Students’ views on the Experience Machine thought experiment

Liberal Arts students’ views on the Experience Machine thought experiment

Regent’s University London, Autumn 2018

Introduction to Philosophy level 4 module

Ahu Undeger:

Many philosophers have argued that in order to live a fulfilled, meaningful and content life, one must have balance, harmony and a general sense of equilibrium in their lives; whether what they are facing temporarily brings them happiness, or sorrow. This concept of balance of mind could almost possibly be seen as the metaphor of the Ying- Yang. Without the bad and sad, many of us may forget to cherish the good and happy sides we are enjoying and how important it is to not over-use emotions to a point where they are meaningless.

It can be discussed that naturally humans have a decency to adapt to the environment, however, it can also be discussed that over- adapting may also lead to selfishness, greed, and egoism. There are many every- day examples of this instance, people want more, and do not know how to satisfy themselves with what they have in their hands. Given this, is it possible to argue that one will be happy with only good, positive emotions given to them, without the downside or challenges to achieve those emotions?

Philosopher Robert Nozick’s Experience machine allows the subjects to synthetically experience pleasurable events, and by stimulating the brain, neurologically allows the patients to feel euphoric emotions. By the help of the machine, the subject does not realize they are inside a tank, unaware of surroundings, the image of reality is distorted for them. This is a concept that is generally discussed, and has influenced other examples such as a recent T.V show called ‘Black Mirror’; where a terminally ill person’s brain is turned into a microchip inside a computer, and when that person dies, the recording of their life automatically starts running in that computer system, and the brain of the deceased is plugged in to eternally create a not real –life for them to live in forever.

Although Nozick’s experiment and design may be a great finding for terminally ill patients like the example of the T.V show, kids who have diseases who will not grow up to see many parts of their lives, or post- traumatic stress disorder patients who have maybe lost loved ones. It could send them to another reality where they could continue living as they desire, and their wishes are made to be true by a system they are connected to. It could be used as a way to re live great memories, or form memories for those who will sadly and unjustly not be able to live long enough to form their own memories. However, the debate can also be that this is a way of destruction because generally humans will want more than what they have in their hands.

As discussed in the previous sections, humans are in need of constancy and change at the same time, all throughout their life- spans, in order to evolve, develop and advance. The Experience machine will not allow the participant to have low moods, experience sorrow or endure pain. The lack of pain and remorse will doubtfully be over-used and humans will take advantage of it and start not being satisfied with the level of emotion that they are feeling because they did not seek to earn it, and they will, without question abuse and misuse the machine, which might in long term create a population with incurable depression and sadness because of lack of satisfaction.

In the event of certain and continuous happiness and euphoria, and the lack of struggle and hardship to achieve those emotions and feelings; I believe that the human nature will not be fulfilled, and therefore, will not be happy due to the fact that they will not be able to cherish the good, without the bad to weigh and acknowledge the good and bad sides to any event, feeling, emotion or experience.

Jules de Laitre:

I would try the experiment. I believe that dreams are often better than reality, so if I have the opportunity to live in my dreams, I would take it. Being told that I can have anything I desire is something that I want. It allows me to live a life that I design since it’s my dreams.

Being able to build my life is something that I believe is great. It means that I won’t have to face things that I don’t like and to not be I unpleasant situations. I will be in a world that fits who I am. And I think that there is no better world than one that is handmade for us. It is like a custom dress: it was made for us to look best since it is supposed to fit us like a glove. We also won’t know that we are plugged in a machine; it would seem real to us. In my opinion, it seems a great way to live a life.

This machine can be used for people who have a terminal disease. They will be able to finish the rest of their life doing whatever they want in a world where they could be free of their disease. There are organisations nowadays that give those patients with a terminal disease one wish that they grant them. This machine can grant multiple wish and give a happy ending to those who will pass away soon.

