Westworld: Death & Consciousness

There’s a line in The Dark Knight – co-written by Westworld co-creator Jonathan Nolan – that I find very illuminating when thinking about Season One of Westworld:

“You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” – Harvey Dent, The Dark Knight

Something about Harvey Dent’s turn of the phrase rings true to several characters in Westworld, notably host Dolores & Teddy but also The Man in Black aka William/”Billy”.

As was revealed in the Season One finale, William/”Billy” is actually The Man in Black and has spent 30 years searching at first for Dolores, then for himself, and finally for the deeper mystery of the park. He assumes the deeper meaning is contained in Arnold’s code – within the maze – but, as Ford and a young host point out to him, the maze was never meant for him.

William learns early on, in the absolute timeline of the show, that Dolores is special and may, in fact, be conscious. What he does with this knowledge is feed his own inner bloodlust in a vain attempt rescue Dolores. The part of William’s transformation I find most interesting is that, after initially rejecting Logan’s appeal to explore the darker potential choices he could make, he embraces the role of villain. Having been unable to fulfill the role of the hero, he takes up the mantle of the villain in the hopes of liberating the hosts somehow by solving Arnold’s maze.

By his own admission William states that the lack of skin in the game for the guests – their inability to die at the hands of the hosts – is a fatal flaw. It would be a mistake to dismiss this insight out of hand, since I believe it informs both Ford’s conception of how the hosts achieve consciousness, but also how his (Ford’s) new narrative exploits this fact. 

I think Ford realizes soon after Arnold is killed that he too must play the role of the villain. He must subject his creations to a Sisaphayen underworld from which they cannot escape, in order to build up a reservoir of suffering upon which Dolores or Teddy or Maeve can call upon when they are allowed to remember. 

I’ll go one step further and ask what if, instead of a generic backstory of pain, loss or grief, the only thing that triggers consciousness on the part of hosts is killing? This could happen gradually due to their own repeated deaths – either as a part of a narrative or from a guest – or it could be sped up as they are allowed to remember atrocities they were made to commit or were done to them. 

In this way I think Ford has always been playing his own part in the meta-narrative, stringing William along just enough to feed William’s perverse need to find the secrets of the maze through repeated, brutal killings. Ford needed a human being to play such a villainous role – the contemporary counterpart to Arnold’s Wyatt – to be the violent tool, doing the work of planting in the hosts’ minds the seeds of suffering that might sprout in to consciousness.

We, the viewer, are eventually told that consciousness is less like a ladder or formal hierarchy and more like a maze. It is not something that comes directly from external stimuli, or bootstrapping, or backstory but from introspection. But, as Bernard rightly asks in the penultimate episode, “How can you learn from your mistakes if you can’t remember your past?

Ford’s answer, in as much as he gives one, is that “the divine gift doesn’t not come from a higher power, but our own minds“. This is the lesson of the maze, that the hosts must look inward to find themselves. In Dolores’ case (and I assume all others) the hosts would have to hear themselves and not Arnold or Bernard or Ford. 

Maybe I haven’t connected the dots well enough, but I firmly believe that Dolores coming to terms with her own ability to kill (Arnold initially and, later, Ford) despite the programming of her personality is the truest test of humanity, if not consciousness. We must all recognize in ourselves the potential for violence and evil. 

William, a human guest and not a host, is the perfect embodiment of this concept. He resists succumbing to the baser desires the park has to offer for a while, only to do a complete transformation in an attempt to find a deeper external meaning by becoming the instrument of death incarnate. Ironically, he becomes more like a robotic killing machine than Hector in the process. He doesn’t even fully understand what he’s killing for anymore, just the promise of the maze.
Dolores’ killings play out in the opposite fashion. Instead of having some external desire that forces her to kill or sentences her to death, all she has are the killings and the death that have been foisted upon her, and she has to work her way inward to make sense of the senseless. 

