What’s philosophically interesting about animal and toddler consciousness is that they have it. A child or animal can be in writhing pain, and unless one thinks (as Descartes thought — of animals at least) that they are automata, one would naturally conclude there is a corresponding inner sharpness to their experience that does not feel good at all. Indeed, that inner experience is what is giving rise to their outward agony.

This quite sensible conclusion is enough to further establish that consciousness need not be the sort of mental activity that can only be activated by clearing a sufficiently steep cognitive threshold; in other words, a being, to be conscious, need not possess a cognitive system like the one a normal functioning adult possesses. Much less is needed, in fact.

If this is so, then consciousness cannot equal self-awareness or self-directnedness, since these far more complex cognitive functions would be unavailable to non-adults.

The point isn’t that Westworld should have their hosts aspire to a childlike experiencing of the world. My point is that the ethically relevant aspect of consciousness that the show already incorporates is experience, and that capacity for pleasure and pain alone is what should demand more attention from Ford and the show’s writers. Bernard understood it, for a moment, yet let it go as Ford red herringed him into oblivion with a song and dance about free will.

The question still stands, if pain is felt on the inside (Ford’s and Bernard’s word, “imagined”, is confusing here), then how are the hosts relevantly different from ordinary people?

I disagree that apes (and most animals and very small children) are self-directed or self-aware. The prefix “self” at the beginning of a cognitive function signals a rational standard that is too demanding for them to reach. Self-awareness and self-directedness *do indeed* require grasping concepts, in my opinion. This sort of iterated thinking is inaccessible to them.

If Westworld wants to operate with a definition of consciousness that sees it purely in this way, then that accords well with our literary tradition of equating true freedom with free will. Two problems: (a) that’s not, strictly speaking, what consciousness is, and (b) because the mere experiencing of the world as we do — the blend of sensations coherently represented as spatiotemporal units whose impact on us can generate feelings — is enough to raise really interesting ethical questions, it’s unfortunate that these are sidestepped.

If you disagree with the above, you probably lack self-awareness.

Editor in Chief of Arc Digital

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