To conclude, I believe that this machine could get a great use out of it. In my opinion, there is nothing better than being able to live in a world where our wildest dreams come true. Dreams are unlike real life, nothing and everything can happen. And that’s the beauty of this experiment. Would I love to know what it’s like to fly? Yes! And I believe that this machine could be the link between impossible and possible. We also don’t know that we are plugged in into a machine, so it doesn’t matter that it isn’t real; we will never know.

This whole experiment makes me think of the movie “Inception” by Christopher Nolan. In this movie, some people are trained to change people’s mind by entering their thoughts while they are asleep. By doing certain actions and saying certain things, while inside someone’s mind, they can alter their thinking.

Liia (Lika) Kuziaeva:

If there was such a machine that could simulate a perfect life, I definitely would NOT plug into it! In my opinion, life is already great as it is with all of the challenges and obstacles. “The bitterest truth is better than the sweetest lie” to me personally, without a doubt.

I’d like to believe that any challenges that come across my way are meant to teach me a lesson and happen for a reason. So I would never want to live an oblivious and naive life. I believe that any difficult experiences make you wiser, stronger and make you evolve. If life was all rainbows and butterflies, it wouldn’t be interesting and one wouldn’t learn anything from it. There should always be a balance between the good and the bad. There is balance everywhere in life: winter and summer, white and black, hot and cold, just like positive and negative. I think it’s better to learn to accept the negative and just see it as part of the journey. After All, it’s only negative if you make it negative.

Regardless of that, I can see why someone would choose the illusion instead of reality. Certain events in life can push a person to make that decision, like death of a loved one or maybe a serious accident that leaves a person paralyzed. It’s impossible not to experience any emotional pain, no matter how accepting you are. And sometimes in those cases, it would be a very tempting decision to connect to the so-called Matrix to heal from that pain or not even experience it at all. As well as extreme cases of poverty where people constantly have to survive off of very limited amounts of food and water, and extreme cases of infections and diseases.

I’d like to think that even in the most extreme cases I would prefer life over the simulation, but I can’t say for sure because i have never been in those extreme cases. However, I would definitely consider living in a simulation for a short period of time, but living your whole life in one even if without knowing it, actually sounds bizarre and sad to me.

As a big believer in conspiracy theories, I have to admit, I quite strongly consider that we are currently living in a simulation. Especially after hearing Elon Musk’s thought on this, and his point is quite reasonable.

If going deeper into the question, people that believe in god also kind of accept the whole simulation theory by saying that God created us and that he watches us during our lives. I don’t think many people realize that. However, the difference between the simulation and the belief in god can be debated.

Also, the fact that it’s discussed in movies in literature so often could prove that more and more people are questioning our reality. One of my favorite movies of all time on this topic would be The Thirteenth Floor that touches up on this topic, as well as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Overall, this topic really fascinates me and scares me at the same time, and I love finding new theories on this and new points of view.

Lia Samoilenco:

Usually, people want to interact with nature and nurture environment, it makes us feel alive. Sometimes, smart computers allow this to happen, nevertheless, it cannot fully replace real emotions, as well as it cannot give to the individual all the difficulties of achieving, for example, top of the Everest. Virtual experiences are not as valuable as real ones. Therefore, it cannot replace all the feelings on one hundred percent. Moreover, closer the humanity is to the electronic devices and to the virtual life, closer the apocalypses is. In other words, with every new gadget, with every new electronic innovation, our generation is closer to the era of the virtual world, where will be more robots than the real people.

Thus, returning to the philosopher’s question, it might be very attractive to have the chance to live in the virtual world until the last days. At the same time, it is very frightening to change personal reality (we all have different perception of the world and different understanding of reality, of what is good and what is bad, but, despite this, we all are united by the fact that every deed or action has its consequences, everything must be achieved by ourselves and, most importantly, we are alive) because, firstly, it is normal to be afraid of what we do not know; secondly, it will take away from us the opportunity to stay alive inside. In other words, it will take our soul and will replace on a machine, as we will be connected to the electrodes attached to our brains. So instead of living creatures, we will become into living bodies with the machine inside of our head.

