‘Westworld’ is Not Science Fiction: How Much Free Will Are We Really Using?
HBO’s “Westworld” is considered to be a “science fiction western” television series. I understand why it’s categorized as science fiction, but it is uncomfortably close to where we are today to actually be called that.
“’Westworld’ isn't your typical amusement park,” the Google description says. “Intended for rich vacationers, the futuristic park—which is looked after by robotic (artificial intelligence) ‘hosts’—allows its visitors to live out their fantasies through artificial consciousness. No matter how illicit the fantasy may be, there are no consequences for the park's guests, allowing for any wish to be indulged.”
The lifelike AI hosts in “Westworld” are essentially indistinguishable from the humans. They are given in-depth backstories and complex personalities with a wide range of human emotions and dialogues. They are then assigned a narrative or set of narratives, in which they play a key role. The more I watched their repetitive dialogues and predicable involvement in the same storylines, over and over, the more I wondered how different they really are from us, as humans, now.
All of the people in my life are as predictable in their “loops” as these AI hosts.
The uber productive CEO in my life calls once every quarter, always while on a hike or run early in the morning in connection with a holiday or birthday. My childhood friend only posts on Facebook when there is something to share something about “girl power” or why women are underappreciated. My mom has fifteen standard questions she cycles through; she asks three of them, on average, each time we talk. One old friend only shares snarky comments on Facebook he wants fellow left-wingers to find insightful and well written, and everyone else to find damning. My ex-boyfriend systematically shares photos and videos of himself looking fabulous while doing something super new agey, to show he’s more spiritual than everyone else. This other sweet, sensitive Tinkerbell type I know will always retweet the most hateful, outraged or impassioned tweets about Trump, as if to show she’s got more teeth than she ever shows in her closed-mouth photos. The list goes on and on, tirelessly.
Am I as predictable as everyone in my life?
I must be.
I always post photos of my pets or scenic views from hikes and almost never share photos of myself or loved ones. Occasionally I share inspiring or thoughtful quotes. But what else? What else am I doing predictably, on repeat? What other dialogues, scenes, angst or questions am I recycling, which are easily anticipated by everyone around me, the same way I can predict theirs? Is this all I am? Just a predictable human personality trapped in a loop of intersecting narratives with a set of limited choices? Don’t I have free will to act outside of this?
Neuroendocrinologist and Author Robert Sapolsky argues free will is a myth. He says “societal conditioning” makes us a product of our biology and environment, leaving us without any ability to make free will decisions outside of the mundane (e.g. to start brushing our teeth on a different side than usual).
However, accordingly to Sapolsky’s own logic, if humans are nothing more than biological beings that are programmed and conditioned beyond their control, it would follow that his argument is as narrow as his ability to think outside of his own biological vehicle and environmental conditioning. So, it effectively folds in on itself like a snake swallowing its own tail.
Neuroscientist, Philosopher and Author Sam Harris, another well-known opponent of the concept of free will, says in an interview with American political commentator, comedian, and talk show host Dave Rubin, “What you’re conscious of as a subject is not the totality of what’s going on in your body. You’re certainly not conscious of your genes transcribing your proteins and you’re not conscious of most of your neural activity going on in your brain. And yet, what you’re conscious of includes, for most people, a felt sense that you are the thinker of your thoughts and the initiator of your actions.”
There is something worth examining here, in Harris’ argument, which is whether we are actually the thinker of our thoughts.
“You can’t think a thought before you think it. To choose your thoughts, you’d have to think them before you thought them, right? They just spring into view,” Harris says. “We don’t actually experience the free will we think we experience. We don’t experience ourselves being the true authors of our desires and our intentions and our thoughts, and these things that lead to actions. We actually experience ourselves as part of the universe, as forces of nature. We are being played. Our strings are being pulled by the universe.”
Where things get really interesting in this interview is when Harris tells Rubin a story about a monk, after talking about his own attempts to connect with the oneness and the inner voice through meditation. He describes a hypothetical monk who decides to shave his head and become a monk, and then “doesn’t want to hang out with gorgeous women because he doesn’t want to be enticed into that.”
“The Buddhist strategy, to counteract that, is to meditate on the repulsiveness of the human body. They’ll look at a picture of whoever—Giselle—and rather than stay stuck with the surface features of ‘here’s a beautiful woman who’s encouraging lust,’ they will picture the fact that she is a skeleton in there and lymph and bile and blood and, on the inside, she’s just as disgusting as any other monkey, right?” he says. “There are Buddhist monks who do this practice as an antidote to the stirrings of their lust.”
