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January 08 2009

Setting up the Dollhouse. Den of Geek has a look at the science of Joss' new show.

In yet another real-life transplant case, a young girl who had never experienced any emotional problems led police to the killers of the donor of her new heart, after being plagued by nightmares about being murdered.

I wish I hadn't read that sitting here alone in the dark.
Well, that's certainly an interesting article. I'd never before heard about the personality changes following heart transplants, although I wonder about the statistics of it (are these cases statistically insignificant hits - created by pure 'random happenstance' - or indicative of memory stores in non-brain tissue?).

Having said all this, I doubt that the science here will matter much to Joss. Taking a look at the footage we've seen so far , it would seem that the science is, like the mythology of previous shows, just a means to an end; a way to get at the emotional core.

So, all in all: a fun article. Although I wonder about the assumption that guys will only tune in to Dollhouse because of ED. Although it certainly can't hurt ;).
Well, his focal point may be the emotional core but he's also said it's a philosophical show about identity, memory etc. I don't think that can be successfully done if the show is entirely divorced from real science. Or more specifically I don't believe that Joss can propose the TRUE answer to these philosophical questions without dealing with science, but it could well still be a great show and provide valuable insights to those q's

[ edited by Let Down on 2009-01-08 12:09 ]
Paul Pearsall was a hack - totally divorced from empirical science. I would take those reports of "tissue memory" with large dose of salt. Apart from anything, there's no way that neurotransmitters can get in to the heart, due to the blood-brain barrier. Even if they could, memory isn't "carried" in neurotransmitters. It's complete and utter nonsense, backed up only by a few coincidental case reports.
Yeah, it sounds pretty implausible and given how many transplants take place globally every year shouldn't we be hearing about this all the time ? Is there any evidence for memory loss due to injuries to other, non-CNS, parts of the body ?

(how are memories stored BTW ? I've been assuming it was in networks of neurons - which would come with some distributed and redundant properties built-in - but is the mainstream belief that it's molecular e.g. in proteins ?)

And it's not an "illegal federal operation" is it ? Or is that actually true but a fairly big spoiler ?

Or more specifically I don't believe that Joss can propose the TRUE answer to these philosophical questions without dealing with science, but it could well still be a great show and provide valuable insights to those q's

Yeah, I wonder if he'll overtly provide answers at all or just inspire people to ask the questions. I mean, I think the premise actually has an answer built in (the answer to "Can you wipe away a soul ?" seems to be "No" since Echo is an example that you can't. Or will the "explanation" for Echo maybe be ambiguous, along the lines of a technological limitation rather than a philosophical one ?) Loads of ideas to speculate about, even if that's obviously all it is until the show airs.
Yeah, true, I don't believe he'll overtly suggest any answer (although over time the show might find a position on some philosophical questions). But if the show is actually philosophical it must at least throw up the various positions that might be taken on these questions (one of which is probably true) and that can't be properly done without a consideration of empirical science.

""Can you wipe away a soul ?" seems to be "No" since Echo is an example that you can't. "

Yeah, it seems like that's what the show might suggest. But then Joss has said that he's not at all sure he believes that souls exist and that he used them more for the narrative in Buffy and Angel. But I'm not sure that approach will work when we move out of fantasy, especially when the show is supposed to raise philosophical questions directly related to the soul
See, that's what I'd assume as well, flugufrelsarinn, given the rather 'out there' statements his research seems to make.

Still - as I didn't know Paul Pearsall, even though to my own surprise, he seemed to be a pretty public persona - I did some quick internet research into the man and he seems respectable enough. Certainly not some random hack saying completely unfounded things. But seeing as neuroscience is not my field and as I know next to nothing about this topic, I can't say much about the reliability of his science.

Let Down, I don't think Joss would be interested in the true answers to the questions he poses, anyway. If he was, he'd be doing scientific research instead of writing television scripts ;). It's the playing with the questions, the moral grey area's and the emotional ramnifications I think Joss wants to explore. He's never expressed overly much interest in actual science (apart from maybe 'no sound in space', which went semi overboard quickly enough come Serenity ;)) or even in the internal consistency in one of his verse's own mythology before. My inner science nerd and consistency geek would sometimes like him to be 'that guy' just a teeny bit more, but on the whole I'm glad that it's the emotions and personal angels that interest him in a story. It's certainly that handle on things that draws me to Joss' imagined worlds.

