Westworld and the Bicameral Mind Theory: Season 1, Episode 9 – “The Well-Tempered Clavier”

*Contains spoilers*

Episode 9 opens with Bernard interviewing Maeve, but she quickly assumes control of Bernard, who has lost awareness of his host status.  She issues post-hypnotic suggestion-like commands, which he dutifully carries out.

A little later we see a meeting between Bernard and Dr. Ford on one of the headquarters’ lower levels with the decommissioned hosts. When Dr. Ford says, “I built your mind Bernard, I have every right to wander through it’s rooms and chambers and halls…” we are reminded again of Jaynes’s opening lines from The Origin of Consciousness: “… an invisible mansion of all moods, musings, and mysteries, an infinite resort 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…” and the metaphor of physical space for our inner mind-space.

In the following scene we see Dolores experience a bicameral hallucination: “Remember.”

Next, Hector, talking to his fellow bandits, talks about “the riches the gods have in store for us” and Maeve’s prophesy about his immediate future gets his attention. Maeve also refers to the gods.

For Maeve, the “gods” are Ford and the park’s administrators who are dictating the park’s story lines and determining the hosts’ every outcome. For  ancient man, and more recent preliterate societies, the gods and spirits played a central role in their daily life in a way that’s difficult for us to comprehend. We think of gods as distant and remote, but for bicameral people, the gods were ever-present, offering commands, advice, and admonishments, guiding behavior in a way similar to the bicameral hallucinations of Arnold heard by Dolores.

In another interesting parallel, Maeve has woken up to the fact that every aspect of their lives is determined by the park’s directors: “I died with my eyes open, saw the masters that pull our strings. Our lives, our memories, our deaths are games to them…”

Yet the hosts such as Hector believe they have free will. So while the hosts’ lives are completely pre-determined while having the illusion of free will, conversely in the ancient world, bicameral people had no concept of chance and believed everything to be the will of the gods. As the bicameral voices subsided, people turned to oracles and divination to discern the will of the now-silent gods. Lots were cast to discern their wishes, which, incidentally, is the origin of gambling. It is only with the advent of consciousness that the concept of free will is born.

Later in the episode we revisit the conversation between Dr. Ford and Bernard regarding the hosts hallucinating the voice of Arnold and their discussion of Arnold’s pursuit of consciousness for the hosts via the bicameral mind.

The conversation cuts to Dolores entering the church. The religious imagery here is noteworthy. Although beyond the scope of this post, Jaynes’s theory of consciousness also explains the origin of gods and therefore religion.

Dolores enters the church, and the pews are populated by hosts talking to their bicameral hallucinations (presumably “bootstrapping consciousness”). As a side note, most people today don’t realize that a significant percentage of the “homeless” are people partially relapsing to the bicameral mind and experiencing persistent debilitating hallucinations, along with the the delusions that result from living in a world that no longer shares their experience or accepts the authority of their voices.

Dolores enters the confessional, which turns out to be an elevator, and she descends to find herself in the underground hallways of the corporate headquarters. … The fact that the headquarters are constructed entirely underground may itself be a metaphor for the ever deeper layers of the unconscious mind.

Her trip through the hallways appears to be a walk through earlier times in the park’s history, where she first encounters lights flickering and the bodies of hosts strewn about, perhaps the first “incident” that is often referred to. This is followed by a more organized scene, where she observes functioning hosts and encounters a young Dr. Ford walking past. The scene is interspersed with the ongoing present-day conversation between Ford and Bernard, with Ford reiterating his dark view of humanity and his disdain for consciousness.

We see Bernard’s first awakening, where he asks the question, “Who am I?” Ford concedes, “That is a very complex question, for which I can only offer a simple answer…”

It’s an interesting question to ponder. We tend to define ourselves by various roles, and often life changes such as divorce or the loss of a job can feel like the loss of part of our very identity. But who are we really, and how is our concept of the self and consciousness related? In “Imagination and the Dance of the Self” in The Julian Jaynes Collection, Jaynes delves into the links between consciousness and our self concept.

Toward the end of this episode, we see Dolores descend yet another flight of stairs, where she has a hallucinatory encounter with Arnold, leading her to another level of self-awareness…






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…