In 1974, when philosopher Robert Nozick introduced his "experience machine," it was just a thought experiment. But with big tech's race to the metaverse, it now has more pressing applications. Although Nozick argued that most people would not want to plug into the experience machine, subsequent psychological research suggests the answer is not nearly so uniform or straightforward. This article from Philosophy Now (UK) re-visits Nozick's experience machine and some of the more recent work in this area:
"Nozick asks you to imagine a machine that can simulate every experience you would like to have until the end of your life. Once you programmed this machine and plugged yourself into it, you would not be aware that the blissful experiences you are having are simulated, and you would live out your fantasies until the end of your life. ... Let’s now go back to Nozick’s question: would you plug into the experience machine and live the rest of your life out as a fantasy? The majority of people, asked this, reply no. ... From this sort of result it has been argued that ‘mental statism’ must be false. Mental statism is the view that only how experiences feel can make a life good or bad. The experience machine allows us to have the best experiences we can imagine; and still, the study showed that a large majority have the intuition that the life plugged into it is not a good life. ... [In 2010, Filipe De Brigard] put forward the idea of the ‘reverse experience machine’. Describing a thought experiment of his own, De Brigard asked study participants to imagine finding out that they have been plugged into an experience machine up until now. At this point, they are offered the possibility to leave the virtual world they’re accustomed to, knowing that reality will be much less pleasant. Facing this scenario, only 13% of the participants said they would leave the virtual world. Thus De Brigard’s study, as well as others following it, have indicated that refusals of the original experience machine offer are largely determined by status quo bias rather than by our valuing of reality. In fact, the majority of people declare they prefer reality when thinking themselves to be in the real world, but appear to prefer the simulation when imagining themselves to already be in the virtual world! ... Time [also] seems to play in favour of the pro-machine intuition. Perhaps the more people become familiar with virtual reality technologies, the more they would be prone to plug into the experience machine."
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