But - at the risk of sounding like a priest talking about his personal deity ;) - I don't assume to know Joss' reasons for doing anything, so I might be completely wrong.

ETA:
But if the show is actually philosophical it must at least throw up the various positions that might be taken on these questions (one of which is probably true) and that can't be properly done without a consideration of empirical science.


But why? Why should he use real empirical science in an imagined show, using concepts that have no basis in current science? Sketching philosophical concepts in an interesting way - or creating starting points for philosophical reflections based on the show - has no need for realism, in my opinion. In fact: I think it's one of the strong points of Joss' fiction, that it provided those kinds of jumping-off points for more in-depth discussions for those who enjoy that kind of thing, while simultaneously not neglecting the casual viewer who just wants to see fun television.

[ edited by GVH on 2009-01-08 13:41 ]
(how are memories stored BTW ? I've been assuming it was in networks of neurons - which would come with some distributed and redundant properties built-in - but is the mainstream belief that it's molecular e.g. in proteins ?)


I'm not sure I understand the distinction? Networks of neurons are made up of and communicate via molecular proteins. Unfortunately, I can't really give you an answer, as nobody really knows how memories are stored. There are various areas of the pre-frontal cortex which are implicated in particular types of memory (eg. episodic, autobiographical, semantic) but how memories are formed, stored etc is still a bit of a mystery.

Still - as I didn't know Paul Pearsall, even though to my own surprise, he seemed to be a pretty public persona - I did some quick internet research into the man and he seems respectable enough. Certainly not some random hack saying completely unfounded things. But seeing as neuroscience is not my field and as I know next to nothing about this topic, I can't say much about the reliability of his science.


Perhaps I was a bit harsh. There's nothing wrong with his educational credentials. My problem with his work is that a lot of it has been published in his own books - and anyone can publish their wackjob theory in a book. I can't find any of his work in peer-review journals, which suggests to me that the majority of the scientific community thinks his work is bogus and won't publish him. This is aside from the fact that the idea of organ donor memory transfer flies in the face of everything I know about cognitive neuroscience.

[ edited by flugufrelsarinn on 2009-01-08 14:00 ]
"Let Down, I don't think Joss would be interested in the true answers to the questions he poses, anyway. If he was, he'd be doing scientific research instead of writing television scripts"

I think that's going too far. I'm sure he won't want to present his viewers with some absolute answer. Like Saje says it's likely to be about asking questions. But why on earth would you ask those questions (in fact, create a whole show about those questions) if you're not interested in the actual answers to them.

"the playing with the questions, the moral grey area's and the emotional ramnifications I think Joss wants to explore"

I'm sure he wants to explore the emotional aspects but that isn't philosophy and he's said the show will ask philosophical questions too.

"But why? Why should he use real empirical science in an imagined show, using concepts that have no basis in current science?"

We might be misunderstanding each other here. I couldn't really care less if the 'science' in the show's plot (eg. the mind-wiping process) has much or any relation to actual science (so long as it isn't so silly that it takes me out of the story).

But that's quite different to scientific questions that have a direct bearing on the philosophical questions he wants to ask. Is the mind just neurons firing in our brains? Or is there something else like a soul? I don't think those question can be answered without considering empirical science. You might answer the question with a non-scientific view but that's just reaching a pre-determined conclusion.
I'm not sure I understand the distinction? Networks of neurons are made up of and communicate via molecular proteins.

I guess I mean, is the information stored in the network itself as an active entity (like RAM) - "switch off" the network or even just look at an instantaneous snapshot of it and it's basically meaningless - or stored in molecules that "just sit there" with information encoded in their structure (more like ROM or a hard-drive) - once you understand how the structure relates to the information being stored you can decode it, even as a static thing, separate from anything we'd call a mind ? But it seems we don't know so I also guess you can't tell me ;).

Sketching philosophical concepts in an interesting way - or creating starting points for philosophical reflections based on the show - has no need for realism, in my opinion.

That's true, you can certainly ask the questions without recourse to science and as long as you never propose one single True answer then you can stick to that. Depends what you mean by 'philosophical' though since philosophy is concerned with finding answers as well as asking questions in a sensible manner.

