Friday, October 29, 2010

A Thought Experiment for Theists and Atheists: Truth vs. Happiness

Imagine you're walking down the street one fine day when a neuroscientist approaches you and makes a proposition. She tells you that she can implant a false or incoherent belief in your brain which will make you slightly happier and more productive. You will be unaware which belief is the new false/incoherent belief, and unable to deduce it once she's implanted it; in other words, once she puts it in there, it's in there for good, and you can't take it out. You won't even want to take it out, because you will believe it's obviously true. And of course, you won't remember the implantation procedure either.

Importantly, she won't tell you in advance what the belief is. She does guarantee that the "worst" (i.e. most delusionally) it will ever cause you to behave is to make you engage in strange repeated rituals, socialize frequently with holders of the same belief, and maybe vote for or give jobs to people who hold the same belief. She does go so far as to guarantee the belief won't make you commit physical damage to yourself or others or their property. In fact, she makes clear that many of the people she's given this belief to in the past go on to behave almost exactly the same, even directly concerning the subject of their false or incoherent belief - of course discounting what they say about it, which becomes convoluted, incoherent and avoidant around that topic. (But their non-speech behavior doesn't generally change, and in particular their moral decision-making doesn't change.)

Finally, she explicitly states that this belief may or may not be about supernatural entities. It could be political. It could be about sports. It could be about your own abilities or appearance or intentions.

Would you take this deal?

What makes you think you haven't already?

Addendum: no her name is not Morpheus, and there are no pills involved, red, blue or otherwise.


TGP said...

How about the false belief that you're happier and more productive?

Michael Caton said...

That might be it, but you won't know.