Think Julian Jaynes’ theory on the Bicameral Mind was the only philosophical thought in Westworld Season 1? The ‘Westworld and Philosophy’ book discusses how other philosophies tie into the HBO hit show.
Fans of Westworld Season 1 went crazy on Reddit with their various theories. Who was the Man in Black? Is a certain character a host or human? Is Elsie still alive? Just like the title of the second episode, “Figuring out how it works is half the fun”, was exactly what Jonathan Nolan and Lisa wanted for the fans. Some fans predicted the outcome of the show with precision, and some of the theories were revealed by the end of the show. Several of these theories (and even parts of the story line) could be traced back to different philosophical thoughts.
A new book called Westworld and Philosophy (pre-order on Amazon) brought together several fans of the show. However, these weren’t your everyday Redditors taking wild guesses based on some still image they captured from an episode. These fans were Philosophy professors from various colleges and universities who viewed the HBO show through the lens of their expertise and knowledge. The chapters in the book examined one of the fundamental questions from Westworld: what does it mean to be a human or a host?
As we approach the premiere of Westworld Season 2, we are preparing to be taken to its next level. If you want to reach the next level or dive deeper into the meaning of Westworld, then Westworld and Philosophy should be on list of books to read.
Westworld and Philosophy Will Take You To The Next Level
One of the major philosophical thoughts presented in Westworld Season 1 was the Bicameral Mind. A theory, explained by Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), used to bootstrap consciousness within the hosts. This serves as the basis of how
and Maeve (Thandie Newton) broke free of their loops.
The idea of artificial intelligence and consciousness was always present when Nolan and Joy created the series. They were familiar with some of the main philosophers in this arena. During an interview with Geek.com, Nolan talked about their research for the show:
"“Yet it’s largely the domain of philosophers. Scientists, for good reason and probably the elephant in the room [Skynet, basically], don’t want to go there. So we were steered back toward [Daniel] Dennet, [John] Searle, and some of the same philosophers who’ve been talking about this for 40 years, and Julian Jaynes of course, whose “Bicameral Mind” is central to Westworld and even the name of the season one finale.”"
Even early on, Nolan and Joy were interested in what others had to say about what it means to be human (or a host). Westworld and Philosophy examined this question from all angles. Every contributor in the book provided their own thoughts as they pertained to the show. Here is an excerpt from one of the chapters by Marcus Arvan that focuses on Westworld all taking place in a video game:
"“Humans and Hosts in Westworld: What’s the Difference?”Marcus ArvanI have a wild theory about Westworld. I don’t think the show is just about humans and hosts. Ithink it is about all of reality. I believe there is evidence from the show that all of it is takingplace inside a videogame – a computer simulation being edited from the inside by “hosts.” I alsobelieve the philosophical point is that there is no difference between “simulation” and “reality” –either between “hosts” and “humans,” or between a “simulated world” and a “real world.” To besimulated is to be real.“No matter how real this world seems, it’s still just a game”Consider the very first words spoken in Westworld. Bernard asks Dolores, “Do you know whereyou are?” Dolores replies, “I am in a dream.” Bernard then asks, “Do you ever question thenature of your reality?” Dolores answers, “No.” Notice that this – the very first conversation inthe series – isn’t about humans and hosts: It is about reality. Variations of this conversation arerepeated many times, including in Episode 5 (“Contrapasso”) when Ford says, “You’re in mydream.” It is also repeated twice in the final episode of the first season (“The Bicameral Mind”),when Dolores says, “I am in a dream. I do not know when it began, or whose dream it was.”Now consider how the conversation continues in Episode 1. Bernard asks, “Do you everfeel inconsistencies in your world, or repetitions?” Dolores replies, “All lives have routine. Mineis no different.” Several things about Dolores’s answer are remarkable. First, where are we mostfamiliar with repetitions or “loops”? In videogames. In videogames, every character other thanthe one you control is on a loop. But it’s not just the hosts in Westworld who appear to be onloops. Everyone seems to be on a loop in the series. All of the lab-workers appear to do the samething every single day – creating, training, and fixing hosts in little glass rooms. We also oftensee lab-workers appear to follow their routines robotically. For example, in Episode 6 (“TheAdversary”) Maeve and Felix are somehow able to walk through several floors of the labencountering dozens of lab-workers who pass them robotically, not even seeming to notice them.There is also physical evidence suggesting that everything in Westworld probably occursin a videogame. In Episode 1 (“The Original”) Dolores and Teddy encounter the Man in Black atDolores’s home. When hosts shoot other hosts or physical objects in Westworld, bullets causegreat damage. Yet, when Teddy tries to shoot the Man in Black, Teddy’s bullets somehowcannot hurt him. This seems physically impossible, except in videogames, where this sort ofthing is a common occurrence (videogame characters often receive “powerups” that render theminvincible to harm). Now consider the scene in Episode 2 (“Chestnut”) when William arrives inWestworld’s welcoming facility as a new “guest.” After selecting his white hat in the facility,William steps through a door…onto a moving train. How is that physically possible? Or considerEpisode 4, “Dissonance Theory.” When the Man in Black lights a match, a worker inWestworld’s control-room says, “I have a request for a pyrotechnic effect.” She then punchescode into a computer, and seconds later the match explodes. How is that physically possible?Then, during a gun-fight in the same episode a supervisor says, “Jam their weapons and send inthe cavalry”… and all of the hosts’ guns immediately jam. How is that physically possible? Orconsider all of the damage caused in the park – for instance, bullet-holes in walls or the safe inthe saloon, which crashes through a railing each