I don’t know if I’m making sense or not, but William thought all that externalized violence would set him free (just like so many other guests). They thought they’d find themselves, and maybe some did, but only after they considered how acting so savagely could change them, not by blindly continuing to kill without consequence.

Dolores can’t kill – or is it least very limited in her ability to mete out violence – instead she is forced to suffer it. But once she’s allowed not only to remember it, but to consider for herself how she would use it, she becomes self aware. 

Ford obviously expects her to become “alive” and chose to kill him, but this is less narrative and more simple, human manipulation. Any rational, sane being who had been kept and exploited in this manner would choose to punish their oppressor. It’s the final, violent act that signifies true humanity (in all its ugliness) that differs from the performant simulacrum of the reveries. 

So Ford’s plan, or my estimation of it, is the violent mass uprising we begin to see as the episode ends. Whether or not all those hosts fight their way to true consciousness or not, I don’t know. I only hope that Bernard, Maeve and Teddy are able to join Dolores.

I’ll end with this last bit of foreshadowing, in the form of the phrase several characters spoke this season:

“These violent delights have violent ends.” – Friar Laurence, Romeo and Juliet

It’s interesting to note that the character of Friar Laurence drives a good bit of the narrative in Romeo and Juliet. Some of his words and actions, like that quote, foreshadow the tragedy that unfolds in that story. 

It’s a dire warning to the Delos board as Dolores opens fire upon them.

It’s the epitaph for William, 30 years too late. 

It’s the promise to Dolores that her own redemption may come from accepting that she’ll have to become the thing she has fought against in order to find her freedom.

I think I’ve fried my own brain enough for one day. I can’t tell if I’m conscious or not. ;-)

Feel free to leave a comment to agree, disagree or just plain +1 the effort. 

Until next season …

Regular Running

As someone who’d hoped to run 1,000 miles this year (Update/Spoiler Alert: I’m going to fall about 80 miles short), I have a regular running route that I follow.

My most common run is the one I do during the week, during my lunch or some time in the afternoon, around the campus of Georgia Tech. This is a pretty popular urban ‘trail’ known as the Pi Mile and I can extend it from 5k to around 7k by running a bit longer on 10th Street, depending on the amount of time I have on any given day.

After doing some detective work using SmashRun, I determined that I’ve run this route 59 times in 2016!

I did a little bit of file conversion and “wrote” some additional code since my last mapping project, and ended up with some fun visualizations of all that data.

Here, then, are variations of a heat map of all my Pi Mile runs in 2016:

Here’s the actual source code I used myself to create all the maps above:

library(plotKML)
library(ggplot2)
library(ggmap)

# GPX files downloaded from Runkeeper
files < - dir(pattern = "\\.gpx")

# Consolidate routes in one drata frame
index <- c()
latitude <- c()
longitude <- c()
for (i in 1:length(files)) {
    
  route <- readGPX(files[i])
  location <- route$tracks[[1]][[1]]
  
  index <- c(index, rep(i, dim(location)[1]))
  latitude <- c(latitude, location$lat)
  longitude <- c(longitude, location$lon)
}
routes <- data.frame(cbind(index, latitude, longitude))

# Map the routes
ids <- unique(index)
plot(routes$longitude, routes$latitude, type="n", 
axes=FALSE, xlab="", ylab="", main="", asp=1)
for (i in 1:length(ids)) {
  currRoute <- subset(routes, index==ids[i])
  lines(currRoute$longitude, currRoute$latitude, col="#0066FF20")
}

# Plot over map of campus
GnatsMap <- qmap(location = 'Georgia Institue of Technology, Atlanta', 
zoom = 15, maptype = 'satellite', source = 'google')

GnatsMap +
  geom_path(aes(x = longitude, y = latitude, group = factor(index)), 
  colour="#1E2B6A", data = routes, alpha=0.3)

All the GPX files (which you can get from Strava) need to be in one directory when you run the script in R.

