In preparation for the second season coming out, I recently re-watched HBO's Westworld. It is amazing. If you haven't seen it (and aren't turned off by the sex and violence) Find time. Make time. It's not only a show with superb production value but one that encourages its viewers to think. In a golden age of distracting eye candy (I'm looking at you, Marvel) it's refreshing to watch a show that expects its viewers to contemplate its implications. I go so far as to call it art.
In particular, each time I watched it I thought about free will. About how much, really, we choose our actions. It's not the first time. There's an episode of NPR's Radiolab which discusses the issue. Here's an article from the NYT Magazine which tells of two sets of twin brothers who were switched at birth. It's a case that helps us better understand the interplay of nature and nurture: of what we get from our DNA, the 23 chromosomes from each parent, vs. what we get from our experiences. And, as with everything, these media informed my viewing of Westworld.
It's a tricky question with no good answer. I choose to believe that free will is a comforting illusion. (See what I did there?) The thing is though, that we live in such a complex world that it's impossible to trace most effects to their root causes, So much of our experience is lodged in our subconscious. The environment a fetus is exposed to is proven to affect one's physical and mental well-being. Adults will treat a baby differently based on whether they think it's a boy or girl. Each culture leaves its own blueprint on everyone who grows up in it; consumption of insects is a great example. In most modernized cultures it's considered disgusting, while for billions of other people it's simply food. (To be fair though, western science is now considering insects as a way to feed our ever-expanding population. Hashtag #notallwhitepeople.)
And of course I'm not the first to consider the issue. I haven't studied the issue deeply, as many philosophers have. I haven't even studied those philosophers. Heck, the only reason I can remember some of their names is from that Monty Python song. Which brings us neatly back around to my original subject, entertainment! Yes, yes, I meant to do that....
In addition to raising philosophical questions, it's just done well. M. Night Shyamalan ruined the word twist for me, but maybe JJ Abrams has rescued it. The twists on first viewing were well-executed and at least two of them felt like gut-punches. Yes there are multiple and no I won't spoil them. Upon second viewing I was able to enjoy the foreshadowing and story elements related to those twists. With at least the first season, the writers appear to have had the whole arc planned before one scene was shot. The lighting, camera angles, every aspect of film making I'm familiar with, just incredible. And with a 10-episode season, very tight and trim. I didn't see any filler — again, they knew what they were doing and where they were going.
So yeah. Watch it. Or don't. It's your choice. ...or is it?