Spoiler alert: Do not read unless you have seen the season finale of “Westworld”
To the very end, “Westworld” proved to be one of the most dense TV tales in recent memory. It is a show that dove into science, philosophy and high-brow art to present concepts that built on top of each other. And in the end, the concept that mattered most was perhaps its most complex one: the theory of the bicameral mind.
Early in the series, Dr. Ford explains that the bicameral mind is the concept that prehistoric man viewed their own conscience as the voice of gods speaking to them. This idea was first envisioned in the 1970s by psychologist Julian Jaynes. He proposed that human consciousness is divided into two parts. The first part is based in memories and gives commands to the second part, which listens and acts accordingly. Because these two parts act independently, the mind can’t reflect on why it is acting the way it is, and is therefore just short of full sentience.
Dolores’ entire journey has been about her trying to discover the true reason why she is perceiving the world differently than she used to. In the final moments of this season, she finally reaches that moment of discovery in an epiphany that brings the bicameral mind concept to life.
Up to this point, we’ve been led to believe that Dolores has secretly been guided by the voice of her creator, Arnold, who planned out a route to her sentience that would play out after his death. Instead, it turns out that the person who had been guiding her journey was herself, or to be more precise, the alter-ego of Wyatt that had been lying dormant in Dolores while she behaved according to the loops and innocent personality that the park had programmed for her.
When Dolores saw the visions of Arnold guiding her, it represented her viewing her inner thoughts through the bicameral mind. The memories and inner voice that dictated her actions were seen by her to be the voice of someone else. When she realizes that the voice guiding her decisions was her own, she finally gains full autonomy and achieves Arnold’s dream: full consciousness.
And as we’ve seen all season, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy connect this science-based theme to art. Just before Dolores achieves consciousness, Ford points out a famous interpretation of Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel painting of God creating man. The pink shroud surrounding God as he reaches out to Adam is in a shape very similar to the human brain.
Ford explains that Michelangelo was saying that our inner thoughts do not come from gods — as the bicameral mind of prehistoric man may have thought — but from ourselves. In the same way, Dolores thought she was being guided by the voice of a human, whom the hosts saw as gods. Instead, her voice came from herself, and now that voice has driven her to start a war against those very gods. In “Westworld,” science, art and storytelling all merge, creating one of the best explorations of artificial intelligence ever seen on TV.