Category Archives: Mythology

Includes philosophy, science, religion, physics, metaphysics, and all kinds of speculative wankery.


(continues from here)

Here I go more conceptual, and away from the specifics of the show. I found a great article, written way, way better than I ever could. So this second section about the show will be in the form of direct commentary to that article.

https://thelastinstance.com/posts/transcending_a_mere_multiverse/

That first paragraph is spot on. I have avoided to comment on the “form” of the show, the direction, because it’s done really well and there’s not much I can add. There are aspects of it that are well done, but here I’m more interested to delve into “meaning.” As always I try to take things seriously, and so beyond the art form.

The rebus-like symbolic tangles that emerge within this world are a kind of apophenic sense-making.

Apophenia is about seeing patterns where there are none, so this line seems a kind of oxymoron. Apophenic sense-making is already about getting lost in the labyrinth. Being led astray by the very nature that makes “sense” possible. The hint here is that the condemnation is structural. Built in. Embodied. And so, again, not a choice.

it is as likely to turn out to have been All A Dream as anything else — but the shared activity of following the threads, puzzling out your collective condition, is all you have.

Here is the first big hint. Adding the rest of the line makes this read like it’s a straightforward statement on “the human condition.” But instead what we’re dealing with here is something a lot more specific.

We have to detach from the level of the narrative. Of course it’s all metaphoric, but metaphors can lead astray if you aren’t aware of context. So, “likely have been all a dream” doesn’t refer to OA’s story. It’s not fictional. The metaphor holds as a reflection on real life. What’s suggested here is Westworld’s iconic “have you ever questioned the nature of your own reality?” In the same way that question, in that show, is to us and not the robots, here the dream hypothesis isn’t about OA, it’s again about us. Our life and reality.

Yes, what we are living could all be a dream. Or a simulation. The show is gnostic, so it means it will have… a theory of consciousness and reality. It will need to be structured. We have to accept that it will work on these two layers. The fictional and the real, where the fictional is a metaphor to “illuminate” the real. What applies to OA is generalized and applicable to us.

So again, “the shared activity of following the threads, puzzling out your collective condition.” It’s about the “your”, so us. Not simply her and her peculiar situation, or other characters in the show. We are all caged in reality. Or like a “stage” where we act our lives. But we don’t know the nature of our reality, we don’t know real meaning, truth, purpose. And so we look for answers, for understanding. We follow the threads and try to find that meaning. But how we decide that meaning is found or created? How we decide truth?

Season 2 of The OA collides two seemingly disjoint epistemological stances, which I’ll describe as the “local knower” stance and the “big data” stance. The “local knower” stance grounds knowledge in embodied, situational, phenomenological experience, mediated via communal meaning-making practices; it eschews the global ontology of the scientific “worldview”, favouring a “view from somewhere” over the “view from nowhere”.

Here’s the deal: dualism. Plainly shown. The old dichotomy of philosophy. The mind and body, the explanation gap. Phenomenology and everything else. The distinction between first and third person. Observing systems. And so on, since it all unravels from there.

The quote is clear, what we are dealing with is epistemology. We are dropped in a cage (because it has boundaries), reality, and we have to decide what’s true. It all comes back to epistemology. The methodology of truth-making, or more pragmatically: how you decide to navigate the space. The tools you rely on. The foundations of knowledge.

The “local knower” is simply the phenomenological stance. The observer. Consciousness as it is experienced. The you who “feels”. The qualia. But you can see how that quote is already oriented. It’s not neutral, not much because it carries the point of view of who writes, but because it is explaining the show. And it’s the show to be oriented: somewhere versus nowhere. Something over nothing.

The straw man begins here because science and objectivity are demonized. They aren’t simply described, but they are qualified negatively. The view from nowhere is a false view. A trick. The “big data” is the obscure process that takes control and answers to no one. It all begins here: obscurity is moved outside, unknown processes outside the mind, nihilistic nonhuman voids.

