Friday, September 20, 2013

Nine philosophical thought experiments with downright disturbing implications

Canadian futurist, science writer, and ethicist, George Dvorsky has written and spoken extensively about the impacts of cutting-edge science and technology—particularly as they pertain to the improvement of human performance and experience. He is a contributing editor at io9, the Chairman of the Board at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and is the program director for the Rights of Non-Human Persons program.

At io9 Dvorsky tagged 9 philosophical thought experiments that will keep you up at night, including:
The Experience Machine

Philosopher Robert Nozick’s Experience Machine is a strong hint that we should probably just plug ourselves into a kind of hedonistic version of The Matrix.

From his book, Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974):
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 experiences?...Of course, while in the tank you won't know that you're there; you'll think that it's all actually happening...Would you plug in?
The basic idea, here, is that we have very good reasons to plug ourselves into such a machine. Because we live in a universe with no apparent purpose, and because our lives are often characterized by less-than-ideal conditions, like toil and suffering, we have no good reason to not opt for something substantially better — even if it is “artificial.” But what about human dignity? And the satisfaction of our “true” desires? Nozick’s thought experiment may appear easily dismissible, but it’s one that’s challenged philosophers for decades.
Read about another entry on Dvorsky's list.

--Marshal Zeringue