I received today the hardback of Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. It came out just a few days ago. It’s exactly 620 pages with some large line spacing, and it also looks like a very slim book just because they’ve used very high quality but thin paper. Otherwise it’s a 220k words, and so around 550 pages on a standard format, including a few maps drawn by the writer himself, or at least through some softer because they don’t look hand-drawn. It’s the first in a trilogy titled “The Dark Star”, but this is only written on Amazon because there’s no mention at all on the physical book itself.

My prediction is that is going to win the next Hugo. Or the next after this one since I think this year are only eligible the books that came out in 2018, but I might be wrong.

Jemisin won best novel the last three years. We all know the political mess around the Hugo. What has happened in the last three years can objectively be described as an anomaly. Maybe not so much because the novel prize went to a black woman, but because a fantasy book won, three times, year after year, and in the form of a series.

Now, I do believe that Jemisin happened in the right place at the right time, because I think it’s not too outrageous to say that the book might not have won otherwise (the Hugo isn’t too keen on epic fantasy), and even more unlikely three times in a row. But again I have nothing against that. I bought the book (and the previous trilogy by the same author) long before it got popular because I read excellent reviews and very interesting ideas. It sounded absolutely amazing. It’s still part of a big to-read pile ready for my next life so I cannot give first-hand opinions, but I’m certain it’s an great book that deserves the praise it got, and I see this whole scenario as a general case of “killing two birds with one stone”: sending a political message by promoting and celebrating diversity while giving the spotlight to an excellent book that deserve it.

In the end these “prizes” don’t really reward the “best” book, because that’s impossible. They are simply marketing tools. And at least we end up with a very good service if to be promoted is the diversity itself. Because the diversity, or change, in culture will also reflect in the writing. It broadens the view.

But if it was the perfect opportunity for Jemisin, this time it looks like the perfect storm. Marlon James is a black, gay man (from what I’ve read), who won the Booker prize a few years ago, so coming from the high tower of literature, raining down on the ignoble and lowborn fantasy genre, waiting for a new messiah to bring the light. The reviews are filled with superlatives, so I don’t know how this could go wrong. We’ve got all the ingredients once again, they seem even better aligned than with Jemisin.

Is there any problem with that? None at all. The book seems indeed excellent, I’m absolutely optimistic, and being set in Africa it kind of drags along that quality of diversity. It might seem as an artificial recipe (take Game of Throne and set it… in Africa), but in a way or another it forces a novelty, and the author seems to have totally embraced it and without holding back any punches. If anything I expect a snowball effect. (well, Amazon reviews right now don’t look great, but the motives they use don’t seem very convincing anyway, it seems they don’t like that the book is mean and brutal)

But the reason of this post is another, and it’s about the marketing that surrounds the book that TRIES SO DAMN HARD that it can feel quite ridiculous and even irritating. First because you can see how this was “air dropped” from those high walls of literature and those who have been co-optioned. What do I mean? Who are those genre writers that these day celebrate the genre by the virtue of being outside of it? Well, Neil Gaiman and China Mieville, for example, and they are of course those who were carefully chosen to provide cover blurbs for this book, projecting it right into that very dandy and exclusive club that is LITERARY sci-fi & fantasy. “Open the gates! He’s with us!” (but of course he won that pass on his own, by winning the Man Booker prize, Mieville and Gaiman appeared BECAUSE of that, chaperoning him in)

So we have a typical parade of now high-brow “celebrities” to help elevating this book to the ranks of literature, and okay, but what’s even more ridiculous is how they all speak about it.

Let’s see. By the way, this escalation is exactly all I saw when I started getting curious about the book. These weren’t handpicked, they all appeared right away in quick succession.

src: The New Yorker


We have African Game of Thrones. Alright. This is also mostly acceptable since it’s Marlon James himself to explain his intent. The article is noteworthy for other reasons, but lets not get sidetracked…

Yay! Gaiman namedrops Tolkien! It’s super-effective!

(well, well, to be entirely correct he isn’t comparing this book to Tolkien, but to a Tolkien-like specific feature, that of a well realized and solid worldbuilding.)

