“The House of Pleasure”
I have often been baffled by what seems to be a relatively straightforward problem which I call The House of Pleasure. I was wondering if: a) a trained philosopher could shed some light on it; and b) whether anything similar has been discussed in the academic literature. It goes like this.
It’s a Saturday night and a guy is walking to a party. On the way, he notices something he hasn’t seen before: a neon sign obnoxiously blinking “The House of Pleasure.” Intrigued, he approaches the doorman.
“That’ll be $100, sir.”
“What? That’s crazy! What is this place?”
“Oh,” the doorman says with a glimmer in his eye, “you’ve never been to The House of Pleasure? Let me explain. After you pay me and walk in, your brain will be scanned to identify everything that you subjectively enjoy: physically, sexually, emotionally, and intellectually. You’ll then spend the next four hours experiencing pure, untainted pleasure based on your personal desires. Whatever you enjoy most about life, you will experience intensely and without interruption for four hours. Think of it as a four-hour spiritual orgasm.”
“Incredible! This sounds great…”
“However,” the doorman warned, “there’s a catch. When you leave after four hours, your brain will be scanned again. It will be returned to the exact physical state it started in when you first entered. In other words, your memory of the experience will be completely erased. Also, your body will be returned to its original state, so any feelings of physical euphoria will likewise be eliminated.”
Should the man enter The House of Pleasure? Assuming he could have spent the evening at a party where he would have formed lasting memories, there is both a time and a memory cost to the HOP. Further, does the entrance fee affect whether or not the man should enter? In other words, does it matter whether or not the HOP is free of cost?
My take on it is this. If he enters HOP, his stream of consciousness experiences walking through the entrance and then immediately walking out the exit, four hours later. In essence, his consciousness perceives nothing; it’s as if no time has passed. He walks in and then out feeling exactly the same way, as if it never happened, except that he is out $100 and four hours’ time.
But my intuition, if correct, is problematic, because his perception of the experience depends on what happens afterward. That his stream of consciousness seems to skip over the time at HOP depends on an event (the erasure of his memories) that occurs after leaving HOP.
My intuition further seems to imply the following oddity: If my memory of a time period will be permanently erased immediately after that time period, then my stream of consciousness skips over that time period. Equivalently (contrapositive), if my stream of consciousness does not skip over a time period, then my memory of that time period will not be permanently erased immediately after that time period.
The above statement is strange in part because it implies that if I am consciously aware right now (I am), then my stream of consciousness is not skipping over this time period, and my memory of this time period will not be immediately permanently erased. But, if true, I can never reach the moment just before my conscious death, because that conscious moment just before my conscious death requires that that final glimpse of consciousness not be immediately permanently erased. In other words, as you may have surmised by now, my intuition regarding The House of Pleasure seems to imply eternal consciousness.
What’s wrong with my intuition? Has this mental experiment been tackled before, and where can I find literature on it?
Thanks! BTW, for those who are curious, I have degrees in nuclear engineering and law and have always loved the philosophical problems raised by physics (e.g., MIT’s Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics) and the mind.