Would you opt for a life with no pain? – Hayley Levitt and Bethany Rickwald
Articles,  Blog

Would you opt for a life with no pain? – Hayley Levitt and Bethany Rickwald


Imagine if you could plug
your brain into a machine that would bring you ultimate pleasure
for the rest of your life. If you were given the choice to sign up
for that kind of existence, would you? That’s the question philosopher
Robert Nozick posed through a thought experiment
he called the Experience Machine. The experiment asks us
to consider a world in which scientists have developed
a machine that would simulate real life while guaranteeing experiences
of only pleasure and never pain. The catch? You have to permanently
leave reality behind, but you’ll hardly know the difference. Your experiences will be
indistinguishable from reality. Life’s natural ups and downs will just be replaced
with an endless series of ups. Sounds great, right? It may seem like a tempting offer,
but perhaps it’s not as ideal as it sounds. The experiment was actually designed
to refute a philosophical notion called hedonism. According to hedonists, maximizing net pleasure
is the most important thing in life because pleasure is the greatest good
that life has to offer. For hedonists, the best choice that
a person could make for himself is one that brings him the greatest
possible amount of pleasure while bringing him no pain. Limitless pleasure minus zero pain
equals maximum net pleasure, or in other words, the exact scenario
the Experience Machine offers. Therefore, if hedonism
is your philosophy of choice, plugging in would be a no-brainer. But what if there’s more to life
than just pleasure? That’s what Nozick believed
he was demonstrating through his Experience Machine
thought experiment. Despite the machine’s promise
of maximum net pleasure, he still found reason not to plug in, as do many other experimenters
who consider the proposition. But what could possibly dissuade us from
choosing a future of ultimate pleasure? Consider this scenario. Betsy and Xander are in a loving,
committed relationship. Betsy is head over heels
and has never felt happier. However, unbeknownst to Betsy, Xander has been romancing
her sister, Angelica, with love letters and secret rendezvous
for the duration of their relationship. If Betsy found out, it would destroy her relationships
with both Xander and Angelica, and the experience would be so traumatic,
she would never love again. Since Betsy is in blissful ignorance
about Xander’s infidelity, hedonists would say she’s better off
remaining in the dark and maintaining her high level
of net pleasure. As long as Betsy never finds out
about the relationship, her life is guaranteed to go on
as happily as it is right now. So, is there value in Besty knowing
the truth of her situation? Imagine if you were Betsy. Would you prefer to know the truth? If the answer is yes, you’d be choosing an option
that sharply decreases your net pleasure. Perhaps, then, you believe
that there are things in life with greater intrinsic value
than pleasure. Truth, knowledge, authentic connection
with other human beings. These are all things
that might make the list. By never learning the truth, Betsy is essentially living life
in her own personal Experience Machine, a world of happiness
that’s not based in reality. This love triangle is an extreme example, but it mirrors many of the decisions
we make in day to day life. So whether you’re making a choice
for Betsy or for yourself, why might you feel reality
should be a factor? Is there inherent value
in real experiences, whether pleasurable or painful? Do you yourself have more value when you’re experiencing
real life’s pleasures and pains? Nozick’s experiment may not provide
all the answers, but it forces us to consider whether
real life, though imperfect, holds some intrinsic value
beyond the pleasure of plugging in.

100 Comments

  • STELLAR!

    Wait, so hedonists cannot be as interested in knowledge and truth as their are in pleasure? What if those things bring one pleasure?? What happens then? Paradox? Time loop? Explanations please…

  • STELLAR!

    In a world where pleasure becomes everything, it is instantly reduced to nothing, irrelevant and unnoticeable like the air we breathe. When you attained all the pleasure and there is nothing more pleasurable to achieve, wouldn’t that actually destroy hedonism? Think about it. It’s like being a hunter when everything has already been hunted down, or in a garden full of flowers, where that is all there is to the world. As someone who views themselves as a hedonist I would see little sense in traversing into a world where no more pleasure can be obtained. Because, as humans, we tend to get bored of things real quickly.

    That said, i would probably say YES to the question (if taken on a bad day) but I might regret it later..

  • Sudhir Gholap

    Okay, for those who chose to reality over pleasure,I have a question for you.
    Would you ever wear a glass that has the power to read people's mind?

