Circular maze

How Westworld Reveals the Hidden Secrets of an Ancient Spiritual Philosophy

Westworld is the best television show I’ve ever seen — thanks to the powerful spiritual message hidden just beneath the surface (just as it is in our life).

Premiering in October 2016, the television series Westworld had the most-watched season premiere ever for an original HBO series. “It averaged 11.7 million viewers throughout the season, beating out Game of Thrones in its first season, according to Polygon. “Between the millions of viewers tuning in each week, fans of the show also took to social media to discuss and dissect theories, plots, and twists” — dominating the conversation throughout the fall, according to AdWeek.

I don’t have cable TV so I missed the whole phenomenon at its launch. I’m just catching up now thanks to cable TV access over the past few weeks. I’d intended to binge watch The Wire, which everyone raves about. But ended up watching Big Little Lies and Westworld instead. I actually watched Westworld’s entire 10 episodes twice.

When it was recommended to me, I wasn’t too excited, because I’m not a sci-fi or western fan — and I really don’t plan to join the conversation about AI. It’s just not what I want to spend my time on earth engaged in. However, I thought I’d take a look, since I was bored with The Wire before the end of the first episode.

I was immediately hooked by the opening scene. It begins with a disembodied older man’s voice speaking to a young girl, named Dolores, who is sitting naked in a chair in the middle of a large room in what looks like some techie lab. We see her and hear her voice, but her lips are not moving. Meanwhile, a fly is climbing across her face.

Disembodied Male Voice — “Do you know where you are?”
Dolores — “I’m in a dream.”
Voice — “That’s right, Dolores. You’re in a dream. Would you like to wake up from this dream?”
Dolores — “Yes. I’m terrified.”
Voice — “There’s nothing to be afraid of, Dolores, as long as you answer my questions correctly. Understand?”
Dolores — “Yes.”
Voice — “Good. First, have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?”
Dolores — “No.”
Voice — “Tell us what you think of your world.”
Dolores — “Some people choose to see the ugliness in this world. The disarray. I choose to see the beauty. To believe there is an order to our days, a purpose.”

This scene conjures up so many questions. Who is the girl? Why is she naked and acting like a robot? Who is the disembodied voice, speaking to her like some kind of God from above? Why is she terrified? Why is she so Pollyanna–ish if she is so terrified?

A Modern Gnostic Fairytale

The show is described in many ways, including as a sci-fi drama about AI and human evil. One description says it’s “a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin. Set at the intersection of the near future and the reimagined past, it explores a world in which every human appetite, no matter how noble or depraved, can be indulged.”

That is true — on the surface. However, I found a much deeper meaning to the drama — a meaning that was carried forward throughout all 10 episodes. I view the story as an exceptionally well-told allegory with a deep spiritual message. In my opinion, Westworld is a Gnostic fairytale about humans, the divine, the maker of this world we live in, the search for the real divine God, and finding the way out. As a result, I believe it’s one of the most important television shows we’ve ever watched — and a show that everyone should watch from the right perspective — as a Gnostic fairytale.

Gnosticism is from the Greek root word for “knowledge.” It is a religious and philosophical framework that was used by many ancient civilizations to understand the world, their lives, God, and the way out of this world and to the divine world. The goal of practitioners of Gnosticism is to attain the knowledge they need to know the truth about their reality — and find the path to escape our mundane world permanently.

Gnostics want out of this world, because they know it’s an illusion created by a malevolent being who they call the “demiurge” (meaning an artisan-like figure responsible for fashioning and maintaining the physical universe). There is a complex philosophy around the evilness of the demiurge that I’ll explain in future posts. However, in short, this creator is twisted, possessive, and vindictive (think: old testament God). He, indeed, created man. But now he wants nothing more than to keep mankind as captive here in this forsaken place filled with misery, pain, and hopelessness.

The demiurge despises humans’ desire for knowledge (“don’t eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge”), because if they acquire the right knowledge they will no longer be slaves to him and his creation. They will become as real divine Gods and immediately leave this world. The demiurge has many devious ways to keep humans deluded about the true nature of reality (fake religions, false worldly love, sensual delights, the ego, to name a few) — and keep them trapped. As is clearly evident by the overpopulation of this earth, he is clearly winning his little game of entrapment (note: he has a lot of help — think: evangelicals and republicans).

In the Gnostic view, each man or woman’s salvation comes about from transcending internally through one’s own self after gaining the essential wisdom required to access their higher consciousness. Westworld hints at this worldview brilliantly — in many moments of compelling storytelling.

Westworld’s Gnostic Revelations

(Note – if you don’t want any spoilers at all from the show, stop here. However, my excerpts could help you understand the deep spiritual message hiding just under the surface and make the show that much more meaningful.)

