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I recently spoke to a hedonist who challenged the traditional Objectivist view by this example:

Imagine that you meet a person like Morpheus from the movie The Matrix. He explains to you that you are actually living in a virtual reality machine, and that all other people in this world, just like the world itself, are merely part of the software. Just like non-human characters in video games, we can't expect people in this world to be conscious at all, they just seem to be, and act like they are.

Naturally, you think he's joking, but he performs all sorts of "miracles" to prove to you that he is indeed from the outside, and that this is a computer simulation. The rational judgment at this point is to believe him, since he can seemingly defy natural laws.

 

Now, he offers you a choice. You can actually return to the real world if you like, or you can stay in the simulation. Your life in the real world is not too good, you live in a dictatorship, and if you exit the machine, your life expectancy and chances of achieving happiness in the real world are smaller than in this one. But of course, you would meet "real people".

Is it rational to go to the real world? Most people would say yes, because there's a huge happiness in knowing that you experience life with someone else. But what premises have led to that emotional response? (You know this is the Objectivist view on emotions) Is it actually rational to care whether your connection with others is genuine, as long as they react in the same way? If so, why? On a meta-ethical/meta-psychological level.

As you can probably guess, the hedonist said that the rational choice would be to stay.

 

I know many Objectivists don't like surreal examples about morality, but I think it's important, because it lets you focus solely on the issue in question.

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In one of Binswanger's talks he identified a fallacy he called "Digging Plato's Cave" where he had you imagine a race of 2-dimensional creatures living on a 2-dimensional world. The crux was that the creatures could only perceive in 2 dimensions, that their senses were impoverished compared to ours. So how do we know there isn't a 4th dimension to which our senses are impoverished such that we can identify it.

 

This relied on projecting our knowledge of 3 dimensional reality onto an imaginary scenario, and then taking the conclusion derived from the imaginary setup to call into question the knowledge of our own senses.

 

I don't see how this directly applies to particulars here, but I suspect it lies on projecting our knowledge of how morality is derived from reality, projecting that knowledge onto the imaginary realm, that the discovery there are non-human characters that appear to be conscious - and by returning to the non-synthesized world one eliminates that as a possibility. The hedonist, by choosing to remain leaves the question open as to if he regards the characters around him in reality to only appear to be conscious.

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... the hedonist said that the rational choice would be to stay.

I reckon it would be the hedonistic choice, but does that make it the rational choice? It would be rational if all that matters for our happiness is the sensations that impinge upon us, and not the meaning we give to them. However, material things in themselves do not make people happy.

 

One key premise is that the roots of human happiness lie in evolutionary biology, ... evolution that helped humans deal with the real world. Second: that man does not pursue goals in the same rote way as lower animals (at least the clearly lower ones) . Instead, he works by having a sense of purpose (or "meaning"); that this, in turn, motivates him to action.

 

So, for instance, I might find purpose and even happiness in pursuing an objective inside a computer game. Doing so might require mental and physical action that is more satisfying than the opportunities offered "in real life" (i.e. in a specific person's life). But, if that's all there is to my life, there's still something missing, because I will know it isn't real.

 

Analogously, a gigolo could pretend he loves my rich granny, and if he's a really good actor granny might enjoy the attention as well as all the material/physical aspects. Yet, there's something missing, and sometimes she'll remember that and feel the vacuum saying: "It ain't real".

 

[i'd go beyond Rand, and speculate that a degree of physical action in the real world is also required for comprehensive happiness, but that's beyond the scope of your question.]

 

 

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A hedonist would not be able to follow this, but simply put relationships are in one's rational self-interest both directly and indirectly, but one cannot simply dismiss what "rational self-interest" is, and that the standard of morality is "life".

 

An example which gives an individual the choice to evade life, his/her own nature, and live in a dream is a choice between life and a kind of death masquerading in a sort of mirage or illusion of life.

 

The struggle and achievements in the plots of movies, books, and video games, like that of the imaginary life a person would live in the Matrix are substitutes for, practice versions of, and vicarious empathic experiences of what real life is, not something which could constitute life itself.

 

This is why an Objectivist, even if he knows the world is wrong and full of pain, and that he or she would completely forget about it if he chose to lose himself in the dream world... would not choose such a living death, but instead choose the struggle of real life even if only for a year, an hour or a mere second of it.

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I don't quite follow. Do you mean that in order to answer the question we need to know how convinced we would or would not be that the people around us were illusions?

My answer would be out. I was trying to get a better handle on what it was supposed to illustrate.

