In the previous part of this series, I laid out the first situation of a thought experiment, where you are being constantly observed throughout your entire life, but are completely unaware and unaffected by this observation.
Now I want to lay out the second situation of the thought experiment.
Imagine you live in a controlled environment, like a biodome. Due to some horrific situation, you are unable to ever leave the biodome, but it is a huge technological marvel that is the size of a small planet, so it doesn’t feel like you’re confined to a limited space at all. Now imagine that everywhere you look, you see cameras capturing every angle, and on each camera, the little red light is on, letting you know that is recording. Additionally, there are small, highly sensitive microphones everywhere you go, that can capture every sound made, even the sound of your breathing. However, unbeknownst to you, the cameras are not actually recording, the microphones are not plugged in, there is no video feed going anywhere. The cameras and microphones are simply props, made to look like they’re working, when in reality, they’re not doing anything at all.
The big question worth considering is if this situation is a violation of one’s privacy. I will admit that to the person living there, it would definitely feel like privacy is violated. However, the situation is clear that no one is actually seeing anything that is happening through the cameras and microphones.
In response to this question, some of my students responded that one’s mental well-being is violated by the constant feeling of being observed, and part of privacy is one’s mental well-being. So privacy is being violated. However, if one’s mental well-being is a part of privacy, we run into a problem when we consider the paranoid man. A paranoid man may live his life in a state of constant concern that he’s being observed. One may argue that the paranoid man does not have reason to think he’s being constantly observed while those in the biodome do. Yet, if we asked the paranoid man, he would be able to give us good reasons (at least to him) as to why he thinks he’s being observed all the time.
This would likely lead to a discussion of what counts as a good reason for holding a belief. One could argue that the paranoid man’s reasons are false, even if he finds them to be good reasons. The same critique could be leveled against those in the biodome, as it is not the presence of the cameras and microphones themselves that lead one to be paranoid, but the belief that they are recording one’s actions and words.
Looking at this situation, it seems difficult to argue that one’s privacy is actually being violated. It may feel that one’s privacy is violated, but I don’t see how it can be argued that it is actually violated. Is there something I’m overlooking here?
In the next part, I’ll complete the thought experiment by examining which of the two situations we are more likely to choose for ourselves if forced to choose.