The Experience Machine

In class last week the, seemingly famous, thought experience about the “Experience Machine” was discussed.  I’m not going to go into the history of the experiment itself; you can look that up yourself.  The general idea of the machine is that there is this computer made into which you can program any and every possible human experience.  Someone can go ahead and basically pick from a menu any experience that they want to have and then “plug into” the machine and have those experiences.  This machine makes it possible to program an entire life of experiences into it and while experiencing these things one’s body is just sitting in the physical world not moving at all.  After getting this sort of machine the question is: would you plug into the machine to live your life attached to a computer?  Generally people say no, but that is not what I am interested in.

I am most interested in the “why” people generally say no to plugging into the machine.

I propose the idea that generally people say no to plugging into this machine because people want to attempt to leave something to “pass-down,” i.e. a form of immortality.  I am not saying anything that has a value of “good” or “bad” just something which will be remembered and known after one dies.   Leaving something behind after one dies is a sort of “victory” over life because a person becomes in a way immortal; which pretty much every one wishes for because no one wants to let go of life and “lose.”  A place that this is discussed more in-depth is Plato’s dialogue Phaedo, an online version found by simply searching for it on Google. (I do not have permissions so I have no direct links) The important part is when Socrates begins his speech on love, but read the entirety, it is good for you.

This want for immortality is what leads people to not wanting to plug into the experience machine even if they can program all of the pleasant experiences that they want into it.  No one can leave anything behind in that machine.  The example used in class was writing a novel.  In the machine one can experience writing a novel, but no novel is actually, physically written.  People would generally prefer to actually have the novel though instead of just experiencing it.  It lets someone have a sort of “victory” over life which is the natural want of most people, animals and plants even.


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