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Robert Nozick’s Experience Machine Thought Experim



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    First, I’m going to state what Robert Nozick is trying to show, before laying out his argument through the Experience Machine thought experiment. After that I am going to argue whether it is successful or not by providing arguments from both views, and finally showing that Nozick successfully provided a convincing argument through the experiment. What the Thought Experiment is supposed to show Throughout the thought experiment, Nozick has been arguing against hedonism – pleasure being the only intrinsic good, he also refutes ‘the mental state account of well-being’.

    He is trying to show that pleasure is not the only factor contributing to our well-being. Assuming Nozick is wrong that pleasure is indeed the only intrinsic good; then, everyone would have opted to be plugged to the machine as there is no reason to not do so. Lay out of the Thought Experiment Now I am going to lay out Nozick’s Experiment Machine thought experiment. Nozick advises us to ignore queries such as who is ultimately going to run the machine, because these questions does not differ the results adversely. He repeatedly asks his readers “would you choose to plug in? as he opposes it using three distinct reasons, namely: ‘we want to do certain things, and not just have the experience of doing them’; ‘we want… to be a certain sort of person’; we are limited ‘to a man-made reality, to a world no deeper…than that which people can construct’. If plugging in to the experience machine provides more pleasure, then we should just follow the idea. However, that’s only applicable if pleasure is all that matters to us. Nozick’s reply to this hedonistic argument is that we should not choose to connect to the machine, and thus, pleasure is not the only thing that matters to us.

    He provides us a cyclical argument that brings us back to choosing reality as the final choice of not being “plugged in”. Starting from arguments of the experience machine, to the transformation machine, in which he attempts to solve the problem of being an “indetermine blob” . Then, he raises the argument that “something matters in addition to one’s experiences and what one is like” and introduces the result machine that embraces both factors in addition to appropriate results. Nozick, then, shows that this seems no different from reality, apart from having the machines to do the work for s, suggesting that we should still choose reality. Is it successful? According the Mill, we might not be as trust-worthy as we think; as we cannot predict the experience we will receive should we choose the alternative route. In other words, if we accept Nozick’s argument just as it is, we might not have the full picture before we ultimately make our choice. But, we usually make our decisions based on generality and past knowledge of particular events, thus, our choices “concerning the alternative lives and the experience machine can be taken as rationally justified and worthy of consideration”.

    However, as Torbjorn Tannsjo might say, there are many drug-takers who are clearly aware of the dangers, yet, they still choose to take it. Moreover, there is no reason to not choose something, such as being “plugged in” to the experience machine, “with no bad side effects – and stay plugged into it”. Thus, we have to ask ourselves again, how sure are we that the decisions we make are the ones that best for our well-being?

    Similarly, in another version of Nozick’s experiment, Felipe De Brigard decides to do it the opposite way, where the person starts off being plugged into the experience machine, and now he gets to choose whether or not he wants to remain “plugged” or return to reality. In various scenerios, such as knowing what one is like in reality, it can determine the decision-making to a certain extent. De Brigard gives his students a survey in 3 scenerios as follows: 1. Neutral: You are plugged in, and given a choice to opt out. 2. Negative: In reality, you are a criminal under maximum security. 3.

    Positive: In reality, you are a multimillionaire. In the negative scenario, from his survey, most (87%) decided to not plug out. However, in the positive scenario, it was 50% for each. From the positive case, it is obvious that hedonism is not a contributing factor. What are the other factors then? In the neutral scenario, De Brigard states that most still chooses to return to reality and that “contact with reality may still be the main factor pushing peoples’ preference” . In conclusion, Nozick refutes the belief that pleasure is the only intrinsic good, and believes that there are other factors contributing to our well-being.

    Also, there will not be a perfect experience machine that will be able to cater to all our needs, such as the element of surprise , thus falsifying the idea of providence to all requests. Despite being unaware of the outcome of both decisions, it does not mean that we should base it on past pleasures that might harm us in the future. Even though De Brigard uses a different factor as to Nozick, namely, the ‘contact with reality’, it still brings across the point that pleasure shouldn’t be and is not the only factor contributing to our well-being.

    Thus, we should still choose to no ‘plug’ ourselves to the experience machine. Bibliography Nozick, R. Anarchy, State, and Utopia about the Experience Machine, 42-45 Kawall, J. (1999). The Journal of Value Inquiry. The Experience Machine and the Mental State Theories of Well-being , 381-387. Tannsjo, T. (2007). Narrow Hedonism. Journal of Happiness Studies. 8: 79-98. Ibid. A Philosophy Graduate Student from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Brigard, F. D. (2008). Philosophical Psychology. If you like it, does it matter if it is real? , 1-23.

    Robert Nozick’s Experience Machine Thought Experim. (2017, Feb 14). Retrieved from

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