It’s no coincidence that Hap, the “mad scientist” in this scenario, is a figure of evil

Oh yes, it’s called straw man. And it’s pathetically done.

an ontological malcontent who refuses to abide within the finite stance of the local knower, and treats the world around him as experimental material in a deranged and violent quest for transcendence.

And this is pure projection. Science, as a third person, doesn’t actively move. You need to give it intention, you need to make it human. At that point you have a villain, because you’ve taken the evil inside and you have moved it outside. You’ve fashioned a monster.

This is where epistemology dies. Hap, as the external knower, wants to transcend. But it’s instead the closed point of view, the first person that has the need to understand the truth of the world and should transcend its blindness. The outside is already free from that cage. It’s one step ahead.

And so knowledge has to be bound directly to violence. So that it’s automatically disqualified. Because otherwise knowledge would appear quite neutral, if not positive. Wasn’t the starting point about understanding reality?

So, lets see… What happens if you disqualify external knowledge. Make it EVIL. What happens? What other kind of knowledge is possible?

Delusions.

Those raw, vague “feelings” become your knowledge. Your truths. You’ve just disavowed science as a reliable tool and decided that what’s true is the feeling of truthfulness. You’ve just opened the gates to blindness, by making obscurity ontological. The loop closes. You can only see what you can only see. And so you are blind…

The truth heralded by the OA, embodied in the “five movements” (one for each of the senses), is a truth of revelation: it is not acquired by testing and falsifying hypotheses, but by becoming incorporated into a narrative.

Otherwise called as: truth by deus ex machina. Unquestioned truths coming from above: faith. Blind surrender.

Such knowledge is “proved upon our pulses”, by trial of personal commitment. It is Hap’s prescribed fate to remain permanently hapless in the face of this way of knowing, which eludes him as the Roadrunner eludes Wile E. Coyote.

Yes, the show is PERVERSE. The quintessence of EVIL.

Because it’s the other way around. Once you have disavowed the methodology of science you get hope-FULL. Driven by delusions. You have eluded the only movement possible toward truth (and the “movements” in this season are performed by *machines*, so symbols of lack of choice). Hap is here again just a demonized puppet to feed those delusions. To keep the eyes closed and continue to be a slave.

You look at Hap, feeling sorry for him, right when the cage locks closed around YOU. It’s all a game of misdirection and distraction.

You are driven into the cage while being told that it will be your freedom. You are being betrayed by the same systems you relied on. Seduced and brought to the slaughterhouse.

It happens that this process has accidentally uncovered “unnatural” phenomena, locating a fragment of dream-logic that is somehow germinating within the waking world.

There’s no unnatural phenomena. Only phenomena that aren’t well understood.

When you make of blindness a virtue: you make of obscurity a quality. So this phenomenon isn’t anymore simply “not understood”. But it becomes unnatural: impossible to explain. Obscurity as intrinsic quality.

The OA thus brings together, in a single imaginative gesture, two kinds of ontological excess.

Not quite because in the end they aren’t excess. They are merely the usual ontologies: idealism versus materialism. Perception versus an external reality.

On the one side, there is the local knower confounded by unrepresentable trauma, grief and loss, who has only experience with which to make sense of experiences that don’t make sense, and who must assemble a liveable world through shared narration and ritual practice.

And this is ultimately fine. If your methodology is good then you know that phenomenology doesn’t get overwritten. It might be transcended, so to speak, but it cannot be contradicted. This means that the basic, “foundational” level of the first person is virtuous. It stays valid.

There’s no looming presence outside that threatens it, unless you surrender again to false methodologies that simply project outside the monsters that always lived inside. The idealism, by its constitution, makes an habit of displacing the essence of “being.” It’s all a klein bottle, always inside even when it appears outside. For once the lesson is correct: fear yourself, not the world.

The fantasy here is not merely that an individual’s apophenic pattern over-recognition has a foothold in material reality — that there really is something special about every thirteenth paving stone — but that this over-recognition is mirrored by a breakdown in the global order of knowledge: the machine dreams the same impossible thing into being that we do.

Well, yes. When you bridge the gap then you merge the first person into the third. This is what happens. As I said, the third person doesn’t overwrites the first, it integrates it.

That’s the only thing the show vaguely stumbles on by aimlessly groping in the dark (this time I quote the show):

I don’t suppress the consciousness of the body that hosts me.
That would be vicious.
I integrate.
I share in the experiences of all the bodies that hold me.

Of course in the show this is merely the sum of different subjects. It’s just about merging “souls”.

The “truth beyond the veil”, instead, is that the necessary merging happens between the first and third person. That’s the real “integration”. You bridge the mind/body gap, instead of reinforcing it by making blindness a virtue.

That’s why the show constantly contradicts itself. That’s rejection at a radical level, not integration.

What is blindness, truly? A form of partiality. A distinction between seen and unseen. What is seen is only seen partially, because the whole is hidden. But when you then reject logic and rationality it means you’re building walls around that partiality. Make it your castle.

You are not integrating, you’re separating. You’re widening the gap so that the unreal stays real. And so that the obscurity stays shadowed (in anosognosia, “I don’t know that I don’t know”).

There is a kind of theory of vibe at work in The OA

“Theory of vibe” is another oxymoron. Something strict, like a theory, versus something vague, like a vibe.

Where’s the distinction? In obscurity.

A theory is a theory. It’s thoroughly explained, explicit. A vibe instead is only a theory that has been occluded. That you cannot exactly pinpoint even if you seem to glimpse its shape. It’s a potential coming out of doubt, but it’s once again dangerous if you take that obscurity as a virtue.

The series itself is more persuasively attentive to mood and incident than it is to plot: it short-circuits the logic of narrative, instead creating and sustaining a “feeling of meaning” that can attach itself to almost any event. It is the kind of series from which you come away slightly dazed, looking at the world around you as if daring it to come alive with meaning in the same way. Which would be terrifying — but at the same time, wouldn’t it also be strangely welcome?

It’s welcome because it’s alluring. It’s meant to seduce. The mothes go toward the artificial light because they trust their “feeling.” Their code. They are slaves to the machinery that moves them. They go through their “movements” as they received them.

But at least they don’t idolatrize that machinery. They don’t consciously justify slavery.

This is instead a movement TOWARD blindness. It’s blindness embraced. Ultimate misdirection. Perverse as a Pied Piper song.

It’s scary because it weaponizes the phenomenological grief. It earns trust through intense, honest emotion, but then cynically exploits it to induce delusions.

It’s sad that show preys on the ingenuity and credulity of its public. It’s shameful. And it’s, once again, perverse. The true face of evil.

Considering Westworld, The Man in the High Castle, and then Lost and its own rib, The Leftovers, but also that other stuff with Jason Isaacs like Awake, Touch and Dig. Or Upstream Color and Brit Marling’s own Another Earth… They are all more worthwhile to watch than The OA. (this is a reference to what I wrote back then about the first season)

(I’ve recently seen the three seasons of Travelers and that too is quite good and recommended. I mention it because it is also obliquely about the problem of epistemology)

I of course like and enjoy the “weird”, but only when it’s done well and those who do it know what they are doing, or at least sincerely try, like groping in the dark for meaning. Step by step. The earnestness of the struggle would be enough. The first season of The OA fell in this category and I still appreciate it. It was ambivalent, open, and it was quite “honest”, all things considered. There was a lot of worthwhile, well placed magic in that first season, and I was waiting this second one to see where it would all lead. In the end there wasn’t all that much to figure out. The show wasn’t a riddle to solve because it simply didn’t offer enough pieces to work with. It, in some way, “held itself back”, without really showing its hand. So I accepted it as a whole, as a kind of suspended thing that still worked on its own even if it felt also ephemeral.

