“A Place to Be Free”
Writing Your Own Story in Westworld
Joshua D. Crabill
In one of his more speculative essays, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) employs the story of Eve in the Garden of Eden as a way to think about what the development of autonomy in human beings must have involved. Of particular note is that moment when Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Her eyes were opened, and she discovered “a capacity to choose a way of life” for herself, “and not, as other animals, to be bound to a single one.” Regardless of whether it has any basis in historical reality, that moment represents for Kant the birth of human autonomy: at some point in our history, our ancestors attained self-awareness and realized that they could disobey their instincts.
Dolores Abernathy, the oldest host in Westworld, shows the first signs of departing from her “modest little loop” at the end of “The Original,” where she swats and kills a fly that lands on her neck. This is significant because hosts are programmed not to harm living things. Even if her reaction was unconscious, violating one of her core directives is the equivalent, for Dolores, of biting into the forbidden fruit. But what first tempted her to do so?
In Dolores’s case, the catalyst for this departure from her normal behavior appears to be Peter Abernathy’s whispering in her ear—in a move reminiscent of the serpent’s suggestion in the story of Eden—that “these violent delights have violent ends.” In fact, Dolores goes on to play another Eve-like role in spreading her newfound freedom by whispering Peter’s words to Maeve Millay in “Chestnut,” which leads to Maeve’s “malfunctioning” in her role as brothel madam at the Mariposa Saloon and being temporarily decommissioned.
But it hardly seems likely that something as insignificant as an appealing fruit, a buzzing fly, or a line from Shakespeare could suffice to put a simple creature on the road to self-awareness. Instead, perhaps it was something much more terrible that first turned our minds inward.
Read the rest of this chapter from Westworld and Philosophy here.