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February 13 2009

Dollhouse's memory science mixes fact with fiction. About the "science" in the science fiction of the show.

Oh, that's awesome. Does anyone remember some of us had a brief exchange, months ago, about whether or not anything from his Afterlife script ideas found its way into Dollhouse?
Of course if they could create complete personalities it would be a huge secret and be locked down by the government of whatever country the scientists were working in. So technically saying that it is complete science fiction is just a guess based on what that scientist knows about current sciences that are not totally locked up and classified.

It would be like discovering how to create cold fusion, invisibility, or even reversing the aging process. It is far too valuable to the people in charge to let technology like that out into the public. Also, once that technology is in public hands it becomes less valuable.

Anyone who speaks in absolutes usually has an agenda, so I can only assume that Dr. Todd Sacktor at State University of New York–Brooklyn is part of the cover up conspiracy! :)
This is an interesting angle to examine.
And I really like the phrase 'canon memory'!
Anyone who speaks in absolutes usually has an agenda...

Perpetual motion is absolutely impossible. There, easy ;).

(point being, some things just are impossible - either that or everything we think we know is wrong, which seems to contradict the state of the world)

Not really a surprise that it's the storage/imprinting that's furthest fetched since that's the part that requires us to actually know precisely what memories are, where individual memories are stored and to be able to precisely control the brain at a molecular - or lower - level. Entertaining conspiracy theories aside, that's currently way beyond us (and might be even in principle) but very broad control of personality/memory is already possible, just ask Phineas Gage (course, even the most desperate potential active might draw the line at having railroad spikes explosively driven through their head ;).
Dollverse carried a tag line in the logo for 6 months "Like TANK. Except better". TANK was the 'Dollhouse' in Joss's movie script, Afterlife. I don't think anybody got the reference except Joss.
"Of course if they could create complete personalities it would be a huge secret and be locked down by the government of whatever country the scientists were working in. So technically saying that it is complete science fiction is just a guess based on what that scientist knows about current sciences that are not totally locked up and classified."

I don't believe that science works like this. Technological applications can be developed in secrecy and kept secret for awhile, but scientists working on classified projects have to rely partly on basic research that is carried on in the public domain. There isn't enough money in the world to do all the necessary science in isolation from the larger scientific community. Anyone can look at the published research and extrapolate what is and isn't possible. Robert Heinlein famously was investigated by the U.S. government for publishing a science fiction story about the atomic bomb during the war that was close to what the Manhattan Project was trying to accomplish. He was able to show that he came up with his ideas entirely from public sources.
In the logo for 6 months where?
I have to take this "science fiction" aspect as completely fictional. And that's not a slam; one of the time-honored techniques of science fiction is to ask "what if", then to examine the results and consequences. To be successful, it certainly helps to limit the number of those "what if" questions; keeping it to one works best. And having asked and answered the question, one then has to treat that answer as given and absolute. Sort of a metaphorical McGuffin, more or less.

Having said that, what I understand of learning and memory pretty much indicates that this is impossible. Memory is somewhat malleable, personality much less so, and some things such as language processing and musical ability not at all. Some of these things are structural, and those structures grow and develop during childhood. As an example, the brain develops "short-cuts" for grammar and for recognition of languages up to around age 7 or so. After that, learning a language becomes much harder, and it's difficult to ever erase the accent from one's native language(s). Much of personality is also based on early developmental experiences, along with genetics and who knows what else.

Memory is a tricky matter, since most of human memory seems to be reconstructive rather than a simple record of experience. Evidence suggests the possibility of a holographic organization (treat that as a metaphor, please) built in part by connections. Keep in mind also that one of the apparent functions of sleep is for the brain to manage and organize memories from recent events. That allows for some possibility of manipulation, but certainly not with the ease that Dollhouse is likely to portray it.

So I'll take the "chair" as a metaphor, thank you very much, and enjoy it as such for the run of the show.
Does this mean an article might show up in a Popular Mechanics magazine at some time?
Neat article.

Yeah, like others have said, memory is pretty reconstructive, so it's not really accurate to think of it as some long videotape of our life experiences, from which particular memories can be edited out or altered (except maybe through hypnosis, but that's kinda iffy).

Since the article mentions that this kind of thing may be used for PTSD or phobias, it makes you wonder what kinds of traumatic experiences some of the Actives may have had (this may have already been said..).
I was trying to point out that anything is possible in science and that this guy, who works on one aspect of chemical memory removal, might not know what other (possibly secret) groups might be working on.

also Janef, Someone manipulating human thought would have to remain secret since I am sure human mind manipulation would not be ethical by any standards. If you thought the human cloning had a huge worldwide legal backlash, wait until someone perfects memory removal and substitution.