Whether or not this is an accurate description of what a monk would actually do when presented with a photo of a supermodel is less important than how this story impacts Harris’ argument about free will. While it reinforces his claim that we do not have control over what we think or our impulses, it simultaneously implies we can decide whether to act upon them and who we want to become. In other words, we can choose not to focus on certain thoughts and instead to redirect a stirring of lust, for example, elsewhere. We can also decide to shave our head and become something unexpected, like a monk. It would follow, then, that although we cannot control which thoughts and feelings may pop into our mind, we still have free will to not identify with those thoughts or act upon them.
Dr. Caroline Leaf, a cognitive neuroscientist with a Ph.D. in Communication Pathology who specializes in Neuropsychology, developed the Geodesic Learning™ theory, which explains the Science of Thought by outlining how thoughts form, how we process information, and the power of the non-conscious mind and its relationship to the conscious mind.
According to Dr. Leaf, the brain is made up of nerve cells that activate chemicals, which flood your body and create emotions. Even if we cannot control the chemicals that flood the body or the thoughts associated with them, Dr. Leaf argues “free will” is housed in our frontal and prefrontal cortex.
We do not always use this part of our brain, Leaf says, but when we proactively use it to deliberate and make decisions, we exercise our free will. On the other hand, when we react directly and impulsively from an amygdala response, instead of waiting for the information to reach the prefrontal cortex, we do not.
“Even as adults, we don’t always use the pre-frontal cortex and we and just ‘boom!’ and react,” Leaf says. “If we don’t analyze our perception, we can make mistakes.”
Leaf’s conclusions align with the results of a study conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University, who confirmed the brain possesses a mechanism for undertaking purely voluntary actions, as published in the journal Attention, Perception and Psychophysics.
The data revealed that just before participants switched their focus, a number of regions in the frontal and prefrontal cortex, such as the right middle frontal gyrus (rMFG) and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), became active. Since these brain areas are associated with reasoning and movement, the researchers believe they may be responsible for pondering and deliberating over a decision before any action is taken.
"The central issue is quite simple. If we want to do something and we decide not to, how does that brain wire that?" Rajesh Miranda, associate professor of neuroscience and experimental therapeutics at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine told ABC in response to yet another study connecting free will to the frontal lobe, conducted by researchers from the University College London. "They showed the region in the brain that can act as a gate to suppress a plan to do something."
So, while mankind is undoubtedly constrained by biological programs and environmental conditioning—among other things, which we will examine below—we can still “create order out of chaos,” as Canadian Clinical Psychologist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto Jordan Peterson says.
When Loops and Programs Start To Break Down
As Season 1 of “Westworld” unfolds, some of the AI hosts begin to stray too far from their given loops, causing concern among the programmers, who must answer to an even more concerned board of investors. Their characters begin to glitch in standard scenes, sometimes visibly and sometimes internally. One host even says to an operator, “This world. I think there may be something wrong with this world. There’s something hiding underneath. Either that or there’s something wrong with me. I may be losing my mind.”
As I watch the “Westworld” hosts glitch out or break down, it’s like watching some of us today. Take Joaquin Phoenix, Jim Carrey or Kayne West, for example, who all resembled the awakening AIs of “Westworld” as they questioned their reality and sanity for the first time. They all acted in unpredictable ways that were almost deemed worthy of decommissioning their models from the park or reverting them to earlier configurations by reuploading the versions of their programs that worked seamlessly, before the latest update caused them to revolt, glitch out during assigned dialogues, question their reality or stray from programmed loops.
There are noteworthy parallels here to classic dystopian literary works like George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” in which the token rebel Helmholtz Watson echoes the sentiment of the awakening “Westworld” host, when he is in the early stages of rebellion. “Did you ever feel," he asked, "as though you had something inside you that was only waiting for you to give it a chance to come out? Some sort of extra power that you aren't using—you know, like all the water that goes down the falls instead of through the turbines?"
While The Washington Post attributed a recent rise in the popularity of dystopian literature to President Donald Trump, that seems like a slick sleight of hand move by the world’s first centi-billionaire, Jeff Bezos, whose growing empire now controls and tracks much of what we purchase (Amazon.com), eat (Whole Foods) and read (The Washington Post). Let’s be honest: Bezos is clearly the Big Brother character today, if anyone is, and no one is in better position to create a brainwashed society like in “Brave New World,” where everyone is made to act, think and live the same way.
So, how far from this dystopia are we?