(the big distinction is probably between dualism and non-dualism, Buffy and Angel were both very dualist shows - as Let Down hints, it'll be interesting to see if Joss goes down the same route in a more realistic setting, one that, presumably, doesn't have magic or the supernatural in it)

...which went semi overboard quickly enough come Serenity ;)

They were on a break in a gas cloud ! ;)

I would love for him to be both but i'm happy with Joss' current approach - if reality stops you telling the (small 't' ;) truest story then (up to a point) bugger reality.
Is the mind just neurons firing in our brains? Or is there something else like a soul?


Consciousness is something scientists have traditionally shied way from, I think in part because of the pervasive idea of a soul, but also because the brain is very good at tricking us in to thinking we are in control of our actions. However, there is a flurry of evidence that the vast majority of our behaviour is automatic, unconscious - governed by our genes, biology and learning. The best evidence for this is that conscious awareness of a stimulus appears to have a lag or delay of about 300-500ms. Therefore you experience an event after the event has happened, but you react to it instantaneously. Any executive control can only influence future events by adjusting the way in which we will automatically react.

It's a highly controversial idea, but it does make sense. In driving, for example, you don't make a conscious decision to slam on the brakes in an emergency - you do it automatically - thankfully, or you'd be dead. Your conscious awareness of what just happened occurs after the fact. Conscious volition of current events is illusory.
I guess I mean, is the information stored in the network itself as an active entity (like RAM) - "switch off" the network or even just look at an instantaneous snapshot of it and it's basically meaningless - or stored in molecules that "just sit there" with information encoded in their structure (more like ROM or a hard-drive) - once you understand how the structure relates to the information being stored you can decode it, even as a static thing, separate from anything we'd call a mind ? But it seems we don't know so I also guess you can't tell me ;).


Hmm, I see what you mean. I think it's a bit of both. I don't think you can point to part of the brain and go "That's the memory of my grandmother" because that involves a lot of differing types of knowledge. There are however parts of the brain specifically for recognising hands, or faces, and presumably a different part of the brain then matches it up to semantic knowledge, and yet another that finds the word "grandmother".
can't find any of his work in peer-review journals, which suggests to me that the majority of the scientific community thinks his work is bogus and won't publish him.


Well, flugufrelsarinn, that's interesting. I assumed, seeing as he was a professor at a university, he'd also be doing actual research, instead of just publishing books. I think all the professors at my university had to conduct scientific research to keep their position. But maybe he didn't have to? In any case: if he's just published books and no peer-reviewed papers, I'd agree that that makes him much less credible. Not wrong per se, but less credible certainly.

But why on earth would you ask those questions (in fact, create a whole show about those questions) if you're not interested in the actual answers to them.


I'm not saying he's completely uninterested in them, I'm just saying he probably can't give them. He can give answers within his fictional world, sure, but they'd be more along the lines of the show's 'mythology', comparable to the "rules" of how vampires get created in Buffy and Angel, having not a whole lot of real world bearing.

What's more, the process of finding answers or contrasting possible answers is much more interesting. If - for instance - the question is "do humans have a soul, which is apart from the physicality of our minds", then the answer "yes" or "no" would be much less interesting, in a work of fiction, than "maybe". Joss could hint at both sides, contrasting on the one hand a character like Echo, whose 'true' self resurfacing may hint at a soul (but he could - in another episode - also hint at it being no more than a 'software malfunction') and contrast her with a basically good person who after imprinting does completely immoral things, so that one would assume a soul does not enter into the equation (although that could then lead to a discussion of 'what is a soul' or 'can a soul be 'corrupted' simply by personal experience), etcetera. I have no trouble imagining stories like that, that delve into the questions and have philosophical implications as well.

But: no actual science would be needed to make those points or raise those questions. No one would have to go: "well, in fact, the neurons in Echo's brain are doing the following:...".

In fact, I don't even quite see how one would use empirical science in a fictional show to make a point, unless you're making a show about scientists trying to discover a truth. (And even then it's only 'fictional science' at best).

But that's quite different to scientific questions that have a direct bearing on the philosophical questions he wants to ask. Is the mind just neurons firing in our brains? Or is there something else like a soul? I don't think those question can be answered without considering empirical science. You might answer the question with a non-scientific view but that's just reaching a pre-determined conclusion.


