Westworld and the Bicameral Mind Theory: Season 1, Episode 3 – “The Stray”

*Contains spoilers*

Episode 3 provides a great deal of interesting material for discussion.

It opens with Bernard meeting with Dolores again. He gives her a book to read (Alice in Wonderland — “wonderland” perhaps being a metaphor for the reality that the hosts are waking up to) and she makes reference to other books they have read together. In Julian Jaynes’s theory, the use of metaphorical language is how we learn consciousness. Perhaps Bernard is using reading to help nudge Dolores toward consciousness.

In the next scene, Dolores has a bicameral hallucination: “Do you remember?” She then has a memory of the Man in Black in the barn. We still don’t know who’s voice the hosts are hearing other than the fact that the host in the saloon in the first episode seemed to be talking to someone named Arnold.

Later, Elsie and Bernard are seen reviewing video of this host. We see him again refer to  his voice as Arnold. We discover that the six hosts he killed had all killed him in the past… it looks like another host is both having bicameral hallucinations and gaining autobiographical memory.

Next Maeve sees Teddy in the Mariposa and she has a memory of seeing him being serviced back at Westworld headquarters, so she is gaining autobiographical memory as well.

Dr. Ford has a discussion with Teddy, where Teddy claims that Wyatt “claimed to hear the voice of god.” Here we have another Jaynes reference. In Jaynes’s theory, prior to consciousness everyone heard hallucinations that they took to be the voices of the gods.

There’s a brief moment when Dr. Ford and Bernard are walking into Ford’s office where we see what looks like Ford’s collection of figurines. This may be reference to the fact that small idols play a prominent role in Jaynes’s theory. In the ancient world, idols served as a hallucinatory trigger. They were seen not merely as representations of gods but as the gods themselves.

Next Bernard informs Dr. Ford that the hosts are hearing voices from someone named Arnold, and we then have the first direct reference to Julian Jaynes’s bicameral mind theory. In case you missed it, you can see it here:

We learn that Arnold was Ford’s original partner in creating the park and that he was trying to give the hosts consciousness, basing his strategy for doing so on Julian Jaynes’s bicameral mind theory.

Dr. Ford also outlines Arnold’s pyramid of steps toward consciousness: memory, improvisation, self-interest, and a fourth unfinished step. It’s easy to take issue with these. All animals, for example, have evolved what we might call self-interest for their survival. But we can set aside these objections for now.

More interesting is the discussion of how Arnold used the bicameral mind. Arnold was using the bicameral hallucinations both as a way to give the hosts commands but also as a means to “bootstrap consciousness.” The idea being that eventually the auditory hallucinations would trigger the hosts’ own inner dialogue. A vestige of this bicameral system still in place is the voice commands used to control the hosts.

In describing Arnold, Dr. Ford notes that “his personal life was marked by tragedy … his pursuit of consciousness consumed him.” Here I had the sense that perhaps Arnold’s character is in part based on Julian Jaynes himself. (You can read a biography of Julian Jaynes in Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness.)

There is a scene with Elsie and Ashley tracking down the stray host that is also off script and lost in the wilderness. We see he also has figurines that he’s made himself. They have an unusual constellation-like pattern carved in them, but we don’t yet know what this means.  It’s not yet clear to what degree (if any) the figurines function as idols for hallucinatory triggers as they do in Jaynes’s theory.

Later we again see Bernard talking with Dolores.  He hints to her about the nature of her reality. He asks her a question reminiscent of Morpheus’ red pill/blue pill question to Neo in The Matrix. We get the sense that he has been pushing her toward consciousness but then, based on his earlier conversation with Ford, is having second thoughts about it. He contemplates “changing her back” but then decides against it.

We next see Dolores on her loop at the farm house. She sees her dead father but this time she remembers what he used to look like before he was replaced by a new host. Then in the barn, she aims a gun at her would-be assailant. At first she is unable to shoot. She then has a memory of the Man in Black from a similar scene in the barn from a previous loop, she hears a bicameral voice urging her to “kill him,” and she fires the gun.

This scene is a nice representation of what life must have been like for bicameral people during stressful situations when a difficult decision was required. Unable to introspect, an auditory hallucination guides their action, much like the heroes of the Iliad were guided by hallucinations of the gods. It will be very interesting to see where they go next with Jaynes’s theory in the story.

Westworld and the Bicameral Mind Theory: Season 1, Episode 2 – “Chestnut”

*Contains spoilers*

Episode 2 opens with Dolores hearing a bicameral voice telling her to “wake up,” then asking her “do you remember?” Again we see the introduction of autobiographical memory as the first step toward consciousness for the hosts.

But the question remains: Who is issuing the bicameral hallucinations to the hosts that are helping to direct their behavior?

Later, after having a jarring encounter with Dolores, the host Maeve also begins to have memories, raising the question:  Is consciousness contagious?

