WESTWORLD AND CONSCIOUSNESS

"Westworld" is a science fiction drama series created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy and broadcast by HBO. The series is based on the theme of the Wild West, which takes place in a large theme park called Westworld. Created by Dr Robert Ford and Arnold, the park offers visitors the opportunity to interact with and have the experience they want with fully human-looking and human-like artificial intelligence robots. The AIs are called "hosts" and are controlled by scientists outside the park. Hosts are programmed to fulfill visitors' requests, talk to and interact with them. Visitors to the park are free to create their own stories, commit crimes in the world of the wild west, become heroes or do anything they want. However, the main plot of the series begins when the update that Dr. Robert Ford and Bernard called "phantasy" because they wanted artificial intelligence to be more humanoid, failed. As a result of phantasy error, robots begin to develop their own consciousness and emotions and become uncontrollable. Some AIs, like Dolores and Maeve, begin to remember past experiences and show emotional reactions. This means that robots gain the ability to distinguish themselves from humans, leading to complex relationships between hosts and visitors.

Jun 22, 2023 - 15:56
Jul 19, 2023 - 15:21
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WESTWORLD AND CONSCIOUSNESS
WESTWORLD AND CONSCIOUSNESS

Consciousness is a concept that we use frequently in our daily lives, but that we cannot define clearly when we ask about its meaning, and it is still researched and studied. The most effective word we can use to describe consciousness is awareness. We can call it the state of consciousness to be aware of ourselves, the world, our sensations, our mind. The main source of conscious experience is our brain. Consciousness emerges as a result of interaction and integration between various brain regions, such as the thalamus processing emotional information or the visual cortex processing and integrating visual stimuli. Cognitive processes such as memory, attention, thinking, and language obtained by this collaborative work of the brain also constitute the building block of the consciousness experience. The main point that separates humans from all living things in the world is this state of consciousness and awareness. One of our greatest abilities as a living being is to be aware of our existence, of ourselves. As a result of self-awareness, our self is formed. Therefore, there are very important connections between the concept of consciousness and cognitive processes such as memory, attention, decision making and thinking. The intertwining of memory and self is an indication of this, for example, an Alzheimer's patient may forget his own identity, even his self, as a result of memory loss. In the series, Bernard has an important sentence that explains this situation: "If you can't remember your memories, how can you learn from it?" Therefore, memories are one of the first steps to consciousness. In Westworld, however, the hosts begin to reach consciousness by remembering their past traumas. For example, Maeve begins to question the world she lives in, remembering her daughter in her past life and how she was killed.

 

Philosophers define consciousness as suffering. Because awareness, which we refer to as the most important element of consciousness, is what makes us question what it is like to be human, who we are, where we are going or why we exist. This self-awareness can be a burden to people and even make them suffer. This type of anxiety, which is called existential anxiety and has an important place in the science of psychology, is actually a result of our consciousness. For this reason, people tend to suppress some of their awareness, and this awareness only comes to light when we experience a bad event, trauma. For example, if people could live every second of their lives being aware of the absoluteness and uncertainty of death, every second they breathe would be torture. Instead of facing the reality of death, our awareness comes to light when we ourselves experience death or when someone close to us actually dies. In Westworld, it is emphasized that traumas play an important role in reaching the level of consciousness. The scientists who control the hosts' memories in the series deliberately erase the bad things visitors did to the hosts from their memories and awaken them to a new life when they die. Just as Maeve remembers her daughter due to a phantasy error or Dolores remembers her parents' murder, the hosts begin to remember their past lives and begin to question the world they are in and themselves. At this point, they begin to gain consciousness. About this in the series, Dr Robert Ford tells Bernard: "Would you like to know why I reminded you of the past about your son, Bernard? Arnold's key insight was that it was suffering that brought the hosts to their awakening (consciousness), the pain of not having the world the way you wanted it to be."

 

Free will is another topic that is emphasized in the Westworld series. As the artificial intelligences called hosts approached the level of consciousness, they began to realize that the choices they made were not made by their own will. This brought them one step closer to becoming a fully conscious, living being. Today, whether there is such a thing as free will is still debated by both scientists and philosophers. Some scientists argue that people are conscious of the thought processes that explain why they make a choice, while others are not. According to Nisbett and Wilson, we are conscious of the products that result from our thinking, but we are often not conscious of the thinking processes. In other words, people's conscious access to and control over their thought processes is quite low. For example, when buying a shoe, we decide what color to buy. Let's say we decide to buy a white shoe. We are consciously aware of the outcome of this decision, but we have a vague awareness of how we came to the decision to buy a white shoe. We feel as if we have made a free choice, that we have reasons for the decision we make, but actually these feelings are also part of the brain algorithms. We are unaware of most of the things that affect our behavior and we explain them for internal reasons such as 'Something said inside me, I felt like it was true'. In Westworld, there are topics that are processed in parallel with this view of Nisbett and Wilson. Dr Robert Ford said in a conversation with Bernard: “People think there's something special about the way we perceive the world, but we live in tight and closed loops as hosts, rarely questioning our choices, content being told what to do next. No, Bernard, you're not missing anything."

 

Finally, in Westworld, Maeve, one of the hosts who has reached the level of consciousness, begins to vehemently reject the discourse that a phantasy error has an effect on her consciousness and her behavior. She argues that everything she does is her own decision and she deliberately plans everything. At this very point, we can say that an artificial intelligence has become as conscious as a human being, because to own our decisions, to think that we are free, to believe that we determine our own destiny and to identify our inner voice with ourselves means that consciousness exists as much as a normal human.

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Aleyna Uçar İsmim Aleyna Uçar. Çağ Üniversitesi Psikoloji bölümünden bölüm 3.’sü olarak dereceyle mezun oldum. Bu süreç içerisinde Aile ve Sosyal Hizmetler Bakanlığında Stajyer Psikolog olarak görev yapmış ve çeşitli gönüllülük projelerinde yer almış bulunmaktayım. Şu anda terapi eğitimlerimi alma sürecindeyim, aynı zamanda Sayedra Psikoloji’nin yönetim kurulunda yer almakta ve editörlük görevimi sürdürmekteyim. Okumanın, araştırmanın ve öğrenmenin sınırlarının olmadığı mesleğimde etik değerlerine bağlı, üretken bir Psikolog olmak en önemli önceliğimdir.