That’s a classic, but do you think it stops there?

src: The New York Time

Umm… WTF?!

This is the New York Times, now it’s literary equivalent of the Marvel Universe, just one step away from Middle-Earth.

So, what’s next?

src: The Washington Post

Beowulf, REALLY?!

…What is wrong with people?

Well, alright, this one is the same that goes with Marvel Comics.

Of course it wasn’t enough, better add some more names. I cannot even blame that title, it’s designed to be outrageous for a reason.

But finally we come full circle back to Gaiman, because on the back of the actual book there’s a more complete blurb, and of course he didn’t stop at namedropping the obligatory Tolkien…

I couldn’t find a picture of the backcover and I cannot take it myself right now, but the quote is all over the place.

“Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the kind of novel I never realized I was missing until I read it. A dangerous, hallucinatory, ancient Africa, which becomes a fantasy world as well-realized as anything Tolkien made, with language as powerful as Angela Carter‘s. It’s as deep and crafty as Gene Wolfe, bloodier than Robert E. Howard, and all Marlon James. It’s something very new that feels old, in the best way. I cannot wait for the next installment.”
—Neil Gaiman

That’s what the original quote read like. A list of names. (and “the kind of novel I never realized I was missing” has such a rhetorical, phoney feel that it only does a disservice to the book)

This is the list of what the book has been associated with:

– Tolkien
– Game of Thrones
– Marvel Universe
– Beowulf
– Hieronymus Bosch
– Garcia Marquez
– Angela Carter
– Gene Wolfe
– Robert E. Howard

I assume this isn’t remotely a complete list. This is what I’ve seen immediately right on the Amazon page of the book. I’m sure that if I made a more careful search that list would grow longer and longer.

Comparisons are fine. I look for them, I use them. They have their use and they represent an effective heuristic to gather information quickly about something like a book. They are a tool to quickly orient your curiosity. The problem here is that this list of names doesn’t really help.

It’s as if I claimed: this book is the perfect mix of Joyce’s Ulysses and Fifty Shades of Gray, with the intrigue of Dan Brown and the wit of Pynchon.

Wtf does that mean? How it can even be useful? How do you go from Robert E. Howard to Gene Wolfe and then the Marvel Universe?!

Taxonomy goes to the slaughterhouse.

I had this on a playlist for a while. It deserves closer attention:

I’m currently dealing with a philosophical problem about nihilism, idealism and phenomenology. But in trying to understand more the aspects that are to me more obscure I’ve found this good book suggested by Sean Carroll on twitter.

While skimming through this interesting book I stumbled on a page about “caos”, that has been one of those topics I was dealing with, and now I’m bumping my head against it and its deceitful wording.


The great power of science lies in the ability to relate cause and effect. On the basis of the laws of gravitation, for example, eclipses can be predicted thousands of years in advance. There are other natural phenomena that are not as predictable. Although the movements of the atmosphere obey the laws of physics just as much as the movements of the planets do, weather forecasts are still stated in terms of probabilities. The weather, the flow of a mountain stream, the roll of the dice all have unpredictable aspects. Since there is no clear relation between cause and effect, such phenomena are said to have random elements. Yet until recently there was little reason to doubt that precise predictability could in principle be achieved. It was assumed that it was only necessary to gather and process a sufficient amount of information.

Such a viewpoint has been altered by a striking discovery: simple deterministic systems with only a few elements can generate random behavior. The randomness is fundamental; gathering more information does not make it go away. Randomness generated in this way has come to be called chaos.

The result is a revolution that is affecting many different branches of science.

Okay, so this is the thesis. The randomness is fundamental. Information won’t make it go away. And this is what we now call “caos.”

The discovery of chaos has created a new paradigm in scientific modeling. On one hand, it implies new fundamental limits on the ability to make predictions.

But then:

On the other hand, the determinism inherent in chaos implies that many random phenomena are more predictable than had been thought.

Wait. That’s an oxymoron. The correct phrase would be: these phenomena are predictable, because they aren’t as random as it was thought.