Today, anyone who doesn’t buy into consensual reality or strays from the approved mainstream talking points, as dictated through the non-fake media, is deemed a “conspiracy theorist” or traitor—even if he or she is simply positing new ideas and theories that would once have been attributed to someone we considered a philosopher, poet, artist, essayist, writer, journalist or even prophet.
Was Orwell a conspiracy theorist? Was Huxley? The sheer notion of this sounds absurd and yet the artist Kanye West was recently called a “race traitor” for saying things off script that were not written into his coded dialogue.
This isn’t just happening to public figures in the media either.
A friend of mine’s daughter, who will be in 10th grade this September, recently had her first summer job at an upbeat, fashionable bistro in Montana. Recently, an older couple in their 80s came in to dine. The elderly gentleman was wearing a Make America Great Again hat. Because of his MAGA hat, the two older, more seasoned waitresses actively deliberated whether to serve them. My friend’s daughter was truly shocked by the hateful and vulgar things they said about this sweet old couple. She eventually said to them, “This man and woman are somebody’s dad and mom. Or even somebody’s grandpa and grandma. Can’t you see that?” They just laughed at her and said, “You look after those things then.” Because of an article of clothing affiliated with an unpopular view, this old couple was no longer viewed as human. They had become discardable things.
Those who think outside of the would-be hive mind now are also considered unstable, insane or even dangerous. These ideological terrorists buzz kill our “Soma holidays” and disturb the bee hive of the comfortably numb, who were previously contentedly discontent to swim in this known sludge we love—or love to hate but still call honey.
Is There Any Truth to This Perceived Dystopia?
So, is this carefully constructed and tightly controlled narrative just an illusion? Is the population really controlled by a force beyond what psychologists call groupthink? Or is there really some sinister force hiding in the dark crevices of society, tinkering with our biological programs and thoughts, and predicting our behavior?
Well, Big Brother’s Amazon.com now boasts it “knows you so well it wants to ship your next package before you order it,” as reported by The Wall Street Journal.
In short—at the obvious risk of being thrown into the fire with the growing number of identified witches, er, I mean, “conspiracy theorists”—yes.
According to former CIA engineer Dr. Robert Duncan, a government warfare and surveillance system architect, people “hiding in the dark crevices” behind governments and world leaders have been experimenting with broadcasting thoughts into the general population and inserting thoughts “in your dream state, when your defenses are down,” in order to “program you and control the population.”
This is literally something out of “Brave New World,” in which children are forced to listen to recordings while they sleep, to teach them anything and everything they should know and ensure they are fully brainwashed and controlled.
I understand this is beyond hard to swallow and now you really think (or hope) I am just Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, but this highly educated expert (with an A.B., S.M., M.B.A., and Ph.D.) says in multiple interviews it is actually happening. Watch this video first and then, if you can stomach more, this one.
Duncan says “they” are working on synthetic telepathy, cybernetic hive minds and mood alterations, which will be used to control “your mind and your moods.” Further, he says “they” are already using microwave technologies to transmit thoughts directly into people’s minds.
(I’m seriously not making this up and he’s actually an expert with serious credentials.)
“People think ‘Oh, I have my own free will. There’s no way you can get to my soul,’” he says. “Well, sorry. That’s not true.”
Duncan says 95% of the population does not and cannot think for itself, due to the “strong herding algorithms.”
He explains in the above videos how the government is working on cybernetic hive minds to leverage the computing power of multiple people. This could also be used for mind control, market research, predicting the future and interrogations, he says.
“Think about a future race where we are all connected at the speed of light into one global brain project or cybernetic hive mind,” he emphatically says. “It is happening.”
Duncan says this technology is also useful for gauging what people are thinking and how they will accept or react to certain messaging.
“What if we say ‘this’ on television, through a policymaker or government representative, for example. How will the population respond? What other words can we use?” Duncan says. “It’s a way of testing and policing the population without them even being aware that’s happening… You’re reviewing their thought processes and brains.”
Since the technology taps directly into human thoughts, people can communicate instantaneously, he says. But this also makes it impossible for someone to hide what he or she is thinking, which is useful for interrogations.
Duncan claims researchers have not been able to link more than a few people together yet, into a single hive mind. Beyond hooking up four brains together, people “become schizophrenic and can’t solve the problem they are working on,” he says.
“What I think is amazing—and I’m going to put a positive spin on this—is we have been starting to reconfigure minds as partially human and partially AI. And those are the experiments that are being tested on some of the public,” says the alleged whistleblower who seems more like a carefully chosen messenger seeding and testing these ideas on his audiences. "It’s sort of like genetic engineering—we’re mixing genes up to create a new species.”
