevalue,wewould
have
aconclusivereasontoplugintoanexperiencemachineThefactthatmostofusarerevoltedbythisidea
is
goodevidenceagainsttheclaimsofhedonism,aswellasforawiderviewofwhatisgood.Therearealsosubstantialpuzzles
when
weaskwhatmattersotherthan
how
people's
experiencesfeel"fromtheinside."Suppose
there
wereanexperiencemachinethat
would
giveyouanyexperienceyoudesired.
Superduper
neuropsychologistscouldstimulateyourbrainsothat
you
wouldthink
and
feelyou
were
writinga
great
novel,ormakingafriend,orreadinganinterestingbook.
All
thetimeyou
would
befloatinginatank,withelectrodesattachedtoyourbrain.Shouldyouplugintothismachineforlife,preprogramming
your
life'sexperiences?Ifyouareworriedabout
miss-
ingout
on.
desirableexperiences,we
cansuppose
thatbusinessenterpriseshaveresearchedthoroughlythelivesofmanyothers.Youcanpick
and
choosefromtheirlargelibraryorsmorgasbord
of
suchexperiences,selectingyourlife'sexperiencesfor,say,thenexttwoyears.Aftertwoyearshavepassed,youwillhaveten
min-
utesorten
hours
out
ofthetank,toselecttheexperiencesofyour
next
twoyears.Ofcourse,whileinthetankyouwon'tknow
that
you'rethere;you'llthinkit'sallactuallyhappening.Otherscan
also
pluginto
have
theexperiencestheywant,
so
there'snoneedtostayunpluggedtoservethem.(Ignoreproblemssuchaswho
will
servicethemachinesifeveryoneplugsin.)Wouldyouplug
in?
Whatelse
can
mattertous,otherthan
how
our
livesfeelfrom
the
inside?
Nor
should
yourefrainbecauseofthefewmomentsof
dis-
tress
betweenthe
momentyou've
decidedand
themomentyou'reReprintedfrom
Anarchy,
State,
and
Utopia
byRobert
Nozick.
Copy-
right
©
1974byBasicBooks,Inc.Reprintedbypermissionof
Basic
Books,amemberofPerseusBooks,
L.L.e.
644
 
Nozick/TheExperience
Machine
645
plugged.
What's
afew
moments
of
distress
compared
toalifetimeofbliss
(if
that's
what
you
choose),
and
why
feelanydistressatallifyourdecision
L,
thebest
one'
What
does
mattertousinadditionto
our
experiences'
First,wewantto
'do
certainthings,
and
not
just
have
theexperienceofdoingthem.In
the
case
of
certainexperiences,itisonlybecausefirstwe
want
to
do
theactionsthat
we
wantthe
experiences
of
doingthemorthinking
we'vedone
them.(But
why
dowe
want
todotheactiv-ities
rather
than
merelyto
experience
them?)A
second
reasonfor
not
plugginginisthat
we
want
to
be
acertainway,to
be
acer-tainsort
of
person.
Someone
floatinginatankisanindeterminateblob.
There
isno
answer
to
thequestion
of
what
a
person
islike
who
has
long
been
inthetank.Is
he
courageous,kind,intelligent,witty,loving'It's
not
merelythatit'sdifficulttotell;there'sno
way
heis.Pluggingintothe
machine
isa
kind
of
suicide.Itwill
seem
to
some,
trapped
byapicture,that
nothingaboutwhat
we
arelike
can
matter
except
asitgetsreflectedin
our
experiences,Butshoulditbesurprisingthat
what
weare
is
important
tous?Whyshouldwe
be
concerned
only
with
howour
timeisfilled,
but
not
with
what
we
are?Thirdly,pluggingintoan
experience
machine
limitsustoaman-
made
reality,toaworld
nodeeperor
more
importantthanthatwhich
people
can
construct.
There
isno
actual
contactwith
any
deeper
reality,
thoughthe
experience
of
it
canbe
simulated.Manypersonsdesiretoleavethemselves
open
to
such
contact
and
toaplumbing
ofdeeper
significance.
I
Thisclarifies
the
intensity
of
theconflictoverpsychoactivedrugs,
which
some
view
as
mere
localexperiencemachines,
and
others
view
as
avenues
to
a
decper
reality;
whatsome
view
asequivalentto
surrender
to
the
experience
machine,others
view
asfollowing
one
ofthe
reasons
not
tosurrender!We
learn
thatsomethingmatterstousinadditionto
experience
"Traditionalreligiousviewsdifferonthe
point
ofcontactwithatranscen-dentreality.Somesaythatcontactyieldseternalblissor
Nirvana,
buttheyhavenotdistinguishedthissufficientlyfrommerelya
very
longrunontheexperiencemachine.Othersthinkitisintrinsicallydesirable
to
dothewillofahigherbeingwhichcreatedusall,thoughpresumablynoonewouldthinkthisifwediscoveredwehadbeencreatedasanobjectofamusementbysomesuperpowerfulchildfromanothergalaxyordimen-sian.
Still
othersimagineaneventualmergingwithahigher
reality,
leav-ingunclearitsdesirability,orwherethatmergingleaves
us.

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