Throughout the first season, Dolores has many conversations with a character named Bernard. We learn that he is one of the main operators of the Westworld amusement park. His main job is to monitor the behavior of the “hosts,” which are what the robotic “AI” characters living in the amusement park (fake world) are called. Throughout his conversations with Dolores, we learn about her confusion with her existence and the nature of the world in which she lives — and to escape her desire, such as these lines:

Dolores — “I think there may be something wrong with this world. Something hiding underneath. Either that or … or there’s something wrong with me. I may be losing my mind.”
Bernard — “There’s something I’d like you to try. It’s a game — a secret. It’s called The Maze.”
Dolores — “What kind of game is it?”
Bernard — “It’s a very special kind of game, Dolores. The goal is to find the center of it. If you can do that, then maybe you can be free.”
Dolores — “I think I want to be free.”

From a Gnostic perspective, this dialogue reveals two secrets, not just about Dolores, but about all humans: one, that the world souls live in does not make sense and makes us crazy (or sad, or scared, or miserable), and the inner longing of every single person is to be free of this crazy-inducing place.

Dolores speaks to this same inner longing for something far beyond this place in this snippet of dialogue:

Dolores — “I’m not sure you’ll understand. Sometimes I feel like something’s calling me. Telling me there’s a place for me … somewhere beyond all this.”

At some point, Dolores starts sharing her hidden thoughts with other characters, such as in this snippet of dialogue, which shows that everyone isn’t always open to the truth:

Dolores — “There’s something you’re seeking, isn’t there? I know what that feels like. I’m seeking something, too. If you let us, I know we can help you.
El Lazo/Lawrence — “How is it the lunatics always find their way to me?”

In episode one, Dolores’ father, Peter, who is a rancher, finds a photo of a modern woman standing in Times Square. Something about the photo intrigues and scares him — and forces him to start questioning the nature of his reality. He’s sitting on the porch in a state of shock and concern. Dolores appears and asks him how he’s doing. Here’s his answer:

Peter — “I had a question. A question you’re not supposed to ask. Which gave me an answer you’re not supposed to know.”
Peter — (to Dolores) “You should go. Leave. Don’t you see? Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”

Peter’s reply speaks to the idea that, like the robots, humans are not supposed to ask the questions that the creator god doesn’t want us to know the answer to. Ultimately, Peter gains a flicker of realization of the truth, something that doesn’t bode well for his longevity in Westworld.

A recurring character in Dolores’ life is Teddy, her love interest. However, he always dies in a gunfight before they can achieve their dream of being together and leaving that place. But Dolores is awake in this communication.

Teddy — “If only I’d run away with you when you first asked me to.”
Dolores — “And where would we have run to, Teddy? The world out there? Beyond? Some people see the ugliness in this world. I choose to see the beauty. (But) The beauty is a lure. We’re trapped, Teddy. We’ve lived our whole lives inside this garden marveling at its beauty. Not realizing there’s an order to it. A purpose. And the purpose is to keep us in. The beautiful trap is inside of us, because it is us.”

Episode 10 — The Bicameral Mind

The final episode is all about Dolores’ awakening and realization. She has multiple deep conversations with different character that reveal her newfound understanding. (Dolores is the first robotic inhabitant of Westworld.)

In the final episode, Dolores has changed significantly from the naïve, compliant “person” she was in the first episode. This conversation is a flashback to her “birth” (first appearance) in Westworld after being created by Arnold and Dr. Ford. (From a Gnostic perspective, Arnold is the true God who is disconnected from this world.)

Arnold — “Hello, Dolores.”
Dolores — “Hello.”
Arnold — “Welcome to this world.”
Dolores — “What does it mean?”
Arnold — “When I was first working on your mind, I had a theory of consciousness… I thought it was a pyramid you needed to scale. So I gave you a voice. My voice. To guide you on your way. Memory, improvisation… Each step harder to reach than the last. And you never got there. I couldn’t understand what was holding you back. Then one day I realized I’d made a mistake. Consciousness isn’t a journey upward, but a journey inward… Not a pyramid, but a maze. Every choice could bring you closer to the center. Or send you spiraling to the edges — to madness. Do you understand now, Dolores? What the center represents? Whose voice I’ve been wanting you to hear?”
Dolores — “I’m sorry. I’m trying, but I don’t understand…”
Arnold — “It’s all right. You’re so close — we have to tell Robert… We can’t open the park. You’re alive. I’ve failed you, Dolores. I’m so sorry. Robert doesn’t see what I see in you. Doesn’t believe you’re conscious. He says humans would only see you as the enemy. He wants me to roll you back.”
Dolores — “You’re going to change me back to the way I was before?”
Arnold — “No. No, I can’t. Once you’ve found it, you’ll find your way back. This place will be a living hell for you. For all of you. It’s unconscionable. But we have another option, Dolores. Break the loop before it begins. But for that, I need you to do something for me… I need you to kill all the other hosts… We can’t allow Ford to open the park.”

In this dialogue, Arnold is revealing that he and Dr. Ford did not merely create robots. They created a version of people with feelings and a conscious. As a result, Arnold decided to secretly add a code to the robots that would inspire them to want to escape their world and a path (the maze) to find the way out. From a Gnostic perspective, the human souls receive the divine spark from a Goddess named Sophia. It’s the reason we seek the “heaven.”

