The Experience Machine

Robert had been sitting in front of the consent form for two hours and still he did not know whether to sign it or shred it. His choice was between two futures.

In one, his prospects were bleak and the chances of realizing his dreams slim. In the other, he would be a famous rock star guaranteed to be kept permanently happy. Not much of a choice, you might think. But whereas the first life would be in the real world, the second would be entirely within the experience machine.

This device enables you to live the whole of your life in a virtual-reality environment. All your experiences are designed to make you happier and more satisfied. But crucially, once in the machine you have no idea that you are not in the real world, nor that what is happening to you has been designed to meet your needs. It seems you are living an ordinary life in the ordinary world: it is just that in this life, you are one of the winners for whom everything seems to go right.

Robert knows that once he is in the machine, life will be great. But still, something about its phoniness makes him hesitate to sign the form that will take him to this paradise.

--From Baggini, J. 2005. ''The Pig that Wants to be Eaten: 100 Experiments for the Armchair Philosopher.'' London: Penguin Group.