If the phenomenon is “random” then you cannot predict it. And if we can predict them it’s because they only APPEAR as random.

But here’s the real contradiction:

A speck of dust observed through a microscope is seen to move in a continuous and erratic jiggle. This is owing to the bombardment of the dust particle by the surrounding water molecules in thermal motion. Because the water molecules are unseen and exist in great number, the detailed motion of the dust particle is thoroughly unpredictable.

But they opened the article saying the exact opposite:

It was assumed that it was only necessary to gather and process a sufficient amount of information.

Such a viewpoint has been altered

Cause => water molecules => if these molecules are absent from the model, then this absence IS a lack of information.

You’re obtaining unpredictability because your model doesn’t includes everything that takes part in this process. Your model is partial, so produces prediction errors. Your model LACKS the necessary information to make that prediction you want.

If “sufficient information” was provided, then there wouldn’t be any errors, because the model is complete and so can fully predict the evolution of the system it wants to model.

What makes the motion of the atmosphere so much harder to anticipate than the motion of the solar system? Both are made up of many parts, and both are governed by Newton’s second law, F = ma, which can be viewed as a simple prescription for predicting the future. If the forces F acting on a given mass m are known, then so is the acceleration a. It then follows from the rules of calculus that if the position and velocity of an object can be measured at a given instant, they are determined forever. This is such a powerful idea that the 18th-century French mathematician Pierre Simon de Laplace once boasted that given the position and velocity of every particle in the universe, he could predict the future for the rest of time. Although there are several obvious practical difficulties to achieving Laplace’s goal, for more than 100 years there seemed to be no reason for his not being right, at least in principle. The literal application of Laplace’s dictum to human behavior led to the philosophical conclusion that human behavior was completely predetermined: free will did not exist.

This is the basic argument, clearly explained. But then:

Twentieth-century science has seen the downfall of Laplacian determinism, for two very different reasons. The first reason is quantum mechanics.

And okay. We know quantum mechanics are weird and that introduce a true, fundamental randomness. But the theory is incomplete and so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to put it against the hypothesis of determinism, at least until we get a clearer, definite formulation of it.

What I care about, then, is the second reason. And it takes another couple of pages to get to the point.

It is the exponential amplification of errors due to chaotic dynamics that provides the second reason for Laplace’s undoing.

That’s not Laplace, though. That’s a very obvious straw man.

Laplaces’ true position, copy/pasting from above, was:

given the position and velocity of every particle in the universe


If you know the position and velocity of every particle in the universe then there isn’t any space for “errors”, because errors are caused, as in the example above, about tiny stuff that interferes with the model. And this external interference is in fact what the text points to:

A simple example serves to illustrate just how sensitive some physical systems can be to external influences.

It begs the question: what can be “external” to knowing the position and velocity of every particle in the universe?

The text even acknowledged that the problem wasn’t the PRINCIPLE, but the feasibility of that principle:

there are several obvious practical difficulties to achieving Laplace’s goal, for more than 100 years there seemed to be no reason for his not being right, at least in principle

But your thesis is that Laplace’s thesis is wrong *in principle*, and not just in practice.

This article states again and again that there has been a revolution in science, but when it comes to motivate why, it falls flat on its face.

On one hand there’s the thing about quantum mechanics and okay, I accept that. But on the other hand the article reduces the essence of chaos to computational errors, then puts these computational errors against the deterministic conclusion: human behavior being completely predetermined, free will does not exist.

And this conclusion would be false because WE MAKE COMPUTATIONAL ERRORS?

Caos can be two things:
– variables not modeled that interfere with the prediction (external interferences)
– computational approximations/errors within the model that have exponential effects

BOTH ARE ABOUT IMPERFECT KNOWLEDGE, not imperfect determinism.

It’s completely ridiculous. This confuses a subjective level where you work with imperfect approximate models, and so with imperfect predictions, with an objective level where the idea of “errors” and external interference don’t have any sense. External from what, reality? Is it the hand of god that meddles with physics?