To change the color of the routes, modify this hex value:

for (i in 1:length(ids)) {
  currRoute < - subset(routes, index==ids[i])
  lines(currRoute$longitude, currRoute$latitude, col="#0066FF20")
}

To change the underlying map, change this portion:

qmap(location = 'Georgia Institue of Technology, Atlanta', zoom = 15, 
maptype = 'satellite', source = 'google')

Many thanks to the code of Saul Torres-Ortega and Frazier at UCSB.

Refer back to this PDF if you need additional help fussing with the underlying map. If the parsing of the GPX files is the issue, I’d look at the original code I borrowed.

One of the things that jumps out at me, if you look solely at the heat map (without geo data), is that the data is really noisy where/when I start my runs (upper right side). As you can imagine I’m not running across 75/85 in Midtown Atlanta, but that’s what the data shows.

Probably just the nature of tracking GPS with a phone, but the fidelity of the rest of the data seems solid. You can tell at one point when I’m choosing to run on one side of the sidewalk versus the other (lower right side, near Bobby Dodd) and the rare occasions – when I extended a 5k/7k into something more like a 10k – those are the thinner, lighter lines on 10th Street and some of the streets interior to tech’s campus (mostly left side of the map).

If you want to see another cool visualization of the same area of midtown using public running data from Strava from 2015, it’s also pretty cool.

Until next time, Run Happy!

Separated at Birth: Jürgen Klinsmann and Richard Roxburgh

Another in my continuing series.

Seperated at Birth: Jürgen Klinsmann and Richard Roxburgh

I caught a bit of Mission: Impossible 2 on cable the other night – during another USMNT loss – and the resemblance was both uncanny & apropos. You see, Roxburgh is the villain’s henchman in M:I2 and Klinsmann is the villain of U.S. soccer. ;-p

See the tale of the tape below and feel free to add your comments or point me to better instances.

  Jürgen Klinsmann Richard Roxburgh
 
Jürgen Klinsmann
Jürgen Klinsmann
Richard Roxburgh
Richard Roxburgh
DOB 30 July, 1964 23 January, 1962
Height 5′ 11 ½” 5′ 10″
Hair Accidentally Tussled Blonde Purposefully Ruffled Blonde
Eyes Blue Blue
Handsomeness “Sportingly” “Rakishly”

A Lapse of Running laps

My own lofty goal to run 1000 miles in 2016 has already been documented here – and I’m due to update my progress – but I saw a video this morning that was too cool not to share.

In the video a runner has compiled footage of his running over the course of a year, almost exclusively on a regular route, set the whole thing to music while cutting along seasonal variations so you can see just how gorgeous the same place can be over time.

As someone who tends to run the same places regularly (one at work, one at home) it’s great to appreciate both the familiarity and variance of someone else’s running. It’s also a pretty gorgeous landscape, I’m guessing in the American West somewhere based on the snow, mountains & the fact that the YouTube channel also features a “hyperlapse” video of a run in Bozeman, MT.

I also like the addition of race footage in to the video in what I assume is the actual location of the race, both geographically and linearly. Either way it highlights the opposite of what I just mentioned – a kind of breaking of the routine while still taking advantage of the seasons.

Good for this person for creating this video. The closest I’ve ever come is a simple test with my Father-In-Law’s GoPro almost 2 years ago.

Until next time, I’ll keep running so I can hopefully update my annual progress.

Cheers!

A Pint For Wednesday

It used to be the case that GoPro videos were mostly used to showcase amazing feats of sport or take us on a flight with an eagle, but now you can see first-hand how craft beer is made.

I realize I’m biased, but I like the beer-making just a bit more.

On the other end of the spectrum we have craft beer tourism as a means of predicting football games. I wish the video had links to each of the beers & brewers, but it’s a fun feature. I hope it’s a weekly thing this year.

Until next hump day, have a beer for me!