Sure, but isn't answering those questions science's job? I'm in awe of Joss' genious most of the time, but I wouldn't propose that he solves these kinds of questions in a work of fiction ;). And you probably wouldn't either, Let Down, so I'm assuming we're misunderstanding each other on some point :).

That's true, you can certainly ask the questions without recourse to science and as long as you never propose one single True answer then you can stick to that. Depends what you mean by 'philosophical' though since philosophy is concerned with finding answers as well as asking questions in a sensible manner.


But can you even properly ask the questions in fiction using science as a basis? I'm having a hard time imagining that in a show like Dollhouse. Other than that: agreed, Saje.
I think it'd be very hard to generate alternate philosophical hypotheses purely from science though clearly what you know about the real world lets you disprove some and informs reasonable lines of enquiry about others.

Hmm, I see what you mean. I think it's a bit of both. I don't think you can point to part of the brain and go "That's the memory of my grandmother" because that involves a lot of differing types of knowledge.

Yeah, that makes sense to me, I was picturing a small network for "woman", a small network for "mother of my mother/father" (or even more broken down), maybe one for the concept of "old" etc. so that "grandmother" would be a network of those smaller networks. It also makes sense that there would be specific, specialised parts of the brain devoted to recognising certain fundamental real world entities (if I were a brain i'd want my "axioms" fairly secure before I went off on conceptual flights of fancy ;).

(i'm in computing BTW, just in case stuffing consciousness into an internet metaphor didn't make that crystal clear ;)

Conscious volition of current events is illusory.

I have one of Benjamin Libet's books on my wish-list might be time for a, err, late Christmas present from me, to me ;) - unless you have any specific recommendations flugufrelsarinn ? Poor old (strong) free-will's fighting a bit of a rear-guard action, scary thought in some ways (though in many situations - emergency braking being one of them - i'd rather trust 4 billion years of successful evolution over my own judgement ;).
(i'm in computing BTW, just in case stuffing consciousness into an internet metaphor didn't make that crystal clear ;)


I figured :) The computing metaphor is a little flawed, but there are psychologists who have made a career thinking about the brain in terms of neural networks.

I have one of Benjamin Libet's books on my wish-list might be time for a, err, late Christmas present from me, to me ;) - unless you have any specific recommendations flugufrelsarinn ?


Libet is definitely the way you want to go, at least to start with, if you're interested in consciousness. It's scary, mind-boggling stuff, but I don't think we can hope to understand ourselves without understanding how consciousness works, or even what we mean by the term.
I think it'd be very hard to generate alternate philosophical hypotheses purely from science though clearly what you know about the real world lets you disprove some and informs reasonable lines of enquiry about others.


Well, yes, fair enough, Saje. This is of course true of most fiction: we conform to the most well-known, intuitive laws of science. But in science fiction (which should, almost per definition, be worried about science :)), laws get broken or knowledge conveniently forgotten all the time. Even Joss has done so repeatedly in the past. Which is why, while I'm sure he will conform to some (a lot?) of scientific fact in Dollhouse, in order to enrich his stories and ground them in some reality, I just don't think he will use science much to delve into the philosophical questions raised. There's certainly - to my mind - no overarching reason why he should. And the wonky science we've seen so far in preview clips and the like would seem indicative of that ;).

Also, thanks for the Libet recommendation, flugufrelsarinn. It seems like fascinating stuff which I'd like to read up on *scribbles a quick note in notepad*.
Saje, flugufrelsarinn: can I recommend Dennett's Consciousness Explained for a very accessible account of Libet's work, and an account of both consciousness and volition which accommodates his work. I wish I wasn't so busy at work, as this discussion is so up my street (or, perhaps more accurately, a street I used to live on: I used to be a philosopher/cognitive scientist working specifically on philosophy of mind). Also, while I'm recommending books, Andy Clark's Being There is a wonderful book that is very accessible and is, like Dennett's book, very good at challenging some of the Cartesian assumptions that remain even when one dispenses with the dualism between soul and body but surreptitiously retain a dualism between brain and (the rest of the) body. One of the reasons that there are such curious mismatches between how brains work and how we like to think persons work is because a brain is a (ineliminably important) bit of a person, not the person themselves: persons are embodied agents embedded in an environment and their actions and interactions (the sorts of things that invlolve talking about their minds) cannot be fully understood outside of that context. It's one of the reasons I think it is sometimes harmless, but sometimes highly misleading, to simply identify the brain mechanics which make certain things possible (visual processing, recalling memories) with those things themselves (seeing, remembering). Of course Gilbert Ryle was spot on about these sorts of things when he wrote The Concept of Mind over half a century ago, but sadly Ryle has long since been lumped in with behaviourists like Watson and Skinner, and as everyone is very confident that behaviourism is nonsense they don't bother reading him any more, which is a great loss both to philosophy and the various sciences of the mind.
I would be surprised if there were anything approaching "hard science" or "real science" in Dollhouse.

