Like any great story—or the fictional Westworld park itself—HBO’s Westworld can be enjoyed on many different levels. You can kick back and experience the visceral delights (the gory gunfights and naked people painted gold), delve a little deeper into the complex power struggle amongst the Gods—err, humans—running the park, or even spend long sleepless nights contemplating the rise of artificial intelligence. But there is, of course, a deeper level to this show, and one somewhat mysterious YouTuber (? philosopher?) wants you to see it with his exploration of the psychological theory known as the Bicameral Mind and how it relates to Westworld’s narrative.
In the video above, which comes via /Film, Jonathan Holmes (who doesn’t provide much description for himself but is followed by Black Mirror showrunner Charlie Brooker on Twitter) describes a theory that Ford (Anthony Hopkins) specifically discusses with Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) in the show: It’s known as the “Bicameral Mind” and it’s based on psychologist Julian Jaynes’ 1970s book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.
Holmes makes the claim that HBO’s Westworld is based on the “obscure theory from the 1970s,” and anybody who’s been watching the show closely will probably come to agree with him. This is because the theory states that before there was consciousness as we know it in modern humans, humanity developed a system of thinking that involved two “minds,” or two chambers: a “mind” that told us what to do and a “mind” that went ahead and did those things. The voice that made the commands, was, according to Jaynes, thought of by primitive man as God.
In the show, we see this theory play out in parallel with the hosts (the humanoid robots) and Arnold (the deceased park co-founder). Ford tells Bernard that Arnold’s voice, inside the minds of the hosts, is essentially the voice of God (how the hosts “heard their programming”), and that they obey his commands—which is why in the latest episode, to quote Futurama, we had that “robo-puppy mistreatment alert.”
But, just as humanity began to be able to think in a meta sense about the voice—to contemplate the voice’s commands and whether or not to implement them—so, too, are the hosts in Westworld undergoing a meta-analysis of why they do what they do. And voila: you have a new dawn of consciousness, and a whole lot of trouble for management.
Jaynes attributes this new level of consciousness in humans to the use of metaphor, specifically storytelling, even more specifically Homer’s Illiad, and Holmes does a great job of describing in the video why exactly that’s the case.
What do you think about the Bicameral Mind as the philosophical basis for HBO’s Westworld? Let us know what the voice in your head is saying to you in the comments below!