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Monday, January 14, 2013

14 January 2013

Last week I was flicking through my signed copy of AC Grayling's To Set Prometheus Free and I found a gem that I had highlighted during my first reading.
Grayling was discussing happiness, as philosophers do. He was making the point that people tend to favour experiences over possessions when reflecting on their own happiness. This has been backed up by numerous studies as respondents rank travel and social interactions as far more valuable than materialistic items.

Grayling also mentioned one very interesting hypothesis by Robert Nozick - The 'Experience Machine'.
Nozick was a professor of philosophy at Harvard University, and in 1974 posed this question;
Everyone wants to be happy, everyone wants to be in a perpetual blissful state. What if a machine existed, a tank of water, where scientists could plug cords into your brain, stimulate the happiness transmitters, and leave you in a comatose state.
You'd float there, dreaming of only happy thoughts. You'd be constantly smiling, and you could be anyone you wanted; Cleopatra, Caesar, anyone. Would you do it?
This is the 'logical' rationale behind it;

  1. If pleasure is our ultimate goal, then our actions will be to pursue pleasure over not.
  2. Once 'connected' to the machine, we will experience more pleasure than by any other means.
  3. If pleasure is our ultimate and exclusive goal, there is no reason to connect to the machine.
  4. Therefore, since one does not want to connect to this machine, experiencing as much pleasure as possible is not all that matters to us.

Basically, it's a concept that is designed to expose one's attitude to experience by providing a hypothetically bleak means to achieving an end. 
Logically speaking, all of us should opt to go the machine. It's an interesting concept that can be applied to any daily philosophy. I'm sure you can think of a few examples.

Today's Daily Quota is an excerpt from Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia published in 1974 and reprinted by The University of Montana Press.
Great stuff, perfect discussion for a coffee and a free afternoon.


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