I think we can imagine some sort of spectrum of scientific "realism" in sci-fi shows, with Star Trek and maybe The X-Files somewhere near the "realistic" side and, I don't know, Dr. Who or Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy somewhere near the "I don't care if it's realistic side." I fully expect Dollhouse, like all other Joss creations, to be closer to the latter than the former. Science exists in Joss creations, just like magic and monsters existed in Buffy, to create compelling fictions.

(The extent to which they are compelling fictions may depend on how the fictional science correlates with reality, but I imagine that the imagined audience of Dollhouse is not neuroscientists and that most of us will be satisfied with some high-tech hand-waving and the rest will, I hope, be willing to suspend their disbelief.)
But why on earth would you ask those questions (in fact, create a whole show about those questions) if you're not interested in the actual answers to them.


It was in one of his recent interviews that Joss dropped gender-stereotypes to explain that: "Some people might take this as stereotyping, but I describe television as feminine and movies as masculine, in the sense that television wants to examine a problem from all sides and talk about it for a long time, and movies just want to hit the climax and then maybe have a smoke."

Relating to your question, he's inventing a whole show because a TV show is his way to explore questions, not answers. My guess is, only the series-finale has the right to actually make a final answer, like "Chosen" did. A season finale can maybe deliver a partial answer. Despite S8, my reading of "Chosen" (and BDM) was basically that: The delivery of some final answers. Which for me felt completely different than the TV shows before them. Grammatically speaking, that is. :)

[ edited by wiesengrund on 2009-01-08 16:16 ]
It's one of the reasons I think it is sometimes harmless, but sometimes highly misleading, to simply identify the brain mechanics which make certain things possible (visual processing, recalling memories) with those things themselves (seeing, remembering).

I think this may be because subjective sensation, what it actually is to be conscious is an extremely tough (maybe impossible) nut for science to crack, might not even be a real "thing" in the first place. So people tend to avoid the "big" subject cos there's no scientifically amenable way to really ask the question (yet at least).

And more books to consider, my poor aching bank account ;).

*scribbles a quick note in notepad*

Your brain knew you were going to scribble that note before you did ;-).

I'm now not 100% certain of your point GVH. I agree that Joss isn't going to show us people engaged in genuine neuroscience or depict imprinting an entire consciousness realistically (at least partly because we don't really even know what that'd involve ;).

But it's still true that you can't even suggest sensible answers without either referring to reality (as described by science) or basically throwing up your hands and saying, there's more to the universe than rational enquiry can show us (though you can suggest what you might call "narratively sensible" answers and that's what Joss usually does).
Sigh. This mentioning of interesting books has led me to this wonderful site, which has led to more interesting books. I really need an extra lifetime for reading.
"Quot libros, quam breve tempus" jcs ("So many books, so little time" ;).
I have a t-shirt with that quote!

And that's about as substantive a contribution as I can make to this conversation.
Heh, uncertainty... it happens, Saje ;).

My point is that he doesn't have to refer to reality... Joss just has to refer (directly or indirectly) to his version of reality, which might have some basic rules to use as a shorthand for things to make sense in the show, but which never get explained from a real-world scientific point-of-view. He might have a 'memory removing machine' and a 'memory implanting machine' and all kinds of things in between without ever explaining how or why they work and still be able to tell interesting stories from a philosophical and emotional point of view. I think the science itself simply isn't that relevant to the story or those questions.

(Crap, and now I have to leave to get my *** handed to me in a volleybal match against the #1 in our poule ;))
This might help with brain/memory questions. I think the organ transplant stuff is pseudoscience.
I think the science itself simply isn't that relevant to the story or those questions.

Ah, OK. Yeah, I agree with this, i've been talking about suggesting answers (even if the show doesn't actually hang its hat on any particular one as The Truth™). If the answers are gonna make sense then reality has to feature in there somewhere.
If the answers are gonna make sense then reality has to feature in there somewhere.

That's hard to argue with :), but I kind of doubt the somewhere will be cognitive-science reality. In Buffy, many "answers" about the world involve having and losing souls. I don't believe in souls, but the stories work fine for me because of the emotional truths that they tell. I realize that this show is supposed to be more "philosophical," but people look at Buffy philosophically, too (see long "24" discussion in other thread). I guess I'm just saying that to me it seems likely (based on past Joss experience) that the show will be inaccurate in terms of cognitive science but that it won't matter a bit because it will still tell important truths about how people feel and behave--exploring identity in terms of how we experience it, not in objective terms.
Well, one of the things I liked about Buffy was that it didn't really support the whole "soul-having=good, not-soul-having=bad" premise that it seemed to start out with. It just got more complicated, more question-y and lest answer-y. I fully expect Dollhouse to work the same way.

By "the same way," I mean things like starting out with "Operative=weird, non-operative=normal," and then undercutting that. After all, we all re-write our histories, memories, and personalities (more or less sucessfully) all of the time. Questioning that, just like questioning what makes us human/demon is what I hope the show will be about.

[ edited by Septimus on 2009-01-08 18:38 ]
I remember reading a New Yorker piece about two neurobiologists who live together who have tried to eliminate all vernacular descriptions of emotion / mood / intent etc. from their language. So they'd say "my brain is being flooded with phlebmotnamine right now" rather than say "I'm really grumpy today" (that's not an actual example--I don't actually know remember the scientific terms used in the article).

My thought at the time was "why the hell would you do that?" I'm quite prepared to believe that consciousness and will are purely epiphenomenal--a shadow-theater that follows in the wake of and provides some coherent narrative account of what are purely autonomous stimulus-responses--but I don't see how--even knowing that--we could ever escape the subjective experience of a "self" who thinks about events and "wills" responses to those events.

That is, "scientific accuracy" on issues of identity etc. is unlikely to be a particularly useful road to good story telling. Whatever function it is that stories help us perform (and perhaps all they do, in the end, is help the fluidity and coherence of that epiphenomenal shadow-theater), I think they'll continue to do it best by resonating with our subjective experience of identity--no matter how delusory that may in fact be.
Well, one of the things I liked about Buffy was that it didn't really support the whole "soul-having=good, not-soul-having=bad" premise that it seemed to start out with.

Nah, it stuck to it more or less IMO, with a couple of refinements (soul-having=good/chance at redemption, non-soul-having=bad/kill with impunity). Buffy was consistently inconsistent on the issue of souls ;).

That's hard to argue with :)

Ah, the stories I could tell ... ;)

And sure jcs, that's the "narratively sensible" answers I mentioned upthread, i'm totally in agreement that you don't need to be realistic in order to be real.

I think maybe we're all tripping over the difference between "being philosophical" and "doing philosophy". You can be philosophical without proposing any actual answers to the questions you're asking, I don't think that's true of "doing philosophy".
Well, one of the things I liked about Buffy was that it didn't really support the whole "soul-having=good, not-soul-having=bad" premise that it seemed to start out with.

Nah, it stuck to it more or less IMO, with a couple of refinements (soul-having=good/chance at redemption, non-soul-having=bad/kill with impunity). Buffy was consistently inconsistent on the issue of souls ;).


You really think so, Saje? Wow, I think I fundamentally disagree with that. I mean, what about Clem, or Lorne, or Doyle? Or even Anyanka whose soul-having status wasn't ever really clear (not to mention her passel of wedding invitees)? Not to mention the whole en-chipped Spike issue. It seems like there are demons and half-demons and what-all (who may or may not have souls) that are all over the good-evil spectrum. (Maybe this is a more prominent theme in Angel than in BTVS?)

In any case, my point was supposed to be about Dollhouse, Joss won't leave it simple. The initial us/them (citizens/operatives in Dollhouse) (humans/demons-vampires) distinction that seems to put us in a positive/normal light just isn't going to hold up.
Well, we were talking about Buffy not Angel ;), Ats was always morally murkier IMO but anyway, i'm not sure we ever know whether Clem/Lorne/Doyle have souls or not, any more than we do about Anya (or Cordelia when she becomes part demon).

