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Disclaimer: I am very much a layman in these areas of research, so please do amend the question in order to conform to conventional usage of terminology and definitions thereof.

In the series Westworld (not the film from 1973), there are a number of themes related to consciousness, sentience and self-awareness. However, it seems that the main in-universe theory of what drives consciousness is:

  • Firstly, a version of bicameralism, namely that the (sentient) mind is, was, or — in the case of Westworld — can be defined as being composed of an active part "generating" thought and a passive part which "accepts/consumes/processes" this thought.
  • Secondly — and, according to my limited knowledge of psychology/cognitive science, perhaps more accurately — that memory and (past) experience is a fundamental part of the development of consciousness/sentience/self-awareness.

Now, I know that ideas in psychology and the philosophy of mind are extremely difficult to prove even empirically, let alone formally. However, it is still possible to not only do experiments which provide corroborating evidence proving the above but also to intrinsically evaluate the above hypothesis for general consistency. Therefore, regardless of how accurately these ideas describe how human minds actually work, how plausible is it to define some form of consciousness according to the above? (yes, I know that one point of the entire series is to drive home the idea that there is no magical "switch" to "turning on" consciousness/sentience; It's not a binary distinction).

Own speculations

At least in the human mind, memories in fact involve complex chains of synapses which, allow us to, in some form, indeed "re-live" past experience to some degree. In fact, (please help me find the citation), it has been shown that people thinking about doing physical activity display activity in parts of the brain responsible for planning of the actual motor movement for that activity. Given that the Hosts in the series are able to "perfectly" re-live past experiences, is it possible that "consciousness" could even more plausibly emerge as a complex interaction between these networks, i.e. sensory input triggers multiple memories (which are in fact parts of a larger neural network), which then "output" a response of some kind?

Even in humans, what constitutes a "mind" develops over time (cf. theory of mind) — whether or not this is due to accumulating experiences and memories is beyond my (current) knowledge. Since even we aren't born with some sort of "fully-developed" cognition, is it not plausible that some other being/machine/whatever could develop cognitively from a "lower" point than what children start at to something similar to our own adult "cognition" (ignoring the problem of philosophical zombies)?

However, if cognition can be driven by such a network of "memories", is this not in fact then incompatible with the notion of a "bicameral" mind? Does that not mean that, despite how smart/sound the individual ideas in the show seem in isolation, that Westworldian cognition is intrinsically unsound?


In this question, I conflate consciousness and sentience for the sake of convenience; Is there not a more proper term which encompasses both?

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  • $\begingroup$ How much do you know about the current theories/models of consciousness? In particular, Information Integration Theory and the Semantic Pointer Architecture? $\endgroup$ – Seanny123 Dec 11 '16 at 3:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Seanny123 effectively nothing: I've done some experimental psychology but nothing at all related to consciousness $\endgroup$ – errantlinguist Dec 12 '16 at 6:50
  • $\begingroup$ the paper I linked in the previous comment, especially the references to Information Integration Theory might answer your question. $\endgroup$ – Seanny123 Dec 12 '16 at 7:18
  • $\begingroup$ At least after skimming the paper, it seems that Semantic Pointer Competition seems very similar to this idea of "experience driving consciousness", but are you saying then that this is proof that a Westworld-style model of cognition is plausible, or that just the experience part is possible? $\endgroup$ – errantlinguist Dec 12 '16 at 8:36
  • $\begingroup$ Honestly, I hadn't gone that far or else I would have written an answer. But now you seem on the right track and able to write you own answer comparing the Westworld model of cognition with the models mentioned in the paper! And I always upvote an answer with references! :D $\endgroup$ – Seanny123 Dec 12 '16 at 8:39

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