I was sort of joking about this guy trying to cover something up, but he just seems a little too dismissive of the possibility of another technology being able to do anything to memory.

If this ever did happen I would imagine that computer technology would have to be involved since a complete working model of the brain would have to be created using a human like Artificial Intelligence. I hate to break it to this scientist, but several groups around the world have been working on creating a human brain AI for years. Some even involve trying to implant human memories into the AI. Once that is complete we just need to figure out how to reverse the process.

I think the AI technology is probably 10 to 20 years off, so the government probably already has a working prototype if they are as ahead of the curve as they have been in the past.
I was trying to point out that anything is possible in science...

Why would you try to point out an untrue thing?
Well, i'd do it for cash personally but everyone's different.

I hate to break it to this scientist, but several groups around the world have been working on creating a human brain AI for years.

Your sentence called, it wants its "... without success" back ;).

I think the AI technology is probably 10 to 20 years off...

Heh, people have been saying this in AI for 50+ years ;).
I remember Roddenberry writing that the drama is more important than the science (fiction), much like Joss has stated a few times. Which is kinda ironic, considering that Star Trek is famous for its phlebotinum-like technobabble. Gene's point was that the cop on the street doesn't try to explain the chemical and mechanical properties of his/her gun before using it. You see a red-shirt fire a phaser enough times, you understand what it can/can't do, without a scientific treatise.

Having said that, I was just thinking about the memory planting. While they could do it like the Matrix, with potentially unlimited skills being added to the person, I'd be more interested if the Dolls HAD to be wiped before new memories were added. Then we could have the episode where someone normal is implanted-without-wiping, in order to deliberately give the person a psychotic break/neurological disorder.
I dunno if they have to be wiped but my understanding is, they are wiped after every "mission". It's not like The Matrix where Neo "knows Kung-Fu", in 'Dollhouse' Echo doesn't know anything, it's the imprinted personality that has the skills (or that's the official line anyway, obviously the premise of the show is that Echo actually does start to retain something between wipes as time goes on). I.e. they don't upload "safecracking", they imprint the entire persona of a safecracker.
What/when was Afterlife?
It's an unproduced movie script of Joss' from the early-mid 90s.
wiesengrund, email me.
The One True b!X, I still maintain that anything is possible in science, it just may not be possible in our current science.

carl sagan once said:
"It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas … If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you … On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful ideas from the worthless ones."

He also had a quote (that I can't find right now) about how the universe is so vast that anything you can imagine in your wildest dreams probably exists somewhere within it as long as you stay within the laws of physics.

Both B!X and Saje need to open up their inner dreamer a bit I think.

I am a true believer in the scientific method, and a skeptic, but I also know that we know very little about the universe for certain. Yes, I am very skeptical of science as well, as a good scientist should be. To pretend we do know something for certain and that there are no other possible solutions is very arrogant or at the very least ignorant. Not that I am calling anyone names. I just think the scientist that reviewed dollhouse was only viewing science from one perspective and ignoring others.

[ edited by Jaynes Hat on 2009-02-14 07:55 ]
BTW, it sounds like my theory was pretty spot on after watching Dollhouse tonight.


He also had a quote (that I can't find right now) about how the universe is so vast that anything you can imagine in your wildest dreams probably exists somewhere within it as long as you stay within the laws of physics. (my emphasis)

Someone needs to open up their inner reading comprehender I think ;).

(i.e. Sagan is quite explicitly saying the laws of physics determine what's possible - and impossible - not our imaginations)

It's easy (as Sagan points out) to mistake a credulous mind for an open one and it's also easy to mistake being aware of the (limited) extent of what we know and how it relates to the world for being arrogant enough to assume we know everything. We don't know everything, no-one here is claiming we do - nevertheless we do know some things. One of them being, for instance, that if physics as we understand it is even close to correct (and it seems to be a reasonable approximation in many situations because look ! computers, aeroplanes, space-shuttles, microwave ovens etc. etc.) then perpetual motion is impossible. Conservation of energy even applies to dreams because the brains that have them eventually wear out ;).

I just think the scientist that reviewed dollhouse was only viewing science from one perspective and ignoring others.

I agree. He was reviewing it from the scientific perspective and ignoring unscientific ones (like deciding what's possible based on what we can imagine). Not insane for a scientist really, when you think about it.

(and incidentally, "anything is possible in science" is obviously an absolute statement. Arrogance appears in many forms it seems ;)

[ edited by Saje on 2009-02-14 11:00 ]

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