Saturday, October 9, 2010

Can You Be Happy in a Vat?

David Sosa has an interesting column at The Stone in which he writes this:
In 1974, Robert Nozick, a precocious young philosopher at Harvard, scooped “The Matrix”:
"Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired. Super-duper 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?"
Nozick’s thought experiment — or the movie, for that matter — points to an interesting hypothesis: Happiness is not a state of mind.
“What is happiness?” is one of those strange questions philosophers ask, and it’s hard to answer. Philosophy, as a discipline, doesn’t agree about it. Philosophers are a contentious, disagreeable lot by nature and training. But the question’s hard because of a problematic prejudice about what kind of thing happiness is.
Sosa concludes that hooking oneself to the machine would not make one happy and that he doesn't think it should be done. For my part, I don't think he makes a persuasive case, but read his argument at the link and see what you think.

In my opinion, refusing to be connected to the machine only makes sense given a theistic worldview which includes immortality. If there's no life after death then I can see no reason why one shouldn't allow oneself whatever pleasures, no matter how existentially empty, one can glean from the time we are here. In a world in which materialism and naturalism are true, connecting to the machine makes perfect sense. At least to me.

Re: The Culture of Death

A reader responds to our post on The Culture of Death with an account of her own experience:
Maybe someone should break both of Virginia Ironside's legs and then hold a pillow over her head and see how she likes it. I'm thinking she wouldn't be in favor. This is a situation that pregnant women today are frequently facing. If the child is found to have a disability, it is recommended that the mother terminate the pregnancy. It is such a ridiculous notion.
I was born with Spina Bifida, a birth defect of the spinal cord. My form of Spina Bifida was closed, so the doctors didn't discover it until I couldn't walk normally at age two. However, had my case been the norm, it would have been discovered during an ultrasound, and my mother would have been given the option to abort me. There would have been no explanation of how it is possible for someone to live a long productive life with Spina Bifida.
I think of the story of Gretchen Voss' abortion. This woman chose to abort her child because she thought the child would suffer. Suffering is a fact of life. I've met so many people with the exact same diagnosis that are not only living happy lives, they're walking. By aborting her child, Voss denied him the right to live. Sure, the child may have suffered, but he may not have, too. Even in that suffering, most children with Spina Bifida are the happiest children you'll ever meet. They love living life because they see it in such a different way than everyone else, especially when it comes to walking.
I "suffer" with extreme back and leg pain on a daily basis (even just sitting in class in difficult). I struggle some days to get out of bed, to stand up, to walk, but I am more grateful for it than almost anything else. It reminds me that I'm living. I've never once stopped and asked "why me?" This so-called "suffering" doesn't make me regret life; it makes me a stronger person who thrives in life.
If we continue to do this, to kill babies that we believe will be born into "suffering," will we not just be continuing Hitler's work? Hitler wanted the ideal race, the survival of the fittest. If it was wrong for Hitler, it is just as wrong for us. These babies deserve a chance at life. To take that away is not merciful, it is inhumane.
Here's a question about what Virginia Ironside said on the video at the link: If it would have been legal for a mother to have had the baby ripped apart moments before it was born, as it is according to our current laws, why is it wrong for a mother to kill it by asphyxiation moments after it's born? And if it shouldn't be illegal to kill it moments after birth why not, if the child's suffering is the reason for ending its life, when it's three years old? Or twelve? Do you see the slippery slope we've put ourselves on? Ms Ironside is coldly but rationally working out the logic of legalizing abortion on demand.