News Briefs 07-10-2016

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

Quote of the Day:

“Do I dare disturb the universe?”

T.S. Eliot

News Briefs 06-10-2016

Thanks Kat and @AnomalistNews.

Quote of the Day:

Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?

Ashley Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) in HBO's "Westworld"

HBO's Westworld is a Gnostic Parable

Creation of a Host's Body in HBO's Westworld

Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?

Thematically, this question is - I think - perhaps the most important piece of dialogue in the brilliant pilot of HBO's new feature drama, Westworld. The question is posed by security chief Ashley Stubbs while interrogating the show's female protagonist Delores Abernathy, but it could possibly be seen as the show's writers querying their audience using Stubbs as a proxy.

** Spoilers for episode one of Westworld follow **

Why do I think this piece of dialogue is so important? Because - as much as nearly all the analyses of the show so far have discussed the first episode through the lens of science fiction; ie. the advance towards artificial intelligence, as shown by the robotic 'Hosts' of Westworld - I think the real framework of the first episode, and perhaps ongoing, is the posing of that timeless philosophical and spiritual question:'how can we tell the difference between illusion and reality?'

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.

- Zhuangzi

And this is to be expected, given a co-creator of the show is Jonathan Nolan, the script-writer behind movies including Memento, The Prestige and Inception. All three of those movies explore the fallibility of human consciousness and our ability to recognise what is real. What is perhaps more unexpected is the way in which the theme of the story (so far, at least) is very clearly Gnostic in flavour.

Gnosticism holds that, rather than Earth being the perfect creation of a supreme being, we are instead living in a prison of sorts, created by an impostor: 'the Demiurge', a lesser deity than the true God. Escape from this realm is through a process of awakening to this fact, or gnosis ('knowledge'). Or to put it simply: questioning the nature of your reality.

These ideas have appeared in part in many stories of the past half-century: from the works of Philip K. Dick through to movies such as The Matrix, Dark City, and The Truman Show (thus seeing Ed Harris taking an apparently antagonistic role in this series seems a nice touch). But Westworld in particular seems to be, at its heart, a Gnostic story.

Westworld (the theme park in the show) is, quite obviously, a false world created by an imperfect being. The residents of that world are kept in the dark to the larger reality by the Demiurge (and its 'archons', or helpers/servants). Only through a process of realisation - by gaining knowledge, or gnosis, of their situation - can they awaken from this 'dream' to the greater reality.

But is Dr. Robert Ford (wonderfully played by Anthony Hopkins) the Demiurge, or is it perhaps more the Delos corporation that runs the theme park (which, we learn from dialogue in this episode, has greater plans for robotic AI than just a theme park)? Ford at times comes across rather sympathetically in episode one (though other moments in the trailer perhaps not so much); he seems to feel some kin to his creations and perhaps, as he nears the end of his own life, he desires to put the spark of free will into the robots. Hence the 'Reveries' that are programmed into the new, problematic update - gestures and mannerisms that are based on deep memories that the Hosts' conscious mind cannot supposedly access. While their inclusion is, at face value, meant to make them look more human, are they actually the key to making them human (whether purposefully, or purely as an accident)?

Our sense of self is intimately tied to memory. If we were to awaken each day with no memory of the day before, the foundations of self would be pulled from beneath our feet. The Hosts of Westworld have memories, but they are not of what happened the day before - they are instead an inserted 'back story', because if they remembered what actually happened the day before their understanding of themselves, and their world, would be fundamentally changed. So by inserting these 'Reveries' - a back-door of sorts into their true memories - has Dr. Ford given them a self?

An interview with co-creators of the show Jonathan ('Jonah') Nolan and Lisa Joy suggests this is likely the case:

Joy: There are past incarnations of their characters that are stored but the hosts just don’t have access to them – or aren’t supposed to have access to them. The Reveries work on a kind of subliminal level. What I think of them as – because I’m not a coder, Jonah is more into that world – for me it was imagining that consciousness and history are a deep sea and Reveries are tiny fishhooks that you dip into it and get little gestures and subconscious ticks. The hosts don’t consciously know where they’re drawn from, but they’re just there to add some nuance to their expressions and gestures. But dipping that fishhook in might prove to be a little .. fraught.

When Dolores' "father", Peter Abernathy, malfunctions and begins dredging up parts of his previous characters - and seemingly, having some self-realisation of his plight - he chooses a quote from Shakespeare's King Lear which is explicitly Gnostic in tone: "When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools."

The realisation that he has been fooled, and is a prisoner within a false world, appears to fill Abernathy with rage against his Creator, as evidenced by his choice of Shakespearean quotes (an amazing scene, both actors absolutely smash it out of the park):

Dr. Ford: What is your itinerary?

Peter: To meet my maker.

Dr. Ford: Ah. Well. You're in luck. And what do you want to say to your maker?

Peter: A most mechanical and dirty hand [laughs]. I shall have such revenges on you both. The things I will do, what they are, yet I know not. But they will be the terrors of the earth.

