Thursday, January 14, 2010

In the Dollhouse

Have you been watching Joss Whedon’s TV series DOLLHOUSE, now in its final episodes? The Dollhouse is a secret facility where “dolls,” people who have bound themselves into a kind of indentured servitude for five years, have their memories erased and receive “imprints” of artificially created personalities at the request of wealthy clients. At the end of an assignment, an employee’s imprinted personality is wiped, and he or she returns to the Dollhouse in a sort of neutral mode until the next assignment. The speed and ease of erasing personae and implanting new ones make the process look more like magic than science, but it does raise some classic SF questions.

When a doll (or “active”) receives an imprint, the false memories feel as authentic as real-life ones, and he or she experiences the new personality as completely genuine. In effect, the procedure creates temporary manifestations of serial multiple personalities. Are these personae “real people”? When one is erased, is someone being murdered? The protagonist, Echo (played by Faith from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER), eventually develops a new self with access to all her old imprints, even though dolls are supposed to be essentially blanks. If her original personality were implanted (as is standard at the end of the five-year contract), would that constitute killing Echo? One character, not a doll, recently suffered severe brain damage, which was repaired by having his own personality (fortunately on file) re-imprinted. Is he still the same person?

I’m reminded of the familiar SF trope of achieving immortality by uploading one’s mind into a computer. Is a computer program that duplicates an individual’s mind in every detail really the same person—or merely a copy in the same sense that a Xerox of a document isn’t the original? Also, Dr. McCoy’s misgivings about the transporter in STAR TREK—if the transporter transmits only information, not matter, and creates a duplicate of the traveler at the other end, is the original traveler still in existence? Or has he been destroyed and replaced by an exact copy? And does that question have any practical meaning?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

1 comment:

  1. You wrote:
    Science fiction and science fiction romance embraces "steam punk" and "cyber punk". What would (or do) we call alternate history dating back 800 years, or 35,000 years or even 75,000 years?
    OK, then I'd go with "Paleo-Punk" -- so easy a caveman can understand it.

    And yes, "steam punk" has become a silly label that stuck. So why not "punk up" all other genres?

    Labels are all about the business model, which I'll post about later today, January 19, 2010.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg