Category Archives: Westworld


I had big expectations about this episode, but instead it was a rather weak one. Plot is a bit meandering and there wasn’t much depth to the ideas and themes, this time.

Most of my theory seems already gone. This episode added a number of brand new elements to the puzzle, so previous theories cannot fit with the new picture.

That said, I was reading EW recap, including absurd theories like Arnold being Ford or Dolores being Arnold. Not only I find this incredibly silly, but it’s incoherent with what I saw on screen.

What I got from the episode is this: Ford gets emotional at the end of that dialogue with Dolores. Dolores asks if they were old friends, and Ford replies nope, not friends at all. That seems so clear to me. Dolores was Ford’s wife or girlfriend or something like that. She probably died as well, back then, and either Ford or Arnold made a copy. It’s even possible that Dolores was the love interest of both Ford and Arnold, and that brought conflict. Or Arnold built a copy of Dolores after the original’s death in order to convince Ford that these androids should be more than machines.

In general there’s this obvious dichotomy with Ford on one side coldly treating the park as a toy, and Arnold instead seeing it as something more. But then why is Ford the one currently programming the new update that is giving the host awareness? It seems to contradict his motivations.

Complicating things is the fact Dolores isn’t simply gaining a sort of introspection, but also hearing voices. So this creates a contradiction. Initially it seemed Dolores was an instrument of Arnold or Ford, sent on a path of self-awareness. But now it’s shown she instead follows a voice and that voice has been identified with Arnold. These two aspects do not make a whole lot of sense.

Same for the encounter between Ford and Man in Black. They talk without achieving anything. MiB says he’s the one who saved the park. It’s possible he’s the one who killed Arnold (or maybe he saved the park by just putting more money into it), but now he’s after Arnold’s plan. Ford is interested, but he won’t stop MiB.

I’m not too sure what to do with these pieces.

I was updating the previous post as I looked up more stuff but decided to yank all that and move it to a separate one because it looks like all pieces of the puzzle already fell into place. We have a fairly plausible ending, at least for Season 1 (hopefully they at least get to this point).

If it turns out I’m right then it means they dropped too many clues, or just didn’t spin this well enough, also because I still think that it ends up a little too dry.

After listening to this, seeing the very obvious reference at the core, and reading straight from Nolan that “We wanted a big story. We wanted the story of the origin of a new species and how that would play out in its complexity.”

So how does Westworld end?

It’s plausible to assume that the show is pointing both the Man in Black and Dolores to the same “Maze”. What we know about this Maze is that it’s where the real endgame is, that it’s “a story with real stakes, real violence”, and that if Dolores finds the center she’ll be set free. It’s easy to connect the dots, the first episode opens with Dolores versus Man in Black, and both seem now to converge at that showdown right in the center of the Maze, maybe as the climax of the season finale. So we can assume the maze is that particular place where guests like the Man in Black aren’t anymore protected by their supernatural status and both guests and hosts play under the same rules, so that the hosts can actually harm the guests.

The showdown at the center of the Maze will likely see Dolores prevail on the Man in Black, since it projects a nice arc and loops back to the first episode where Dolores was instead the victim, and this likely will trigger a full-blown rebellion, lead by Dolores herself. Something close to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” reboot, where in this case the androids seize the simulation itself, not only setting themselves free, but starting a conflict.

(The “bicameral mind”, being the device Bernard uses to normally interface with Dolores, giving her voice commands she ends up receiving without explicit awareness, since she’s normally bound by her fictional perspective, is likely the mean through which Dolores will gain her freedom. Being able to take charge of her own programming. She seals her mind in, becoming immune to external control.)

All this being part of Ford’s master plan. Because it’s obviously Ford who is triggering the whole process, starting to inject some self-awareness into the hosts. All the scenes where Ford mistreats androids as “things” are pure misdirection and ways to directly manipulate Bernard to send him on the opposite path. Ford shows so much cynicism to Bernard that Bernard ends up empathizing as an inverse reaction. But very obviously that too was carefully anticipated by Ford. To Ford his fellow human beings are very simple to understand and control, that why he plays the god’s game: to jumpstart a better species. The overall theme is the creature versus his maker, in order to gain freedom the gods need to be killed. A form of “patricide”. And that’s why there’s also a new planned storyline that seems to play around the theme of “religion”, so that Ford can give the hosts awareness of their cruel “gods”, and to trigger that paradigm shift, the rebellion against the gods themselves in order to seize real freedom.