Edited by dream_weaver
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I could simply say that it is a straw horse since he is constructing a fantasy scenario then asking you to argue against it, but there is still a practical answer:

 

The difference between the Objectivist and the Hedonist is like any other two philosophic styles making the choice - The difference between the two is not in WHAT they decide to do but in HOW they decide to do it. 

 

The Hedonist will choose between the real world and the fantasy world based on range of the moment whim worship and short range emotional feelings.  For example he might choose either not based on his long term choices or happiness or goals but simply where he sees the better looking women, or wants to look like Morpheus, and then jumps in. 

 

The Objectivist will choose based by using reason to advance his life and his happiness.  For example if he is in poor health he might choose the fantasy world where he can experience a higher quality of life even if shorter.  Or if he is young and good health he may decide to get out and live a real life even if harder since it will be on his terms. 

 

Objectivists use philosophy to make good decisions to live, not live to make decisions for their philosophy (Imperisits) or just make decisions without thought of the consequences to our lives (hedonism).  

Edited by Spiral Architect
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The Objectivist will choose based by using reason to advance his life and his happiness.  For example if he is in poor health he might choose the fantasy world where he can experience a higher quality of life even if shorter.  Or if he is young and good health he may decide to get out and live a real life even if harder since it will be on his terms. 

Why would an egoist want to live in a fantasy world where nothing is real, just imagination? I'd say a "fake" reality is worth nothing. Similarly, "fake" people would seem to be worth little precisely because they're fantasies. Or if they're merely fancy AIs, without consciousness, they're just feeding one's vanity. What value could you possibly get out of solipsism, where you are the only real mind? If anyone said yes to that, I'd say it is hedonism, since you suggested a higher quality of life is a matter of pleasure.

 

Reminds of Nozick's thought experiment. If you could live forever in a pleasure machine that stimulates pleasure neurons, would you want to? That wasn't his question, but the machine was his idea.

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Maybe it was unfortunate of me to mention that he was a hedonist, he's not the "stereotypical" hedonist that doesn't care about anything more than whims and physical pleasures, he actually values Ayn Rand's ideas that one must work hard to achieve happiness and so on, but he also views happiness as pleasure, a kind of long-lasting and intense pleasure, which I guess is a fair description, if by pleasure one means experiences that you, as an experiencer, enjoy. As opposed to pain, sorrow, fear, etc.

What he is getting at is the question of whether or not a 100% rational person would care whether the people they loved were actually conscious, everything else being equal... And if he would, why, exactly? I'm not saying I agree with him, but I've asked myself the same question. Why do we value the fact that other people experience what we want them to experience, as an end in itself? 

I know it might sound cynical, and I myself genuinely value the what I just described, but I'm thinking, maybe it actually is such a case where there is some beauty in the irrational...

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There is beauty.  Beauty in reality, and beauty in art.  If you are familiar with Rand's views on esthetics you will understand that art has a purpose and a value to man, and what that purpose is.

 

 

Irrationality as such, which is something completely distinguishable from art, fiction, and imagination, is not beautiful.  There is a world of difference between celebrating life by engaging in imagination, fiction, contemplating a flower or a seascape etc. and abandoning life by choosing to live in a drugged stupor, an induced euphoria, or a blind ignorant false existence.  Beauty lifts one up, helps man to affirm values in life and reality. It is something man uses to affirm and help him embrace his love of life... not something to replace it or tempt him away from it into a living death. 

 

 

If you ask whether or not a robot, having the same ability to provide advice, listen to your problems, give you comfort, food, and or a place to crash as a person would be a value in those respects, I would have to answer yes.  BUT the value of the robot, for a rational person, is exactly because of WHAT they are, not what they "appear" to be.  Insofar as a person can give you business contacts or help you fix your fence you can have a "robot" acquaintance who in those limited exact ways can be just as good as a person.

 

A rational person however cannot escape the reality that a robot with no actual consciousness, no actual feeling or empathy, cannot "feel" what you feel when you speak to them about losing a dog, or a card game or your set of keys.  It may be a subtle issue, but only evasion would permit you to value the robot in these respects the same as you would value a person (assuming you value conversation which involves speaking of shared experiences and having an empathic connection).  Of course a robot could imitate such a thing, but you would always know it was fake.  The same goes for admiration among peers, self esteem from mutual respect, pride and a great number of things we get from other real people which cannot be found in actuality from a non-conscious simulation.

