Westworld and the Bicameral Mind Theory: Season 1, Episode 8 – “Trace Decay”

*Contains spoilers*

Like much of Ford’s speech, the instruction he gives to Bernard in the opening of Episode 8 is written and spoken very much like a hypnotic script… Anthony Hopkins could have been a successful hypnotist. And as I’ve previously noted, the verbal commands given to the hosts are very much like post-hypnotic suggestions.

Hypnosis is a subject that has long been a mystery to psychology, and too often it has been ignored or marginalized, as the field of psychology struggled to become “scientific” and wanted to rid itself of any associations with what might be considered “fringe” topics.

As I have written elsewhere, and as Julian Jaynes explains, hypnosis is perhaps best understood as a vestige of the bicameral mind. Because of our previous bicameral mentality, we are predisposed to follow an externally perceived, guiding voice. Furthermore, if consciousness were biological and innate, we would not expect it to be altered as easily as it is with hypnotic trance.

Later we see Dolores with William by the river, where she experiences another bicameral hallucination (“Come find me”) accompanied by a vision.

Back at the Westworld corporate facility, Maeve is learning more about herself and the other hosts. She makes what may be a subtle reference to Julian Jaynes’s bicameral mind theory:

“Parts of me are quite old. There are some elegant formal structures, a kind of a recursive beauty, but complex, like two minds arguing with each other. There are things in me, things I was designed to do, that are just out of my reach. They almost seem to be dormant. Who is Arnold?”

In an interesting exchange between Ford and Bernard, Ford articulates what one might describe as a radical behaviorist view: that consciousness does not exist and that all of our behaviors are to some extent “programmed” — by our genes, by classical and operant conditioning, etc.

You can see the discussion here:

While Julian Jaynes would disagree with this view, he does argue that consciousness makes up a much smaller part of our thinking that we realize. Using the metaphor of a flashlight in a dark room, Jaynes explains that everywhere the flashlight points the room is lit, giving rise to the illusion that the room itself is brightly lit. So too with us — we fall under the illusion that our consciousness is everything because we cannot be conscious of that which we are not conscious of.

In reality, much of our daily life is accomplished without consciousness at all, through habit, routine, and unconscious problem solving.

Finally, I found it interesting that near the end of this episode, in the hallucinatory scene where Dolores enters the strange town, the dance instruction for the hosts is identical to what we saw previously during Ford and Bernard’s discussion of the bicameral mind in Episode 3.



Westworld and the Bicameral Mind Theory: Season 1, Episode 7 – “Trompe L’Oeil”

*Contains spoilers*

Near the beginning of Episode 7 we see Maeve is no longer responding to the technician’s commands and appears to be continuing on her path to self-awareness.

Speaking with William on the train, Dolores appears to be on a similar trajectory.

In a conversation between Bernard and Theresa, we gain more insight into the hosts’ path to consciousness. “The ability to deviate from programmed behavior arises out of the hosts’ recall of past iterations. … there’s a connection between memory and improvisation. Out of repetition comes variation, and after countless cycles of repetition these hosts — they were varying. They were on the verge of some kind of change.”

This brings us back to the first episode, and Ford’s alleged insertion of the “reveries.” But was it really Ford after all? In any case, as we’ve discussed previously, the introduction of autobiographical memory is a key element of consciousness: It requires the development of an analog ‘I’ narratizing in a mind-space, able to spatialize time and “see” one’s life on a timeline. Without consciousness, we would always be living only in the present.

The episode ends in the powerful exchange between Ford and Theresa, and the shocking discovery that Bernard is a host. Ford hints at what Julian Jaynes describes as the “consequences of consciousness,” saying, “Their lives are blissful, in a way their existence is purer than ours. Free of the burden of self-doubt.”

Ford continues: “I read the theory once that the human intellect was like peacock feathers. Just an extravagant display intended to attract a mate. All of art, literature, a bit of Mozart, William Shakespeare, Michelangelo, and the Empire State Building. Just an elaborate mating ritual. Maybe it doesn’t matter that we have accomplished so much for the basest of reasons. But, of course, the peacock can barely fly. It lives in the dirt, pecking insects out of the muck, consoling itself with its great beauty. I have come to think of so much of consciousness as a burden, a weight, and we have spared them that. Anxiety, self-loathing, guilt. The hosts are the ones who are free. Free, here, under my control.”

Julian Jaynes did not see consciousness as an adaptation for the purpose of increasing sexual attraction (this was proposed by Geoffrey Miller in The Mating Mind). But the last few sentences seem to be directly inspired by Jaynes, who tells us the many ways, both positive and negative, that consciousness operating on our emotions transforms our thought. Fear becomes anxiety, shame becomes guilt, mating behavior becomes love, anger becomes hatred.

Consciousness, for all its benefits, has come with significant costs.

(For a good discussion of this, see “The Origin of Consciousness, Gains and Losses: Walker Percy vs. Julian Jaynes” by Laura Mooneyham White in Gods, Voices, and the Bicameral Mind.)

P.S. Does anyone else think that Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), the Executive Director of the Board for Delos, seems far too young for the role? But perhaps there’s more to this….there’s already a lot of speculation that she may be one of the other character’s daughters. We’ll see what unfolds…

Westworld and the Bicameral Mind Theory: Season 1, Episode 6 – “The Adversary”

*Contains spoilers*

In Episode 6, the links to Julian Jaynes’s bicameral mind theory that have already been established continue.

Through her interaction with Felix the technician, Maeve continues on her path to discovering the nature of her reality and gaining consciousness.

Elsie makes reference to the “bicameral system,” telling Bernard: “That bicameral system you told me about … I think that’s what they used to hack the woodcutter. The voices the hosts have been hearing? I think someone’s been broadcasting to them. …. There’s still relays out there in the park, and it looks like someone turned one on.”

Elsie is getting closer to uncovering the nature of Arnold’s bicameral command hallucinations to the hosts:

“Theresa was using the old bicameral control system to reprogram the woodcutter. But she’s not the only one.  Someone else has been using the system for weeks to re-task hosts … these modifications are serious … ”

Next, we see Ford questioning the younger host version of himself. The boy reveals he heard a bicameral voice of Arnold telling him to kill his dog.

As a side note, many more people today experience hearing voices than is generally known, and many of those that do hear voices hear what’s called “command hallucinations” that direct their behavior — a vestige of our earlier bicameral mentality.

Finally, it appears that “someone” has already been altering Maeve’s code. Will increased overall intelligence lead to Maeve’s gaining consciousness? To what degree are intelligence and consciousness related?

My own view is that intelligence is necessary but insufficient. Intelligence is largely (but not entirely) genetic, whereas consciousness (as Jaynes defines it) in learned through language. To use the computer metaphor, our intelligence is predicated on our hardware whereas consciousness is like our operating system. And some of us appear to be running both the bicameral and conscious operating systems to some degree in parallel.