Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Experience Machine for Students and Professors

Robert Nozick is often credited with the the idea of the experience machine. The question he posed was would you enter a machine in which you were always happy. Your subjective reality would be wonderful and you would not know it is all induced by something other than your actual existence. I think Decarte thought of this earlier and, if course, The Matrix made it into an entire movie.

The question can be applied to law schools and students. For the students it comes in the form of the curve. As one of mine put it recently "Don't worry about class, there is always the curve." In short, the curve will make you feel subjectively better off but you may be doing miserably. For students it is hard because they cannot stay in the experience machine forever. They take the Bar Exam and some who were happy find they were in the experience machine of the curve. Law students demand the machine and faculty are happy to oblige but it is not their "real" reality.

Law faculty are far better off. They can enter the experience machine and never emerge. Most enter it at birth when born into privilege. And then comes the elite line up of Schools that are popular in large part because they make students feel better simply be being there. Clearly, these days there is no evidence that the students actually emerge with a better education than those who attended non experience machine schools. Then there is law professordom and a life time in the experience machine. Tenure assures a steady income for life and once hired not getting tenure is an uphill battle, especially if you are sociable and sing with the choir with respect to what today's "liberal" issues even though one must be very conservative to do so. By conservative I mean close-minded and intolerant. The main requirement of staying in the professorial experience machine is not to interrupt anyone else's blissful experience machine existence. Do not evaluate, do not suggest improvement, do not question.


Anonymous said...

I have posed this question to various friends and colleagues of mine who are in academia: At what point does the machine become so dysfunctional that the experience machine no longer operates? Is there a breaking point, or can there be perpetual mediocrity?

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