[Guest post from renownedpsychohistorian]
“When we are born, we cry that we are come/To this great stage of fools”
– King Lear (4.6, 165-166)
This weekend, I began watching HBO’s Westworld, finding much to my surprise and delight that the story contained therein is a perfect representation of the philosophical and occult theme peculiar to the minds of the Cyberzen school. Over the next interlude, I will likely publish further thoughts spawned by my viewing, in no particular order. As of the time of this writing, I am through episode 4 or 5.
While it is my intent to address the contents of Westworld in an academic fashion here, those reading on should be aware that spoilers may occur.
The Labyrinth and the Maze
The premise of Westworld is simple. In the future of, there is a step beyond Virtual/Augmented reality- there is Alternative Reality. The game is a wild-west LARP where the NPCs are played by robots functionally indistinguishable from real people, in a detailed, immesive physical environment. For the low low price of 40k a day, one can take a train into the park and fulfill your wildest fantasies, with no risk of harm. By all classical definitions, it is Heaven on Earth- the Garden of Eden; Paradise.
In occult circles there exists a concept called “the Labyrinth,” which is thought to represent the archetypes of all possible spiritual encounters. The first five levels are shown below:
Notice that the game begins in the garden- in the case of Westworld, the park is the garden. Traditionally the garden is the realm of perfection, and the driving force towards the Labyrinth is the temptation of the Enchantress. Notice too, that within Westworld there exists a hint of a deeper game- the game that is played in the mysterious “Maze.”
When visitors arrive at the park, they are met by a woman who gives them their orientation. This is the Enchantress making a pitch to the occupant of the garden- laying out the rules of a game so stimulating as to rouse them from the ennui which comes from being a god. Once you have taken the bait, deciding that the game is worth the candle, the Enchantress offers a choice of two doors: “Blackhat” or “Whitehat.” By donning the hat, you choose a side, and agree that your side must win. This choice is a common one: good or evil? Left hand path, or right hand path? As presented, there is no grey- what once was perfect is now cut int two pieces, and the player feels they must choose between the path of the Archdemon, or the path of the Archangel. To choose the path of the Rhinoceros in that moment is not to choose, not to be tempted further, but to bask in the glory of that moment before the choice- to let that be enough, and allow the rest of your days to proceed uncolored by projection from that moment forward.
As soon as you have made your choice, you are on a train…
“A train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you don’t know for sure. Yet it doesn’t matter, because we’ll be together.”
And this is the kicker, my friends. This is the turn, the offering of the cards- not to the guests of Westworld, but to you. I am about to lay out some rules for a game, a philosophical game- a weaponized virus for the mind.
If you catch it, I claim that it will change your perception of reality forever. I am a philosopher by trade, and so I am aware of the reasonable burdens of evidence that are placed upon discourse of this type. This being the case, I will do my level best to formulate this hypothesis in a logically valid manner, reliant on current technology and science (coupled with reasonable predictions).
The problem at hand is this:
Given that Westworld is designed to be functionally indistinguishable from the world outside Westworld, would it be possible for someone who visited Westworld to know if they had ever left?
The answer is, quite simply, “No.” The reasoning is simple:
1) If there exists a place X that is functionally indistinguishable from reality and someone enters X, then
2) They cannot distinguish X from reality. If they cannot distinguish X from reality, then
3) They cannot distinguish reality from X. Therefore,
4) They cannot ever be sure that they have left X.
Based on the knowledge that I have to hand, it is my belief that the “Maze” is a ruleset for the game of Westworld that functions as a means to convince a player of the validity of one reality or the other. Theoretically a human player who passed through it would become convinced that the park’s reality was real, and an android “host” who passed through it would become convinced that the reality outside the park was real.
“I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night. Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’”
-Discussion between Dolores and Bernard, Westworld, Ep. 3, referencing Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
The nature of reality remains unchanged, but the player’s relationship with reality is transformed from that of a bystander to that of an agent, simply by virtue of their experience.
In short, they can be perfectly certain that they can never know what is real and what isn’t, and all value judgements based on those concerns are irrelevant. It is this state of affairs which fulfills the conditions of the “Metagame Paradox,” in which reality is logically defined entirely by perception, with no conception of fact.
The key to understanding the Metagame Paradox, is that in formal logic, the negation of a universal is an existential. Put simply, this means that if I claim that “Pink elephants don’t exist,” and you show me a pink elephant, the claim that “Pink elephants don’t exist” is false. In this case, the universal which we apply to our world (W0) is “A place like Westworld does not exist.” Currently, this is true. However, if we can manage to instantiate a place like Westworld in W0, we can negate the statement “A place like Westworld does not exist” and prove that arguments proceeding from that statement within the context of (W0) are false.
