Monday, September 28, 2009

Thought of the Day: Possible Worlds and the Experience Machine

In the most recent Family Guy episode, Stewie and Brian take a journey through several multiverses. Mostly these are just quirky (a literal Disney World) and funny (a world where even Meg is hawt). But the world Merry-Go-round stops when they happen into a world where the man/dog relation is reversed. Brian, as fans know, is a dog who happens to be intelligent, somewhat full of himself, and a complete--pun intended--horn-dog. Immediately upon arriving a super sexy 'pet' woman jumps him and licks him down. He's found his perfect pleasure world: Being a dog, he is the master in this world, and liking human women, access to sex will be much, much easier. He decides to stay.

I started thinking about Noick's experience machine: what if the choice were, not between 'fake' experiences and 'real' experiences, but between possible worlds within an actualist framework? In other words, what if the choice were, not between a pleasant fantasy and hard reality, but between an equally real possible pleasure world, and the merely indexically-present world? The thought experiment would then be the following: suppose that you could leave this current world for an equally real alternative world that happened to be much more pleasurable--would you?

Stewie and Brian decide after a short while that they want to go home. They miss their 'real' friends--a mis-description, since the people in Dogworld are just as real as in the home world. I don't think that the creators of Family Guy were thinking through the metaphysics of possible worlds nor the concept of hedonism, but that makes their resolution of the scenario all the more natural. I'd argue that this amendment to the thought experiment shows that it is the status-quo bias, rather than the reality bias or an aversion to dupery, that is behind most people's preference for the present world.

1 comment:

  1. An issue with status quo bias is that it doesn't prevent us from yearning for an alternative world (in which we have fat salaries, for instance) but it might prevent us from inhabiting or choosing those alternatives if they endanger one of the 'real' relations we cherish in the status quo. If this could be verified beyond mere polling data of Harvard students, then this would go a long way towards justifying an integrity principle in ethics.