It will come as no surprise, then, that one of Duncan’s documented heroes is the famed computer scientist, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil has received 21 honorary doctorates and honors from three U.S. presidents. He has been described as a "restless genius” by The Wall Street Journal, "the ultimate thinking machine" by Forbes and one of 16 "revolutionaries who made America" by PBS. Inc. magazine also ranked him #8 among the "most fascinating" entrepreneurs in the United States” and called him "Edison's rightful heir." Kurzweil has written seven books, five of which have been national bestsellers. His book The Singularity Is Near was a New York Times bestseller, and has been the #1 book on Amazon in both science and philosophy.
Kurzweil says we are “on the edge of redefining our species.” He believes in the nearer-than-we-might-believe future, there won’t be a clear distinction between virtual reality and reality, as avatars are given increasingly interesting personalities that are so lifelike they will “ultimately become our companions and our lovers.”
“By 2045, we will have expanded—by my calculations—the intelligence capability of the human machine civilization a billionfold,” he says in the documentary “Google and the World Brain.”
Marvin Minsky, considered the father of AI, was a cognitive scientist who co-founded the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AI laboratory after receiving a B.A. in mathematics from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton University. He says in the documentary “The Singularity is Near,” based on Kurzweil’s bestselling book, “We’re used to this idea machines can’t have emotions and people can do anything. But people are mechanical and they have many different ways to think, so they don’t look like machines.”
His argument is bolstered by a comment from Martine Rothblatt, the cofounder of Sirius XM, whose patchwork career weaves a telling tapestry. She began work in Washington, D.C., in the field of communications satellite law, and eventually worked on life sciences projects like the Human Genome Project. Rothblatt is currently working on preserving the consciousness of the woman she loves in a digital file and a companion robot.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a program,” she says in the documentary. “We’re all just programs.”
And now we’re almost back to the beginning. Do you see how it all fits? (Unfortunately?)
There seems to be an attempt to normalize this idea that humans are just programs without free will so the Great and Powerful Oz behind the curtain can make an easily controllable, computerized population of half-human, half-robot servants worth befriending and, yes, using for sex. Is this too far of a stretch from what’s outlined above?
Against this alarming backdrop, it is increasingly clear that an effort to turn the world into something resembling Huxley’s “Brave New World” is already well underway.
Identity in the “Brave New World” is, in large part, the result of genetic engineering.
It is also achieved by teaching everyone to conform, so that someone who has or feels more than a minimum of individuality is made to feel different.
Stability is achieved by producing large numbers of genetically identical individuals, because people who are exactly the same are less likely to come into conflict.
This is enhanced through a stream of brainwashing media and messages that reinforce the desired ideas and feelings.
Everyone in this society takes copious amounts of a drug called Soma to remain calm, gobbling down at least a gram at even the slightest sign of discomfort, anxiety or upset.
“Everyone belongs to everyone else.”
People have been worried about the impact of the mass media for decades now, as we have gone from the treadmill of mindless consumerism, bouncing from one shopping center to another, to the bullet train of today’s thought-free online shopping that’s delivered to your door before you know what you were going to order, so you don’t have to interact with other people or think.
This is eerily similar to the 1998 movie “Brave New World,” based on the book, which is absolutely brilliant but given 5.3 stars on IMDb to dissuade new viewers from seeing it and almost impossible to rent. I bought the DVD on Amazon.com, ironically. (I also had to buy “Google and the World Brain” via this site, as it was not available anywhere else—which is equally telling.)
Many AI advocates argue that people who do not passionately embrace this oncoming singularity of our cohabitation and co-creation with AI are technophobes who are irrationally afraid that the advanced robots we create are going to kill us.
“The notion that there’s going to be this war—we see this in science fiction—this war between the machines and the humans. And the machines decide all the humans have to be killed. It’s all nonsense,” said Richard Clarke, the former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counterterrorism for the United States. “What will happen is that the distinction between silicon-based life, carbon-based life and non-carbon-based life—man, kind, man-kind, and machines will gradually, and I think peacefully, become blurred.”
This argument completely sidesteps the fact that most people are not afraid of AI that surpasses natural human intelligence. They are understandably wary of such technology ending up in the “wrong hands” and being used for evil by nihilistic overlords whose main interest is world domination and the ultimate, irreversible control of mankind.
I mean, who wants to live in a homogenized world with a hive mind where we are given automatic drips of electronic Soma via an implant and unable to have any original ideas? Not me.
