My Thoughts On Westworld
A friend of mine made a suggestion that I review certain series I’ve enjoyed. So I decided to try this and see what responses I get.
Game of Thrones is ending. Although I’m not a huge fan of GOT (I’ve actually never watched past the pilot) I appreciate its huge influence. It was only after watching Westworld that I learnt it would be replacing GoT. So what is this new series about? And does it deserve to replace Game of Thrones? Most importantly, why should you listen to someone who’s never watched Game of Thrones? Please suspend all questions until I’m done.
Westworld is a story about automatons (robots) who have been designed to become exactly like humans. They are called hosts. They’ve been designed to serve the ‘guests’. Humans who pay about $30000 a day to be entertained. These ‘hosts’ who believe they are human, are put through various trials for the guests’ amusement. It’s like playing a game except it’s much easier to tell who’s real and who’s not in a game. The problem comes however when these machines become conscious. When they realize just what the humans have been doing to them and wage war against their creators.
One of the many topics Westworld handles is determinism. There are some scenes where Ford, one of the creators of the hosts likens himself to both God and the devil. It is also no coincidence that the hosts seem so…lifelike. It’s all meant to make us question our own sense of free-will. In a scene where Maeve is with a technician who discovers that one of his superiors is a host, he starts questioning whether he himself is one.
Maeve: Can you get him back online?
Felix: He’s a host?
Maeve: Of for…sake, you’re not one of us. You’re one of them.
In many religions, there is always a balancing act between the belief that everything is planned and yet humans retain free will. Yet certain scientists don’t believe in free will. They believe everyone has traits that to a large extent determine their lot in life. They argue that humans refuse to accept the fact that free will might not exist because they would lose all sense of entitlement. You can’t punish or reward someone based on merits if their success was predetermined goes the argument. For example, it doesn’t make sense that Teddy feels guilty for helping Delores, because he was programmed to.
Even at the end of season one, where Ford claims he can make Delores free and the hosts seem to act on their own, the viewer is still left to wonder if they’re really free? Or are still following Ford’s postmortem plan? After all, if it didn’t work the first time, what shows Delores and any of the hosts are acting of their own will this time?
The second thing that Westworld asks us to question is our very reality. I know that seems more like a Matrix theme but bear with me.
Delores’ father to Ford: You don’t know where you are do you? You’re in a prison of your own sins.
Ford: And for my pains I got this… a prison of our sins.
Ford uses the same words at the end of the season that were said to him at the beginning. This is relevant because in this world, ‘the park’ (where hosts and humans coexist) Ford is a god. He controls everything within and yet he sees himself as a prisoner.
This tackles something referred to as the illusion of control. Generally people believe they control more things in their lives than they actually do. Many attribute their current status or situation more to personal efforts than any other factors. Ken Robinson, a critic of modern education says that many people arrange the items on their CV as if they were planned, whilst some were simply fortunate accidents.
For clarification, the illusion of control and determinism aren’t mutually exclusive. However they can operate independent of each other. People can have free will but can have their actions or aspects of their lives determined or influenced by external factors which are chaotic.
Delores: Some people choose to see the ugliness in this world, the disarray. I choose to see the beauty. To believe, there’s an order to our days, a purpose. I know things will work out the way they’re meant to.
Evidently, Delores’s idea of the world is one of order. However future events force her to revise her initial view. Her faith that everything is planned and will go on well is shaken. She’s forced to consider, for the first time that the world may be full of randomness. Which is funny since the man in the black hat is trying to escape the real world for that same reason.
Black hat: You know why this beats the real world, Lawrence? The real world is a chaos…but here, every detail adds up to something.
Nassim Taleb is a scholar who has built a reputation for himself on the subject of randomness. He asks people to consider that there is a no way to eliminate risk or randomness. That the real world and its successes are more random than it appears. His advice is to incorporate randomness into our plans. Just like things went wrong in the financial meltdown of 2008, things can go wrong at any time.The Limits of Growth
Ford: We can cure any disease, keep even the weakest of us alive and one fine day perhaps we shall even resurrect the dead. Call forth Lazarus from his grave. You know what that means? It means that we’re done. That this is as good as we’re going to get.
Economies are based on one simple principle, growth. Once they stop growing they start declining. Human beings are obsessed with growth in business, technology and science. Scientists always want to know and yet hope there is still more out there to know. Unfortunately they don’t want to consider the possibility that a time may come when all that is possible to know by empirical means might arrive. In economics, countries like Japan are suffering because they haven’t grown for almost 2 decades. This current system is problematic because continuous growth is unsustainable. Eventually something has to give. The question is, what happens when the growth stops?
The aim of Westworld can’t be put better than this:
Ford: I believed that stories helped us to ennoble ourselves to fix what was broken in us, and to help us become the people we dreamed of being. Lies that told a deeper truth.
It doesn’t take long for many to realize that Westworld isn’t your normal series. If you’re someone who just wants a good time and doesn’t want to think too much at that particular time, you might want to postpone viewing it. I admire its courage in taking the philosophical route in an age where philosophy has fallen out of fashion and communicating such messages to modern society through stories is rare.
Sorry I pulled a bait and switch. By this time, some of you may want to know whether I think it’s better than Game of Thrones. I never intended to answer that question. I just hoped it would keep you engaged till the end. If you did read to this point, I appreciate it though. Let me know your thoughts on this post.