Too Much of a Good Thing can be a Bad Thing: My Thoughts on the Experience Machine

"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 of 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. … Would you plug in?"

This is a thought experiment brought up by philosopher Robert Nozick. It is something that really gets you thinking. Is this machine a good thing or a bad thing? Would you plug into it? After a long thought, picking out both positive and negatives, I would not plug into this machine.

The only really good thing I could think of about this machine is that it could be used by people who are terminally ill or not capable of doing something they really want to do. This machine could sort of help them with their “bucket list.” But even while that seems good, it just doesn’t satisfy me.

The thing that bothers me with the machine is that it is just taking away the aspect of life. The way I see life is that there will be ups and there will be downs. There should be moments in life that bring you down. To me these are learning experiences. They are also there so when good things occur, you get to experience that change from being down to being happy. You get to experience the thrill that you over came the tough times and were rewarded with something good.

If you plug into a machine where you can choose your experiences all the time, you are taking away all the joy and meaning of life. If you plug into this machine, you are obviously going to choose what you believe are experiences that will make you happy. However, while it may briefly seem good at first, these experiences will become your norm. You will be happy so many times that you will settle and your expectations will grow, but you won’t be able to change it. You’ve experienced too much of a good thing, too quickly, that it is becoming a bad thing.

What I am trying to say is that this machine will basically plus you into a virtual world of essentially unlimited happiness. But is unlimited happiness really a good thing? I don’t think so. The whole point of reality is the it is unexpected and unpredictable. You don’t know what things will happen to you, which is all part of the thrill. Like I said, there are going to be bad experiences in life, but that is natural. Those bad experiences are just there to teach you something. They are also there to help you appreciate the good moments of life. If you are happy all the time, how will you be able to truly appreciate these moments? You won’t. But when you go from a bad experience to a good one, you get this feeling of accomplishment, of relief, of joy, and so much more. It is so much easier to feel happy and appreciate the good moments of life when you have been knocked down and managed to pick yourself back up!

So would you really want to plus yourself into a machine that gives you unlimited happiness? Yeah, it sounds good at first, a machine that guarantees you a life full of “happy” experiences that you pick out. But in reality it’s not. All those “good” experiences will turn into one, long, bad experience. And who is to say that the moments you pick out ahead of time are really going to make you happy when it those experiences occur; peoples expectations change all the time. Most importantly, the machine takes away the true experience of happiness and the social interactions of life.