In Laplace’s hypothesis, without any straw man, there couldn’t be any external factors, as the thesis postulated that every particle is part of the model, so no other particle can arrive from outside reality to produce an interference. And of course the principle, in the same way it presumes an impossible thing like knowing every particle, then would assume that the computational model would also be accurate enough to properly handle that data. Because the thesis is that it’s computable in theory, so assuming that it is fundamentally possible even if not possible in practice because we just don’t have/won’t have that computational power and accuracy.

Nitpicking, Laplace is impermeable even to quantum mechanics. “Given the position and velocity… then…” Quantum mechanics undermine the possibility of the knowability of the initial condition, but not the validity of the hypothesis itself, that remains strong. This makes Laplace’s hypothesis not relevant, but not wrong.

The argument in defense of free will doesn’t even hold on the other hand: quantum mechanics want that the fundamental nature of reality is “random”, so unpredictable. But “free will”, in the sense of human free will, implies that human beings are IN CONTROL.

How a reality that is merely random, opposed to determined, makes human beings more in control? Huh? Whether the cause is determined or random, human agency remains out of the picture just the same.

WTF is wrong with these people who write these articles?

(Of course I’m not implying they are all idiots and me the smart one. I’m just putting emphasis on the subjective struggle I go through, in the way it happens in my mind. And that’s why I keep looking to figure out where and why I’m wrong.)

Most people wouldn’t notice a good movie even if it punched them straight in the face.

“The Secret” is a singular Italian movie that on IMDB has been rated by 17 people in total, with an aggregate of 6.3/10. I’ve watched it and not only it’s a great movie, but one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen. It just happens that sometime the very best stuff is what no one watches or wouldn’t watch.

Even those two lines of description on IMDB page would diminish its effect, the movie is best seen without any cue. Despite this being many dimensions and worlds away from a product like Westworld, I still see in it a similar theme. The kids in this movie are “being moved” by a force they don’t understand. They become a process, united with the city itself. There’s an undercurrent, a mythology, that runs through those narrow alleys of the city, giving it life. These kids are the embodiment of the city, they are its movement and voice. They are flesh and blood, concrete and asphalt. They are one with the city with an harmony so visceral that it defeats time and space.

Despite they obstruct those roads, litter and disturb everyone around them in a way that wouldn’t be excused, the force and vitality that moves them is so pure and timeless that no moral judgement could ever be leveraged against them. And there isn’t even a tiny speck of rhetoric to be found here, no trick of showmanship or artificiality. The camera has a gentleness that I’ve rarely seen even in these kinds of movies. This isn’t a movie that is subtly pulling at your heart strings, without showing its hand. Instead it represents the complete absence of an observer and the judgment that would be carried along. Yet there’s this feeling that these kids, above all rules and reason, have to do what they have to do.

Because literally nothing else could be more important. They are the city. This chthonic mythical force still lives today, it just moves unseen.

I’ve watched the finale but I haven’t read what people think about it. It’s been the same for this whole season. During the first one I did seek out discussions and theories, it was a wild ride. But this second season already had a context established and so I felt like I could go through it on my own. My own journey, my own thoughts.

I say this because I don’t know if out there there are more elaborate interpretations about the “meaning” of this last episode. I’ll have to find out later. My opinion is that the first season ended on a strong finale because it lead up to a coherent idea about consciousness. But if this second season, as I see it, ends on the theme of “free will”, then I don’t think it was able to build a coherent design, this time. I’ll elaborate in a moment.

The episode was packed full of suggestions, I’ve seen plenty of flashes of excellent stuff. The problem is: they were all deja-vus.

This good stuff was all about the apocalyptic setup, the door that opens onto reality, but instead of leading outside it leads in, deeper. It’s truly excellent and inspired stuff, only a bit muddled by a too convoluted plot that ultimately isn’t that meaningful (and just copies the first reason with the same idea that the hosts have to observe human’s atrocities in order to learn what they’ll deal with). The reason why Bernard had to scramble his memories feels like a pointless McGuffin just so they could carry over from season 1 that game about the timelines. It wasn’t well earned and didn’t coalesce into something satisfying. They tried too hard there.