The second season is somewhat satisfying in the sense that it offers a number of exhaustive answers to its mysteries. If season one held back and only hinted, season two instead is more blunt and explicit. The problem is that all these answers are very underwhelming and insubstantial in their meaning. The overall feel is that “the king is naked.” There are a few infodumps here and there, delivered by literal deus ex machina, and this foreign and unnatural source of information isn’t even the damning point. The problem is that when you brush away all these mysteries you are left with an exposed core that in this season is extremely emphasized to the point that it overwrites everything else: anti-scientific lecturing.

There is no way around this time. The character of Hap is even more clearly the straw man of science. This role is so heavy handed and unsubtle that this time it doesn’t work at all. There’s no nuance, no real complexity. Simply a cartoonish villain that at some point the show tries to re-enable through even more hokum.

This comes out after a little more than two years since the first season. I was really waiting for it because I had no idea in what direction it would be spun. This interest then increased because I read a few comments in the last few days calling it a “masterpiece”. Then I looked at the titles of the episodes and noticed one was “SYZYGY”. And I know what that is. Are they trying to blend in the mythology of the CCRU? Are they really diving into that stuff? Is that you, Nick Land? But nope, it was all for nothing. The “syzygy”, besides its very superficial and symbolic meaning, is used only as the name of a night club and then to solve a pointless riddle with no other ties. A macguffin that represents the great majority of the substance of this season. Inconsequential meanderings, looking for inspiration and ideas that just aren’t there…

That it is all largely pointless was quite evident from the first episode. This detective finds a riddle that reads something like “what’s above the sea but under the stars?” The detective comes up with a straightforward solution: “birds.” But it turns out it’s not the right one. At that point I stopped the video and tried to see if I could figure out another answer. I thought of consciousness, breath and stuff like that, but they didn’t quite fit with the five letters required. So I resumed the video to see where it all lead… Turns out the answer to the riddle is the code of an airplane that was flying over that specific location, that you could only see though the augmented reality app. This is quite exemplary because this riddle-house is one of the main themes of the season. Everything that relates to it amounts to nothing at all. Those riddles are so specific and so empty that instead of offering some insight, or a spark of intuition when you guess right, instead you are merely about guessing the arbitrary answer that the riddle-maker set up. The WORST kind of riddles. When the riddles are that arbitrary then there isn’t anything to them. No valid hints, no getting progressively closer to an answer. It’s all the random chance of ending on the same spot, looking at the same thing, and having the same thought of the designer. Pure coincidence. It’s predestination versus choice.

It then continues on this path of deus ex machina, “guess-what-I’m-thinking” pattern. The riddle house is a labyrinth without any direct or symbolic significance. It’s just that, a labyrinthine labyrinth that delays its solution until the very end, just in time for the necessary twist to end the season. And the solution is lame outside those 20 second when the post-modern layer drops. The “behind the curtain” moment is always cool. The fourth wall breaching. But if you have at least a little experience with it then you’d expect at least a tiny bit more than it simply being shown. Here instead it just goes nowhere. The OA can travel through dimensions, so why can’t she travel to a dimension where The OA is being made as a TV show? WHOA! Whoa… Well, alright. Is that really it? Nope, because they drop the ball by making it a fictional semi-reality. Where Brit Marling is actually married to Jason Isaacs and gets hurt during the finale while it was being made. So it’s not quite here, but almost. Am I supposed to be impressed?

So yes, the fourth wall breaking is always quite effective because you don’t expect it. And to the general public of Netflix it might also look like a shocking plot twist. But it is a known tool. You have to give it some purpose, make something out of it. There’s nothing here beyond that cheap surprise. It’s just sleight of hand for its sake, that it works because it simply aligns with the perspective of the show where multiple realities are an established mechanic. So why not? Because there’s nothing else to it. There’s nothing implied, nothing “truthfully magical.” There is no beyond, no revelation, no transcendence, no understanding. It’s a labyrinth that the showrunners couldn’t solve. It’s a closed loop without emergence. It ends flat, monotonous. It sinks.

