The Experience Machine: Existential Reflections on Virtual Worlds

Stefano Gualeni


Problems and questions originally raised by Robert Nozick in his famous thought experiment ‘The Experience Machine’ are frequently invoked in the current discourse concerning virtual worlds. Having conceptualized his Gedankenexperiment in the early seventies, Nozick could not fully anticipate the numerous and profound ways in which the diffusion of computer simulations and video games came to affect the Western world.

This article does not articulate whether or not the virtual worlds of video games, digital simulations, and virtual technologies currently actualize (or will actualize) Nozick’s thought experiment. Instead, it proposes a philosophical reflection that focuses on human experiences in the upcoming age of their ‘technical reproducibility’.

In pursuing that objective, this article integrates and supplements some of the interrogatives proposed in Robert Nozick’s thought experiment. More specifically, through the lenses of existentialism and philosophy of technology, this article tackles the technical and cultural heritage of virtual reality, and unpacks its potential to function as a tool for self-discovery and self-construction. Ultimately, it provides an interpretation of virtual technologies as novel existential domains. Virtual worlds will not be understood as the contexts where human beings can find completion and satisfaction, but rather as instruments that enable us to embrace ourselves and negotiate with various aspects of our (individual as well as collective) existence in previously-unexperienced guises.


Virtual Worlds, Nozick, Experience Machine, Existentialism, Philosophy, Tragedy, Philosophy of Technology

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