So Ford’s behavior is ultimately ambiguous, he cares for his androids more than he cares for his fellow human beings, because his ultimate plan is to replace them. In the end he’s only working to complete the job that his partner Arnold started.

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.

From X-Files, LOST, Fringe, Awake and True Detective, it seems that television still has something to offer that tickles wild, creative speculation (I’ve yet to see Mr. Robot, so I don’t know if it fits there too). Now we have Westworld, that exists perfectly in the same fold. That it is so clever and ambitious, and about the very stuff I enjoy the most that I’m surprised it can actually exist, and that I fear won’t even get close to its full potential since they planned something like six seasons and I seriously doubt the larger public is going to stick with a product that is so dense and layered. It’s my own particular quirky, eccentric flavor. It is going to have an hard time trying to please everyone else while retaining its ambition.

So I’m also thankful to read someone like Jeff Jensen, who during LOST, Fringe and True Detective was writing the ‘recaps’ on EW, but they just weren’t simply recaps, they were OPENING the episodes WIDE. They were bursting with interesting ideas and possibilities. Shows like Fringe were always more powerful about what they were suggesting than what they were explicitly doing. Because it’s fun to run with the ideas and see how they might play out in different contexts. To see what they actually mean outside strict plot functionality. The ‘meta’ was more fun than the explicit content.

All this long premise to say I’m going to interpret Westworld in ways that probably no one has attempted or will attempt. I’m pushing the ideas to their limit, instead of sticking to what the authors plausibly drove toward. I’m running with it. But this without disrupting the content of the show. I’m not writing “fan theories”, I’m exploding out the interpretations. The bigger picture. The ‘meta’ itself.

The first thing is the image above that probably everyone else dismissed without a thought. The mise en abyme. Not only this is a symbolic concept written in the show: the effect is what you obtain playing with mirrors, and mirrors have a role in the “consciousness” of the AI, we’ve seen multiple scenes where Dolores looks at herself in a mirror (it’s by seeing herself that she can question her own reality, of course), but at the same time this also symbolically represents the ‘meta’ of the show. There are fictional ‘showrunners’ that write the stories taking place inside the park, as if the park was a surrogate of the TV show itself. A game of mirrors: what is inside reflects what’s outside, recursively. This is purely second-order observation, second-order cybernetics. But it doesn’t stop there, because that image also represents consciousness itself. Hofstadter’s strange loops. Human consciousness is shaped recursively, self-observing in a pattern. It returns on itself, over and over, until everything blurs out of definition. It applies to itself over and over the distinction between system and environment (Spencer Brown Laws of Form as used by Niklas Luhmann). An observing system in order to make an observation operates a distinction. While self-observing the observing system makes a distinction between the self that observes and the self that is observed. Being both subject and object, it obtains a double from a whole. It creates the Cartesian dualism that makes human experience possible, and makes it alienated from reality (reality that has no actual dualistic levels, it all operates on one). The fundamental illusion that is one of the basic premises of consciousness.

The second aspect is the wildest one, and the one I’m pretty sure absolutely no one is going to contemplate. You can read it here, and that’s it. I’d really challenge the writers of the show because I’m sure they didn’t dare go there, or even THINK about seeing it this way.

Here’s a couple of quotes from Alan Moore talking about his book, Jerusalem:
If you read only one Alan Moore Jerusalem interview, make it this one

Deep into our six-hour talk, somewhere around the dessert (three scoops of ice cream for Moore, hold the whipped cream), the Sage of Northampton is explaining how he came to see the world as Doctor Manhattan does. In 1994, he experienced an “absolute, crystalline understanding” during a magical ritual. Since then, Moore has believed, as Einstein supposedly did, that time is a solid in which our lives are embedded; it is only our perception of it which makes it appear linear.

In other words, everything that has ever happened is still happening. Everything which is about to happen has already happened. We never truly die: the lives we are living now are solid and eternal. That’s all major religions out of business, then.

“The thing is,” says Moore, “we don’t have free will, or at least that’s what I believe, and I think most physicists tend to think that as well, that this is a predetermined universe. That’s got to pretty much kill religion because there aren’t any religions that aren’t based on some kind of moral imperative. They’ve all got sin, karma or something a bit like that. In a predetermined universe how can you talk about sin? How can you talk about virtue?”

