Shanice Octavia McBean, 19, Philosophy undergraduate.
"I love standing outside, on my own, contemplating the immense beauty of nature. The silent air is amazing to listen to with all its peace and tranquillity. But I don’t mind the occasional tweet of a bird mid-flight, or the wistful rustling of winds through trees. Or even a single car passing by or a mother calling to her child; reminding me of the presence of humanity. It doesn’t make me feel like an external observer of the beauty of nature: it reminds me that I am nature…"
Imagine you could be plugged into an experience machine that fed you with all the experiences you wanted. It would mean you were able to experience life exactly how you wanted it with all the pleasures you could ever desire. Should you plug into the machine for the rest of your life, or, is there something in the real world that the machine cannot provide?
My answer: definitely plug into the machine.
The machine would, of course, have the ability to fulfill all our desires. If I wanted £1m, the machine would give me that exact experience. If I wanted to fall in love and live happily ever after then the machine could give me this experience. All my desires would be able to be fulfilled. But wait. There is more to life than experiences of pleasure, surely? For example, as Nozick says, we actually want to do things and we actually want to be like something and we actually want to contact a deeper spirituality in reality. The point Nozick makes is that we want to live, actually live, really live within reality and this realness cannot be provided by the machine.
Game over. The machine loses.
Think about this. Why do we ‘want to do things in reality’ why do we ‘actually want to be something’ why do we ‘want to actually contact deeper meaning’. Surely these things are not valuable if they don’t have goals. For example, we want to actually do things so that we have pride in ourselves for doing things. Or we want to be like something so we can be proud we’ve become good people. All these things Nozick list’s as things that the machine can’t provide are themselves desires that are goal driven. In fact, all desires are goal driven. If I desire a cigarette, which I often do, this desire comes with the goal of smoking. If I desire a beer (a desire I’m currently satisfying) this desire comes with the goal of drinking. Every desire has a goal because that is the nature of desires: to change the world to fit how we want the world to be. Such is a desires direction of fit.
There’s a consequence of all desires, even Nozick’s, being goal driven (which they all are). Goals (and hence desires), when achieved are good. But only instrumentally good. For example, when I fulfill a desire that’s a good thing. But it won’t be good in itself, it will only be good because of what fulfilling the desire leads to. E.g. If I fulfill the desire of smoking, smoking is not intrinsically good, but is good instrumentally because it leads to something else good (i.e. recreational satisfaction). Recreational satisfaction is good because it leads to my day being recreationally successful. Recreationally successful days are good because they lead to some other goods. So on and so forth. It is clear, however, that this chain of instrumentally good things cannot go on ad infinitum as then we should question why anything be good at all. There are, it seems, some things that must be instrumentally good. But what?
Let’s take Nozick’s desire of wanting to actually do things in reality. This desire is goal driven and when we acheive the goal it won’t be good in itself, but will be instrumentally good because it will lead to satisfaction, or pride, or, perhaps, money, wealth etc. ‘Doing things’ is not good inself but good because it leads to other good things.
However, such instrumental good things must have an intrinsic end, as said above. And this I argue is pleasure. Nozicks suggests we don’t just want experiences of pleasure, but we want to actually do things in the real world. But, unfortunately for Nozick, he fails to realise that we only want to do things in the real world as a means for pleasure. We want to actually do things to achieve a sense of pride or fulfillment which ultimately leads to pleasure. Thus, the desire to ‘actually do things’ ends, ultimately in pleasure that we’ve done said things.
Why is pleasure good in itself? Imagine you were in a warm shower and thoroughly enjoying it. This pleasure led you to want to stay in the shower for longer. Oh but wait, pleasure leading to staying in the shower longer surely makes it instrumentally good, not instrinsically? No. Because in order for pleasure to lead you to stay in the shower, it must be good in itself in order to lead to wanting to stay in the shower because if the pleasure of the warm shower was not intrinsically good you would not stay in the shower longer because of it.
And this is the point of the experience machine. To provide us with all the pleasures we want. Now if the desires Nozick lists ultimately end in pleasures and these desires are a means to achieving pleasure then these very pleasures can be reproduced by the machine. Because desires ultimately end in pleasures, it follows that desires aim at pleasure. Hence when the machine gives us pleasures, it also follows that the machine is giving us desire satisfaction (since desires aim at goals and these goals lead to instrumentally good things and instrumentally good things ultimately end the intrinsically good thing: pleasure).
So the machine CAN satisfy our desires to do actually things in the real world, to actually be something and to actually live because these desires ultimately aim at and end in pleasure and this pleasure can be reproduced in the machine.
However up till now I’ve only shown why the experience machine is just as good as reality. Now I must show it is better.
This is the easier bit. In the machine, there is no chance of failing to achieve desire satisfaction. However, in the real world not only can desire satisfaction fail, but there is also pain. The machine gives us 100% guarantee that desires will be fulfilled with no pain. Therefore, the machine is clearly the best option (given the ordinary use of the word ‘best’ in english).
Plug in guys!
Argument in premises:
v Indeed we desire things in order to achieve particular goals (Michael Smith).
v The achievement of these goals would only be instrumentally good (e.g. if I achieved actually doing things then that would only be good because it would lead to self-fulfilment, or pride etc)
v However, things that are instrumentally good ultimately end in what is intrinsically good: pleasure.
v So all desires, even Nozick’s, ultimately end in pleasures (that could be easily created by the machine).
v If desires aim at pleasure, then, by this argument the experience machine would, in creating pleasure, be inadvertently fulfilling desire satisfaction as well.
v The better thing with the machine is that there was no risk of failure whereas there is risk of failing to achieve desires in reality.
v Therefore, the machine is the best option.