Consciousness and pop stuff


Short Circuit (1986)

Posted in Consciousness-as-property by Trevor on October 13, 2009

“Number Five is alive.”

Okay, so Short Circuit is a teen movie really, almost a kids’ film. But I’m gonna write about it anyway because it’s one of the few movies that really does almost confront the consciousness problem head on.

It’s an old movie, made in 1986. It stars Ally Sheedy from “The Breakfast Club” only this time she’s not a quasi-cool Goth introvert but an earnest, bright-faced, animal-loving … something. What does she do? Does she have a job? I can’t remember.

It also stars a cutting-edge military robot named “Number Five” who cops a blast of too much electricity when he’s recharging during a thunder storm. He malfunctions, “breaks free” from his programming, escapes the military base, and meets up with Ally Sheedy from “The Breakfast Club”. Number Five wants to go out and experience the world, but his military makers want to recapture him and disassemble his malfunctioning self. So Number Five and Ally Sheedy from “The Breakfast Club” go on the run. It all ends happily somehow though I can’t remember exactly how.

Number Five hangin' out

Number Five hangs out with Ally Sheedy and some bloke. Apparently the robot drinks as well. Is that a good role-model for teens?

Anyhoo, the point is that Number Five is treated as a conscious, sentient, feeling, emotional character throughout. When Ally Sheedy from “The Breakfast Club” first meets him he just seems to be a slightly-annoying source of quirky fun. But soon Number Five learns about the world (“More input! More input!”) and realises his place in the scheme of things. In the most memorable bit, Number Five turns his twin face-cameras towards Ally Sheedy (FTBC) and stares into her eyes. “Number Five is alive!” he implores. Ally’s eyes widen as the realisation sets in – the robot is conscious. He/it really feels his/its own existence, so to speak. What’s more he/it doesn’t wan to die (“No disassemble! No disassemble!”), and so the two protagonists then team up and shenanigans ensue.

So what’s the verdict? Number Five’s consciousness appears to start when he gets the disruptive power surge. So Number Five is just a clever robot that’s gone a bit wrong; his consciousness is merely a complicated short circuit. Also, the “scientist-side” of the conflict isn’t shown as some cold-hearted, feeling-denying cynical way of approaching things. Instead it’s represented by Steve Gutenberg who is understanding, non-threatening and has the eyes of a friendly dog. He never proposes that there is anything more to Number Five’s functioning other than unusual programming. However he does come to believe that Number Five is alive and takes up his cause, thus winning the heart and other parts of Ally Sheedy from “The Breakfast Club”.

The Consciousness Verdict: Short Circuit is a vote for the Consciousness-as-Property school. It contains no supernatural elements but unflinchingly accepts that Number Five can be alive and conscious even though he’s just a mechanical device.

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