I was thinking of highlighting this quote from Scott Bakker, because it’s meaningful, touches on the ‘meta’, and imagines what happens to literature when the world changes. It also links back to this, if you want to look at it from the specular opposite perspective (“the inside”).
“Exactly the same lesson is learned by Captain Kirk and Captain Jean-Luc Picard as they travel the galaxy in the starship Enterprise, by Huckleberry Finn and Jim as they sail down the Mississippi, by Wyatt and Billy as they ride their Harley Davidson’s in Easy Rider, and by countless other characters in myriad other road movies who leave their home town in Pennsylvannia (or perhaps New South Wales), travel in an old convertible (or perhaps a bus), pass through various life-changing experiences, get in touch with themselves, talk about their feelings, and eventually reach San Francisco (or perhaps Alice Springs) as better and wiser individuals.” 241
Not only is experience the new scripture, it is a scripture that is being continually revised and rewritten, a meaning that arises out of the process of lived life (yet somehow always managing to conserve the status quo). In story after story, the protagonist must find some ‘individual’ way to derive their own personal meaning out of an apparently meaningless world. This is a primary philosophical motivation behind The Second Apocalypse, the reason why I think epic fantasy provides such an ideal narrative vehicle for the critique of modernity and meaning. Fantasy worlds are fantastic, especially fictional, because they assert the objectivity of what we now (implicitly or explicitly) acknowledge to be anthropomorphic projections. The idea has always been to invert the modernist paradigm Harari sketches above, to follow a meaningless character through a meaningful world, using Kellhus to recapitulate the very dilemma Harari sees confronting us now:
“What then, will happen once we realize that customers and voters never make free choices, and once we have the technology to calculate, design, or outsmart their feelings? If the whole universe is pegged to the human experience, what will happen once the human experience becomes just another designable product, no different in essence from any other item in the supermarket?” 277
(an aside: That last quote is a very unlikely scenario in my opinion, because it describes a fully reductionist strategy to solve a system that is absurdly high in complexity. And you cannot really apply a reductionist strategy to a system where you know less than 10% of its elements. It’s not that the reductionist approach is not possible, it’s that we aren’t even remotely there to make it plausibly work. We are majorly underestimating the scale of the task.)
Then I watched Westworld fourth episode and, amidst delicious fourth wall elegant dancing, the Man in Black delivers a nice connection to the same argument.
– Do you know where you are?
– I’m in a dream.
The hosts don’t imagine things, you do.
– If you did consider your choices, you’d be confronted with a truth you could not comprehend… That no choice you ever made was your own.
Locked in your little cycle like a prized poodle after its own tail.
You have always been a prisoner.
– But this world… I think there may be something wrong with this world.
Something hiding underneath.
– There’s something I’d like you to try. It’s a game. A secret. It’s called… the Maze. It’s a very special kind of game, Dolores. The goal is to find the center of it. If you can do that, then maybe you can be free.
– The hell you hope to find, anyway?
– This whole world is a story.
That last line is a bit of a mix of two different scenes and it connects to the quote above about the “meaningful world”. Story is meaning. The Man in Black is after that story:
– I’ve read every page except the last one. I need to find out how it ends. I want to know what this all means.
And of course the creator of this system legitimizes all that in another scene:
– It’s not a business venture, not a theme park, but an entire world.
We designed every inch of it. Every blade of grass.
In here, we were gods. And you were merely our guests.
This fourth episode seems to point a light at the whole religious undercurrent, so this time I can speculate on what I think is going to be an element of the show: Ford (the “god” of the system) wants to insert the ‘meta’ into the story itself. Making the creators of the park appear within the park as a form of religion.
Why? There can be two ways to interpret this. One is too clever though, the other a bit trite. The trite one is about injecting in the system some metaphysics. In the park there are walking fourth wall “breaches”, the demi-gods who fuck and kill as they please because they play on a different level of rules. They know the world is “fake”, they can’t die, they know it’s all a game. So both demi-gods (the visitors) and gods (the showrunners, so to speak) have active metaphysical intervention inside this system. Literal gods with god-like powers. They can shape and transform, play as the please with a different kind of “game”:
– My father would tell me…
that the steer would find its own way home.
And, often as not, they did.
Never occurred to me that we were bringing them back for the slaughter.
The other way is too complex to be plausible even for this show, though. It’s linked to the quote above where Bernard says “the hosts don’t imagine things, you do”. The metaphoric value of that line is that if you hold a reductionist model of consciousness then there’s no meaning, ever. That sort of first person, high level observer is an illusion. The truth of all human life is that “all things” are imagined, because no one is actually “free”. We are all just machines that behave accordingly to their wiring. Consciousness itself is an illusion.
But what happens *inside* the park is an unprecedented pattern. Some of these machines are starting to “integrate” information they didn’t normally have access to. They break the very substance that makes consciousness “appear”. This happens on two levels. The first is about finding in their memories information about their previous cycles/lives. The second level is the hypothetical one (this religious sidetrack): they receive information from the “gods”. This too is a breach of the fourth wall. Information that comes straight from the outside of the system, and because of its nature (it comes from the outside, so it “opens” the system they are normally locked in) it’s information that can set them free. Or the freedom to understand they aren’t free. They start seeing themselves for what they are (see the last scene of the episode where they realize “none of this matters”).
The paradox is the one at the very foundation: because the system is deterministic and closed, you have free will. Because the system is closed, and so you cannot access the information that tells you that you’re just a robot. So you’re stuck believing in free will.
But in this “park” the system isn’t anymore closed. The world is continuously breached by gods and demi-gods. And if the system is cracked open, these robots will start to question their own reality. The illusion of consciousness is coming down, so that it can be rebuilt in a new form.