Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Would this make you happy?

Philosopher Robert Nozick poses this question. Suppose you could attach your body for the remainder of your life to an "experience" machine. Floating in a tank of fluid, connected by electrodes to an incredibly advanced computer, you would spend the rest of your days fully realizing your greatest personal dreams.

You could win the Pulitzer Prize, the Super Bowl, the Indy 500, invent a cure for cancer, travel in outer space. Any dream you wish comes true. These experiences would not be true in reality, but they would be utterly indistinguishable to you from reality.

Given this choice, would you plug yourself in, thus ensuring the perpetual satisfaction of all your most cherished desires?

For those who opt out, see the post below for what makes most people happy, at least in America.


  1. Nozick's hypothetical sidesteps the issue of a guarantee from the owner or operator of the experience machine. If I could be provided with a convincing guarantee that the machine would deliver as promised and that my tank would not be interrupted until my natural death, I might sign up. After all, who is Nozick to say that the inner subjectivity of my experience as a wired-up resident of the tank is less "real" than what he so cavalierly assumes is objective reality, but which is actually Nozick's subjective interpretation of reality? For me, there would also be a justice dimension of my decision regarding whether or not to go into the tank. Is going into the tank a possibility for anyone who wants it or is it only for a privileged few? If the latter, I would probably say no, even if I could be satisfied by the tank owner/operator with a guarantee.

  2. Yeah, there might be a "death panel" out there that would pull the plug. But if you could get up and walk away, maybe you could have the best of both worlds.

  3. I wouldn't do it. Our connections with one another and our interconnected relationships with the world are what I think define life.

    Parents, consider this: would you rather live in a world in your head where all your personal dreams come true, or would you rather have the gift of real children for whom you really do mean the world?