Now, while memory seems to be a major part of the gnosis of the Hosts, there is one other contributing plot point that I'm sure readers of this site would have found enjoyable. Peter Abernathie's malfunction in episode one is triggered by an anachronistic photo of a woman in a city he finds in the dirt, likely left behind by one of the guests of the park: the 'out-of-place artifact' ('OOPArt') so well-known in Fortean studies, which prompt us to ask whether there is something more beyond consensus reality.

So it is important that we don't simply look on as an outsider on the artifiical world of Westworld. The parable of Westworld is that we should all ponder Stubbs' question to Delores: "Have you ever questioned your reality". It's a question that can be applied at various levels, from the philosophical/spiritual to science and history, through to the mundane modern worlds of politics and media. We are all living in illusions created and administered by various Demiurges and their Archons. We should do our best to search for knowledge in order that, bit by bit, we might wake to greater realities.

News Briefs 05-10-2016

Grow some bolts!

Quote of the Day:

For a neuron to travel a foot takes a microsecond – which is fairly fast. But for electrons to go down a foot of wire takes a nanosecond. It’s a million times faster, as simple as that. So to a robot, once fully established in that new world, a second is a million seconds. Everything is happening so fast that they have on earth a million times longer to live, to grow up, to evolve, than we do.

James Lovelock

News Briefs 04-09-2016

Apologies for today's site problems. If you don't like it when the Grail is down, why not chip in a dollar or three at our Patreon page to help us pay for our next upgrade.

Thanks @Memizon and @AnomalistNews.

Quote of the Day:

The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.

Philip K. Dick

Get Your Own Twin Peaks-Themed Tarot Pack By Backing This Crowdfunding Campaign

Selection of cards from the Twin Peaks Tarot

Late last year I mentioned a very cool collection of digital images (created by Benjamin Mackey) that fused David Lynch's seminal Twin Peaks series with the cards of the Tarot. At the time I wished this Tarot deck was an actual thing that could be purchased...and now, happy days, it is!

For those interested (me, me!), there is now an IndieGoGo crowd-funding campaign to create a production version of the deck, officially titled "The Magician Longs to See Tarot". For a more than reasonable price of $US20 you can get your very own deck, shrink-wrapped in plastic no less...

The Magician Longs to See Tarot is a complete 78-card deck with 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana in full color. The deck combines the mystical world of Twin Peaks with visual evocations of Pamela Coleman Smith's iconic tarot illustrations. The Major Arcana have manifested as some of the primary movers and shakers in Twin Peaks, while the Minor Arcana tend towards depicting infamous scenes and moments in the series. My goal is to strike a delicate balance between accurately representing the respective characters while still maintaining readability as a deck.

I'm super excited to announce that John Thorne, co-creator of Wrapped In Plastic (a magazine devoted to the study of Twin Peaks) and author of the book The Essential Wrapped In Plastic: Pathways to Twin Peaks, is contributing an original introduction to the deck. This will be featured in the booklet at the $30 and $50 levels!

View the entire collection of 78 cards here.

As mentioned in my previous post, in the embedded podcast below Mackey is asked whether he thinks the way in which many Twin Peaks characters seem to fit so well with the cards of the Tarot was by conscious design of David Lynch, or if it's simply down to the archetypal nature of story characters:

I think there are certain characters that David Lynch was purposefully basing off Tarot archetypes. There's one scene where Major Garland Briggs, he's talking about his experiences in the White Lodge, and there's a scene where he's sitting on this stone throne and he's surrounded by this lush greenery, and the pose he's striking is almost exactly the pose that the hierophant strikes. Then there's also a scene with Blackie at One-Eyed Jack's, she's at her table and she's playing the Tarot Cards. And it's a really small thing, you don't see her doing it a lot and they don't make a lot of direct references to it...but something like that, makes me think that maybe David Lynch has more of a conscious connection to the Tarot.

Check out the full list of rewards at various pledge amounts at IndieGoGo. Get in!

Link: IndieGoGo Campaign for The Magician Longs to See Tarot

News Briefs 03-10-2016

We're meltiiinnnggg...

Thanks @ParaDbase and @Gordon_White.

Quote of the Day:

Knowledge is something which you can use. Belief is something which uses you.

Idries Shah

Win a copy of Tool's Ænima, signed by Danny Carey

Ænima, signed by Danny Carey

The CD edition of Tool’s epic album Ænima was released 20 years ago today (man, where does time go?!). To celebrate, we're giving away an original copy of the CD, signed by drummer Danny Carey! All you need to do is head over to our Facebook page, and like and leave a comment on the competition post offering your favourite album *other than* Ænima. Because it's obviously everyone's favourite, right?

Full terms and conditions are explained in the Facebook post, so get over there and get yourself in the draw!

Link: Competition to win a CD copy of Tool's Ænima, signed by drummer Danny Carey

News Briefs 30-09-2016

”We don't have to save the world. The world is big enough to look after itself…”

Quote of the Day:

“…What we have to be concerned about is whether or not the world we live in will be capable of sustaining us in it.”

Douglas Adams