The Experience Machine – a thought experiment on how real we want our pleasures to be

October 30, 2018

In his famous hypothetical scenario, philosopher Robert Nozick asks us to imagine a machine that could give us whatever pleasurable experiences we might want. The assumption is that psychologists have figured out a way to stimulate a person’s brain to induce pleasurable experiences that the subject could not distinguish from those he would have in real life (whilst disconnected from the machine). He then asks us whether, if given the choice, we would prefer the machine to real life.

“Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired. Superduper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you plug into this machine for life, pre-programming your life experiences?… Of course, while in the tank you won’t know that you’re there; you’ll think that it’s all actually happening…Would you plug in?” (Anarchy, State and Utopia, 1974)

Asked if they would happily plug into this kind of ‘hedonistic Matrix’ simulation, first-year students in Liberal Studies give a wide range of responses…

Please click here to read all students’ responses.