Plugging into the Machine

The Experience Machine
In his 1974 book, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Robert Nozick put forward an interesting thought experiment. Imagine there were a machine you could plug into and it would give you any experience you wanted. You could choose to experience winning an NFL championship, space travel, falling in love, or any other item that may be on your “bucket list”. The machine would stimulate the neurons in your brain so you would feel exactly what it would be like to do any of those things. In reality, you wouldn’t be doing any of those things. You would be unconsciously attached to a machine with wires attached to your brain. Would you do it? Would you plug into the machine? If all that mattered were pleasure, then we all should plug into this machine and encourage everyone else to do so as well.
In this thought experiment, Robert Nozick “suggests that we shouldn’t plug into this “experience machine”. Why not? Because deep down we want more than just to FEEL, we want reality. And if this is true, that means hedonism doesn’t really work. Feeling pleasure and happiness are good things. They are created by God, after all. But they aren’t the only thing. Deep down we want and need MORE.
The Failure of Experience
We search for “MORE” in so many different places. One of the classic examples of this is King Solomon. In the book of Ecclesiastes he explains how he pursued everything under the sun.
4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them…8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well —the delights of a man’s heart. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. (Ecclesiastes 2:4-5,8-9)
Solomon had everything the world could offer. He experienced everything he could imagine. He was truly “plugged into the experience machine”. And yet he concludes, “11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun…17 So I hated life.”
It’s been about 3000 years since Solomon wrote these words. In all, we have come a long way since then. One would think we’d have learned a lot more about happiness. Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Samuel Beckett, wrote a rather short play in the mid 1900’s called Breath. The play begins with the sound of a baby being born. The theater lights up for about 30 seconds only to reveal a stage full of garbage. The audience then hears the gasping sound of a person dying and the stage goes dark. The end. What’s it all mean? Life is short and meaningless. Our lives only amount to a pile of garbage. Doesn’t that sound like the same conclusion to which Solomon came 3000 years ago? What have we learned over these 3 millennia of existence?
It wasn’t more than just a few years ago that there was a commercial that seems to have discovered the answer to lasting happiness. In the commercial a baby is born. For the next 20 seconds the commercial depicted that baby growing up, getting old, and finally crashing down into a grave. Then the ad came: “Life is short. Play more Xbox.” Finally, we have an experience that gives us lasting happiness! If only Solomon had the little black box called Xbox he would never have fallen into such despair. If only the Xbox were invented 60 years ago Samuel Beckett would never have written such a depressing play, right? The Xbox is just another machine. It isn’t what our souls need.
More Than Experience
As America slowly becomes less religious, it seems like the growing belief is that religion isn’t needed to be happy. True enough. That’s not primarily what Christianity offers. That’s not what Jesus, the Son of God, came to give. C.S. Lewis, an Atheist turned Christian, understood that well. “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” Christianity doesn’t offer us happiness. It offers what our soul desperately is looking for and needs. Truth and reality.
Especially in America we aren’t suffering from an experience problem. We have every experience under the sun. After all, it is the land of opportunity. No, it’s not an experience problem. It’s a heart problem. We think plugging into the the Xbox machine, the relationship machine, the success machine, the money machine or any other machine will make our hearts content. That’s not how we were designed. That’s not the purpose for which God has made us. As Augustine puts it, “my soul is restless until it finds rest in you.” God made us for him. And only until we find our hearts contentment in him do we stop searching for our own perfect “experience machine”.
That happens when you see how God came for you. It’s not just enough to be loved by God. We need to first be known by God. And God knows us. He knows how little we think of him at times. He knows we think Xboxes, relationships, success, and money can give us real happiness. He knows how twistedly selfish we are down to our very core. He knows us better than we know ourselves. If your family knew every thought that went through your head, how do you think they would respond? Do you think they would look at you the same? Treat you the same? Love you the same? God knows everything. He knows and his love for you doesn’t change.
Christmas is a wonderful reminder of just that. Christmas is the celebration of God enacting his plan of love. God becoming a human being is a powerful reminder of his love for you. He isn’t a God who keeps his distance. He isn’t an abstract impersonal force. He became one of us. He could have come as a spirit or a dog or a tree. But he came as a person to remind you that he came for you. He doesn’t just know us from a distance, he loves us up close.
All You’ve Ever Wanted
This Christmas don’t fall into the trap that so many advertisers try to make you believe. If you only plug into the “[fill in the blank] machine” then you’ll be happy. Then you’ll have all you’ve ever wanted. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking God is just another machine there to give you what you want. Don’t fall in love with or be in love with the IDEA of God. Love GOD. Look to him and see that he is your God. Look to the manger and see he came for you. Look to his life and see how he didn’t spend his time trying to “plug into the experience machine”. Look to the cross and see how He lived a life full of trouble and practically sought it out. He sought it out because what he wanted more than anything else in the world was you. Could it be that deep down all your soul has ever wanted was Him?