Be warned, this article contains spoilers for the fantastic HBO series Westworld. Having just finished the second season, I figured it would be the perfect time to break down some of the interesting perspectives on consciousness expressed in the show, including my personal favorite part of Westworld: The Maze. (This article is going to be more focused on using the perspectives in the show to examine real world phenomenon than being plot commentary.)
As far as perspectives on consciousness and AI go, this show definitely tends more towards the complex. Take for example the namesake of the season one episode, “The Bicameral Mind.” This is a reference to the 1976 book by psychologist Julian Jaynes, “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.” To very briefly summarize the thesis, Jaynes essentially postulates that for most of human history, man did not possess consciousness as we do today. Instead, he believes that the right brain counterparts to the left brain’s language centers (the Wernicke’s and Broca’s area) would issue auditory command hallucinations (like those experienced by schizophrenics) to the left brain. The individuals would then experience these hallucinations as commands given by a god or some other separate entity.
The parallel to this is the show is Ford in the minds of Dolores (in season one) and Bernard (in season two). Both experience Ford as a distinct entity who offers contrasting opinions, perspectives, and at times, commands. Ultimately, the pair realize that Ford is actually their own internal thoughts- which is what Jaynes called the breakdown of bicameralism.
This is what the Maze in the show represents- the journey inward to finding the origin of the voice of thought. In my model, however, rather than the voice, the center of the Maze corresponds to the pure observer of consciousness (the man on the island from The Wisdom of Solomon). Additionally, my model of mind would consider the two halves of the mind as the Master and the Disciple, respective to the god-voices and the individual in Jaynes’ theory.
The Master is mental equivalent of our highest ideals (god, the authoritative father, the superego, and the judge). When we act in a way that is in disagreement with our ethics, the Master creates cognitive dissonance- judgement. I want to clarify that I am not advocating the existence of anything supernatural here, rather, I believe the tendency for man to externalize a monotheistic God is actually the ritualization of this internal phenomenon. Hence Matthew 7:1-3 (NASB),
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”
Jaynes’ theory suggests that our initial state of consciousness would be to perceive such commands as an external experience, however, I would wager it’s far more likely (at least in modern times) that we simply don’t identify with this internal standard of judgement and order (the Master). Rather, we identify with the Disciple, which in this model represents our tendency to submit to an external source of authority and law. The religious impulse, then, is actually our initial predisposition to believe that we are somehow separate and lesser than the order-giving Master in the mind. Prayer is a ritual expression of the inner, one way communication from the Disciple to the silent Master. The cognitive dissonance of judgement is how the Master speaks to the Disciple- the ideal self measured against the actual.
Again, I’ll point to Ford and the two hosts in the show. Ford, in effect, functions as the god of the Westworld park- the Master. He (ostensibly) gives life to the hosts and shapes the landscape of the park at his whims. Additionally, he creates narratives and dictates the personalities and mannerisms of his creations. The hosts are simply acting as Disciples, according to Ford’s dictates. Then, however, Ford dies (as Nietzsche said, “God is dead,”), although he still lives through Dolores and Bernard- until they realize that what they previously thought of as god (the Master) was actually themselves the whole time.
What this means, in a larger sense, is that the rituals which externalize (exoteric religious practices and outward searches for spirituality and meaning) are no longer valid- the metaphor is unraveled, leaving only the quest to understand what it signified. We can analogize the Master and Disciple with the Father and the Son, as in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” What is meant to be realized here is that there is no separation between the Master and Disciple- the pursuit of the Master by the Disciple is the force that unifies the mind and creates metaconsciousness.
In another parallel, there is the guru/student relationship in yoga. As it is said, “when the student is ready, the Guru appears.” This could be taken externally, as an expression of some magic karmic forces, or understood to be what it truly means. When one is ready to learn and begin the journey from ignorance to Truth, one begins the unification of the opposites to create the non-dual, metaconscious Self- the realization that the Master and the Disciple are one and the same. From Matthew 6:22 (KJV), “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” (Interestingly enough, each of your eyes is connected to the opposite side of the brain- one for the Master and one for the Disciple.)
The plot of Westworld, in this sense, is another ritualization of our internal experience. All that is required is to see beyond the metaphor-
“If any man have ears to hear, let him hear!”