There is a very popular TV show in the United States called Westworld about conscious robots who are slaves in an amusement park. The robots are programmed to think they are people but as the show goes along, some of them discover what they really are and they rebel.

To give the robots personalities, the owners of the amusement park have programmed them with memories, desires, and repeated behaviors. For example, a robot named Bernard is programmed to believe that he once had a son who died in childhood. His son never existed; his memories were contrived by somebody who works for the amusement park company. Bernard thinks about this son constantly and suffers incessantly from the memories. This is the core of his personality.

I would like to point out that our real-life experience as human beings isn’t much different from Bernard’s. We too are programmed with memories, desires, and repeated behaviors. These pieces of programming are called vasanas in Sanskrit. And it’s true that our personalities are composed to a large degree from vasanas. We think we are our vasanas. We build our identities on them. If we watch what our egos do, we see that most of the time they are running their various vasana programs just like the robots in the TV show.

The difference between the robots and us is that the robots’ vasanas are made up by writers who work for the amusement park whereas ours get created by events in our lives. But this difference has no effect on our experience. The experience is the same.

I know a married couple whose son died nearly 50 years ago when he was a teenager, and like Bernard, they are still suffering from his death. At first sight we might think that their experience is different from Bernard’s because his son never existed but theirs was real; his memories are false and theirs are true. But this difference has no effect on their current experience because neither son exists now. Both sons are equally non-existent in the present. The thing that makes a memory emotionally powerful is that we believe it to be true. The belief exists now. The belief is in the present. But the thing to which the memory refers no longer exists regardless of whether that thing really happened or not.

The TV show’s authors want us to feel sorry for the robots because they suffer needlessly from fake memories. And indeed we should.

But what I’m trying to point out is that the fakeness is irrelevant to our experience.

Bernard’s emotional suffering is pointless and unnecessary. Ours is too.

2 thoughts to “Robots”

  1. I liked the first season of that show very much, great way to use the premise of that show to make a very clear and precise point about how our beliefs generate our suffering.

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