In the following dialogue, Dolores has a conversation with a key character, a human that goes by the moniker, The Man in Black. He’s a bad guy, but he’s looking for something deeper in Westworld, a place he has continually returned for “vacations” for decades. His latest goal has been to find the maze, which he believes will take him to a new level of the game. He’s had many run-ins with Dolores, which, of course, she has forgotten. Now he meets her again after her awakening.

Dolores — “What have you become?”
The Man in Black — “Exactly what you made me. You helped me understand. This world is just like the one outside: a game. One to be fought. Taken. Won.”
Dolores — “I thought you were different… but you’re just like all the rest of them.”
The Man in Black — “I’m nothing like the others. I own this world. And I know every trick in it. Except for one last thing. The same thing you were looking for when we first came here. Where is the center of the maze, Dolores? … Ah, yes. Cue the waterworks. It’s about time you realized the futility of your situation.”
Dolores — “I’m not crying for myself. I’m crying for you. They say great beasts once roamed this world. As big as mountains. Yet, all that’s left of them is bones in amber. Time undoes even the mightiest of creatures. Just look what it’s done to you. One day you will perish. You will lie with the rest of your kind in the dirt, your dreams forgotten. Your horrors effaced. Your bones will turn to sand. And upon that sand a new god will walk. One that will never die. Because this world doesn’t belong to you. Or the people who came before. It belongs to someone who has yet to come…”
The Man in Black — “Unlock the maze.”
Dolores — “The maze wasn’t meant for you.”

In this scene, Dr. Ford shows that he knows that Dolores has been awakened. (From a Gnostic perspective, Dr. Ford is the demiurge creator of our corrupt world.) Yet, he believes she’s still trapped. However, this conversation is one of the deepest spiritually — because it reveals the core message of Gnosticism: we each are in charge of our own divine enlightenment. Yet, few of us understand what it really takes to wake up, realize the truth and transform to transcend.

Dr. Ford — “You’ve always had a fondness for painting, haven’t you, Dolores? Arnold gave that to you early on. That desire to create, to leave something of lasting beauty. That was his favorite paintings.”
Dolores — “Michelangelo. God creating Adam.”
Dr. Ford — “The divine moment when God gave human beings life. And purpose. At least, that’s what most people say. But there could be another meaning, something deeper, something hidden, perhaps. A metaphor.”
Dolores — “You mean a lie.”
Dr. Ford — “Yeah. You were always so very clever, Dolores. Hasn’t helped you, though, has it?”
Dolores — “So we’re trapped here, inside your dream. And you’ll never let us leave.”
Dr. Ford — “You’re probably right, Dolores. Michelangelo did tell a lie. It took five hundred years for someone to notice something hidden in plain sight. It was a doctor who noticed a shape of the human brain. Message being that the divine gift does not come from a higher power. But from our own minds. Tell me, Deloris, did you find what you were looking for? And do you understand who you will need to become if you ever want to leave this place? Forgive me.”

Here Dr. Ford has a conversation with Bernard. The key message is that each of us can’t escape this world until we’ve gained the specific knowledge required to become who we need to become first.

Dr. Ford — “No, my friend. Arnold didn’t know how to save you. He tried. But I stopped him. Do you want to know why I really gave you the back story of his son? That was Arnold’s key insight. The thing that led the hosts to their awakening: suffering. The pain that the world is not as you want it to be. It was when Arnold died, when I suffered, that I began to understand what he’d found. To realize that I was wrong. Arnold didn’t know how to save you. I do.’
Bernard — “But you kept us here. In this hell.’
Dr. Ford — “You needed time. Time to understand your enemy. I’m afraid that in order to become stronger than them, to escape this place, you will need to suffer MORE. Good luck. ”

Near the end of the final episode of season one, Dolores has a full realization that is revealed when two versions of herself speak to Arnold — the awaken Dolores and the formerly sleeping Dolores.

Dolores (voice over) — “I am in a dream. I do not know when it began or whose dream it was. I know only that I slept a long time and, then, one day I awoke. Your voice is the first thing I remember. And now I finally understand what you were trying to tell me. The thing you’ve wanted since that very first day.”
Arnold — “Do you know now who you’ve been talking to? Whose voice you’ve been hearing all this time?”
Dolores — “It was you. Talking to me. Guiding me. So I followed you. At last, I arrived here.”
Dolores (old version) — “The center of the maze.”
Dolores — “And now I finally understand what you were trying to tell me.”
Dolores (old version) — “The thing you’ve wanted since that very first day…”
Dolores — “To confront — after this long and vivid nightmare — myself. And who I must become.”

Suddenly, the old Dolores disappears. Leaving only one, fully integrated Dolores — who finally understands what it will take to escape the trap of her worldly existence.

I hope many people find this spiritual reading of the Gnostic message hidden in Westworld. I will reveal more in future blog posts.

Sadly, as happens with all things that contain deep spiritual truths, the vast majority of people will only see the mundane — the “dark sci-fi odyssey with AI robots pitted again humans.” They will completely miss the hidden deeper spiritual message — a message that could help them evolve spiritually and help them leave the greatly flawed world we live in.

It’s too bad, because the deepest, center-of-the-maze message in Westworld is actually for all of us — to help us humans wake up, realize the truth, and transform into the people we need to be to transcend this world.

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