But we do know that Buffy is allowed to kill sentient beings on the basis that they don't have souls (people would be upset if she killed Clem - assuming he has no soul - but I don't think she would be expected to turn herself in and accept imprisonment as Faith was over the Mayor's aide, even though Clem is, ostensibly, a better being than that guy). And she's willing to give Spike more leeway in S7 at least partly because "he has a soul now" (chipped Spike was tolerated because he was useful and harmless to humans and even looking at his portrayal, pre-soul we don't really see him do much if anything that can't be explained by selfish motives - primarily wanting to be with Buffy).

If you're saying demons were portrayed in a less clear-cut manner before the end then I agree but the en-souled get breaks and second chances that the un-ensouled just don't, or that's how I see it anyway.

(but I agree re: Dollhouse, villains for villainy's sake and totally white-hatted heroes aren't Joss' style at all - I don't see the line between actives and civilians as clear-cut even now, before we've seen a single episode - and I fully expect to sympathise with Adelle to some extent. And not just because she's played by Olivia Williams ;)
Err... yeah, "actives." Dont' know why I kept calling them "operatives."
I imagine all hell is going to break loose the first time an Active gets killed. People are still arguing about good demons and bad humans in Buffy, and we're about to meet people who can be all of the above from week to week but are never really even there. It's like shooting a sleepwalker. A sleepwalker who has mad ninja skills when asleep, but still. Not awake. Maybe they can catch knives mid-air to defend themselves, but there's no self to defend.

I can't imagine anything more fun to write, really.
I never could, in the end, figure out what the "soul" was, exactly, in the Buffyverse. We have one account of vampirism which is that a demon-spirit enters your body, kicks out your soul (which is, then, a kind of center-of-selfhood/conscience), and takes over, essentially, as "driver" of your body. Oddly enough, though, the demon-spirit also takes on all your memories and many of your desires, resentments, passions etc.

By that account, though, the Gypsy curse that Angel suffers under never made any sense to me. Why should he feel guilty for all the devilry perpetrated by Angelus? He literally didn't do it. It would be as if one felt guilty if someone knocked you out and then used your unconscious body as a weapon against someone else.

In the event, though, I never get too hung up on these questions while watching the show--mostly because the writers remain so completely inexplicit about it that you can usually fudge together some kind of explanation (there is a sense in which Angel chose to become a vampire, for example, as is therefore responsible for everything his vampire self did in the same way a drunk driver is responsible for his actions even if they were involuntary at the time).

I guess where I'm going Dollhouse-wise is that I hope no-one makes the mistake of really trying to cobble together a plausible-sounding sciencey explanation of how it all works. The more specific they are, the less one will be able to "philosophize" about it and the harder it will be to suspend one's disbelief. It's like the difference between "the force" in Eps IV-VI and the crazy scientology-like midichlorian-count nonsense in Eps I-III.
Septimus: "Err... yeah, "actives." Dont' know why I kept calling them "operatives."

I suspect that may have been because the original Den of Geeks article itself did in its lead sentence:

"Joss Whedon's imminent new series concerns operatives so secret that even they don't know what they're up to."

Just a thought... that you were led astray... by a stray memory...
See? That's exactly what I'm talking about. No-one can trust their memories. We're ALL actives.
We'd be the lamest actives ever though. Mind wiped by a powerfull organisation and reprogrammed as... whedon fans posting on the internet. Hm.
snot monster from outer space said:
I never could, in the end, figure out what the "soul" was, exactly, in the Buffyverse.

I honestly think that that is because no coherent sense can be made of the idea at all, by anyone. It is an excellent trope for fiction, as Joss has proved again and again.
Re. memory & brain: To non-scientists in the crowd I highly recommend the book "Welcome to Your Brain" by Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang. Sandra is the editor in chief of "Nature Neuroscience" and Sam is associate prof of neuroscience at Princeton, yet they write in such a way that even I (a musician with no more science than I learned in high school) can follow what they say.
We'd be the lamest actives ever though.

Unless you're targeting an online poll. Cos there, we kick ass ;).
We'd be the lamest actives ever though.

There could be something to this, as I do notice that I seem to fall asleep on a pretty regular basis. Maybe the memories I have of yesterday are implanted and tomorrow I will be somebody else.

No wait, that's crazy talk. My twitter account proves that I have continuity as me (it's not like anybody could ever hack twitter).

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