Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Dolores the Robot Learns Freedom- Emma F.


With all the hype surrounding Phil’s Day Off, I was excited to dive further into my area of inquiry; however, I was sure that my hour devoted purely to metaphysics wouldn’t yield answers to all of my questions. But, it did provide some solid metaphysical ground to walk on, which I have been seeking these past weeks. Although there are still plenty of questions, there are a couple more temporary conclusions for now.

After bouncing around some different ideas of what my PDO would look like, I decided on devoting myself to a full episode of Westworld (despite my best wishes, I hadn’t advanced in the show since my first blog post). For most people, TV is a way to unwind, relax, and zone out from the outside world, but for my purposes of PDO, I wanted to zoom in. I wanted to watch actively and attentively. Because I couldn’t be sure of what was to come in the episode I planned to watch (ep. 3), my general goal was to continue to observe and reflect upon the phenomenon of memory recall in the ‘hosts’. Some of my original questions have remained unanswered, so I was focusing on a few for my PDO session:

Can the self adapt or is it constant? Does adaptation of the self come from experience?

What is the intersection of intelligence and self?

Additionally, I planned to have an approximately 20 minute reflection after watching the show. I didn’t plan the form in which the reflection would take place, but just planned to use a graphic organizer to summarize my most prominent discoveries from the session. This artifact will appear later in the post.

All in all, it went as planned. Episode three turned out to be very helpful to my topic of study, because it branched out from Maude’s relationship with memory to a variety of other hosts who were experiencing similar ‘memory-related dysfunctions’. For example, the robotics engineers were puzzled by a host who went on a shooting spree on a handful of other hosts, all of which had previously ‘killed’ him in past roles. Dolores, the central host in the show, begins to question her own purpose and demonstrates behavior that wildly defies her programming. In general, it is believed that our past experience changes us. Until now, the past experience of the hosts has been fabricated to give the hosts the bare information to carry out their daily roles, and any memory of those days are wiped by the next morning. But now that memory of past experience is starting to ‘stick’, the hosts are changing. Are their selves changing too?

Let’s roll back to the bundle theory. If the self is a non-unified bundle of experience, thoughts, and influence, then the behavioral changes in the hosts do indicate a change of self. If the self is like a reservoir, then the host’s newfound ability to recall past experience is allowing them to fill this reservoir to something more human-like. Remembered experience allow them more options for varied behavior, for feelings that were not previously programmed. That’s a strange thought indeed, to think that there is opportunity for these hosts to ‘program’ new emotions, experiences, and ideas into their head, much like we do everyday, even though this ability was denied to them in their creation. Yes, the park programmers have installed ‘backstories’ into the hosts, controlled, fabricated memories that are created by humans. But the hosts are now changing without updates and have become dynamic beyond the control of the programmers. By the bundle theory, the self is a growing, flexing thing, and the hosts in Westworld are experiencing this growth and change.

Below you can view my artifact, based around this idea. The square boxes represent a behavior that is expressed by a Westworld host, but one that is learned, and not contextually programmed. The text on the lines linking to the middle represent how this behavior is linked to memory recall.

mind map

So it seems that the adaptation of self in the hosts is supported by the bundle theory, but the narrative theory of self also came to mind during the episode. A milestone in the series so far is when Dolores speaks to one of the park engineers about freedom. She expresses her understanding of the ability to make choices, to influence one’s future, to speculate on where her life is leading her. She is the only host who seems to conceptualize time on a large scale, while others seem only concerned with their repeating, programmed day. Dolores has identified herself as an individual separate from the world she lives in and this is groundbreaking. If we suppose that the self can be defined as one’s ability to place themselves into the story of their own life, Dolores is on the cusp of this. With the fragments of past experiences, she is able to recognize the best way to face a certain situation, and change her behavior to suit it (even if this means deviation from programmed behavior). Dolores is beginning to self-actualize, as she realizes her potential to make choices, to make a change in herself, to learn.

Maybe this post has become a bit of a headache at this point, but hopefully some of this is as juicy for me as it is for you. I’m not quite sure if TV is meant to be dissected to this extent, but I’ve enjoyed doing so anyway.

Westworld has provided excellent framework upon which to explore this topic, and my Phil’s Day Off has offered up some good opportunity for insight and reflection. I have come to believe that memory and self are in fact linked, and the connection between the two has become a bit clearer. Thanks Phil.


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