Westworld Doesn’t Understand the Nature of Consciousness

Here’s how we can tell they get it wrong.

From the outside, none of us can tell that anybody else is conscious. We giggle, we wince, we cry — but I only know for certain that there is something going on inside when I do these things; I don’t know for certain that there’s anything going on inside when you do them.

Does that mean I live with the nagging belief that everyone I encounter is an automaton, exhibiting external responses to stimuli that are indistinguishable from my own, yet, really, it’s all just dark in there?

No, of course not. Yet my point is that none of us has direct evidence that anybody else is conscious. The only being whose inner life a person is able to experience, metaphysically speaking, is his or her own.

But television changes everything. Really it is stories — whatever medium they come in: television, book, audiobook — which change everything, but Westworld is a television show, so that’s where we’ll focus.

As a narrative vehicle, TV introduces a new vantage point. A sort of God’s eye view. Here’s what I mean.

Picture 1

Teddy and Dolores

Picture 2

Dolores and the Man in Black

So far, so good.

Picture 1 contains two hosts. The vantage point — that is, where the storyteller has situated the viewer — is one we could expect in the real world. We see the automata from the outside; from this vantage point, they are indistinguishable from ordinary human beings. But the point is the outlook we’re adopting: viewing these two beings from the outside.

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