Four decades later, this year, he was doing a spoken performance in Milton Keynes, in which he riffed on an article in New Scientist which speculated that because we will soon have quantum supercomputers capable of holding more particles than there are in the entire universe, we will then be able to simulate an entire universe, including all the life forms in it, which will not know they are simulated.

“And if we’re going to be able to do this,” says Moore, “the odds of this being the first time this has happened are vanishingly small. It is much more likely that we are in a simulation, of a simulation, of a simulation, and so on.

The programmer of the game, therefore, will be God. And if he is at all like the humans he has created, the article postulated, he will want to put an avatar of himself in the game.

Westworld 2nd episode:

“Everything in this world is magic, except to the magician.”

See what I did, when you use that as a frame of reference for Westworld?

Westworld’s “hosts”, the AIs, exist in the exact same context Alan Moore described.

A simulation, of a simulation, of a simulation, over and over. This equals the hosts storing in their memory archive their previous ‘roles’ and ‘storylines’. At every cycle they are reset and restarted. At the same time an external observer can go sift through those memories and consider them as a kind of “solid”, something that already went through and that can be replayed.

So, the AIs of Westworld represent metaphorically the same structure to the larger system of reality. Trapped into cycles but without means of accessing information of the previous ones. Bound to that occluded horizon, caged in their fictional lives.

This is, once again, a game of mirrors. You artificially fabricate an AI that reflects life as it is experienced. It recursively recreates itself. Consciousness is the status of being trapped inside. And the AI consciousness is not unlike the one of its creators. The same rules apply.

And so the third aspect. How consciousness for these AIs works. This is specifically something that the last third episode provided, in two particular moments.

The first is the mention of the Bicameral Mind theory by Julian Jaynes. Quoted as a first attempt to reproduce and unlock the mystery of human consciousness. They say they eventually abandoned that approach, but it is interesting they referenced it specifically.

Then, Dolores’ first display of something that resembles consciousness is that even in analysis mode she isn’t able to “explain” something she said. Something “unexpected” happens. But the truly important aspect is that she doesn’t know. She’s unable to track her own thought.

This is fundamental because it reproduces Scott Bakker theory of consciousness (Blind Brain Theory). You can read here an absolutely perfect story that explains it intuitively:
https://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2016/03/22/the-dime-spared/

It is defined “conscious” a thought process that the mind isn’t able to track. A thought that “appeared” in Dolores’ mind that she doesn’t know how it came to be. That seems to be non-consequential, outside the domain of self-analysis.

The Bicameral Mind can too be interpreted as a form of a similar feature, if much simplified. One “chamber” doesn’t know the existence of the other, so the conscious mind “receives” thoughts that seem external, alien. That come from somewhere else, a god. A memory that one has but cannot recall. Even in this case the basic feature is the occlusion.

Consciousness, in Bakker’s Blind Brain Theory, is “a magic show”. Or more precisely, it’s absence of information.

The magician can make you believe an object magically moved from one hand to the other by hiding the movement itself. It’s information that was withdrawn. Hence that object magically jumped from one hand to the other because you missed the information of the actual movement.

In the same way consciousness is just a magic trick. Since consciousness is structurally blind to its own process, consciousness cannot see how thoughts are actually formed. It doesn’t know their true origin. They just suddenly appear. And what consciousness can do through introspection is to confabulate an explanation. Post hoc.

We don’t know if the AI in Westworld is faithful to this theory. But for now it respected the basic feature of what we recognize as consciousness: the impossibility to track a thought. The trackless space. The invisibility of the mental process to itself.

The ideal of the cosmic cycles of simulated reality, downsized and applied to the single AI system, creates the possibility of a kind of “bicameral mind”. The AI receives inputs from previous cycles. These are experiences that are unhinged from a sense of history that the consciousness is able to track (since the AI consciousness can only normally access memories that are part of the current active cycle). They are alien thoughts, alien voices, interferences that will have to be confabulated back into an explanation.

But again, the basic feature that creates consciousness is not the source of those thoughts, what’s truly crucial is simply the occlusion of the process itself: the fact that the AI can’t track its own process, that it is blind to itself.

Consciousness is not freedom. Consciousness is withdrawal of information. The more limited your access, the more conscious you are. Freedom by darkness.

Are Westworld showrunners even aware of what they’re doing? Or are they stumbling into all this because that’s the natural point where these things ultimately lead, regardless of the path you take?