Westworld and Philosophy


Westworld and Philosophy



“We can’t define consciousness because consciousness does not exist. Humans fancy that there’s something special about the way we perceive the world, and yet we live in loops as tight and as closed as the hosts do, seldom questioning our choices, content, for the most part, to be told what to do next.”

—Dr. Robert Ford, Westworld

Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality? HBO’s Westworld, a high-concept cerebral television series which explores the emergence of artificial consciousness at a futuristic amusement park, raises numerous questions about the nature of consciousness and its bearing on the divide between authentic and artificial life. Are our choices our own? What is the relationship between the mind and the body? Why do violent delights have violent ends? Could machines ever have the moral edge over man? Does consciousness create humanity, or humanity consciousness?

In Westworld and Philosophy, philosophers, filmmakers, scientists, activists, and ethicists ask the questions you’re not supposed to ask and suggest the answers you’re not supposed to know. There’s a deeper level to this game, and this book charts a course through the maze of the mind, examining how we think about humans, hosts, and the world around us on a journey toward self-actualization. Essays explore different facets of the show’s philosophical puzzles, including the nature of autonomy as well as the pursuit of liberation and free thought, while levying a critical eye at the human example as Westworld’s hosts ascend to their apotheosis in a world scarred and defined by violent acts.

The perfect companion for Westworld fans who want to exit the park and bend their minds around the philosophy behind the scenes, Westworld and Philosophywill enrich the experience of the show for its viewers and shed new light on its enigmatic twists and turns.



Publication Date







Table of Contents

Contributors: Hosts and Guests viii

Acknowledgments: “Figuring out how it all works” xv

Introduction: Taking Sides in Westworld 1

Part I “You Said This Place Was a Game” 3

1 On Playing Cowboys and Indians 5

Don Fallis

2 A Special Kind of Game 15

Nicholas Moll

3 Humans and Hosts in Westworld 26

Marcus Arvan

Part II “You’re Only Human, After All” 39

4 Crossing the Uncanny Valley 41

Siobhan Lyons

5 Revealing Your Deepest Self 50

Jason T. Eberl

6 Westworld 61

Onni Hirvonen

Part III “We Can’t Define Consciousness Because

Consciousness Does Not Exist” 71

7 Turing’s Dream and Searle’s Nightmare in Westworld 73

Lucia Carrillo González

8 What Is it like to Be a Host? 79

Bradley Richards

9 Does the Piano Play Itself? 90

Michael Versteeg and Adam Barkman

Part IV “Choices Hanging in the Air Like Ghosts” 103

10 Maeve’s Dilemma: What Does it Mean to be Free? 105

Marco Antonio Azevedo and Ana Azevedo

11 “A Place to Be Free” 114

Joshua D. Crabill

12 From William to the Man in Black 125

Kimberly S. Engels

Part V “I’ve Always Loved a Great Story…Lies That Told a Deeper Truth” 137

13 Hideous Fictions and Horrific Fates 139

Madeline Muntersbjorn

14 Narrating Gender, Gendering Narrative, and Engendering

Wittgenstein’s “Rough Ground” in Westworld 150

Lizzie Finnegan

15 The Observer(s) System and the Semiotics of Virtuality in Westworld’s Characters 162

Patricia Trapero?]Llobera

16 What Does Bernard Dream About When He Dreams About His Son? 173

Oliver Lean

Part VI “I Choose to See the Beauty” 183

17 The Dueling Productions of Westworld: Self?]Referential Art or Meta?]Kitsch? 185

Michael Forest and Thomas Beckley?]Forest

18 Beauty, Dominance, Humanity: Three Takes on Nudity in Westworld 196

Matthew Meyer

19 Sci?]Fi Western or Ancient Greek Tragedy? 206

Caterina Ludovica Baldini

Part VII “You Can’t play God Without Being Acquainted With the Devil” 217

20 Of Hosts and Men 219

François Jaquet and Florian Cova

21 Violent Births 229

Anthony Petros Spanakos

22 The Wretched of Westworld 239

Dan Dinello


Westworld and Philosophy