The key is that the theme of X is irrelevant- yes, Westworld begins in the Wild West, but if the architects can trick you into believing that it is real, then they could feasibly trick you into believing that you had left, and show you everything you would expect to see on the outside. Once the predicate “A place like Westworld does not exist” has been negated, and someone has entered it, it becomes logically impossible to prove that the universe is real, or that anything contained within it is fact. A person who entered such a place would at a single stroke destroy all meaning, all knowledge, and all rationality. In this world, Death itself would die.
Why? Well, once this state of affairs obtained, the occupants of W0 would be able to choose between being the gods of a place indistinguishable from W0 (W1), tailored to their every fantasy and desire, and remaining in their current role in W0. Even better, through the use of suspended animation and close medical attention, the lifespan of a person entering the Westworld of W0 could be expanded a great deal, not to mention made to last longer through the manipulation of “subjective time.”
The game of W0 would essentially be “solved,” and the occupants of W0 would be faced with that age-old choice:
You can choose a ready guide
In some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears
And kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose free will
By creating Westworld, the architects give mankind free will- the free will to move to another part of eternal game, or to be satisfied with what this one has to offer. Regardless of their choice, the outcome is the same- “reality” becomes a concept that refers to the collapse of a wavefunction. A person staying in W0 cannot be sure that they did not enter a similar place in some long-forgotten W-1, nor can they be sure that those who enter W1 (Westworld) still exist within W0, or even if someone who died in W1 was dead in W0. All possible realities would be made real simultaneously. In short, the moment someone entered Westworld, reality itself would become analogous to Schröedinger’s cat- simultaneously real and unreal.
Sounds suspiciously like the concept of the Tao to me, does the concept of reality as paradox.
“The Tao is an experience rather than definition. The imagery used to describe this path is one of emptiness and fullness, fluidity, and constant change…the Tao [is described] as the allness of the universe, as the true reality of existence beyond the “shadows” of false appearance, as nothingness, as a synonym for God, as a state of mind or being, as a method for leaders to rule invisibly by example, as a paradox of opposites, as wisdom through emptiness. It is at once all these things and none of them.”
-The Tao and Taoism, Link
So How Do We Create It?
Let us imagine how a place like Westworld might come to be in W0. For this proposition to obtain, you need something capable of providing a total immersion of all five senses: sight, touch, hearing, smell, and taste. It is my belief that by applying current W0 technology, a “god machine,” could be built which would satisfy those conditions.
Sight: Immersive VR technology is beginning to take off- resolution is currently being focused on as an impact area, so it is reasonable to assume that it will continue to improve, as was the case with televisions and device screens, asymptotically approaching mathematically optimal visual fidelity. Advancements in the areas of eye-tracking applied to adaptive rendering of visual information would really put this over the top.
Component for the God Machine: Pressurized, climate-controlled helmet with full 576 megapixel, 180 degree rendering. The helmet would ideally have enough room for the smell and taste subsystems, so that they could be hooked up to dispensing units inside the departure cabin (see below) or outside the departure cabin.
Touch: Full-body haptics are on the near horizon. Focusing development in this area around “illusory” feedback, rather than perfect fidelity, would need to occur before the W0 god machine could come to be. However, should this avenue be pursued, tying into the research surrounding such mind body illusions as described in “The Invisible Hand Illusion: Multisensory Integration Leads to the Embodiment of a Discrete Volume of Empty Space”
(J Cogn Neurosci, 2013), would speed the process along immensely. It is possible to “hack” into the mind’s idea of itself, but this process hasn’t been perfected through electronic automation yet. If sensations of high enough fidelity could be produced to ease the participant into a state of suspended disbelief, that is all that would be required, as over time, the constant stream of “false” sensations would overwrite the memories of the “true” sensations, creating a state of affairs where you couldn’t quite remember the difference at all.
Component for the God Machine: a full-body “illusory haptics” system. An easy method for this would be based around a suit comprised of two layers of waterproof fabric separated by a layer of ferrofluid. This fabric would be covered with many electromagnets, which could deliver high-resolution pressure through “pushing” on the ferrofluid, and also allow the occupant to be “pulled.” To reduce the physical resistance to this system, the occupant’s departure cabin should be filled with saline (if based on Earth), or be located on a space-based platform where weight is not an issue. The cabin is only necessary for a comparatively short time, as once the occupant has suspended away their disbelief of gravity and “real” physical touch, they can be gradually acclimated to receiving the stimulus in a prone position without noticing the difference, and can be removed from the cabin on a bed.