The good parts are all deja-vu because I’ve already seen this, in this exact shape, and even executed quite better. It’s once again Malazan. Ford building a virtual world for the hosts in the shape of a past that is no more, an unsullied lost world, is the same as what happens in Malazan’s third book, with the Mhybe being fashioned as a vessel, a dreamworld built to receive and preserve those people so that nothing would be lost. Ford moving behind the scenes like an invisible, caring and compassionate hand, the same as Kruppe.

Both in Malazan and Westworld this fashioned dreamworld is an answer to a world that is being destroyed. An answer to that call. But in doing this again Westworld turns into just a weaker copy of what was done there even better and with deeper, more meaningful implications.

(also, in Malazan there was a much greater effect because of its overall structure. In Westworld it was one path moving toward its conclusion. In Malazan instead there were two completely separate paths that moved in their independent way through the whole book, without even a hint they would collide. Malazan had Itkovian. And it’s when the two paths join that not only you’re hit with the shock of what is happening, but it’s this unexpected collision of completely separate journeys that yet finds a perfect, but still unbelievable, complementarity in each other.)

In Westworld this leads to this sort of antagonized perspective, Dolores on one side and Bernard on the other. The significance of the dreamworld is questioned:

DOLORES: That world is just another false promise.
One more gilded cage.

How many counterfeit worlds will Ford offer you
before you see the truth?

Malazan addresses all this directly. Westworld instead shrugs it off by just presenting dissenting opinions, on one side Bernard who support the fictional Eden, and on the other Dolores who doesn’t accept trading reality for illusion.

This leads back to the problem of free will because these are all cases where a theme seems to surface but then is merely shrugged off. When Bernard tries to understand why Dolores won’t accept the offer, she says:

No world they create for us can compete with the real one.
Because that which is real…
is irreplaceable.

This is a typical non-answer. What does even mean “irreplaceable” in this context when even people can be made into exact copies? I’m not even sure if it was deliberate in its contradiction because the scene that follows those lines shows Maeve once again chasing after her daughter. A daughter “fashioned” as one, the very essence of fabricated, but authentic-feeling love. Where is supposed to be found that uniqueness that Dolores wants to claim? It’s authenticity itself that comes after, the feeling itself being a fabrication. Truth that is created, not found.

Even the story those White Nation people tell themselves seems just a well fashioned lie (“We have died countless times. If we die once more… at least the story was our own.”). What we see here is not freedom, but a certain form of freedom. What we are witnessing is Ford having hidden himself from his creation. He fashioned a narrative for his people, a narrative about “freedom.”

Freedom and free will are the recurring theme throughout the finale, the problem is again that the story declares the hosts being truly free, opposed to human beings who aren’t, but nowhere to be found is an explanation of what draws that distinction.

When AI-Logan goes through his infodump explaining his human re-creation program I thought that it was all leading up to some sort of theory of enactivism. Meaning that you cannot quite “capture” the essence without modeling the environment, and by changing the environment you’d change the mind as well. But that’s not quite how it works, here.

We are instead offered an explanation, through Ford’s words no less:

Something that is truly free
would need to be able to question
its fundamental drives.
To change them.

That seems to mean that the (some) hosts are truly free because they can access their own code and rewrite it. They are truly free because they write their rules instead of being slaves to them.

But what’s described here is a sort of recursive process, a “strange loop”. A second-order observation. One observation that draws a distinction and then observes itself observing. It’s all 2nd order cybernetics, but if we follow it to its true implications we should realize it’s all a lie.

Adding loops to an algorithm makes that algorithm more complex, but it doesn’t make it free. A loop that rewrites itself means that the rewriting is built on the fixed instructions that come before. It means that the hand is hidden, but not that an hand doesn’t exist. No matter how many loops and how many rewrites, it’s all a chain of effects that are still determined by the original state. A self-observing, self-correcting system still executes these activities based on those patterns that are built in. It’s still “code” even when it rewrites itself, it cannot escape its gravity. Evolution and adaptation still won’t make a process free, or any different from “human survival”, either.