However, from the other hand, virtual life can take us to places, events, make us other personalities or even take us to the past or future and this cannot be achieved or replaced in real life. Moreover, in terms of morality, it can teach us to be more human kind, as well as it can make us worse than we are, as well as in real life. It can be exciting, entertaining and a good way of spending leisure time. But it will never be a substitute for encounters with the real thing.

Overall, all the benefits, skills and experiences of VR could be replaced by something else in real life and present in an individual. And real life, in contrast, cannot be replaced by virtual reality.

Ryan Swenson:

The Matrixesque utopian neuroscience that is referred to in the Experience Machine sounds great, but I would not plug it or support the use of such a machine. Pain is essential to existence of pleasure. Without pain, joy would not feel special. 50 Cent wrote in a song, “sunny day wouldn’t be special if it wasn’t for pain” (“Many Men”) and I agree. We need the natural business cycle, rollercoaster ride that is the human experience. The pain, the boredom, the frustration; all of it is key to building meaningful wisdom. I do not look back at my struggles and wish they did not happen because they have made me a better person. We must learn to love our struggles and grasp that they are taking us to happier days.

Having said that, I do believe that there are instances where people could use this machine. There are people who have lost their minds, their rationality and are truly too mentally or physically to overcome their struggles anymore. In that case, I think that this would be a great alternative then just having a meaningless, painful life. That is an exception. We have all seen Wall-e and know that this is a terrible idea. Humans do great things because of pain: Van Goh, Edgar Allen Poe, Franz Kafka, even Siddharta, all of these men struggled with depression and turned out world defining art/culture/religion. Sometimes pain is necessary… I do not enjoy pain and do not wish it upon any man, but I would rather feel that and really appreciate a great day than feel artificial happiness.

Barbara Frank:

I would plug into it, according to my terms.

I wonder if the machine stimulated only pleasurable sensations – if after a while, it would lose its good feeling. What I mean by this is in life, pleasure can only be defined by the absence of something negative. Good and bad are comparative terms that need each other. If I could create a system of work and reward with a guarantee that things will always end pleasurably, I don’t see why I wouldn’t plug myself in.

There are a lot of pros for this argument. A life that can never go wrong, happy endings and little to no suffering. I can see why people would opt out because there would be a lack of will power and the loss of freedom. However, if plugged in the machine, we wouldn’t know. It matters only if you place a high personal value on those things.

I think this idea can be compared to A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. They both pertain to utopian elements. However, the overall tone of the novel insinuates that this “new world” is corrupt and will naturally fail. The concept of freedom is a major theme for both the novel and this idea of a pleasure machine. My definition of freedom is bluntly being able to do what you wish. You have this choice when you plug yourself in this machine, a choice to give up freedom in the future. The characters in the novel did not. I think it is the most important difference.

Supakrit Boonsoong:

For my opinion, I think that I am against the idea of this machine. Personally, I wouldn’t use it because it is kind of sad to think that it is all fake. Even though we won’t know that that we’re there; that we’ll think that it’s actually happening. It is just scary that if we plug into it, we will spend the rest of our life floating in a tank. Although I don’t like the idea of this, but I think that this could be a great use for others. I think it is good for people who is sick or injured people who lost their chance to persuade whatever their dreams are. For example, a guy who lost his legs and his dream is to be a football player.

I think this machine will be perfect for him. There are movies that reminded me of this machine. The first one is Avatar. In Avatar, the main guy is a paralyzed former marine becomes mobile again through one such Avatar. He was able to run again and later on fell in love with a girl. Another movie that reminds me of this machine is the movie that I recently watched on the plane is called Ready Player One. This movie is about a boy who lives in the year 2045 where the world is really harsh. The only time he feels alive and happy is when he escapes to OASIS, which is a machine that you can go anywhere, do anything, and be anyone. In conclusion, I think that this machine is not for everyone, but it is perfect for some of us.