Instead of understanding that mythology and using it to show the way, it falls into its trap. Fails to see ahead, to see clearly.

The enchantment that worked for the first season simply wore off, now the king is stark naked.

And again, the problem isn’t that nakedness. The problem is what’s left after you remove the game of mirrors and pretense: that anti-scientific core. The message couldn’t have been emphasized more. The king is not only naked, but completely blind, and he made his blindness a virtue.

Like in Twin Peaks, this show is itself condemned to OBSCURITY. That last moment when Laura Palmer SCREAMS. She’s lost once again because she’s trapped inside (inside fiction, worlds). Part of this loop that cannot be shattered. NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES Cooper tries to save her, traveling to other dimensions. Do you see the parallels? The OA is Laura Palmer, and she can’t save herself because she IS blind. She never got any insight because the show as a whole has made the gnostic obscurity its idol. You cannot awake if you are structurally blind, not able to see the forest for the trees. No help outside nor within. There’s nothing else but surrender to the blindness itself.

This celebration of gnostic blindness couldn’t be more EVIL because there’s no Cooper fighting against it. Instead of fighting darkness, it’s a celebration of it. It’s blissful nihilistic abandon to a false sense of truth. Like moths flying around an artificial light. The show essentially incarnates the enemy it pretends to fight. It blindly states that it lost the capability to navigate the space. It permanently lost orientation. A victim with no salvation. A prey to the higher forces. No choice, no will. Just a prey that cowers and wails.

The OA is the blind loop that in Twin Peaks Cooper tried to shatter. A cage. And if Twin Peaks ended with the perpetuation of that endless “chase”, maybe The OA embodies better our modernity. Because it idolatrizes blindness itself and shows that human beings are structurally unable to navigate the space. They are broken in a definitive way. Structurally broken in a way that salvation is simply not possible. There is no narrow bridge to cross. No journey to go through, no lesson to learn. There’s only the desperation that drives you deeper, closer to the ultimate damnation. There is no hope. There is no choice. And there is no understanding possible. You die, and die blind.

Here is where we go a little deeper, because this pattern of chasing after blindness isn’t new. And it happens in the show because the show comes from that same angle where blindness is always sublimated. What it would be? Idealism of course. That gnostic blindness mistaken for “light”. The power of the soul. Of this anti-scientific false idol.

(continues here)

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.

Caos

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

WHERE THE FUCK DID YOU SEE **ERRORS** IN LAPLACE’S HYPOTHESIS?

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.)

– 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.

P.S.
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.

There are going to be spoilers here that while vague and abstract might give a good hint about how the first season of the show develops.

Before I write what’s left in my memory about the new Twin Peaks I thought I’d write down about the “mythology” behind Dark, a recent miniseries on Netflix that I watched when it aired (so this too has been a while). I’m only writing on the mechanics of time travel.

The aspect I want to focus on is that Dark is built on the same conceptual mistake that can be found in “Arrival”. Both of these try to reach up for some sophisticate science/mythology that awes the average spectator, but that breaks completely down with careful analysis. When I saw Arrival I ended up writing SEVERAL walls of text to analyze it from every angle possible. This time, thanks to that heavy lifting I did back then, I’ll go straight to the point without being too pedantic.

Both Arrival and Dark (or Dark limited to its first season) are built on a fundamental principle of “time travel” that set itself apart from the tradition of time travel mechanics in fiction and movies like “Back to the Future”. In that case a modification of the past creates a new timeline, so the output of that method is a branching reality like a multiverse of possibilities. Every small change creates a brand new universe. And this way of seeing time travel is so widespread in popular fiction that all of us are able to conceptualize and understand it without any problem. It’s part of us now.