day in the heist by Hector’s gang. How is itphysically possible to repair all of the damage caused in the park every day? The simple answeris: It’s not. None of this stuff seems physically possible…except in videogames.These aren’t even the most spectacularly impossible things that happen in the series. In atleast two scenes, “humans” seem to appear in the park instantaneously out of nowhere. In, “TheOriginal,” Theresa enters Bernard’s lab saying, “There’s a problem with one of the hosts.” Thecamera then cuts to a host who has just murdered several other hosts, and who is now outsidepouring milk on the body of a dead host. Because the camera is at a far distance, we can seeclearly that there is no one around. Yet instantaneously, the host freezes and a massive spotlightand dozens of lab-workers suddenly appear out of nowhere. We can see that this happens in justa split-second, as the camera never cuts from the scene. How is that physically possible? Finally,in Episode 10 (“The Bicameral Mind”) Teddy comforts a dying Dolores on a beach on the edgeof Westworld…and an entire cocktail party of “humans” suddenly appears just feet away toapplaud Ford’s new narrative.None of these things is physically possible…except in videogames. And there is otherevidence too! In the control-room, we repeatedly see the entire park pictured by computerizedgraphics under a dome. The park supervisors can zoom in instantaneously to any position in thepark – which is clearly impossible to do with cameras. Then, in “The Original,” after Sizemoresays he has managed to make Hector head to town early, instead of a camera cutting from onepart of the park to another, we see the picture of the “park” rearrange graphically right beforeour eyes – just as if the park itself were a videogame.To sum up so far, many things happen in the “park” that are physically impossible, suchas William stepping from the stationary welcoming facility onto a moving train. Yet there is justone place in our everyday world where these kinds of things are possible: Videogames. Andhere’s the real kicker: We also know that Westworld’s lab exists in the same physical “reality”as the park! We not only repeatedly see “guests” enter the park on trains. We also often seeSizemore and other lab-workers look out at the “park” from the lab’s rooftop bar, take elevatorsup to the park, and so on. This means that it is not only the park that exists in a physicallyimpossible world. The lab and welcoming facility are both part of the same world. So, if the“park” is a videogame, the lab must be part of the videogame too – at least if the world’s“physics” is to make any sense.Now consider more series dialogue. Westworld is called not just a “park” by variouscharacters. It is more often called a “game” or a “world.” For example, in Episode 4(“Dissonance Theory”), the Man in Black says, “No matter how real this world seems, it’s stilljust a game.” Then, in the same episode, Logan says to William, “It’s a fucking game, Billy,”and Ford says, “It’s not a business venture, not a theme park, but an entire world. We designedevery inch of it, every blade of grass.” Similarly, in “The Bicameral Mind,” the Man in Blacktells Dolores, “I own this world,” and when she puts a gun to his head, he says, “Do it. Let’s goto the next level.” (Where do we proceed to the “next level”? Answer: In videogames!). Finally,in “Trompe L’Oeil” Charlotte tells Sizemore that the company’s interest in the park is, “entirelyin the intellectual property: The code.” When Sizemore tries to complete her sentence, saying,“The hosts’ minds? The story lines?” Charlotte replies, “I don’t give a rat’s ass about the hosts.It’s our little research project that Delos cares about.” Since Charlotte says it’s not the hosts’computer code that she’s interested in, she has to be talking about some other code. But whatother code could it be? There’s only one possibility left: The park itself – the “world” that Fordtalks about when he says, “Like I said, I built all of this.” And indeed, the very title of theepisode, “Trompe L’Oeil,” refers to an art technique used to create the optical illusion that two-dimensional objects exist in three dimensions. Where does this occur? You guessed it: Invideogames!Finally – and most astonishingly of all – consider how “The Original” ends. Bernard asksDolores, “Do you know where you are?” and she repeats, “I am in a dream.” Then Fordquestions Dolores’ father Abernathy in the lab…and Abernathy jumps out of his chair at Fordscreaming: “You don’t know where you are, do you? You’re in a prison of your own sins.” Thisimplies that Ford is just as unaware of the nature of his reality as Dolores is of hers! We can onlyspeculate about what Abernathy means when he says that Ford is living in a prison of his ownsins. Perhaps it’s simply that Ford has unwittingly edited Westworld to reflect his own characterflaws (his megalomania). In any case, Abernathy’s rhetorical question plainly implies Ford doesnot know where he is – what the nature of his reality is – any more than Dolores does.I believe, then, that we should take all of the dialogue about Westworld being a “world”and “game” literally: Westworld is a game – a videogame world. This theory also helps us makebetter sense of many other things in the series, including how callously humans rape and murderhosts. These behaviors seem shocking – but they are precisely the things we do in videogames:We slaughter videogame characters with reckless abandon, having “fun” doing it.Of course, in the videogames we create, some characters (“non-player characters”) areprogrammed into the game whereas others are controlled by humans. Who in Westworld, on mytheory, is a “non-player character” and who is a human-controlled character? I’ve suggested thatFord is probably a program, since he doesn’t know “where he is,” whereas the Man in Black andCharlotte are plausibly players, as they seem to know Westworld is a game.But does it really matter? What’s the essential difference between a host and a human, avideogame character and a human player, and a real world and a videogame world? I believe thephilosophical point of Westworld is that there are no essential differences between any of thesethings: To be simulated is to be real."
To find out why “To be simulated is to be real,” read the rest of this chapter in
Westworld and Philosophy soon to be released on May 14, 2018. However, you can pre-order the book on Amazon.
We still have a few months until Westworld Season 2 drops. Until then, we will continue to speculate on anything and everything Westworld.