The first question is based on Robert Nozick's famous Experience Machine thought experiment.
(2) Suppose there were an experience machine that could stimulate your brain so that you felt as if you were living any life you wanted. You could choose whatever you wanted--the ideal life of a surgeon, an entrepreneur, an actor--whatever. Brilliant and trustworthy scientists could program the machine to stimulate your brain so it seemed as if you were living that life. After choosing to plug in, your body would wind up floating in a tank, but you would feel as if you were living just the life you wanted. You wouldn't remember plugging in--it would just feel as if life continued, only better.Comments about that formulation most welcome.
Would you choose to plug in to the Experience Machine? YES NO
The next question is inspired by a paper by Felipe De Brigard. The general idea is to compare people's willingness to plug in to secure happiness (the original scenario), with their willingness to unplug to secure happiness. People are asked to believe they are already living a virtual life -- they plugged in many years ago, and their memory of doing so was erased. Here's the way we've formulated this question--
(3) Guess what? You actually were given the choice in question (2) 10 years ago. You've been plugged in to the Experience Machine for all these years. You chose an option called "normal life," which is why things haven't gone quite perfectly for you. In fact, you are plugged in right now. You are not looking at a real computer screen, but only experiencing an illusion generated by the Experience Machine. Brilliant life-forecasting scientists can tell you if your dreams will be fulfilled if you decide to unplug from the Experience Machine and start living a real life. Suppose your dream is _______ (imagine the blank filled according to your personal dreams). The scientists tell you that your dreams will be fulfilled if you unplug.
Would you choose to unplug from the Experience Machine? YES NOThe question has to say something about the real world people will be returning to and we've done that differently than De Brigard does. In one version, he simply said life in the real world would be very different from life in the experience machine. In another version, people were told they would get to be an artist living in Monaco. We've created a version that's more the mirror image of the original. Like in the original thought experiment, the choice to change (now from the Experience Machine to reality) gives you the life of your dreams.
De Brigard found that people are as reluctant to leave the Experience Machine as they are to plug into it. He attributes that to "status quo bias." That's what's making them refuse to unplug in the second scenario and refuse to plug in to begin with. So much for Nozick's view that we want contact with reality, he thinks.
But I think our question is fairer, since it preserves the temptation to switch that was part of the original thought experiment. Without that, status quo bias is being elicited more strongly in the second scenario. It's not fair, then, to reason that if it's behind people's reactions to the second scenario, it's also behind their reaction to the first.
Suppose people say NO to both questions. Perhaps status quo bias is the reason, and Nozick was wrong about our desire for contact with reality. But there's another possibility. Status quo bias could swamp people's reactions. They just want life to go on as usual. They're change averse. It's possible that they also do want contact with reality. Do they? Perhaps we can find out by offering a choice between two highly novel options, so there's no possibility of going on as usual. That's the idea behind this choice--
(4) You've always wanted to go to Antarctica, and a wealthy benefactor has decided to pay for the $20,000 super-deluxe trip. At the last minute, the donor offers you a choice between the best real trip to Antarctica that money can buy, and plugging into the Experience Machine for an even more flawless trip. It's all the same to the donor, as the cost to her is $20,000 either way. She advises you that on the real trip, there are possible negatives that cannot be controlled. You will take a ship from Peru to Antarctica, possibly experiencing sea swells. If you plug in to the Experience Machine, it will seem as if you are having a perfect trip. There will be no sea swells. If you plug in, trustworthy scientists will unplug you at the end of the trip. They will also erase the memory that you plugged in and it will seem to you as if you remember a real -- and perfect -- trip.Granted, if people think they start off in the real world, and they choose REAL here, they're preserving the status quo in some sense. But not in an experiential sense. So it seems to me this ought to reduce the role of status quo bias. A good showing for REAL will at least strongly suggest that Nozick was right, and people do desire contact with reality.
Would you choose the real trip or plug into the Experience Machine? REAL PLUG IN
That's what I'm thinking, anyway. Your thoughts about it welcome.
If you want to comment please focus on directly relevant, general issues like this --