Why We’ll Never Find the Happiness to Live, Laugh, and Love in the Metaverse

Opinion: Despite what Mark Zuckerberg thinks, you don’t have to be a Matrix fan to realize that being habitually hooked up to a machine doesn’t exactly equal the good life

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“Imagine a machine that could give you any experience (or sequence of experiences) you could desire. When you are connected to this experience machine, you can have the experience of writing a great poem, or ‘to bring peace to the world, or to love someone and be loved back…. You can live your dearest dreams ‘from within.’ Would you choose to do this for the rest of your life? life ? “

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Mark Zuckerberg thinks you would – and you will. According to reports, Facebook’s CEO — I mean Meta — is now obsessed with creating a virtual world where you can live, laugh, and love without ever leaving the comfort of your VR headset.

Since this virtual universe – the “metaverse” – can provide us with anything we desire, Zuckerberg envisions a day when it will eventually become preferable to the real world, where we spend most or all of our time.

In other words, Zuckerberg believes that we are all inveterate pleasure seekers, driven by the single-minded pursuit of achieving our own pleasure or happiness. There is a name for this belief: hedonism.

It’s not an admirable picture of the human condition, but it’s not a rare belief either. Going back at least to the classical Greek philosopher Epicurus, ethical hedonism posits that pleasure is the only thing of value in human life. Of course, people seek other things – money, power, love – but they do so only because they believe those things will bring them pleasure.

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An ethical society is therefore one that maximizes pleasure or happiness, which means that the metaverse will be the ultimate utopia. Except that won’t be the case.

Indeed, you don’t have to be a Matrix fan to realize that being habitually hooked up to a machine isn’t exactly synonymous with easy living, even if it gives you endless pleasure. The late Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick realized this long before the Metaverse was even conceived.

It was Nozick, not Zuckerberg, who wrote the words and posed the question that opens this column. And Nozick thought most people would outright reject the life offered by his theoretical “experiment machine.”

In Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974), and later in The Examined Life (1989), Nozick argued that people do not simply desire pleasurable experiences, but actually want to do the things that produce them. Also, he assumed that people really want to be a certain type of person, not just vegetables strapped to a machine, which makes them feel like one thing or another. In fact, he described plugging into the experiment machine as “a kind of suicide”.

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Over the past half-century, Nozick’s thought experiment has been the subject of much philosophical commentary. And with the advent of the metaverse, at least two philosophical essays have reignited discussion of the experience machine, including detailing recent evidence from empirical studies, some of which challenges Nozick’s conclusion that people would flatly reject the virtual life.

Nevertheless, the theoretical experience machine and the “real” metaverse both suffer from the same fatal flaw: a lack of authenticity. Authenticity – the quality of being authentic – is, by definition, difficult to fake. After all, a false experience is still, in a sense, an experience, but false authenticity is a contradiction.

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And numerous studies have shown that people seek, even crave, authenticity even more than they desire pleasure – or perhaps because it produces pleasure. A recent meta-analysis of 75 studies found that authenticity – being true to oneself – in human life is essential for well-being, while other studies have shown that authenticity improves happiness and well-being. ‘self esteem.

None of this evidence provides a refutation of ethical hedonism, since people might seek authenticity for the pleasure it provides. But it drives a stake through the heart of the metaverse — or at least the belief that we’ll one day leave this world behind in favor of a virtual existence.

Of course, the Metaverse could provide a welcome distraction from the vicissitudes of life, much like a good movie. But despite the superficial seduction of the metaverse, life – real life – will always triumph over the virtual.

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