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If technology advances to the point of recreating the world almost perfectly in

If technology advances to the point of recreating the world almost perfectly in a virtual reality (i.e. The Matrix), would it be morally acceptable to "move" into that world indefinitely? Let us assume there is a moral disparity between someone with/without family, friends, attachments moving into this virtual reality. Let us also assume there is no cost to sustain anyone's well-being in this distant future, either in this virtual world or the real world, such as rent or food. Perhaps in this virtual world there are new fun things to do, like flying freely, that in the real world one could not do. There is seemingly no catch to this, but is there a moral obligation to remain in the "real world" and do "real things?"

As usual, the answer will depend on your ethical theory. For instance, some forms of utilitarianism might require that you go into the Matrix if doing so would maximize happiness (e.g., because you'd be much happier, outweighing any unhappiness you might cause to people in the 'real world' by being hooked up to the machine). Indeed, Robert Nozick used his Experience Machine thought experiment (a prequel to The Matrix) to argue that there must be something wrong with utilitarianism precisely because he thought we would not (and should not) hook up to the machine, in which our happiness would not be based on real actions and accomplishments. (There's some interesting experimental work on whether and why people say they would or would not be hooked up.)

For various reasons (not just utilitarian), I think everything depends on what you would be leaving behind and what you would be doing in the Matrix. I'm not sure what you meant when you wrote that we should "assume there is a moral disparity between someone with/without family, friends, attachments." But I take it that there would be nothing wrong with entering the Matrix for a person who would not thereby betray her obligations to others or herself (e.g., she had no family or friends or was on the verge of suicide or could do no jobs that would help society, etc.). But there would be something wrong for the person who would be betraying such obligations to others (perhaps also including obligations to develop her own abilities, create a meaningful life, etc.)

But note that there may be Matrix setups that allow people to develop their abilities (creating art or learning new skills--like flying!), to help other people (who are interacting with them in the Matrix), to fulfill obligations, etc. It might be that people in online gaming communities create real friendships and really help other people, even in a world that is, in many ways unreal.

As usual, the answer will depend on your ethical theory. For instance, some forms of utilitarianism might require that you go into the Matrix if doing so would maximize happiness (e.g., because you'd be much happier, outweighing any unhappiness you might cause to people in the 'real world' by being hooked up to the machine). Indeed, Robert Nozick used his Experience Machine thought experiment (a prequel to The Matrix) to argue that there must be something wrong with utilitarianism precisely because he thought we would not (and should not) hook up to the machine, in which our happiness would not be based on real actions and accomplishments. (There's some interesting experimental work on whether and why people say they would or would not be hooked up.) For various reasons (not just utilitarian), I think everything depends on what you would be leaving behind and what you would be doing in the Matrix. I'm not sure what you meant when you wrote that we should "assume there is a moral disparity between...

To what extent is the virtual world in "The Matrix" not real? Those who live in

To what extent is the virtual world in "The Matrix" not real? Those who live in the Matrix without knowledge of its true nature go through life identically to those who live in our presumably "real" world today, without any difference at all, meaningful or not. So why isn't the Matrix real? Why aren't virtual worlds, to some primitive degree, also real? Or could they be so, and if so, what would they need to do to become reality?

Very good question. Most people just assume that Matrix worlds aren't real. But that assumption derives in part from our perspective--we take our world to be real and, relative to our world, the Matrix world is a replica created by computers in our world. But what reason do we have to believe our world is not a creation of intelligences (e.g., gods) in another world? And would our world be an illusion if that were the case? The creators of The Matrix blew a chance to make the sequels more philosophical (and less goofy) by raising the question of whether the "real" world Neo enters might be another Matrix. Of course, that possibility should seem even more likely to someone like Neo who has discovered that the world they thought was real was not, though he never seems to ask that question. But now I'm talking as if matrix worlds are not real, and I'm not convinced that's the way to talk.

What does "hand" refer to in the matrix? One plausible answer is that "hand" refers to the "projections" people perceive and use in the matrix, rather than the lump of flesh that sits in the "human battery" field somewhere. If so, then why aren't the matrix hands real? After all, the entities to which people are referring and are using (the "projections") are just what people are referring to and using. And the same seems true of matrix people's friends and jobs, toasters and colors, sadness and triumphs. In what sense are those not real in the matrix? To the extent the matrix world has consistent properties to which its inhabitants consistently refer and with which they consistently interact, those properties are arguably real, and they belong to real objects and entities.

One might visualize this way of thinking about the matrix by wondering what Neo would think (should think) if after taking the red pill, he emerged into a world which had few, if any, of the properties of the matrix world. He is a blob that experiences bizarrely different things in bizarrely different ways (I can't describe them in our language). Would he think that world was real? That body was real?

There's much more to be said here, including lots of arguments on the other side (for the claim that the matrix world is not real). But I'll leave you with Morpheus' quote: "Free your mind" ... from assuming that our perspective on the matrix world is the truth.

Or Dumbledore (in the last Harry Potter movie): "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should thatmean that it is not real?"

David Chalmers has a nice paper on these issues here.

Very good question. Most people just assume that Matrix worlds aren't real. But that assumption derives in part from our perspective--we take our world to be real and, relative to our world, the Matrix world is a replica created by computers in our world. But what reason do we have to believe our world is not a creation of intelligences (e.g., gods) in another world? And would our world be an illusion if that were the case? The creators of The Matrix blew a chance to make the sequels more philosophical (and less goofy) by raising the question of whether the "real" world Neo enters might be another Matrix. Of course, that possibility should seem even more likely to someone like Neo who has discovered that the world they thought was real was not, though he never seems to ask that question. But now I'm talking as if matrix worlds are not real, and I'm not convinced that's the way to talk. What does "hand" refer to in the matrix? One plausible answer is that "hand" refers to the ...