 

Now, of course, IF someday nonbiological systems were truly empathic and truly conscious etc, then the reality of THAT must be taken into account.

 

I think the final answer to your friend is A is A.  If he actually values reality above fiction, actually values people more than unconscious automatons, THEN that is his answer.  Of course if the converse holds... I suppose that would be his answer.    

Edited by StrictlyLogical
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Why would an egoist want to live in a fantasy world where nothing is real, just imagination? I'd say a "fake" reality is worth nothing. Similarly, "fake" people would seem to be worth little precisely because they're fantasies. Or if they're merely fancy AIs, without consciousness, they're just feeding one's vanity. What value could you possibly get out of solipsism, where you are the only real mind? If anyone said yes to that, I'd say it is hedonism, since you suggested a higher quality of life is a matter of pleasure.

 

Reminds of Nozick's thought experiment. If you could live forever in a pleasure machine that stimulates pleasure neurons, would you want to? That wasn't his question, but the machine was his idea.

 

Well, that is why I said using a fantasy example is a straw horse ;)  

 

But to take this one step further since I went there, if you think in the example of the Matrix for a moment:

 

Let's say you find out your real self is crippled to the point of being an invalid so any survival outside of being plugged into the machine that supports you and feeds you would be terrible.  The machine has you plugged in so your matrix self is fine but in real life movement and work would be terrible and everything from physical love to eating a chore or painful.  At that point the matrix may very well look like a more reasonable answer.  

 

Hey - Would I do it?  I would think not but the real purpose here is not what would I do, but that for Objectivists principles are contexted based.  

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Maybe it was unfortunate of me to mention that he was a hedonist, he's not the "stereotypical" hedonist that doesn't care about anything more than whims and physical pleasures, he actually values Ayn Rand's ideas that one must work hard to achieve happiness and so on, but he also views happiness as pleasure, a kind of long-lasting and intense pleasure, which I guess is a fair description, if by pleasure one means experiences that you, as an experiencer, enjoy. As opposed to pain, sorrow, fear, etc.

What he is getting at is the question of whether or not a 100% rational person would care whether the people they loved were actually conscious, everything else being equal... And if he would, why, exactly? I'm not saying I agree with him, but I've asked myself the same question. Why do we value the fact that other people experience what we want them to experience, as an end in itself? 

I know it might sound cynical, and I myself genuinely value the what I just described, but I'm thinking, maybe it actually is such a case where there is some beauty in the irrational...

 

I understand about not being stereotypical, but when dealing with methodology you work in that zone, not how people merge such things into their own methods. Most people are an amalgam of styles.  

 

Pleasure is a part of happiness and happiness is the purpose of ethics.  No issue there. In OPAR sex is actually discussed in the part on happiness as being the purpose of ethics.  

 

But it still needs to be real and not faked.  Evasion is not a virtue since you avoid reality which will hurt you in the long run.  The point of principles is to predict the outcome of decisions to advance your life, after all. 

 

Let's take an extreme example.  Would you say it's OK for a man to sit at home watching porn until he loses his job? Of course not, his ability to experience long lasting intense pleasure would be short ranged as soon he would be starving and would never experience pleasure again.  He will either be dead or desperately working overtime to get back to a point where he could sit at home doing what ever he wanted with his evenings. 

 

You cannot fake a harvest.  The goal is happiness but you have to obey reality to achieve values in order to be happy.  Then you have to obey reality to find ways to keep values so you can continue to be happy. 

 

Ignoring realty will fake the harvest and when winter comes you will be out in the cold. 

 

How this applies to your matrix example goes back to my original example.  It is context based like all decision.  All things normal a person would want to live and get out and find real people that really love him.  Not fake people with fake values.   Extreme cases like I listed, I can see someone doing it without being immoral but this is just playing with the ethics of emergencies at this point.   

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  • 1 month later...

I recently spoke to a hedonist who challenged the traditional Objectivist view by this example:

Imagine that you meet a person like Morpheus from the movie The Matrix. He explains to you that you are actually living in a virtual reality machine, and that all other people in this world, just like the world itself, are merely part of the software. Just like non-human characters in video games, we can't expect people in this world to be conscious at all, they just seem to be, and act like they are.

Naturally, you think he's joking, but he performs all sorts of "miracles" to prove to you that he is indeed from the outside, and that this is a computer simulation. The rational judgment at this point is to believe him, since he can seemingly defy natural laws.