Bernard and Dolores have a secret conversation, leaving us wondering what Bernard is up to. Does Bernard see the beginnings of consciousness in Dolores? Is he doing something to encourage this process?

The concept of lucid dreams is also introduced. We are told that while the hosts can’t dream, they do have the concept of dreams.

As side note, dreams are an interesting aspect of Julian Jaynes’s theory. We tend to think that dreams were always the same throughout history, but this is not the case. The oldest recorded dreams are all what we might describe as “bicameral dreams” or “visitation dreams.” They consist of the sleeper lying in bed and being visited by a god or dead ancestor, who issues a command or advice. It is only after we learn consciousness that we begin to see modern, vicarious dreams, where we see ourselves in a variety of different situations, often from a third person view. This is consciousness operating during sleep, and requires an analog ‘I’ narratizing in a mind-space.

We actually see children go through the same transition as they learn consciousness. Thus, dreams can be a way to gauge the level of consciousness in an individual or in a culture.

It will be interesting to see the extent to which dreams, and memories during dreams, play a role in the hosts’ progression to consciousness in future episodes.

Later in this episode, we see Maeve have another memory. She awakens during maintenance and witnesses workers and damaged hosts (including Teddy) being hosed down. With the addition of memory, will this scene return to her and lead to her questioning the nature of her reality?

Westworld and the Bicameral Mind Theory: Season 1, Episode 1 – “The Original”

*Contains spoilers*

HBO’s new hit series Westworld uses aspects of Julian Jaynes’s bicameral mind theory as part of the storyline.  I’ll be discussing how ideas from Jaynes’s theory are used in the show as a way for people to better understand both Westworld and Julian Jaynes’s theory.

One of the main storylines of the show is that the “hosts” — the human-like robots that inhabit the Westworld park — are slowly transitioning from their scripted behavioral responses to becoming conscious (gaining self-awareness), and a central question we are left to contemplate is how this process is taking place.

This first episode contains some clues. We see the chief engineer Bernard Lowe questioning one of the oldest hosts in the park, Dolores, as to her beliefs about the nature of her reality. He does this under the auspices of verifying that she is functioning normally, but is Bernard actually clandestinely doing something to nudge Dolores toward consciousness and evaluating his progress? We don’t yet know.

Later, Bernard speculates that Dr. Robert Ford, the park director, has added “reveries” — which he describes as memories that cause subtle behavioral responses — to the latest update that the hosts received without informing anyone.

The use of the uncommon term “reveries” (and not “memories”) is an interesting choice, as it is used in the well-known first paragraph of Jaynes’s The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind:

“O, what a world of unseen visions and heard silences, this insubstantial country of the mind! What ineffable essences, these touchless rememberings and unshowable reveries! And the privacy of it all! A secret theater of speechless monologue and prevenient counsel, an invisible mansion of all moods, musings, and mysteries, an infinite resort of disappointments and discoveries. A whole kingdom where each of us reigns reclusively alone, questioning what we will, commanding what we can. A hidden hermitage where we may study out the troubled book of what we have done and yet may do. An introcosm that is more myself than anything I can find in a mirror. This consciousness that is myself of selves, that is everything, and yet is nothing at all – what is it?
And where did it come from?
And why?”

This is the first subtle reference to Julian Jaynes’s theory that I noticed. The introduction of this element of autobiographical memory (allegedly by Dr. Ford) is perhaps the first major step toward consciousness for the hosts. We see in Jaynes’s theory that the beginnings of autobiographical memory, the ability to spatialize time, and the ability to view one’s life on a timeline are key elements in the origin of our own consciousness. Are the hosts being guided down the same trajectory that humans took toward learning consciousness?

Later, Ford’s “deep and dreamless slumber” command that puts the hosts in a “sleep mode” is very reminiscent  of a post hypnotic suggestion. Jaynes views hypnosis as a vestige of the bicameral mind. The fact that consciousness is learned and not biologically innate is in part what makes the alterability of consciousness we see in hypnosis possible.  Further, our past bicameral mentality is what predisposes us to follow an external, guiding voice.

Toward the end of this episode we also see one of the hosts go off-script, killing other hosts that in past narratives had killed him. The host also appears to be talking to voices and responding to bicameral-like hallucinations from someone named “Arnold,” saying: “Not gonna die this time Arnold.”

Finally, the episode ends with Dolores swatting a fly on her neck, an action that was not part of the host’s programming (to do no harm) and perhaps foreshadowing the beginnings of self-awareness.

At the conclusion of the first episode we are left to wonder what both Bernard and Dr. Ford are up to with regard to manipulating the hosts. Are they each encouraging elements of consciousness? If so, to what end? We don’t yet know who is doing what, if they are working together or individually (although the latter seems more likely), or what their motivations are.