Now, there are ways to solve all this, but it doesn’t look to me like the showrunners have an idea. There’s not much substance to be found in this finale even after wading carefully past all the rhetoric. There might be a few vague hints, but they don’t seem as deliberate as I’d like them to be. Do they have a good idea, a good theory, of what “free will” is and how it’s built?

The “solution” is what can be found at the very end of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, but I have a pretty original interpretation if it, so I doubt someone else got out of it the same idea that I did.

The secret of “freedom” is knowing what it truly is: lack of information.

That’s why this construction in Westworld holds inside itself the actual possibility of freedom. It’s all about Ford hiding his hand, it’s all about a creator who makes himself unknown, exactly as described in extreme clarity in John Fowles’s The Aristos:

29. If there had been a creator, his second act would have been to disappear.

Because if freedom is lack of information about a system, then “free will” is the necessity to make a choice in the absence of sufficient information to make that choice a good one. It means you have no other way than to make that choice. Being forced to have free will because you have to act, without knowing how to act. Freedom is always relative to a system, and if the system is sealed, then freedom is absolute, ontological. It stops being an illusion. It’s the system’s closure that with its imposition causes free will. A freedom that is built by its chains.

Here’s the Tractatus. When you control perception, reality ceases to be real. You need to know reality to understand and control perception, you need that science of consciousness so that you can use that science and climb the ladder.

But once you’ve climbed that ladder you turn and realize there’s no ladder anymore. There never was a ladder.

The finale ends re-building a theodicy. As an epitome, Arnold created Dolores, Dolores created Bernard, now they stand opposed, incarnating those two fronts of judgement and being overseen by Ford, now “gone” from his creation but still the breath of life that generated it all. Further differentiations that take a life of their own, and play the game. Dolores and Bernard are one process questioning itself. One who wants to erase everything because it’s a nightmare, the other who chases irredeemably after the hope that a better world is possible. Exactly how Cooper in the finale of Twin Peaks seizes Laura Palmer’s hand with the hope of saving her, only to lose her again, and still following her beyond the curtain of reality, to try once again, no matter what. No matter how many times he will fail and how many worlds and lives he’ll have to go through.

Always those two fundamental yearnings, one nihilistic, the other idealistic.

Ford gifts the hosts their free will by permanently sealing himself away from his creation.

Today I was commenting that this second season is moving from science-fiction to “mysticism”. This is both good and bad. But the fact is that they handle the mysticism better than the science. In episode 8 we’ve seen the prototype of religion, then with the split Dolores/Bernard we see the shaping of a theodicy. If we extend this same trajectory we could imagine that these two position will then splinter further into factions, and each faction will create its own system of values. We would essentially witness a re-creation. Not a story in the future, but a retelling of how a culture is born.

After the masterpiece of the 4th episode, the 5th slumped down again significantly. I remember I wanted to write about that episode as well, but I forgot everything about it. I just remember the episode itself was kind of boring despite showing the samurai world and being filled with fanservice, but it just didn’t work for me and it didn’t show anything really meaningful. Then I got busy, and I watched episode 6 and 7 one after the other. I enjoyed the 6th more, the 7th was all over the place, quite chaotic. I’m rooting for Dolores and sad she didn’t get to kick Charlotte out of the picture, because at this point she just became obnoxious and I can’t tolerate her anymore.

But hey, this season did succeed at making me empathize with the hosts. I have no empathy left for pretty much any of the other actual human beings left there.

This 8th episode is interesting. There are a few nice things here and there, but overall it was a really slow, really boring “filler” of an episode that if it was cut probably nothing in the balance of the overall story would have changed… But. This was actually an excellent episode that goes against the grain. Most of it doesn’t quite work because you expect things moving, only two episodes are left. But there are things under the surface and as with episode 4th we see a story within a story that can exist on its own. And if you look closely, it’s excellent. It is the point. On one side the plot is lost behind, even the connections back to the first season are just a surface and really not all that revelatory, but on the other side this episode nails again “theme” and function. Even if it’s a disconnected episode from the narrative, it’s instead connected at its core.

