‘Westworld’ and the breakdown of the critical mind

I just finished watching ‘Westworld,’ which I found okay, but a letdown overall. My primary incentive to watch was its reference to Julian Jaynes’ theory of the bicameral mind, which has inspired my storytelling, but the theory wasn’t really dealt with in any substantial way.

I’m ready to move on with my life, but I did notice some articles already discussing ‘Westworld’ in relation to Jaynes. One is particularly wanting, from Thrillist, by a Matt Patches.

On Amazon.

The article shows poor comprehension of bicameral theory. It’s like the author breezed through it, full of preconceptions, basing his article on maybe Book One (of three), and it shows in the language he uses to summarize what Jaynes supposedly said.

Patches confuses the advent of consciousness with a scientific revolution or a golden age of reason, rather than, as Jaynes depicts, a lamentation and yearning for the voices no longer heard. Conscious man in 500 B.C. was not questioning the ontological reality of God, or seeing divinity in terms of mere instinct – not that reducing God to material descriptions makes for science, as Patches implies. It would be foolish to think modern humanity has achieved the self-awareness Patches claims Jaynes claimed that post-Iliad man has.

For the sake of sounding clever, or maybe dumbing things down, Patches writes that the left hemisphere dictated “Jump” and the right asked “How high?” He meant the right as dictator and the left as follower, and leaving that basic error aside, Jaynes would explain that the right hemispheric god’s voice also gave the specifics; there was no conscious self to introspect on the height of one’s jump.


Jaynes clearly doesn’t present Homer as “major evidence” of his theory, but illustrates the importance of language in understanding mentalities. If there is “major evidence” in Jaynes’ book at all, it would have to be with regards to bicameralism explaining the behavior and neurology of schizophrenics and children who claim to have imaginary friends. But Patches probably didn’t get that far into the book (To be fair, it is 120,000 words long).

There’s a quote in the article from a certain Ed Block – it’s actually Ned, according to Wikipedia, which goes to show the depth of research Patches plunged himself into – a criticism that Jaynes himself dealt with in the later edition of his book, that consciousness may have existed prior to ‘The odyssey’ but it itself was not referred to earlier on, to which Jaynes makes a good point, that the concept of consciousness and consciousness itself are the same thing, in the same way talking about baseball came with baseball. And Jaynes, much like Chomsky, whom Patches refers to as a critic of Jaynes’ theory, explains consciousness in terms of the development of language, as I believe Chomsky would. There is just no weight to the claim that the bicameral mind is a matter “beyond scientific evidence.”

That bicameral theory is fruitful to science fiction is no argument against it. If Arthur C. Clarke, and Philip K. Dick for that matter, are indications, science fiction serves as a prelude to a shift in paradigms, in this case in favor of Jaynes.

When all is said and done, I’m glad Patches raised the issue at all.

Of course, by critiquing Patches’ critique, I’m opening myself to others doing the same to me. Here are my notes on Jaynes’ book, which has been a big influence on the last 18 months of my life.

Notes on Erich Maria Remarque’s ‘All quiet on the western front’

Title: All quiet on the western front
Author: Erich Maria Remarque, translated by A.W. Wheen
Download this article: .pdf (108 kB), .ePub (39 kB), .mobi (107 kB)

Author Erich Maria Remarque’s story is more famous as an Oscar-winning movie (1930), which holds up very well today. The book goes into greater detail about Remarque’s experience as a German soldier in World War I.

The beauty of a work that deromanticized nationalism so plainly, has not prevented further escalations of conflict over the decades, but I am sure such a classic will find its receptive audience in a more peaceful civilization.

Most of the following quotes are from the protagonist Paul Baumer.

On armchair nationalism:
While they continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying. While they taught that duty to one’s country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. But for all that we were no mutineers, no deserters, no cowards—they were very free with all these expressions. We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from true, we had suddenly learned to see.
– Page 13, Location 152-155

[A] declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out among themselves. Whoever survives, his country wins. That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting.
– Page 41, Location 414-417

Paul’s growing alienation from the world he once knew:
[W]hen I hear the word ‘peace-time,’ it goes to my head: and if it really came, I think I would do some unimaginable thing—something, you know, that it’s worth having lain here in the muck for. But I can’t even imagine anything.
– Page 87, Location 859-860

We are not youth any longer. We don’t want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we believe in the war.
– Page 88, Location 867-869

We have become wild beasts. We do not fight, we defend ourselves against annihilation. It is not against men that we fling our bombs, what do we know of men in this moment when Death is hunting us down—now, for the first time in three days we can see his face, now for the first time in three days we can oppose him; we feel a mad anger. No longer do we lie helpless, waiting on the scaffold, we can destroy and kill, to save ourselves, to save ourselves and to be revenged.
– Page 113, Location 1099-1102

It is strange that all the memories that come have these two qualities. They are always completely calm, that is predominant in them; and even if they are not really calm, they become so. They are soundless apparitions that speak to me, with looks and gestures silently, without any word—and it is the alarm of their silence that forces me to lay hold of my sleeve and my rifle lest I should abandon myself to the liberation and allurement in which my body would dilate and gently pass away into the still forces that lie behind these things.
– Page 120, Location 1163-1167

To-day we would pass through the scenes of our youth like travellers. We are burnt up by hard facts; like tradesmen we understand distinctions, and like butchers, necessities. We are no longer untroubled—we are indifferent. We might exist there; but should we really live there? We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial—I believe we are lost.
– Page 123, Location 1186-1189

When a man has seen so many dead he cannot understand any longer why there should be so much anguish over a single individual.
– Page 181, Location 1748-1749

‘State, State’—Tjaden snaps his fingers contemptuously, ‘Gendarmes, police, taxes, that’s your State;—if that’s what you are talking about, no, thank you.’ ‘That’s right,’ says Kat, ‘you’ve said something for once, Tjaden. State and home-country, there’s a big difference.’
– Page 205, Location 1957-1960

Paul stabs a Frenchman to death, and being left alone with the corpse allows hims to grasp the gravity of his act:
Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony—Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother just like Kat and Albert.
– Page 223, Location 2139-2141

How senseless is everything that can ever be written, done, or thought, when such things are possible. It must be all lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out, these torture-chambers in their hundreds of thousands. A hospital alone shows what war is.
– Page 263, Location 2527-2529

I often sit over against myself, as before a stranger, and wonder how the unnameable active principle that calls itself to life has adapted itself even to this form. All other expressions lie in a winter sleep, life is simply one continual watch against the menace of death;—it has transformed us into unthinking animals in order to give us the weapon of instinct—it has reinforced us with dullness, so that we do not go to pieces before the horror, which would overwhelm us if we had clear, conscious thought—it has awakened in us the sense of comradeship, so that we escape the abyss of solitude—it has lent us the indifference of wild creatures, so that in spite of all, we perceive the positive in every moment, and store it up as a reserve against the onslaught of nothingness. Thus we live a closed, hard existence of the utmost superficiality, and rarely does an incident strike out a spark.
– Page 274, Location 2604-2610

For more notes on books I’ve read, visit https://paulspurpose.com/tag/notes/.
Buy Erich Maria Remarque’s ‘All quiet on the western front’ on Amazon, here.
This document is guided by the fair-use doctrine, and is for the purpose of critiquing and educating.