Developing Cornerstones

I recently finished watching the HBO show Westworld. I have to comment on what an emotional journey it was. With its many plot twists, this show was as captivating as it was great at projecting key messages. Also the fact this was accomplished as a Western – a genre I’m generally not a fan of, is quite remarkable.

Warning: This post contains major spoilers from the show. Please stop reading if you haven’t finished the show.

Even a badass Rachel McAdams can’t salvage anything for the characters at the end of Season 2 of True Detective

Thankfully, unlike Season 2 of True Detective which leaves the viewer with limited closure and feelings of emptiness (i.e. the world is sh*t place), Westworld – despite its savage ending, provides reason for optimism at its conclusion.

I could touch on many of the key themes which make this show so engaging. However, the one theme which I connected with the most, was the idea of ‘cornerstones’ – a group of memories which an individual bases their conscious existence around.

This topic resonated with me as in its essence, it captured what I want to achieve with this space. Put simply, the entire objective of this blog has been to establish a cornerstone which would enable an indestructible belief in the path ahead. And so through discussion of one of the shows major plot lines, I intend to show how this acts as an analogy for a struggle myself and I suspect many other people face.

Understanding the symbolism of the maze begins with making your own choices

As briefly mentioned, one of the major plot lines of the show, centres around the attainment of consciousness (broadly defined as the ability to ‘freely’ perceive the world) by the hosts (lifelike humanoid robots), who live in the sci-fi theme park of Westworld. The hosts are initially implanted with false memories to base their identity around (i.e. their cornerstone), but are given the opportunity to create their own cornerstone by completing a ‘maze’ designed by their creators, to guide them towards consciousness.

During the season, multiple hosts attempt to complete this task, only to fail at the last step. This is because they unable to replace their implanted memories with ones of their own choosing (i.e. they are unable to define themselves in their own right – an action suggested as the final step in attaining true consciousness).

The delivery and ability to elicit such emotion by Anthony Hopkins is still impeccable.

Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), director and co-creator of Westworld, states his late business partner, Arnold believed the key to the hosts gaining consciousness was through pain – which is why he usually gave them traumatic cornerstones, especially when considering pain provided opportunities for the hosts to experience the full depth of human emotion.

Dolores may have pulled the trigger but it wasn’t a truly conscious decision.

This quest ultimately led to Arnold’s downfall when he started experimenting with ‘real’ cornerstones (e.g. rapes, murders and other extreme forms of violence) instead of implanting false memories. This was because by allowing the hosts to retain these  ‘real’ memories, he could no longer differentiate their pain from ‘real’ human pain – and is why Arnold kills himself.

Late in the season, Ford admits he thought Arnold had the wrong idea about consciousness; until he learnt from the pain experienced from Arnold’s death. Once he understood the power of painful memories, Ford set about realising Arnold’s dream (which became Ford’s cornerstone) until the season’s climax where he delivers one of his closing monologues:

‘There is no threshold that makes us greater than the sum of our parts, no inflection point at which we become fully alive. 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…’

That moment when the voice in your head is purely your own and free from all pretence of others.

Just as Ford explained, in a way, before I ‘entered the maze’, I was as lost as the hosts in the show. And just like the hosts, I had to enter the maze multiple times, only to reach the end and realise I needed to roll myself back and start again. I often find this process becomes harder as the stakes rise and is again captured by Ford in his final goodbye to Bernard (Arnold reincarnated as a host).

Ford apologies for the further pain Bernard must endure before he can finally reach consciousness, and this acknowledges the hard work and sacrifice required to truly understand yourself. It also shows that even though Ford was essentially playing ‘God’ over Westworld, he was constrained by the the loops of human perception, and through his final act (his death – at the hands of a conscious act by one of the hosts) suggested that the path of defining your own cornerstones rests solely with you.

dr ford and dolores finale westworld
Good luck 🙂

I’ll conclude here by saying the more iterations of the maze we embark on, the clearer the person we envisage for ourselves becomes. However, these iterations need to be undertaken on a personal level and must be exempt from the bias of others. And only once we have undertaken this process enough times, can we understand how to create a cornerstone which will enable true ‘consciousness.’


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