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.

Westworld and the Bicameral Mind Theory: Season 1, Episode 5 – “Contrapasso”

*Contains spoilers*

Episode 5 opens with Dr. Ford telling a story from his childhood to the retired host he is often seen speaking with. As a child his father bought him and his brother a retired greyhound. The greyhound spent its entire life chasing something but when it finally caught it, it didn’t know what to do. Is Ford’s story a metaphor for consciousness in the hosts?

In the next scene we see Dolores in a graveyard with William and Logan. She experiences a bicameral hallucination that commands “find me,” accompanied by a vision, and responds “show me how.” Who is issuing the verbal commands? Is “Arnold” prompting her?

Later we see Dolores, talking to William, beginning to question her reality. Next she has a vision of herself in the parade, where she receives the “deep and dreamless slumber” hypnotic suggestion and wakes up being interviewed by Dr. Ford.

Ford asks if she has been “hearing voices” — if Arnold has been “speaking” to her. Interestingly she lies, saying no — something she should not be capable of. Ford seems to be concerned that Arnold is interfering with the hosts, and for the first time we learn of Arnold’s original intention “to destroy this place.”

Dolores now seems to be in almost constant communication with Arnold. In the ancient world, the bicameral mind was a pre-conscious mentality in which the brain’s hemispheres operated more independently than they do today. The right hemisphere used language in the form of auditory hallucinations to transmit information across the corpus callosum to the left hemisphere. In Westworld, Arnold seems to be using bicameral hallucinations (the “bicameral system” as they refer to it in the show) as a means to communicate with and control the hosts.

But to what end?