Free Will V Sentience

Westworld Telegraph

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Hi Rita Sue and Bob too,

I was very pleased to listen to the Deep Dive this morning and hear your horror at the potential for multiple Charlotte Hales running about. Having finally been able to leave the house after 14 days yesterday, I am feeling a bit more relaxed and am happy that my rant wasn’t entirely out of place.

It is strange though as I am enjoying this season considerably more than the second season and it feels more cogent as a story. Perhaps it is because Joy and Nolan are offering a much more rewarding exploration of philosophical ideas in this season that the risk of the season going horribly wrong feels more painful? I really want this season to work. If it goes too tinfoil then I will be seriously disappointed.

So lets park that fear and get back into the philosophy.

I have been pondering Ashley’s juxtaposition of Free Will and being sentient for a few days. In particular, the nature of how humans experience the world through the black box that is the brain.

The research I have read suggests that our consciousness is only around 10% of what our brain does and that most of our drivers occur independently of our conscious self. We do have the ability to influence these drives but it is difficult to shape on an individual level. Hence why acceptance and forgiveness are such important concepts as healthy ways of navigating our lives.

Another important aspect is that our brain constructs reality. For example, we don’t see in 3D, it’s more about 2.5D that the brain receives and it constructs the 3D image for us. Optical illusions tap into that process. Further to that, because our eyes have a significant blind spot, we infill with memory of what we saw previously. This really made me fear driving a bit more because we are all semi-fantasists. That there aren’t more traffic accidents is a testimony to the processing power of the brain.

And we as humans can augment what the brain processes. For example, I have a BAHA which is a bone anchored hearing aid which is an electronic device that transmits vibration through a titanium screw to the cochlea bone. I am hoping for an upgrade in the device to include some sort of Bluetooth so that I can stream music or podcasts or traffic alerts directly to the skull. Given I have other metal holding me together, I am well on the way to being a cyborg.

There has also been research into wet technology that allows the tongue to act as a sonar which the brain seems to have little problem incorporating. A lot of the technology we see this season is very grounded in our current world and how we interact with it.

So we as humans have drives we don’t really understand, are capable of augmenting ourselves to fulfill those drives and here’s the kicker, in social organisations and structures we are much more susceptible to being influenced and going with the crowd. Our drives are communal as a social animal. It is easier to influence a population than an individual. That raises a lot of questions about evolutionary advantages which I don’t feel confident in discussing.

We are sentient of those factors but what of Free Will? Is it a simplistic idea like the noble savage which is an artificial construct of political philosophy? Our understanding of anthropology has rendered the noble savage as extinct as an academic model yet the concept of autonomy underpins our political structures and our legal structures. We are very much the legacy of the 18th century but Free Will is older as an idea than political philosophy.

Free Will is the underpinning of Western thought and Christianity itself. Redemption is about choice. The teachings of Christianity are about individual salvation. You can’t have the Reformation without a tradition of Free Will in Christianity.

It is an ancient idea. Perhaps as old as human consciousness itself. Yet is it real? Are humans just delusional creatures who have been deluding themselves since they started worshipping gods who could be pleased or displeased by their actions?

Let’s be ambitious of our expectations of Westworld. When Dolores declares the new gods are here – isn’t that a declaration that humans are capable of free will? Gods require worship after all which is an act of choice. What would be the point otherwise.

This would make for an interesting conflict with Rehoboam who treats humans as a hive collective who need scripting to maximise their collective potential at the cost of individuals.

This does feel kind of biblical in that Dolores is the serpent offering awareness to humanity. Perhaps that explains the black clothing for Dolores and the white suit for Cerac? But everything is perspective as Satanists will tell you that Satan was the good guy setting humanity free. We just had to give up Paradise to do so. Free Will wasn’t free. There was a price.

So Rehoboam can be seen in this hypothesis as the expression of sentient creatures (humans) driven by their black boxes called brains and their collective intelligence to create the ultimate black box driving their existence. Life replicating life?

The great thing about Ashley’s proposition is that there’s no conclusive answer which I hope that the show expresses. Dolores apple of knowledge comes with violence and bloodshed which should please Big D. However “live free and die brutishly” is not something that I find attractive. Trade offs and consequences. Dolores may force humanity to discover their free will but they probably won’t like it.

Keep well Shat family.

Your friendly cyborg
John Lish

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1 Response

  1. Ashley Schlafly says:

    Your emails are always some of the highlights of my week! Please keep them coming!!

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