The experience machine is a thought experiment first introduced by Robert Nozick.

Nozick describes it as a tank of water with electrodes in it. When a human connects to these electrodes, they generate any experience the human desires from it. It has a large library of various experiences that a user can choose from. A user can plug into it and select life experiences for the next two years. While plugged in, the user won’t know that they are plugged in.

We can program the machine to become a hedonistic machine (i.e., a machine that produces only happy experiences). The question that Nozick asks about the machine is: “Will you plug? What else can matter to us, other than how our lives feel from the inside?”

Using the experience machine as a thought experiment, Nozick argues that Happiness is not the ultimate value.

The argumentation that led to this conclusion are as follows:

P1: If experiencing as much pleasure as we can is all that matters to us, then if we will experience more pleasure by doing x than by doing y, we have no reason to do y rather than x.

P2: We will experience more pleasure if we plug into the experience machine than if we do not plug into the experience machine.

C1: If all that matters to us is that we experience as much pleasure as we can, then we have no reason not to plug into the experience machine. (P1&P2)

P3: We have reason not to plug into the experience machine.

C2: Experiencing as much pleasure as we can is not all that matters to us. (C1&P3, by MT)

Joshua Greene and Felipe de Brigard’s version of the experiment offers a criticism to this conclusion by suggesting that the reason why we don’t plug into the machine is not because something is more important to us than happiness, but because it breaks the status quo (i.e., Status quo bias).


Nozick, R. (2013). Anarchy, State, and Utopia (2nd edition). Basic Books.

We learn that something matters to us in addition to experience by imagining an experience machine and then realizing that we would not use it.

something matters in addition to one’s experiences and what one is like.

Perhaps what we desire is to live (an active verb) ourselves, in contact with reality.

Experience machine. (2022). In Wikipedia.