Hearing: DAC technology, home theater technology, and sound-processing technology have progressed to a state where audio quality capable of causing the suspension of disbelief is available. Applied research into the viability of utilizing sound to tap into mental subsystems like mood, perception of time, and balance, coupled with developments in ergonomics and personal acoustics would improve the “luxury quality” of the W0 god machine, but they are not necessary for a prototype.
Component for the God Machine: High-fidelity cochlear implants or bone conduction systems, coupled with IMAX-grade immersive sound, deployed in an acoustically tuned chamber.
Smell: Provided that a safe delivery method was developed, it would be possible to add a component to the god machine that would combine scent molecules to “render” scents. Again, here we rely on the nose’s unique ability to become accustomed to smell, and establish a very important hook in the “olfactory memory” subsystem, which is directly tied to the encoding of explicit memory. This is important, because it allows us to manipulate the following systems:
1. Episodic memory, which consists of the storage and recollection of observational information attached to specific life-events.
3. Autobiographical memory, which is a memory system consisting of episodes recollected from an individual’s life.
4. Spatial memory, which is the part of memory responsible for recording information about one’s environment and its spatial orientation.
If the god machine can modify these subsystems, it can rewrite a person’s history, alter their perception of reality, change their concept of self, and make them forget which way is up, so tying olfactory rendering to events within the god machine is important.
Component for the God Machine: A computer-controlled scent mixing/dispensing device.
Taste: Can be handled in a similar fashion to the sense of smell, using artificial flavorings.
Component for the God Machine: The occupant of the god machine would ideally be administered nutrition and fluids through an IV. This not only allows for precision monitoring of vitals, but also has as a side effect a reduction in the perceived need to eat over time. When the occupant eats or drinks something within the machine, this action could be simulated by a series of bland foods designed to mimic generic texture types being sprayed with a flavor, heated/cooled, and then dispensed inside of the occupant’s helmet in a position where they could be bitten and chewed. Fluid textures could be simulated in a similar fashion. While it is true that the occupant will initially notice that the tastes are strange, they will naturally self-select flavors and textures that they enjoy, essentially “changing their tastes” to match those which can be simulated to their satisfaction. Over time, the fact that they do not need to eat to live will reduce the need for the fidelity of this subsystem.
It is my practice to defer to the masters wherever they say things better than I could. In this case, I defer to an excerpt from Alan Watts, in his essay “The Dream of Life,” altered to use the above vocabulary:
I am not trying to sell you on this idea in the sense of converting you to it, I want you to play with it. I want you to think of its possibilities, I am not trying to prove it. I am just putting it forward as a possibility of life to think about. So then, let’s suppose that you were able [to enter the god machine] and dream any dream you wanted to dream, and that you could for example have the power within one night to dream 75 years of time, or any length of time you wanted to have.
And you would, naturally, as you began on this adventure of dreams, you would fulfill all your wishes. You would have every kind of pleasure during your sleep. And after several nights of 75 years of total pleasure each you would say “Well that was pretty great”. But now let’s have a surprise, let’s have a dream which isn’t under control, where something is gonna happen to me that I don’t know what it’s gonna be.
And you would dig that and would come out of that and you would say “Wow that was a close shave, wasn’t it?”. Then you would get more and more adventurous and you would make further- and further-out gambles what you would dream [of note, as one moves farther out from the center of Westworld, the more intense the experiences get. Return customers grow bored with the game and seek increasingly deeper layers to interact with]. [F]inally, you would dream where you are now. You would dream the dream of living the life that you are actually living today.
That would be within the infinite multiplicity of choices you would have [inside the god machine]. Of playing that you weren’t god, because the whole nature of the godhead, according to this idea, is to play that he is not. So in this idea then, everybody is fundamentally the ultimate reality, not god in a politically kingly sense, but god in the sense of being the self, the deep-down basic whatever there is. And you are all that, only you are pretending you are not.
As mentioned above, the theme of the game within the god machine does not matter- what matters is the creation of an experience that would be indistinguishable from reality. Even if the entire game consisted of calibrating the occupant for maximum suspension of disbelief and forcing them to choose between two doors, the logical effect on reality would be the exact same.
We have all experienced realities that are not related to “objective reality,” such as believing in a monster in the closet, a misunderstood comment, or a false preconception. In those moments, our reality was indistinguishable from “objective reality.”
Here’s the punchline:
The negation of a universal is an existential. You’ve been in Westworld all along, but it wasn’t until just now that you noticed.
This has been a guest post from a friend, renownedpsychohistorian. If you liked this post, visit his website at https://renownedpsychohistorian.wordpress.com/