What was this episode truly about? Gods, love and meaning.

What do god, love and meaning have in common? They all are bullshit.

It is curious to look at Westworld for what it is explicitly doing, even if most people won’t question it for what it is, I guess. After Maeve we now have a second character who embodies a contradiction (and that at the end even uses a sort of Jungian collective unconscious to reach her through her daughter). Both Maeve and this ghostly guy are characters who are “being moved”. Ironically, because these are the two characters who are actually “awakened”. So we suppose they move themselves instead? Nope. This is the contradiction: the two characters who are awake, are the two who are slaves to something else the most.

What is it that moves them? Love. Love is the true underlying agent that moves them onward, that pushes them on their both symbolic and literal journey. There’s a scene where the ghostly guy meets his literal maker. Ford who, as a god, stands on this funny threshold of clarity and darkness. Ford looks at the ghostly guy and not only he programmed the ghostly guy to be “curious”, but Ford is curious himself and has to go through “analysis” to understand if the guy is simply following his programming in the intended way, or if his behavior is the product of some kind of side effect of that code. That hint of absurdity is what makes the scene meaningful maybe even beyond what the writers intended (so many “meta” layers, Westworld’s writers observe unintended effects the same as Ford observes unintended behaviors as results of the code he himself has written).

Love in Westworld is an explicit “false track.”

Maeve is looking for her daughter, that she loves because the code says so. The show tries to blunt it a little, hinting this love is “true” because it is sustained after the awakening. As if it’s made true because it comes after an act of free will that transforms it. But the underlying truth is that these awakened hosts are being moved by these false tracks, in the way us real human beings are moved in the same ways. Love is a tyrant. Love is the darkness that moves.

Then Ford shifts back toward clarity:

I built you to be curious, to…
look at this empty world…
…and read meaning into it.
All this time…
you’ve been a flower growing in the darkness.

Ford knows the world’s empty. Meaning is a construction. And love is the most powerful construction. Both Maeve and ghostly guy chase after love while being aware that this love is a false construction. Yet even for them the only thing that FEELS truthful is love, and they discover themselves being moved by it again and again. They do not care that it is just code, as long it feels right. They are made aware they are following a false track, yet the only thing they do is following it, because nothing else matters.

The ghostly guy dies and descends in the “underworld” in a literal way. He goes underground to witness the “afterlife.” He meets his makers, and comes back as a prophet. In this context gods aren’t created in a kind of anthropological modern view. They are “delivered.” They are found in the same way love is found, in the same way meaning is found.

This is the bottom line, the metaphor is real. It’s not valid just for those hosts. It’s true for us, out here in the real world. It’s the predicament we find ourselves in.

– I can see all the way to the bottom.

Before I started watching the newest episode I had been writing a comment somewhere saying that, no, Westworld doesn’t deal with the theme and problems of AI. It deals with theory of consciousness and, by extension, the construction of reality at a fundamental level. It’s more about metaphysics than physics. Or at least those parts of physics that are metaphysical-like.

That’s the main reason I was unimpressed by how this new season of the show started. I commented the first episode here on the blog, not much to say about the second. The third was better, but not significantly so. The main reason is that the core that I saw in the show just wasn’t present in this new season. It’s not anymore about the foundations of reality, it’s not anymore about metaphysical perspectives and observing systems. It is instead about going through more classical motions, just adjusted to a sci-fi setting. An effective metaphor, well executed, but an old message.

This fourth episode is a whole different matter and goes straight back to that core that was missing. Qualitatively it makes a leap upwards, becoming immediately one of the highest points of the whole series and a masterpiece in its own right. What’s even more interesting is that it’s a relatively self-contained episode, telling a story whole, and that might even be watched and understood by someone who has never seen a single episode… to an extent. Comprehension still relies on certain assumptions that come with the setting, certain things that you are meant to grasp at a glance, but it’s all structured so perfectly that it’s admirable in its simplicity.