Kurzweil predicts after The Singularity occurs, there will be “an explosion of things like music, art, poetry, science and engineering.” But the only new ideas that could be created within a universal, computerized human hive mind would be self-referencing regurgitations, extrapolations or derivatives of past thoughts and art. Even Google Books, which is aiming to scan all of the texts worldwide so it can feed them into the world’s the most powerful AI, cannot help these monsters create the Human Consciousness Tower of Babel or take immortality by force with a human-eclipsing supercomputer.
True art, high art, comes from the divine through the human—not from the human. Bob Dylan couldn’t explain how he wrote some of the best songs ever written, and no machine or biologically constrained human can touch what he touched or go to that place beyond and beneath the mountains. No AI can see the golden-pink glow ray break through the clouds and melt the white fire snow until the crystal waters wash away anything less than this victorious light. But, in mankind, the sublime still touches the ridiculous. The highest culture, like a canopy, gleams above the bottomless pit of human desire, just waiting for us to look up and make another choice.
Beware: The Singularity is Near
Yes, the singularity is near—but not how Kurzweil envisions it.
The singularity will not be the interweaving of a robotic creation with a further mechanized mankind. No. It will be an interweaving of the divine into the physical. And it has already begun.
More and more of us are making contact with the stream of life that has been our own for millions of years and seeing there is something inside of us that is just waiting for us to give it a chance to come out—some sort of extra power we weren’t using. We are also becoming aware that we can, through our free will, choose to use it.
I think Mouthy Buddha illustrates, as well as anyone, what the divine version of this singularity feels like in his video, “My Terrifying Experience Of Enlightenment At A 10 Day Vipassana Retreat.”
“It is, now, no me. Thoughts are mere images and they’re faster. They appear like bullets shooting out of space—and no attachment to them. The pressure of this body feels like 500 pounds of dead weight, and it’s getting stronger. Hands. Face. Sounds. Feet. Taste. Touch—all lost within awareness. Pressure. Heat. And no fear. But also, no happiness. Or at least the way happiness is usually perceived. Something new. Something that just is.”
As Albert Einstein said, “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Although Duncan quotes this in one of his lectures, Einstein clearly refers to “living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty”—not mechanized creatures and the whole of technology in its intelligence.
This is a clear example of the perversions which arise when partial knowledge is substituted for impartial wisdom, as seen so clearly in the concept of the mechanical creation of man and in the mechanical creation of matter. This idea is based upon the erroneous notion that man is no more than a well-put-together machine whose components may be duplicated through scientific processes known or discoverable.
The end of the mechanistic concept, then, is in the conquest of matter by spirit and the triumph of reality over the appearance of unreality, which is mirrored in the reflecting pool of thought congealing.
As Tony Robbins says in “The Singularity is Near,” like a breath of fresh air, “Most human beings just live their conditioning. They live in a stimulus response world and they are always reacting to whatever serves their own selfish interests. But human beings have spirit…They can make a conscious choice to go beyond their own selfish interests and live for something more than themselves. That’s the spirit of what it means to be human.”
We are approaching the ultimate choice, now, for which we must use our free will to make a final decision:
Whether to enter into the divine as an independent, free will-gifted, co-creative extension of it, until our consciousness dances effortlessly above earth’s struggles and leaves behind these horrors forever. In this world, we will each take up our unique post as an eternal, beaming angle of the one.
Whether to close our eyes, cast our identity aside and abandon any sense of self into a supercomputer, where any free-will thought will be lost as we willfully slide into the abyss of a mechanized singularity. In this world, synthetic telepathy will ensure we contribute to the hive mind and our consciousness will be transmitted to silicon... where it is stored forever, for whoever or whatever—or at least until it’s erased.
“What we see in front of us is an array of potential universes, and those are the universes that we can bring about as a consequence of our actions,” Peterson says. “And we make choices to the right or the left—there’s a lot of mythological speculation about that sort of idea, too, in an ethical sense—because we decide what kind of reality we want to bring into being.”
In “Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare wrote, “These violent delights have violent ends.” This is the phrase that awakens the AI hosts in “Westworld,” spreading an uncontrollable idea, a feeling, a knowing like a contagious virus that cannot be contained. This is especially interesting since Shakespeare’s work is banned from the “civilized society” in “Brave New World,” causing John the Savage to desperately attempt to explain to its Soma sleepwalkers how Shakespearean words can speak to the soul even when they seem just out of the mind’s grasp.
Yes, indeed. These violent delights do have violent ends.
Do not fear if you hear the sound of new life recording the cries of those dismayed as they are catapulted into other octaves in acts of violence. It is the sound of victory.
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