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A thought experiment: Can you live life without Meaning?

Updated: Aug 13, 2021

Here's Robert Nozick's "Experience Machine".


Is the ultimate goal of life to seek pleasure? Or do we yearn for something more?


Robert Nozick was an American Philosopher (1938 -2002) who was best known for his book, Anarchy, State, and Utopia. In this book, he introduced an interesting thought experiment to challenge the concept of Utilitarianism - the philosophy that people will always make choices to maximise the amount of pleasure and happiness they feel.


His thought experiment is called the Experience Machine:


Imagine the world's greatest neuroscientists have created a simulator, or an "experience machine" that can simulate pleasurable experiences for the rest of your life. Suppose this machine creates experiences that are absolutely indistinguishable from reality, and has no adverse side effects.


While being plugged into the machine, there's no way of telling that what you're experiencing isn't reality. In addition, this machine's simulation will include all the people you value in your life - be it your family and friends - while also offering more pleasurable experiences than possible in your lifetime. Whatever dreams, riches, or wants you have, everything is possible in this experience machine.


In short, the experience machine:

  • Simulates experiences that are indistinguishable from reality.

  • Leaves you experiencing more happiness and pleasure than if you lived those events for real.


Would you want to live in the experience machine?


My personal answer is no, and my guess is, you would say no too.


Even with the potential of experiencing vastly greater pleasures in this machine, something feels off about having our lives being simulated for us. Can you put a finger on what it is?