In his 1974 book, Anarchy, State and Utopia, Robert Nozick raises the following thought experiment:
“Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired. Superduper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you plug into this machine for life, preprogramming your life’s experiences? If you are worried about missing out on desirable experiences, we can suppose that business enterprises have researched thoroughly the lives of many others. You can pick and choose from their large library or smorgasbord of such experiences, selecting your life’s experiences for, say, the next two years. After two years have passed, you will have ten minutes or ten hours out of the tank, to select the experiences for your next two years. Of course, while in the tank you won’t know that you’re there; you’ll think it’s all actually happening. Others can also plug in to have the experiences they want, so there’s no need to stay unplugged to serve them. (Ignore problems such as who will service the machines if everyone plugs in.) Would you plug in? What else can matter to us, other than how our lives feel from the inside?”
Philosopher Shelly Kagan does a nice job of discussing the thought experiment in the following video (The thought experiment discussion begins about 1 minute in.):
Compose an essay of no more than 1500 words on ONE of the following topics:
(Option A) Consider Robert Nozick’s thought experiment of the experience machine. Compose an essay in which you address the question of whether it matters that you spend your entire life in the machine. To answer this question, consider a life that you consider worth living. Does it matter whether things actually happen? Or is it sufficient to merely have the experience.
Be sure to focus your essay around the reasons you give in favor of your position (your thesis can even be a blend of yes and no, if you like). State whether your argument is inductive or deductive, and say why. Finally, consider at least one objection to your view, and respond to it. (NB1: You may wish to discuss the conditions under which you would use the machine, and use the appropriate argument forms, if necessary.) (NB2: Importantly, this is NOT an essay about Hedonism. The issue here is not whether Hedonism is true or false, or what scholars think about this thought experiment. The central issue of the assignment is: WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT IT? WHAT REASONS WOULD YOU GIVE FOR OR AGAINST A LIFE IN THE MACHINE?)
(Option B) Robert Nozick argues that he would not sign up to use an experience machine for life. While this possibility is remote for us, it could be argued that we have many technologies which function as local experience machines. Compose an essay or dialogue (approximately 1500 words) in which you address the following issue:
Consider a type of technology that you currently use, and address to what extent this technology is analogous to the experience machine in Robert Nozick’s essay. Be sure to focus on features that are similar as well as different. Next, address whether you agree with Nozick’s position by considering whether his argument provides reasons why you yourself might wish to limit the amount of time you spend using your chosen technology. (For example, if you agree with Nozick, does this mean that you should give up your Netflix account?) Be sure to clearly state your own reasons. Finally, consider an objection that someone might raise against your viewpoint, and respond to the objection.
Essays are to be typed, using standard fonts and margins (e.g. 12 point font, 1 inch margins) Remember: concision is a virtue!
The citation format is your choice. Just keep it consistent.
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