Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Nozick's Experience Machine

**This is from guest blogger, Claire S.**

So, here’s how my thinking on the experience machine goes:  At first I as thinking, well, maybe I desire something other than pleasure, like I value the parts of my life where I feel bored or lonely (just say) and so I don’t desire a life that is purely pleasurable. Someone could say, well, this is not a problem for the machine because the machine can give you the perfect amount of loneliness or boredom fit to your exact desires. So then I started thinking, well, say that I find my life exactly as it is to be the most desirable, valuable life I can imagine. This being the case, when I get into the machine, my life there is exactly the same as my life outside the machine (the way my life is is perfectly tailored to my desires). This being the case, given the choice of living out a life in the real world versus one in the machine, I cannot imagine anyone choosing the life in the machine over the real world, given that they are the same. But then must there be a difference that makes me choose the real world? Perhaps the difference is in part that it is real and not an illusion. What do you guys think? Does this somehow get at something other than pleasure being valuable?

7 comments:

Heirron said...

My intuition is that human beings are inherently valuable, not merely valuable as a means to happiness. If that is true, it would also be true that serving the flourishing of others is valuable because doing so promotes the prospering of value, and things with value. Then, this sort of value could not be captured by the experience machine, even if we would be unaware of the difference while in it. However, the problem now is to justify the claim that people are inherently valuable. The best argument I can think of relies on the intuition that one finds one's self inherently valuable. That is, even if one stops supplying one's self with pleasurable experiences, I presume one does not cease to be valuable, at least in one's own estimation. Then, by appealing to some kind of equality principle, since there is nothing relevant to distinguish one's self from others in terms of value, other people must also be inherently valuable. Thus, I take Nozick's thought experiment to point to the inherent value of people, and the instrumental of having real interactions with them.

Erik V said...

I was kind of thinking the same thing. I guess what I was thinking was the difference between the two is what I have in this life would need to be something I need to gain in the machine life. I have a good group of friends, a cool family, and a cute girlfriend. Why would I trade it in for the (simulated) same thing? It's kind of like when you're playing a board game and you trade some resource for the exact same thing. For example, you trade someone $20 for $20 in Monopoly or you trade an ore for an ore in Settlers of Catan. Usually it only ever happens because someone (me) finds it funny because its totally frivolous. But still when I do it, I can kind of have this little twinge of disappointment. I think I feel it because I earned it because I was being strategic while playing the game. Similarly, I wouldn't trade in my real life for one in the machine because I feel like everything I have now is, for the most part, something I earned. In the machine, I'd know if I entered it, things would be more or less given to me, which kind of irks me. I feel like because I feel like I earned these things, it kind of gives me a sense of pride, which in turn I derive pleasure from. I think what I'm trying to say is by entering the machine, if it were set up in the case as described, I'd be sacrificing an instrumental value used for deriving pleasure, one I'm not necessarily sure I'd have in the machine.

T. Stoehr said...

Maybe reality is inherently valuable? I'm not exactly sure what that might entail, but, given your example, it seems that that might be the missing factor in what makes us choose our lives over lives in the machine. Maybe we value the "realness" of our lives; even though they arent perfectly pleasurable, or the best world we could imagine, they're real, or actual. Though the machine would guarantee us a life filled with whatever experiences we desired, the fact that many of us had the intuition to remain a part of our lives in the real world seems to prove that it is reality, which we inherently value.

Cassy K. said...

I would agree, Claire. It's hard to pinpoint exactly why, but it seems like there's some value in living in actuality. In the case that both the actual world and the machine world would be the same and your life in each would be identical, I also feel as if we'd choose the real world if for no other reason than that it seems like the simplest solution. Why would I change something if it is fine as is? Why fix it if it ain't broke, so to speak?

Chelsea R. said...

The reason why someone might pick real life over the machine in this case is, in my opinion, simply because it is real. And due to this reality, one's relationships and effects on the world are real. I'm going to make the argument that your relationships and effects being real and not fabricated by the Experience Machine brings you more pleasure than just having the experience. (This only works for making the original choice of entering or not entering the machine). For example, imagine a couple, Alex and Patty. Alex made the 7 hour drive from his school to see Patty on her birthday weekend, even though he had two finals on Monday. In real life, Alex did this not only to see his girlfriend (which is pleasurable), but mostly to make her happy. If he did this to a machine-Patty, would her pleasure even matter anymore? Since she's not real, him doing this partially selfless act doesn't really seem that selfless. Hedonism also takes into account the pleasure of other people. This machine is a selfish pleasure.

Michael Dean Hebert said...

Just something to keep in mind while contemplating this. The epistemic situation will be the same in both your experience in the real world and your experience in the experience machine of the world as it is. You, the reader, might be in the experience machine right now. How would you know? If you found out that you were in the experience machine right now and your life outside of the experience machine was the nearly the exact same outside of the machine as it is in, would you get out? Of course you would. Then your experiences would be 'real' in the sense that something is going on besides your experience, there would be external interaction. Though, of course, the experience machine could provide you with the experience of getting out of the experience machine so that while in the machine you really believe your experiences are 'real' (i.e. you are interacting with the external world). No matter what, it is an epistemic impossibility to know that you are not in the experience machine, so if there is value in a life outside of the machine, it will not be of direct relation to your experience of the world as being 'real'.

Eric Bumbaca said...

When I first read this thought experiment, I thought the crucial point made by Nozick was the decision on whether to enter the machine to begin with. If we accept that the machine leads to our greatest possible happiness in life, and the point of our life is to attain the greatest possible happiness (a very debatable point but lets just take this to be true), then it would seem to be an obvious decision. However, when i started to think about this situation a little bit more, i began to think that achieving the greatest possible happiness seems to be a very selfish notion. Entering the machine would lead to a decrease in the happiness of those other individuals who we are connected to in real life. I believe that during that crucial second of decision making, it would be very difficult to ignore the feelings of those closest to us. So initially I fel that one would be crazy NOT to enter the machine, but now my position has reversed, and I feel that it would be extremely difficult TO enter the machine. Does anyone have any similar thoughts? Or has anyone else's opinion on the experience machine changed?