artificial paradises

On digital screens in public places or even in the press, there have been advertising messages from Meta (ex-Facebook) for several weeks, boasting of an ideal future world: “ In the metaverse, farmers will optimize their yields with real-time data ” or “ In the Metaverse, students will learn about astronomy by virtually exploring Saturn’s rings “.

In short, and like Aristotle who, in a well-known text, dreamed of automating many tasks, including that of weaving in order to do without slave labor, these advertisements for these virtual worlds lead us to think that once these immersive technologies are deployed, the machines will free us from many tedious and productive tasks and, therefore, “augment” our lives, and why not, our happiness.

Hedonistic Experience Machine

What these advertisements that extol the benefits of these immersive worlds tell us is that these technologies offer us new artificial paradises. Through virtual reality helmets (pleonasm, by the way), connected retinal lenses and, why not, sensors capable of deciphering our brain activity (experiments carried out in China or the United States go in this direction) , we will be able to play, work, learn, travel, without of course forgetting to optimize our agricultural yields since it is a question… in short, and all within reach of algorithms, to seek and find new forms of pleasure while avoiding suffering. According to Meta, the Metaverse will be a hedonistic experience machine.

Blue pill or red pill

Published in 1974, the book ” Anarchy, State and Utopia by the American libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick, imagines a machine capable of making us live all the most desirable or pleasant experiences, a sort of metaverse before its time.

Nozick’s hypothesis is as follows: suppose there is a machine that would be able to give you all the experiences you want. Would you like to live in this machine?

More than twenty years before the release of the saga of Matrix films which permanently place the heroes in the dilemma of preferring happiness to truth (blue pill or red pill), or truth to happiness, Nozick specifies that ” neuropsychologists who excel in deception could stimulate your brain in such a way that you believe and feel that you are writing a great novel, or befriending yourself, or reading an interesting book. All the while, you’d be floating around in a tank, electrodes attached to your skull. Would it be necessary that you connect this machine with life, establishing in advance a program of the experiments of your existence? »

Why do we hesitate between the real life and the dream life?

In imagining such a device, Nozick believed that if pleasure were the only intrinsic value, we would wholeheartedly choose to connect to this experience machine.

But, if we hesitate or refuse to do so, it means that hedonism cannot be held to be a universal value.

In other words, the search for happiness and pleasure would not be the only goals of human life, even if the artificial universe of this machine would certainly plunge us into a dream life.

From there, he draws this lesson that enthusiasts of immersive worlds should meditate on: the advent of maximum (but artificial) happiness, the guarantee of a happy (but pre-programmed) existence, reaches its limits because Men will tend to prefer a authentic life, even imperfect but which will have been chosen, to a dreamed life, ideal, but artificial.

Artificialization of reality: Men chained in the cave

By concluding its advertising inserts with this slogan: “ Even if the metaverse is virtual, its impact will be real “, Meta promises us lives that are so to speak increased and richer in functionality thanks to this “artificialization of reality” (second pleonasm of this chronicle…).

It will be objected that it is not necessarily necessary to wait for the advent of this futuristic universe to say that we already live in a pre-programmed world. If, tomorrow, in the metaverse everything will be only “data” (data, then algorithms, to create these virtual universes and many others related to our actions, our desires, our interactions…), in a to a lesser extent, our present lives already are.

Except that eventually, once immersed in these virtual worlds, our bearings will no longer be those we used to have. Everything will be artificial and the machine will take over to dictate our behavior to us thanks to powerful algorithms which will dictate the object of our pleasures.

We will then be very close to the allegory of the cave that Plato describes in The Republic : Men chained in a cave, turning their backs to the entrance and therefore only distinguishing the shadows of the objects which are projected against the wall. Everyone thinks they see the truth when they only see an appearance of it.

Immersed in this metaverse, perhaps one day we too will be immersed in this digital cave, these “artificial paradises” that Meta calls for and that Baudelaire had described in his own way:

Man’s vices are proof of his taste for the infinite. Only, it’s a taste that often takes the wrong path. »