Robert Nozick’s Experience Machine Thought Experim

Table of Content

First, I will explain Robert Nozick’s objective of demonstrating his argument using the Experience Machine thought experiment. Then, I will evaluate its effectiveness by presenting arguments from both perspectives. Finally, I will demonstrate that Nozick effectively provided a compelling argument through the experiment. The purpose of the Thought Experiment is to refute hedonism and the concept that pleasure is the sole intrinsic good. Additionally, Nozick challenges the notion of ‘the mental state account of well-being’.

He is trying to argue that pleasure is not the sole determinant of our well-being. If Nozick is proven wrong and pleasure is not the only intrinsic good, then everyone would choose to be connected to the machine without any hesitation. Now let’s outline Nozick’s Thought Experiment Machine. Nozick advises us to disregard concerns about who will run the machine, as they do not affect the results negatively. He repeatedly asks his readers, “would you choose to plug in?” and opposes it using three distinct reasons: first, we don’t just want to have the experience of doing things, but actually want to do them ourselves; second, we want to be a certain type of person; and third, we are limited to a man-made reality that lacks the depth of a world that we can construct ourselves. If connecting to the experience machine brings more pleasure, then it would make sense to follow that idea. However, this only holds true if pleasure is the only thing that matters to us. Nozick’s response to this hedonistic argument is that we should not choose to connect to the machine, indicating that pleasure is not the sole factor determining our priorities.

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He presents a cyclical argument that leads us back to selecting reality as the ultimate choice over being “plugged in.” He begins with the argument of the experience machine, followed by the transformation machine, which aims to address the issue of being an “indeterminate blob.” Afterwards, he raises the point that there is something more to existence beyond our experiences and personal characteristics. He introduces the result machine, which encompasses both factors along with suitable outcomes. Nozick then demonstrates that this scenario is not significantly different from reality, except for the machines taking care of everything, implying that reality should still be chosen. Is this argument successful? According to Mill, we might not be as reliable as we believe since we cannot foresee the experiences we would have if we choose the alternative path. In other words, if we accept Nozick’s argument as it stands, we may not have a complete understanding before making our ultimate decision. However, typically, we make choices based on general knowledge and past experiences of specific events. Therefore, our decisions regarding alternative lives and the experience machine can be deemed rational and worth pondering.

According to Torbjorn Tannsjo, there are drug-takers who, despite being aware of the risks, still choose to take drugs. Additionally, there is no reason to reject something like being plugged into the experience machine without any negative consequences. Therefore, we must reconsider how certain we are that the decisions we make are truly in our best interest.

Similarly, in another version of Nozick’s experiment, Felipe De Brigard takes a different approach. In this scenario, the person is initially plugged into the experience machine and then gets to decide whether to remain plugged in or return to reality. The decision-making process in such scenarios can be influenced by factors such as awareness of one’s true self in reality. De Brigard conducts a survey with his students in which they are presented with three scenarios:

  1. Neutral: You are currently plugged into the experience machine and have the option to opt out.
  2. Negative: In reality, you are a criminal held in maximum security.

Positive: The survey showed that despite the negative scenario, where 87% of participants decided not to unplug from reality, in the positive scenario, the percentage was evenly split at 50%. This indicates that people’s actions are not solely determined by hedonism. So, what other factors play a role? Interestingly, in the neutral scenario, De Brigard reveals that despite the appealing alternative, most individuals still choose to return to reality. This suggests that contact with reality may continue to be the primary factor influencing people’s preferences. Ultimately, Nozick argues against pleasure being the only intrinsic good and proposes that there are other factors contributing to our overall well-being.

There will not be a perfect experience machine capable of meeting all our needs, including the element of surprise, thereby disproving the concept of providence in satisfying all desires. Despite the uncertainty of the outcomes for both decisions, it does not imply that we should rely on past pleasures that could potentially harm us in the future. While De Brigard uses “contact with reality” as a different criterion compared to Nozick, it still emphasizes that pleasure is not the sole determinant of our well-being.

According to Nozick in his book “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” (pp. 42-45), we should not connect ourselves to the experience machine. Kawall (1999) also discusses the Experience Machine and its relation to mental state theories of well-being in “The Journal of Value Inquiry” (pp. 381-387). Tannsjo (2007) explores narrow hedonism and its implications in the “Journal of Happiness Studies” (8: 79-98). The Philosophy Graduate Student from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brigard, discusses the importance of real experiences in “Philosophical Psychology” (pp. 1-23).

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

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