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Summary of Nozick’s “The Experience Machine”

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As humans we are constantly in search of understanding the balance between what feels good and what is right. Humans try to take full advantage of experiencing pleasure to its fullest potential. Hedonism claims that pleasure is the highest and only source of essential significance. If the notion of hedonism is truthful, happiness is directly correlated with pleasure. Robert Nozick presented the philosophical world with his though experiment, “The Experience Machine” in order to dispute the existence and validity of hedonism. Nozick’s thought experiment poses the question of whether or not humans would plug into a machine which produces any desired experience.

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If the opportunity arises that we have the option to plug into the machine, the experience machine would allow us to fulfill a very pleasurable act such as paint a famous painting. If it allows me to fulfill one of my greatest pleasures, I would be willing to plug in for sure. if we were mistaken and believed that our second desire will be fulfilled, then we would also plug in to the machine. But Nozick’s argument states that at the exact moment of deciding whether to plug in or not, we know that our cravings are going to be subjectively satisfied. The problem in this case is that you are not asking me if I want to plug in to the machine while I am connected, you are asking me if I want to plug in before I plug in. Since I haven’t plugged into the experience machine yet, I now come to believe that the machine will not gratify my second desire. Therefore, the disappointing thought of my second desire not being fulfilled will significantly reduce the value of any experience, so I would refuse to plug into the Machine. Nozick could argue back that once you are connected to the experience machine, you will firmly believe that your desires will all be satisfied. It would be a very small time frame of you being frustrated because of your second desire, just until you plug in, compared with a whole life of complete satisfaction of this desire. I agree with Nozick and his experience machine theory. The objection makes sense, because if you are frustrated that your second desire may not be fulfilled before you are connected to the machine, then you will be unsatisfied. I agree that the small time frame of you being frustrated shouldn’t account for the life long pleasure in the experience machine. I am definitely not a hedonist; because I feel that pleasure should not be our only motive for our actions

There is a lot more to life than pleasure. We need to experience all kinds of feelings in order to be defined as a human being. Nozick rejects hedonism, and his claim is that there is more to faring well than simply how our lives feel from the inside.

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As the manipulation is indirect, this scenario featuring a functioning pill would seem to imperil authenticity to a still lesser degree than the one featuring an experience pill. The functioning pill can be related directly with one of Nozick’s concerns, that for being a particular person, “A second reason for not plugging in [to the experience machine] is that we want to be a certain way, to be a certain sort of person” (1974, p. 645). Just like being closer to reality, being a particular person can presumably contribute to someone’s happiness. This is how the experimental condition under discussion fits the overall experimental design. It is loosely inspired by the transformation machine that Nozick mentions, “which transforms us into whatever sort of person we’d like to be (compatible with our staying us)” (1974, p. 646). By and large, people remain the same person when their functioning is enhanced. It is their capacities that now function better. Thus, Nozick’s characterization of what people care about supports our claim that people whose functioning is improved live a more authentic life than people whose experiences are manipulated directly. In contrast to Weijers, we use only first-person scenarios, scenarios in which participants are to imagine that they face the choice at issue. We do not question that in general people are more averse to risk when they evaluate options from their own perspective as compared to options faced by a stranger

However, we doubt that a scenario featuring a stranger can capture a concern for authenticity. Authenticity, it seems to us, is primarily a first-person concern. A second source of inspiration for our study consists in a wide range of valence asymmetries discovered in experimental philosophy.As it turns out, the way in which people apply apparently non-normative notions such as intentional action, freedom, and happiness is sensitive to normative factors. In particular, they turn out to be sensitive to whether or not the situation experienced or affected is good or bad. For instance, Joshua Knobe (2003) finds that people qualify the behavior of the chairman of a company whose business strategy happens to affect the environment as unintentional when this effect is beneficial, and as intentional when it is harmful.

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On balance, I agree with Nozick’s answer that human beings are not objects of pleasure and we should instead take into account the importance of being able to shape our lies for a more meaningful life. Such experiments will only add to violate our rights and fail to treat us as human beings, but end to undercutting our ability to impart meaning to our lives and treat us as sheer tools with no real meaning or significance of life. I also believe that happiness can only be attainable through action but not through handcrafted experiences

Nozick clearly demonstrates to us that it is important to live in a life that we believe in; that which has reality and truth in it. This will allow us to appreciate our differences and uniqueness than use of methods that will escape us from reality.

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Weijers, D. (2014). Nozick’s experience machine is dead, long live the experience machine!. Philosophical Psychology, 27(4), 513–535

Nozick, R. (1974). Anarchy, state, and utopia. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Phillips, J., Misenheimer, L., & Knobe, J. (2011). The ordinary concept of happiness (and others like it). Emotion Review, 3, 320–322.

Sumner, L. W. (1992). Welfare, happiness, and pleasure. Utilitas, 4(02), 199–223.

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