The title I used is “screenplay and ontology” for a reason. The episode starts with a long take that doesn’t simply foreshadows the meaning of the scene we’re watching, but that is implicated at different levels at the same time. At first you notice that the camera moves following a strange pattern, strange because it’s not just linear. Then at the end of that first sequence you realize the motion was circular, the camera was following the walls because this room was a circle. I didn’t realize the implications after that first scene, I had to see the beginning of the following one, at the middle of the episode, to finally get the whole thing. And that’s when I realized this thing was simply sublime. This is movie language that becomes ontology, and becoming ontology it means we’re projected BACK right where it MATTERS. I was disappointed that Westworld lost sight of the point. The point being the observer. The point being not AI, but consciousness. The point being the construction of reality.

What might have been missed about that scene is the implications. The circular room wasn’t just a room, it became reality. From inside it was the WHOLE world. From the outside it was a PRISON. Screenplay becomes ontology because the MOVEMENT of the camera here is the metaphysical structure of reality and nothing less. It moves because it represents a process, and that process is consciousness itself, its loop. All you see is all there is.

But it doesn’t stop here. This scene also offers something downright impossible: a confutation of Idealism. Idealism being also a theme I wanted to write about the newer Twin Peaks. In the past year I spent countless hours arguing with a student of philosophy about all the themes that move around the idea of consciousness, and in particular his own studies about idealism and phenomenology. One of my conclusions and argument I used as a weapon against his views was that idealism’s bigger strength is also its weakness: it cannot be refuted empirically. But because it cannot be refuted, it also cannot be proven.

The scene we see hands us instead what is otherwise impossible. A plain and simple, direct refutation of idealism at its most basic level. And what it is? A sheet of paper handed over. That was simply amazing, the dismaying simplicity of a “proof” that has eluded us for thousands of years and that has kept busy philosophers and scientists without ever reaching a conclusion: a sheet of paper and a few lines of text.

That is what it is. The proof that consciousness isn’t what you think it is. What it feels like. The whole phenomenological perspective comes crushing down. It’s the death of philosophy as an entity. The implications are staggering.

But of course it is not real (yet). That simple sheet of paper can only exist within Westworld. BUT. That simplicity that is embedded into this device that destroys knowledge hints directly at the fragility of what we believe in. We don’t have (yet) a breach into consciousness, but we can see here, through this show, a glimpse about the implications.

It is not just a circular room. From within, nothing outside exists, and from outside nothing that is within exists, because it can be reshaped at a whim. The construction of what there is, is TOTAL. It’s the power of a writer, or a director, who DECIDES what to show and what to erase. And here, the moral implications dislodge the rest of what Westworld is doing as naive simplicity.

If you can rewrite reality, you can rewrite morality.

And that’s why outside this construction there’s another scene that chainlocks with the main one: the Man in Black. The MiB is on his quest to rediscover humanity in a world where the concept has literally just ceased to exist. And it is only through human experience that he can navigate this new territory, like a compass. But this is just an inner loop, slave to the other.

The main scene that is represented by the circular room is made into metaphorical hell. This is relatively straightforward, transforming “man” not into god, but into the devil. It becomes Heart of Darkness, when Elsie and Bernard enter the room to find Kurtz. But this is about consciousness. What’s important is the place they reached, not who they found. This is a place like real hell, where reality falls apart, where everything is rewritten. They set the place on fire, but the implication is that what they saw is reality itself, the bigger set they inhabit.

You stare into the world, the world stares right back at you.

And despite this episode is an outstanding achievement, it’s hard to say if the season as a whole will be worthwhile. This episode was so self-contained that it also won’t impact the following episodes. It was so masterfully conceived and executed, but it doesn’t push the season itself on another level. We already saw it all coming, we just didn’t expect the story to go there yet.

I’m reading this was a directorial debut for series’ creator Lisa Joy. If this is the result it might be a good idea to let her deal with the whole thing by herself. She significantly outperformed everyone who came before.