  • Kobi ninja

    Pleasure is only pleasing because we don’t get it all the time, if you were fulfilled everyday is it really fulfilling? If you keep going up what happens when you go too far?

  • Kaede Sakura

    I don't see much intrinsic value of "real" things. Real is just a tag we attached to the stuff happening in the one place we need to interact with to survive (maintaining our body) if there was no need to do those things I think "real" would loose a lot of its importance.

  • Darth Destructus

    I'd opt for no pain so I could run the full PT exercise with my squad without having to fall out. I want to grow stronger with them, but I am in near constant pain.

  • Taylor Lor

    I don’t know if I was to take it, I would but not in complete pleasure. Because a most pain comes from ones own mistakes and the things he/she lost. That pain can then become strength and gives us desire for something else. A life without pain will become a life without meaning, in my opinion.

  • MyMagic LouLou

    I used to think limitless pleasure is such paradise. But after I get used to hardship, it's kinda not bad at all and somehow benefits are coming to me than not

  • Megan Alexandra

    did they make a hamilton reference? betsy was hamilton’s nickname for eliza hamilton, zander is short for alexander, and eliza hamilton’s sister was called angelica!

  • LEMON LORD MARKO

    "…You gotta have opposites: dark and light, light and dark. If you have light on light, you have nothing; if you have dark on dark you basically have nothing. You know, it's like in life: you gotta have a little sadness once in a while to know when the good times come.
    I'm waiting on the good times now."
    -Bob Ross

  • Nawwk

    Morpheus: Blue pill or Red pill?

    Me: Takes the Red pill and shaft it in Morpheus's where the sun don't shine then pop the Blue pill and hop away.

  • Surya H R

    Stop even thinking about it, it's just a thought experiment. There are 2 types of pain, one pain is the pain of Discipline and going through, and the other is the pain of regret and giving up. You choose between the these two don't even think of forever happiness it's just illusion, impossible and most importantly not good.

  • natural history

    I believe pleasure in that case won't have any meaning with the absence of pain . Life is built on dualities/dichotomies such as pleasure/pain good/bad hot/cold and so on . The unity of all these elements is what to make life as whole meaningful 😊

  • *love & Peace is never guaranteed

    I think there is no such thing as infinite pleasure even if there was we could become numb to that feeling and it could become boring in the long run so I think its not an good idea to Plug its better to face reality then numbing yourself away from it.

  • Mario Mills

    One would not realize theyre happy unless they realize pain…so you cant really be happy without experiencing pain. pain is there so that theres happiness, one cant exist without the other

  • Chatoyancify

    It's a silly experiment because it assumes we will experience untreatable clinical depression outside the machine. That's an atypical and unfortunate condition for only a few people. The rest of us cope, develop improved coping strategies, and discover other things in life to enjoy when one doesn't work out. The machine is useless.

  • Dominic Lovato

    Nerds. Um that's why you got to do work. You feel your blood pumping faster. It like having your wimpy heart pump. Then upgrading to a bigger motor.

  • SaffronSkunk

    >Proposes ultimate pleasure machine where nothing bad happens
    >Tries to refute it with something bad happening behind the scenes
    UHHHH…….

  • chloe

    at first, it seems like a choice between authenticity and pleasure. but you also have to consider that a life of only pleasure would get boring. maybe you’ll be happy for a while, but it’s not ups and downs, it’s just up and up and up.

  • Hey Eaglet

    Well the machine doesnt do anything to our emotions so if his infidelity is found out she will break up with him and life will shower her with great stuffs, even if shes traumatized

  • milkteaaddict

    Wait a minute
    Xander is short for Alexander
    Betsy is short for Elizabeth
    Angelica is Betsy's sister

    is this Hamilton I see

  • Roberto Castillo

    This video misrepresents Nozick's argument. He never talks about 'experiences of only pleasure'. I quote him (from the first three lines of his essay): The 'experience machine … would give you any experience that you desired.' The whole argument in this video built on a wrong premise. Apologies if this has already been discussed below.

  • Safdar Safdari

    I think it's a bad comparison if the reality was absolute pleasure, no bad thing existed, it was really a good thing
    And I think pain is something to remind you the need for god and that you are being tested and there is life after this world

  • Sara S

    Cant be the only one seeing the Hamilton links here

    Xander cheats on Betsy with her sister Angelica

    Even the names
    Xander: Alexander
    Angelica: Angelica
    Betsy: Eliza

  • Mc Jethro Pov Tee

    But but consider this.

