Would You Use a Machine that Guarantees Infinite Pleasure?
There might be more to life than finding pleasure and avoiding pain.
Imagine a hypothetical situation in which scientists create a machine to which we can connect and then feel only pleasure. All of our discontents, all of our painful memories will be left behind, and we’ll be receptive only to the powerful waves of sensations that the machine generates. Are these experiences artificial? No doubt. But scientists explain that these “false” experiences are preferable to the very real experiences of suffering, pain, and loss. Under such premises, would you be willing to immerse yourself in an eternity of uninterrupted pleasure? Or would you remain within the common, ordinary existence in which happiness and pain alternate?
Philosophy and psychology have, for centuries, been responsible for expanding the debate over whether or not life should be a constant quest to procure pleasure and avoid pain. For example, the disciples of the Greek philosopher Epicurus (whose doctrine still bears his name: “Epicureanism”) believed that pleasure and happiness are the only valid motivations of the human being. But they didn’t call these “excesses.” The ultimate aim is not limitless sensory pleasure but “ataraxia” which usually translates simply as “happiness,” but which also carries a sense of physical and spiritual balance and in which reason is the basis for avoiding a fall into excess.
Epicureanism also condemns excess, with an understanding that the pursuit of grandiose but momentary pleasure (such as the use of drugs) could bring long-term pain. This bears not a genuine pleasure, but a delusion.
According to the philosopher Robert Nozick, probably the right choice in the face of the pleasure machine dilemma would be to simply not go in. Why? Our valuations of experience are mediated not only by pleasure. Some people will feel that they adopt a passive position before the sensations produced by the machine in them. Their particular pleasure needs to be found elsewhere. An assessment of the effort and the difficulty of learning certain things (like mathematics, languages, or cooking) can lead to frustration at first, but eventually, they’ll make us feel more self-possessed as we’ve surpassed our own limits.
According to Nozick, the idea that pleasure is the only good in the world is false from a rational point of view. Pleasure and pain are not always clearly identifiable. What do we do when a masochistic personality receives an enormous amount of pleasure through physical pain, for example? And what happens when we get something that we want, only to realize that upon possessing it that we no longer care for it?
Any human being is more complex than simple binary choices between pleasure and pain. Think about the cases of people who become depressed upon entering Facebook and other social networks, feeling envy for the approval that “likes” from others will generate. Reducing ourselves to a dichotomous record of pleasure/pain denies humanity its larger construct. Or as the Buddha put it: “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”
*Image: the Excessive Machine from film Barbarella by Roger Vadim
When ancient rituals became religion
The emergence of religions irreversibly changed the history of humanity. It’s therefore essential to ask when and how did ancient peoples’ rituals become organized systems of thought, each with their
Seven ancient maps of the Americas
A map is not the territory. —Alfred Korzybski Maps are never merely maps. They’re human projections, metaphors in which we find both the geographical and the imaginary. The cases of ghost islands
An artist crochets a perfect skeleton and internal organs
Shanell Papp is a skilled textile and crochet artist. She spent four long months crocheting a life-size skeleton in wool. She then filled it in with the organs of the human body in an act as patient
A musical tribute to maps
A sequence of sounds, rhythms, melodies and silences: music is a most primitive art, the most essential, and the most powerful of all languages. Its capacity is not limited to the (hardly trivial)
The enchantment of 17th-century optics
The sense of sight is perhaps one the imagination’s most prolific masters. That is why humankind has been fascinated and bewitched by optics and their possibilities for centuries. Like the heart, the
Would you found your own micro-nation? These eccentric examples show how easy it can be
Founding a country is, in some ways, a simple task. It is enough to manifest its existence and the motives for creating a new political entity. At least that is what has been demonstrated by the
Wondrous crossings: the galaxy caves of New Zealand
Often, the most extraordinary phenomena are “jealous of themselves” ––and they happen where the human eye cannot enjoy them. However, they can be discovered, and when we do find them we experience a
Think you have strange reading habits? Wait until you've seen how Mcluhan reads
We often forget or neglect to think about the infinite circumstances that are condensed in the acts that we consider habitual. Using a fork to eat, for example, or walking down the street and being
The sky is calling us, a love letter to the cosmos (video)
We once dreamt of open sails and Open seas We once dreamt of new frontiers and New lands Are we still a brave people? We must not forget that the very stars we see nowadays are the same stars and
The sister you always wanted (but made into a crystal chandelier)
Lucas Maassen always wanted to have a sister. And after 36 years he finally procured one, except, as strange as it may sound, in the shape of a chandelier. Maassen, a Dutch designer, asked the