But Arrival and Dark use instead a new concept: time is a solid. That means that even if time travel happens, it only “causes” events to happen in that precise determined way. Change is always “apparent” because things are (pre)determined to go only in a certain specific way. Time as a solid means that time is fixed and unchangeable. In Arrival information can travel through time, from the future to the past, but only to make so that events happen exactly as they are “meant” to happen. Time as a solid means there’s only one timeline and it all happens “at once”. There effectively are no “loops”, and no branches and alternative timelines.

What happens in Arrival is that a woman starts experiencing events in the future the same way we would normally have memories of our past events. As if her memory stored past and future events both. Eventually even letting her reaching for information only available in her future to use this knowledge in her “present” time, effectively making that information travel through time. This of course possible because the concept at the foundation, as already explained, is that time is fixed. It can be “known” (hypothetically) because it’s already determined and so, in a certain way, always available.

This leads to a kind of paradox or counter-intuitive scenario where this woman would have in her “present” time a memory of a future event, and then when the times comes she would have to live again that event as if she was an actress tying to mimic exactly that scene the same way she remembers it.

Since thinking about this stuff can be very confusing and mind-bending, I’ve shaped an example that’s extremely simple and intuitive, and still retains all the features we’re examining here.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

– Let’s reproduce the same scenario. The hypothesis that time is fixed, and there’s a woman who can see the future because that future is already determined.

A room, two chairs, me (just a normal being who can’t see the future) and this woman (who can indeed see and know the future). I simply ask the woman to decide and then say aloud between two options: A and B. Letting her know that if she says A, then I’ll say B. And if instead she says B, I’ll say A. (and that’s exactly what I want to do as soon she speaks)

Here’s the trick: before the woman makes this choice I ask this:
“This experiment is meant to prove to us that you can indeed see the future, and that the future cannot be changed. So I simply ask you, what is the next thing I’ll say, A or B?”


This is the experiment. It goes without saying that, if the thesis is right, then time is fixed and the woman knows EXACTLY the next thing I’m going to say. Time cannot be changed, so there cannot be any other option beside what she already knows. BUT, this experiment is built so that as soon the woman offers her answer of what I’m going to say next, I’LL SAY THE OPPOSITE. Because that’s exactly what I told her. If she says I’m going to say A, then I’m going to say B, breaking her prevision.

I’ve now offered this thought experiment to quite a number of different people to see if someone offered a new angle and prove what I’m saying has some kind of flaw. But the reaction is generally always the same. Usually people suppose there’s something wrong with the way the experiment is built, so they’d generally say, for example: she can’t answer because she knows that then it would produce a contradiction, so she’s in a position where she just will stay silent.

The problem with this explanation is that people want to cling to their intuitive model instead of realizing that the model itself is broken. This thought experiment has a solution, instead. The solution proves there’s a fallacy at the presumption the thought experiment is based on.

SOLUTION OF THE PARADOX

The paradox is easily solved. The concept of time as a solid is built on the premise nothing can be changed and so follows a complete description, set in stone. There’s nothing incorrect in this premise. The mistake is built on the next aspect: the presumption that the state of this system can be “known” from inside the system (like this woman who can see future events) without this knowledge producing any effect on the system itself.

What happens in this scenario, when built correctly, is that whenever the woman receives memories from future events, those memories are new information that is going to ALTER the system. This means, in ALL cases, that every information about the future WILL alter the future.

I repeat: if time is truly a solid there’s nothing wrong. But if time is a solid then it cannot be possible to take information from a future moment and give it to an agent (this woman) in a different moment leaving the system unchanged. This creates a recursion where information in the past has to account for itself in the future, then goes back in the past, causing the future to shift again, and so on and so on. In technical terms this system never closes and continues to grow without reaching a final state. So creating an infinite recursion where we will never obtain a fixed state. And so a system where future events can’t be known because the time is always shifting, which is the opposite of the premise “time is fixed”. It cannot be fixed if it can never reach a closure and so a final state.

Applied to the thought experiment above the result is that when the woman receives information from the future (for example that she says A, and I’ll say B), and then she correctly predicts and say B, by saying that she ALTERS the flow of time, so that I’ll instead say A. But this will alter again the future, so she’ll instead know I’m going to say A, and so she says I’ll say A, altering AGAIN the future and making me say B, which will change again her vision of the future, and so on and so on.

