Musings on the opening credits of Westworld

It is not a secret that Westworld is the next big thing from HBO. The cast, the writing and the production values were all top notch and in fact much better than the initial few episodes of GoT. For a series with such big ambitions, at first I felt the opening sequence was rather dull. However with each passing episode, I can find more meaning in each of those frames and can’t help but wander of in to a philosophical meditation about the meaning behind each scene and how it relates to the theme of the show. I don’t mean this is how its creators intended the meaning of each scenes, but I always take the liberty of painting my own interpretation over any art, more an art that lends itself to it, more beautiful it is.
The sequence starts with machines delicately weaving a world out of artificial milky material. Both living and inanimate objects are made the same way, of the same materials, just like our real world. Then suddenly some of these objects spring in to motion. The visuals don’t even try to differentiate between voluntary & effected motion. A bullet fired is the same as a horse galloping or the rider woman riding it. They are all slaves of their original design reacting to some stimuli, time included. The robots that the machine make, even appear to be having sex, but their emotions seems programmed as well. The robotic arms breathe life into their circuitry and robots rock to the joys of electric circuits firing (which Bender explained to us decades back). 
It is hard not to wonder whether the whole thing is a detached commentary on ourselves, an artificial rendering of our real world. After all, we too are slaves of our constituent atoms dancing to the tune of physical laws, the emotions that we feel so sure and true, are mere concoctions of hormones & chemicals. Yet we harbor thoughts of sentience and consciousness, and we are so sure of them that we draw definitions of alive and dead. This conflict between the notion of alive & dead, conscientious & unaware is one of the core themes of the show. By drawing parallels between the artificial world and real world, the opening sequences pushes us to question whether the hosts are persons.

But that alone would be grim determinism and reductionism. The sequences don’t stop there. The hand that plays the piano, recedes from the keys and the piano starts to play on its own. Its precise & mechanical components, in their tryst with time, produce something beautiful & spontaneous! It is like the hosts in the show, that were cast with the rigors of code & logic but with a deft touch of randomness, they blossom in to something so unique & beautiful. There are even theories that our consciousness itself is a result of our quantum substrate interacting with reality with an element of probability governing its collapse into various states. If this is not consciousness, what else is? The whole may be bigger than its constituent parts, but is it also so very different1?

Not everything in the title piece reveals all its meaning at once (such as Invertius man sinking into his the pool of his constituent matter). But I am sure as the show progresses, the meaning behind some portions of the title piece will reveal itself.  One of the shows lead writer, Jonathan Nolan has a quite bit of talent in weaving philosophical quandaries in to everyday story lines, as evident from his work with his brother Christopher Nolan. But with this show and its setting, he has a fertile ground for exploring much more complicated themes and sending our head in to a dizzy. Hope the excitement keeps up!
Here is the official link to the opening credits. See for yourself.



1 This is not much different from the loose definition of ‘Complex Systems’ in Herbert Simon seminal paper “The architecture of complexity“. 


“Roughly, by a complex system I mean one made up of a large number of parts that interact in a nonsimple way. In such systems, the whole is more than the sum of the parts, not in an ultimate, metaphysical sense, but in the important pragmatic sense that, given the properties of the parts and the laws of their interaction, it is not a trivial matter to infer the properties of the whole. “

Irrespective of your topic of interest, it is a great read written in a simple lucid language touching several disciplines. Recommended reading!


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xkgt

An overgrown ape encumbered by evolutionary spandrels of philosophical reveries.

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