Yeah, I love Nozick’s experience machine. I found it to be a damning takedown of hedonism. I’m not sure it applies to first-person explorations of consciousness, though.

In Nozick’s experiment, the experience is contrived. Participants know from the outset that the experience they will have is synthetic, and objectively, they will just be lying on a bed somewhere hooked up to a machine, which seems to bother people (it’d certainly bother me).

When people venture through various states of consciousness, I’m thinking specifically in contemplative practice and psychedelic use here, their experiences have what William James called a “noetic” quality, are you familiar with it? He describes it like this:

“Noetic quality. — Although so similar to states of feeling, mystical states seem to those who experience them to be also states of knowledge. They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule they carry with them a curious sense of authority for after-time.”

His use of “mystical states” really just implies states other than our ordinary, waking consciousness.

This occurs, reliably, in consciousness studies; that people feel they’re uncovering some deep ‘truth’ about their lives, or life itself, or the nature of experience, etc. It could be just as synthetic a feeling as Nozick’s, though to make that claim would require refuting thousands of years of anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

Your question, “how do we figure out what a good life consists in”, as we both know, is a long-standing one in philosophy. I agree with you that a good life doesn’t only consist in a particular state of consciousness, but I do tend to think that whatever a good life contains, it most reliably arises out of particular states of cultivated consciousness (or, just blind luck). To carry that further, I also tend to think the best we can do collectively, in terms of the ethics a society can uphold, is to create the best conditions possible for individuals to ask themselves that same question, and pursue their answers (as I mentioned, though answers are surely personal, there tend to be striking similarities when people ground their approach to the question in the cultivation of consciousness).

What do you think?

Written by

Interested in many things, like consciousness, meditation & economics. Sure of nothing, like how to exist well, or play the sax (yet). More:

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store