“Time is fixed” presumes there’s a final state, and that this state is then recorded and unchangeable. But what I’ve proven is instead that if you build this system under those rules what you obtain a system that is caught in a recursive loop similar to the concept of “infinite regress” so that this system can never possibly close, so denying the possibility of eventually reaching a fixed final state.

So you’ll ask, how does “Dark” fit in this picture? Dark (trying to not spoiler too much) shows characters who see themselves doing things in the future. Then the time comes, and they do EXACTLY what they previously saw.

It’s stupid. Because as I’ve explained here knowledge of the future necessarily changes it. In fact Dark seems built on the premise everyone’s an idiot. It cannot afford thinking characters because there’s no way to make it work that way. They have to somewhat wave all that away and “make believe” in a clumsy way and convenient Deus Ex Machina. That guy couldn’t make 1 + 1 and so ended up doing the same thing he tried to avoid. Because time is fixed? Nope, because he’s stupid and because if he wasn’t the plot wouldn’t work.

Both Dark and Arrival take a concept that is quite valid. The hypothesis that time might be “fixed” is a good one. That’s why people naturally accept it, and it’s already famous because it’s part of Nietzsche’s Eternal Return. The point here is that Nietzsche wasn’t an idiot and he didn’t make THAT mistake. The mistake of imagining time as fixed AND giving that information to entities that are part of the system without realizing that doing so creates an infinite regression.

If we imagine a system where time is fixed, all is correct. There’s nothing “paradoxical” about it. Just as long the information on how this system evolves can only be known when you observe the system without interfering with its process (like observing from outside). But if you take this information and you push it INSIDE the system, then this information HAS TO account for itself and alter the system. Because it’s brand new information that perturbs the system and sends it in a new state. And having done just that means that time isn’t anymore fixed: you created a recursion that never produces a fixed closed system.

Recursive systems are a bitch. Please handle with care, especially if you don’t know what you’re dealing with.

I was keeping editing the previous entry, so I decided to keep it separated without cluttering that messy post written across a few days and so already kind of inconsistent in its flow.

What I wanted to add is that the strong statement the show makes, as I explained there, is to crown uncertainty by using that ultimate mystery, and the story Nora tells, as the principal way to deliver that symbolic ambiguity. One ambiguity to rule them all.

The big problem here is that this statement and this type of ambiguity are FALSE. And we are even outside of the dichotomy between fiction and reality I used in my mythological explanation. The message here is directly ludicrous and wrong (and it’s a mistake specific to the TV show since the book doesn’t make it).

It takes the first 20 pages of John Fowles’ “The Aristos” to make a much better statement, without even the need to conjure any “character”. But the nature of our reality isn’t ambiguity or uncertainty. That’s human condition, that’s the observer, not the observed. It’s not reality, it’s us. Whereas in The Leftovers it’s the world itself that declares itself ambiguous. It’s a world embodied into Nora’s story. A world fashioned. Because we receive that ambiguity, but that ambiguity isn’t factual, since Nora knows the answer about whether or not she lied, and Nora is just another human being. So we aren’t facing an ultimate mystery as the nature of our existence. We’re facing a man made one. It’s such a basic epistemic mistake, to confuse a limit we have with a limit of the world.

Here’s a quote from LessWrong, that reads as an answer to The Leftovers, and pertinently titled “Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions”:

ignorance exists in the map, not in the territory. If I am ignorant about a phenomenon, that is a fact about my own state of mind, not a fact about the phenomenon itself. A phenomenon can seem mysterious to some particular person. There are no phenomena which are mysterious of themselves. To worship a phenomenon because it seems so wonderfully mysterious, is to worship your own ignorance.

The Leftovers (the show) made that ignorance into an idol to worship. I can’t see this as a positive message.