Now, he offers you a choice. You can actually return to the real world if you like, or you can stay in the simulation. Your life in the real world is not too good, you live in a dictatorship, and if you exit the machine, your life expectancy and chances of achieving happiness in the real world are smaller than in this one. But of course, you would meet "real people".

Is it rational to go to the real world? Most people would say yes, because there's a huge happiness in knowing that you experience life with someone else. But what premises have led to that emotional response? (You know this is the Objectivist view on emotions) Is it actually rational to care whether your connection with others is genuine, as long as they react in the same way? If so, why? On a meta-ethical/meta-psychological level.

As you can probably guess, the hedonist said that the rational choice would be to stay.

I know many Objectivists don't like surreal examples about morality, but I think it's important, because it lets you focus solely on the issue in question.

How do you expect to find real value to your life in the world we live in by considering scenarios like this? What does it matter to your life (any part of it) if you decide to stay or go in this fantasy? If you must choose an answer, just pick any answer and live comfortably knowing that it can't help or harm you in any way whatever. Edited by m082844
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How do you expect to find real value to your life in the world we live in by considering scenarios like this?

It serves the same function as storytelling. What you said is like telling people "Don't think about fiction, it doesn't matter, it's make-believe." How does it affect the real world? Because it gets one to think about why and how people provide value.

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  • 1 month later...

The entire scenario has a very Kantian skew.

Firstly, if he's a real person then life in the simulation clearly doesn't have to be a life of solitude.

Secondly, it makes perfect sense for us to want the people we love to be real - because that's assumed in the idea of "love". Anyone who says they could love a mannequin the way they "love" a person is just making noises.

However, this also raises an issue of definition. If a virtual person (like in the Matrix) were programmed so well that you could never distinguish them from the real thing, in what sense wouldn't they BE the real thing?

Thirdly, if you could never distinguish your simulation from a really great world full of wonderful people then to leave it for a shithole, by definition, would be immoral. Might suck if someone "outside" decided to pull your plug - but then it wouldn't be a perfect simulation, would it?

---

It'd be moral to leave the Matrix, not for the sake of some abstract devotion to "reality" or "real people" or anything else that's based on the idea of a perfect illusion (which is the Kantian skew), but to avoid living your life at the mercy of whatever happens outside. It'd be immoral to stay, not because it "wouldn't be real" (even if it seemed perfectly real to your senses(?)), but because you'd be surrendering control of your own life to some great unknown.

It's better -Objectively- to face disaster on your feet than to be delivered to it with your hands tied. To bend to disaster and tie your own hands, to boot, is wrong.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
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This really isn't a question of evaluation. When you strip it of its Kantian disguises it boils down to the question:

Would you rather live with a billion mannequins in a nice world that could end at any moment for no apparent reason, or in a darker -but predictable- world full of living, breathing human beings?

I don't think anyone in the world would actually choose the alternative (and whoever would, I'd stay far away from)!

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  • 2 weeks later...

"It'd be moral to leave the Matrix, not for the sake of some abstract devotion to "reality" or "real people" or anything else that's based on the idea of a perfect illusion (which is the Kantian skew), but to avoid living your life at the mercy of whatever happens outside."

What if this "Morpheus guy" could convince you that the machine was far more safe from destruction/tampering than you would be in the real world if you went outside into the real world? Maybe you could even leave the virtual world and see it for yourself, that the machine was perfectly hidden and secure, but everywhere where there were people, the risk of murder or other horrible things was high. If you then had the choice whether or not to go back, would it still be best to live in reality, even though it was more unsafe? 

It seems to me that in order to have a meaningful relationship, the subject of your love must be both conscious and "beautiful" to you. You would always feel a tiny bit of a fundamental loneliness with a "robot" even if it seemed 100% human. On the other hand, you don't love anyone just because of the fact that they're conscious. You don't love a mosquito, and you won't care that much if it turns out that they suffer greatly because it's hard for us to sympathize and empathize with an insect's suffering ("The Bambi effect"). Likewise, if your girlfriend was turned into an insect permanently, you wouldn't love her that much anymore, even if it would be her qualia in the insect. (I know the example is bizarre, but just bear with it)


 

Edited by Severinian
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You would always feel a tiny bit of a fundamental loneliness with a "robot" even if it seemed 100% human.

If you would never be able to love the robot then by definition it wouldn't seem 100% human to you, would it? You would always feel, on some level, that you were alone. If you stopped to analyze this feeling then you might even discover that you'd always known about their true nature.

Where could such knowledge have come from if they seemed 100% real?

It's a very roundabout self-contradiction.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
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