    Although the initial reveal to betsy decreased the net pleasure, what if the net net pleasure for her whole life made that decision a small sacrifice to pay for greater pleasure.

  • Joseph

    No. Misery doesn't give happiness meaning. Just like death doesn't give life meaning. You won't break all your limbs and stab yourself blind to appreciate movement or sight. CGP grey brought up a good point in one of his videos, he said we don't bring back cholera because we want to appreciate clean water. Truth has no intrinsic value, if truth makes miserable your whole life until you die, what does it mean to you? What is your purpose of existing? Just to suffer? Then die? For what? Because of moral reasons you once valued before you are no longer living?
    In my opinion the meaning of life is to find happiness, that's why people find jobs they like, date and marry people they love, do things that makes them happy. So if you eat the truth apple, you've lost the only thing that gives your life meaning

  • kayson dewin

    Guys, before you plug in, consider this:

    If you always feel joy, you won’t know the feeling of sadness, which makes you not appreciate joy anymore. You will get bored of it, and bored about living, lose the purpose of life. How bout this, do you ever think to your self that you want to feel “pain” just to know what it feels like if you don’t experience it for a long time? Idk but that’s just me

  • Mahesh Erande

    The argument that ultimate pleasure is not the answer may be true, but that example is clearly misleading.
    Pleasure doesn't mean you "think" everything is alright. It means everything "is" alright.

    Not expected such thing from TED

  • kingmikez05

    i think the answer is that a life with only pleasure would be nice, even masochists who like pain(find pleasure in it) will love this type of world. if this machine was made to bring pleasure than the guy wouldn't be doing what he is doing. the machine would be broken since it is not perfect because the girl isn't gaining pleasure. unless the girls pleasure was in knowing the truth then it would happen but then it would be doing its job. basically depending on your pleasure this machine will bring it. that being said anything you want is instantly yours so you will never live with a single issue.

  • Jackies stories

    The Book 'Notes from the Underground' has an early segment in which this utopian ideal was not only crtitcized but also, at least to me, completely debunked.
    The thought was that humans were so ungrateful that they would try and damage this utopian state out of sheer ungratefulness but also to prove to anyone that they cannot be predictably controlled 'like piano key'.
    The mere will to prove ones own free will would be strong enough to want someone to turn mad, if it means losing ones mind or turning to canibalism.
    But to the narrator of the book, that very same free will is what lets a human feel human.
    (this is merely the bulletpoint version, I highly recommend looking it up yourself)

  • I'mNoTsCaRy Kim

    All people saying that your brain would get number with pleasure – you didn't get the point, the point is that it never ends, maybe it still increases so it feels the same forever.

  • Azu Aki

    But imagine, you live a perfect life full of ups. You start a business and became successful. You attempt at improving politics and advancements in technology then became successful at it. You’re rich. You can have anything with a price that can be easily change for the good of you. Let’s take the love example. You are happy with your partner but they’re secretly cheating. With only the ups in life you can secretly cheat on them or have many partners that don’t mind the fact that you have a lot of partners with on going relationships. You wouldn’t even have problems with getting partners. Everything you do is pleasurable to you. Everything revolve around. I don’t see things going wrong with this beside dying without you noticing it.

  • Angelica Schuyler

    Wait a minute! The people in that love triangle represent Alexander Hamilton, Eliza Hamilton, and Angelica Schuyler Church! Alexander called Eliza Betsey because her full name was Elizabeth, Zander is an modern and acceptable nickname, and Angelica name isn't even changed. For those of you who patent complete Hamiltrash, Alexander really did cheat on Eliza with her sister Angelica

  • Fling Gonza

    The reason we do not opt for a life with no pain is because it is still not perfect, this is because perfect is an illusion, it does not exist. Therefore, making it the same as real life, the same feeling, just a different reality.

  • Fling Gonza

    The reason we do not opt for a life with no pain is because it is still not perfect, this is because perfect is an illusion, it does not exist. Therefore, making it the same as real life, the same feeling, just a different reality.

  • Damien Ashby

    The argument is invalid while inside the machine. If she found out the truth she wouldnt suffer because the machine makes it incapable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *