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"Oh my god. You teach ethics?"
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August 11 2009

Epitaph One as blogged by Anna Pickard of The Guardian. "Crikey, what a corker of an episode."

It was the episode that Fox told Whedon they needed, for international distribution deals and DVDs - but wouldn't pay extra for (because they'd already stumped up for an extra pilot)
Uh, no. The studio requested it for int'l and DVD, but the network wouldn't license it for broadcast. Repeat after me: "There is no single monolithic FOX entity."
...while Haunted itself was not one of the later half of the season's greatest episodes, some of the plot threads here pick up on the ideas that were first introduced there (unsurprisingly as Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, credited on this, also wrote on Haunted, along with Jane Espenson) - notably the idea of a living personality belonging to a real person being transplanted into one of the dolls in a rather sinister eternal life scenario.

This is something that's bothered me about Epitaph One, the 'Eternal Life' nonsense. From everything presented in the show so far, Immortality has not actually been achieved. The notion that Mr. Ambrose has been copied to 10 other bodies gives proof to the lie. The Original would still live on or eventually Die...all the while aware of his impending Death. While it may appear to the Copy that he is the Original, that the process of forcing his Imprint on another person' mind is a seemless transfer of Self, to the Original it would be anything but. The Original would be aware that the Copy is nothing more then a Copy and that he, the Original, is still doomed. Which begs the question: why would you pay a nine-figure sum so someone else can live your life?

[ edited by mangydog on 2009-08-12 01:16 ]
I think the only way that makes sense is if the Original can't trust anyone to succeed him, and hires an active to be the 2.0 version of himself. Also, there's always the chance the Original can get himself in an Active just before death. Maybe that's what Ambrose did here, and added nine extras of himself for good measure. So, a form of immortality for nine figures? To the one paying that much to cheat death and God, it's a bargain.

[ edited by impalergeneral on 2009-08-12 01:25 ]
Even when the review is glowing, I still don't like the way its written. Watched Epitaph One on Sci-Fi anyway, and it was spectacular in every single way.

Would have loved to experienced it at ComicCon.
I would assume the way to do it would be for the billionaire immortal wannabe to pay the price and then get a scan every week for the rest of his life, similar to Haunted.

That way they would know that whatever happens "they" will live on. If they're suddenly hurtling to the ground with a failed parachute then, yes, they know "they" are going to die, but so what? Nothing they can do. Their copy will wake up in the chair, read about the accident and think "Glad I missed that!" and carry on.

ETA: Is this any different to the (assumed, theoretical) way the Star Trek transporter works? Evey time Kirk steps into one he knows a copy of him will be created hundreds of miles away and "he" will be killed at the same instant.

So an ageing billionaire could transfer into a young body and his original mind wiped and the body dumped.
As long as you can trust the people doing the work and the process itself then it shouldn't be a problem....

[ edited by zz9 on 2009-08-12 02:31 ]
mangydog It cuts to the core of the show, of what the technology means, of who we are. Can you make a digital copy of a mind?

By analogy, consider these words that you are reading right now. They are not the same words that I am typing into the "add a comment" box. They are a COPY of those words, displayed on your screen. Other copies are displayed on other people's screens. More copies still will be stored in databases, and cached on hard drives. But the original version of the words I am typing right now will be gone when I post this. Do my words live on, or are they already gone? Are the words nothing but digital data? Is a mind?
AlanD, go even further, isn't every single cell in the human body replaced every seven years? (Or have I imagines that?)
So "you" are not the same person that existed ten years ago.
Ah, but I am more than my cells.

I think the appeal of the "full anatomy upgrade" is that my personality and memories live forever, not that my particular consciousness gets to avoid death. It's of interest to a different set of people than the more typical idea of immortality. The people buying what Rossum is offering are not so much unaccepting of mortality as they are unaccepting of limits to their own power. I actually find that scarier.

On rewatch seeing that guy eat the lobster was just as chilling as the first time, but also reminded me of watching a new vampire come to and realize they're both powerful and hungry.
I agree. While they can copy all of the content in the mind, they cannot copy one's consciousness. It is not data that can be stored on a disk. However once someone has been copied and placed in another body (if assuming they are incapable of philosophical thought) they will believe wholeheartedly that only the body has changed. The other person's consciousness will have no frame of reference other than the memories put into their head. Therefore they would avoid giving up the body out of self preservation.
By the way here's something to think about. If we are reincarnated when we die, then in the grand scheme of things our many lives partially parallel the dollhouse. Our minds would be "wiped" when we die and we would become new people with each birth. The only constant being our consciousness that threads everything together but has no memory of anything outside of the current life.
...isn't every single cell in the human body replaced every seven years? (Or have I imagines that?)


Er, that's not really true. Some cells have a high turnover rate (less than a day) and others are rarely replaced throughout your life. Think skin cells vs. brain cells. Most cells are probably replaced within a few days to a few weeks—certainly not seven years.
@impalergeneral: That's the thing, they are NOT cheating death as there is no actual transference of that Energy that is You from one body to the next. Rather, they take a snapshot, if you will, of your Mind and store a Copy of what the Energy that is You looked like at the time they took the snapshot. Then they force that pattern, as an over-lay, onto the mind of someone else. Again, Original lives on (or dies) while someone else's mind becomes like the Original's...but still not the Original.


@zz9: The Startrek Transporter is supposedly a matter/energy conversion system where the Original's Matter is instantly converted to Energy and that Energy is delivered to a specific point in space and reconverted from Energy to Matter. That is an actual Energy Transference of Self from point A to point B, not merely making a copy and destroying the original (albeit, using a prohibitively HUGE amount of Energy in order to do so).

Nothing we've seen so far in Dollhouse indicates or demonstrate Energy being drawn from a subject. Energy has been delivered to a subject, but never actually transfered from one subject to another.


@sunfire I have to disagree with you in part. Anyone who is as unaccepting of the limits of their own power to even consider something like what Rossum has to offer, would also be unaccepting of the limits of the technology if Rossum is trying to sell it as a means of true Immortality as its being portrayed in the episode. The closest the Technology, as we've seen to date, could possibly provide would be similar to the sort of 'Immortality' a Parent has with their offspring.


@AlanD That's not necessarily the best of analogies. Data is not Life, Life is not Data. Your words are not Life, merely Data. A finite collection of Zeros and Ones.

Thing is, while it could technically be possible to get close enough for practical purposes in creating a Digital Copy of a Mind you're still not creating the Person, merely creating a Digital representation of said person. Data remains lifeless because the complexity of the Digital format remains Finite while the complexity, variety and nuance that is Life is Infinite.
That's very poetic but brains are finite, bodies have boundaries, cells are distinct entities. Life is amazingly rich and varied but it's not infinite because nothing existing in the physical universe is infinite. And the physical universe is where life lives ;).

As to data/mind, categorical statements either way are begging a very big (and currently unanswered) question about the nature of minds IMO. I think minds are data BUT i'm not quite as convinced that they can be represented algorithmically i.e. as a set of instructions for "being a mind". I also think minds are "stateful" in the sense that only an instantaneous snapshot of every aspect of the entire brain taken at precisely the same instant (likely down to the quantum scale) can capture a mind entire. That BTW, is a problem for the Trek transporters since that sort of instantaneous read of the entire brain state seems a very hard problem (maybe even impossible in principle due to Heisenberg and his bloody uncertainty ;) and it's a problem for 'Dollhouse' cos it probably wouldn't fit on a hard-drive ;).

Exactly how transporters work is unclear but it's certain that information plays a big part. They seem to read the location of everything in your body then beam a high-energy matter stream (along with the information, called a "pattern") which is then reconstituted into a copy of you at the remote location. The you that steps onto the transporter pad is destroyed (McCoy has one of his wonderful rants about this in TOS, Barclay is phobic of transporters for the same reason in Next Gen) and the "you" that steps off at the other side is made from different atoms (since the matter stream seems not to consist of whole atoms but either a plasma or maybe even a sort of "quark soup").

(and, as zz9 almost says ;), all your atoms are replaced roughly once every 7 years anyway and as Invisible Green says, your cells usually even more quickly - your cells and atoms aren't you, preserving them or not isn't the same as preserving yourself)

Re: immortality, I assumed the idea would be regular "backups" and then when your alpha copy dies, they imprint your backup onto another body (or if you wanted a younger body immediately you might backup and then suicide before re-imprinting), probably partly because that's just how it usually works (the idea of your consciousness in another body isn't exactly new to sci-fi ;) - check out Richard Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs novels or 'Voice of the Whirlwind' by Walter Jon Williams just as two examples. VotW in particular essays the exact points we're talking about here) and partly cos it's an existentially simpler approach.

Someone might create multiple copies at once temporarily, for a specific task but except at the precise instant of imprinting, they wouldn't be the same people - in that sense a copy in a different body isn't immortality because "you" are part mind, part body, change one and "you" change (the usual workaround for this is an exact clone of your body but even then, it won't have your aches, your scars etc.). If I were an ambitious, ruthless person i'd be very wary of multiple copies BTW, just because one/all of my copies would probably want to be the alpha and try to kill the rest of me-s (pronouns get awkward in these discussions ;).

I think the appeal of the "full anatomy upgrade" is that my personality and memories live forever, not that my particular consciousness gets to avoid death.

Though in real life it seems unlikely that your personality would be unchanged when your body chemistry is different (you may be quicker to anger for instance or less able to recall specific memories). Over time you'll certainly diverge, I guess the question is, could you convince yourself that since we all change over time anyway it wouldn't be any different to ageing/acquiring experiences ? Are any of us the same person we were at e.g. 16 ? So why do we think we are ?

And underneath all that is the fundamental question the show asks "What's a 'you' in the first place ?" or maybe more "What's an 'I' ?".
I like that Anna Pickard used the word "arsebiscuits".
Ah yeah, the review, ahem... 'Arsebiscuits' was the best part of it for me, totally nicking that ;).

In general, as with her previous reviews, I don't really agree with many of her points (particularly the constant snark about ED's acting, though she's obviously entitled to her opinion) but the way she says it is pretty entertaining to read.

(for international readers BTW "Which is nice" is a riff on 'The Fast Show', a popular UK sketch show from a few years back. One of the recurring characters would describe something absolutely incredible, a once in a lifetime experience and then, in a very understated, middle-class English way say "Which was nice" ;)
Heh, I've managed to resist the temptation to dive into the many threads there have been here regarding the philosophical implications (and assumptions) built into Dollhouse. I used to be a philosopher (professionally, not just in the pub) and I worked specifically on philosophy of mind in a reasonably inter-disciplinary environment with psychologists, neuroscientists, AI and Artificial Life people, etc. The thing is that in order to contribute anything that I would be satisfied with, I'd have to write such a long post complete with obligatory reading list that no one would read it anyway, and I don't have time to write such a thing anyway.

But I will say this, Saje is astute as always in pointing out the many questionable assumptions many people seem to make here. Two that jumped out of the page at me were the apparent revival of vitalism by mangydog: the "Energy that is you"? Heh. We always used to joke in philosophy that at least no one was a vitalist in biology anymore, but apparently the idea of the elan vital is just too hard to put down. The other thing that jumps out is the prevalence of what Dennett calls "Cartesian Materialism": that even after people have rejected Descartes' dualism of mind and matter, and accepted that we're purely physical and our minds in some way supervene on our brains, they nevertheless retain a lot of the rest of Cartesian thinking about the mind which has filtered into "common sense" as if it was just obvious. Stuff like "my consciousness" which is something over and above my occurrent and potential thoughts and memories (the data, if you will). There is an enormous amount of very well-written accessible contemporary philosophy which very forcefully argues that most of these residual elements of Cartesianism in what passes for common sense about the mind are simply false.
yeah, a lot of people just can't get over the emotional attachment to themselves.
I haven't yet seen E1. But as to whether or not the Dollhouse technology can fascilitate immortality.... well, it seems to me you'd have to define immortality for each individual seeking it. If I want someone with my exact skill set, my exact knowledge base, my exact memory, my exact morality to continue after me and pursue those gaols that I was unable to achieve during my body's life... If that is what immortality means to me, then the Dollhouse is perfectly well equipped to provide it.
Many good points. QingTing seems on the same track that I am. The philosophical arguments are legitimate and almost certainly a good part of the purpose of the series. However, in practical terms within the show, it is really what concept they can sell.

If they can convince an extremely wealthy person that their "being" lies in their memories and abilities, that those can be transferred to another body and that that equals immortality, that is going to mean something different to that person than the Dr. McCoyesque character who insists it is just a disconnected abomination.

To some, children are a way to be immortal. You pass a piece of you on to following generations. How much you pass, no one is sure of. (There is that niggling "nature vs. nurture" debate, ya know?) To others, I am sure, the preservation their thoughts, memories, abilities and how their mind works is much more what they would consider being immortal.

But what about the definitions of murder or kidnapping? With that technology, it seems like the definitions of those words would have to be redefined, but it probably never would before the breakdown of government...
Sure it's different for different people, some feel they can survive through creative works, some through their children or through the people they touch/help in their lives etc.

But deep down I suspect most people see that as "settling" - if they had the choice most folk (IMO) would see immortality as their awareness of being themselves continuing - in Woody Allen's words, "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it through not dying" ;).

(and in fairness, philosophical objections aside, I think that awareness would survive using the backup/imprinting process - you may not be you but you wouldn't necessarily be less you than e.g. you after waking from an extended coma. You'd change but not in any way that you couldn't convince yourself was natural)

The other thing that jumps out is the prevalence of what Dennett calls "Cartesian Materialism"...

Yeah, I did this too (with the 'part mind/part body' thing - strictly speaking we're all body, except that doesn't really convey it either ;), the ways of thinking and words to describe them are hard to shake, probably partly because good analogies are hard to find (e.g. a computer program is basically the same regardless of hardware, you can even stop it in mid-operation and it still makes sense to talk about it as the same entity - one of the least sensible things Topher says in the series is that bodies are interchangeable hardware, not only is it not right, it's so wrong I don't think even Topher, in his arrogance, would think that).

That said, I reckon it's only partly a terminological holdover. Even if we came up with a consistent vocabulary to talk about minds that're solely based on brains, there's still something about the sensation of awareness which makes them feel separate I think and that would be harder to shake (a bit like the more bizarre aspects of quantum or relativistic physics - which we also didn't evolve to interpret, it's too massive/too fast/too small for us - it may actually just be beyond our ability to grasp on an intuitive level).

(I reckon i'd read that post BTW dzr ;)
But deep down I suspect most people see that as "settling" - if they had the choice most folk (IMO) would see immortality as their awareness of being themselves continuing - in Woody Allen's words, "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it through not dying" ;).

(and in fairness, philosophical objections aside, I think that awareness would survive using the backup/imprinting process - you may not be you but you wouldn't necessarily be less you than e.g. you after waking from an extended coma. You'd change but not in any way that you couldn't convince yourself was natural)


I agree. For most people, what the Dollhouse is offering would be as close to immortality as anyone is offering up. True, it would not be immortality for the mind that keeps living in the body after the scan, because that mind would not experience it, but it would seem like immortality to the mind that experienced each transfer...and I say each because, of course it would have to be done an infinite number of times separated by a number of years between each to achieve "immortality." Each (new) original would have to experience death, but in theory, at least one copy could continue on with the experiences up to the time of transfer to each new body. Of course, if at some point they found a way to keep bodies alive indefinitely the copied personality might not have to experience the dying at all. Then again, if the governments around the world were completely compromised by the technology, not much of most of this would happen.
I have assumed, since Ep 2, that "immortality" or some version of it was behind the Dollhouse.
And for those of you thinking, "Ep 2? What the $%#$#% in Ep 2 would lead to that conclusion?"
Helicopter rapid-response force. Way too costly for a business model, however pricey, of a sort-of brothel. Since that indicates that the Dollhouse clearly wasn't a for-profit motive, something else had to be driving it.
Best guess, immortality.

But that's just me :)
I see it as a step up from freezing. Or maybe it could work hand in hand. While your flesh bag is chillin', a copy of you could be running around free and happy. When it's time to "wake up", your copy could return, download its memories into your flesh bag, and then you would still be complete.
Helicopter rapid-response force. Way too costly for a business model, however pricey, of a sort-of brothel. Since that indicates that the Dollhouse clearly wasn't a for-profit motive ...

Nah, that seems pretty thin to me PaulfromSunnydale. For each time out it wouldn't be profitable but for the dollhouse every engagement that goes south endangers the entire operation and in order to maintain the entire operation it certainly would.

Say there're 50 actives total (spread across several houses) and they average 3 engagements a week each and I don't think, say, $250,000 per engagement is unrealistic - that's a turnover of about $35 million per week ! Helicopter assault teams, bribing senators, tweaking legislation, hell, toppling governments and buying small countries would be financially viable choices to preserve a business like that.
Saje,
You've left John Varley off the list of scifi writers who cover this territory. He has a set of stories set in a future where people do get regular "backup" scans, and upon death the scan is downloaded into a clone. I can't remember the title of the short story that best portrays this aspect of his future worlds, but it was one in which a character wakes up to discover that she has been the victim of a serial murderer - serial in the sense that every time she comes back she gets murdered again. (It is not "The Barbie Murders" which is set in that future but involves a completely different series of murders).
Ooh, I missed the Fast Show reference. Silly me, how quickly memory fades...

Generally, I'm glad Anna Pickard has come round to the show and especially glad that she liked Epitaph One, because it's probably the most likely to appeal to Whedonites (what with a sort-of apocalypse and all). In other words, if she hadn't liked it, she'd probably never have come round to the show at all, and I do like reasonably intelligent tv critics to approve of the things I like. :) I don't at all mind that she gets a few things wrong and has a few bugbears with the show if she's able to seize the important and good things about it like that. After all, until I hung around on lots of internet messageboards, I had no idea how the studio/network model in the US worked either... ;)

I do think she makes a good point that having the dolls be 'real' personalities made things rather different. Although, with that said... [hushed tones] I found Victor and Sierra considerably more boring as their 'real' selves. [/embarrassed hush]

Oh, and I also approve of 'arsebiscuits.' :)
$250,000 per engagement is unrealistic - that's a turnover of about $35 million per week !


Is that enough to cover their own satellites?
I've been assuming since the first episode that they make some mind-boggling amount from the engagement fees and then pick up extra here and there as they take advantage of various situations. Like $8 million in kidnapper ransom.
And it's all tax free to boot. I'd say a turnover of around $1.8 billion per annum is probably gonna stretch to at least a piece of a satellite. Like a timeshare ;).

And good call barboo, Varley's one of the (nigh infinite ;) holes I need to fill in my reading (I like the idea of the same person being serially murdered time and again, it's a very logical twist to the scenario but still unexpected). I wasn't trying to be comprehensive though, just illustrating that the idea's been done a few times, enough that it's a sci-fi trope.
dzr do you have any links to these modern philosophies? Are any posted online where you wouldn't have to go out and get a book. I'm curious and always open to new ideas, but I'm highly doubtful that they can make a convincing argument proving that we are purely physical.
mysteryshadesman: the arguments against dualism in the philosophy of mind (the view that we are somehow a hybrid of physical stuff (our bodies including our brain) and something else) are very simple, and you will find them outlined in the first chapter of almost any undergraduate introduction to philosophy of mind. You can look in your local library, bookshop or Amazon, but if you are still after advice I can look up the reading lists I used to give out in my lecture courses. Getting dualism out of the way so that we could actually have time to talk about the interesting stuff was commonplace in every university I taught at, and every one my colleagues and friends taught at too. The issue in a nutshell is that there is no coherent way to make sense of how something immaterial can causally interact with something material and yet clearly my volitions cause my body to move, and events in my body cause conscious sensation. The idea is nicely caricatured by Dennett with a panel from a Caspar the Friendly Ghost comic strip, where he flies through the wall of a house in order to catch the washing before it falls off the line. How can he both sail through the wall and catch the washing? The physical universe is causally closed. Either he is immaterial and can't interact with it at all (which is why he can sail through the wall) or he is material and can interact with it (and hence catch the washing). I can't prove that there aren't non-physical things, and in fact i think there are (abstract objects, such as numbers, for example), but I can come up with many arguments as to why there can be no causal interaction between something physical and something non-physical, and since events in my body cause events in my mind (burnt finger -> pain) and vice versa (I hear footsteps -> turn around) it would suggest that positing extra-physical components to human beings does no work whatsoever in giving an account of the relationship of mind to body.

If you want a single book recommendation I'd recommend Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett. It's a Penguin book, so it is written for a popular audience, but it isn't a "Philosophy for Dummies" book, you'd need to be willing to read something challenging. I can't think of anything online.
I'm good at the challenging. I only had one philosophy class so far, but it came very easy for me where everyone else was struggling. It was cool because they covered things that my idle mind thought about. It never really covered the modern philosophies.

Anyways, I see your point, but I think you misunderstood what I meant. When I use the word consciousness, I am referring to as an attribute that cannot be generated by a bunch of molecules joined together. What exactly makes up it whether it be our soul, ghost, whatever you want to call it I don't think will ever be able to be measured with what we call the physical world. I guess it would have to have some sort of substance, otherwise it wouldn't actually be anything, but is it far fetched to think it would not fall under the traditional category of protons, electrons, etc. For example, scientists right now have no clue what dark matter is but can detect it through gravity. It is possible there are countless other aspects of the universe that may not even be affected by gravitational pull.

That doesn't mean that it wouldn't be able to affect the matter that we know, but at the same time it wouldn't necessarily have to be controlled by them either. There could be a common force such as gravity or magnetism that is undiscovered (and may forever stay that way) that could account for these interactions.
I don't claim to know exactly how everything works, all I'm saying is that I can't see a possible way for our consciousness to be generated by a combination of chemicals. What seems more likely is that the brain is like a computer. It communicates everything and stores information, but ultimately there is someone behind it working and controlling it the best way that they can.
That doesn't mean that it wouldn't be able to affect the matter that we know, but at the same time it wouldn't necessarily have to be controlled by them either.

No offence but it may be yourself that's misunderstanding somewhat mysteryshadesman. As dzr points out, consciousness emphatically is "controlled by" conventional matter as we know it because if you burn yourself your consciousness becomes aware of pain. Conversely, consciousness affects that same conventional matter because your mind controls the actions of your body (which isn't made from any mysterious hypothetical material, it's made from the normal stuff we see around us, like carrots and cows ;).

I don't claim to know exactly how everything works, all I'm saying is that I can't see a possible way for our consciousness to be generated by a combination of chemicals.

This is known as an "argument from incredulity" and in general it's not a very good way to decide things about the world because lots of things we now know to be true once seemed too incredible to believe (some still do).

Look at it this way, we know for a fact that consciousness can be affected by "a combination of chemicals" (in some cases very simple combinations) because, for instance, when you drink alcohol your consciousness is affected. People feel happier on anti-depressants, people feel more alert when they drink coffee etc. These substances are just "a combination of chemicals" and yet they have a profound effect on how it feels to be you. Is it really that big a stretch to suppose that "how it feels to be you" can actually be generated by a combination of chemicals (of many more varieties and complexity, interacting in many more ways) ?

Re: dark matter BTW, it's pretty weird stuff (or so it seems anyway) BUT it's very much part of the physical universe, we know this because as you rightly point out, it exerts a gravitational force on the matter we can see - being a bit weird or only being partly understood doesn't mean something's not subject to physical laws, it just means it might be subject to physical laws we don't fully understand yet.
...this is an interesting conversation to be having in a Dollhouse thread, since obviously in Dollhouse consciousness is not controlled entirely by one's physical form and it can be easily wiped or rewritten. (Yes the Dolls are still conscious, but it's not the same consciousness in there.) Or are memory paths a physical thing, and that's all that's being erased? Tricky question, but I'm inclined to believe in a consciousness that is slightly independent of its physical self simply for the fact that I'm still me when I wake up every morning, although my body changed however infinitesimally overnight. I get depressed, but I'm still me - I still like the same episodes of Angel, I still think blue is a better colour than pink, I still believe in morality. Maybe those are pathways that I have trodden so frequently (especially the Angel eps ;) that they are ingrained but...

In my dreams, I am not me. Or not always. So why am I when I wake up?

I'm not saying consciousness isn't subject to physical laws. It may just be that what we think we know about the body and the brain isn't all that there is to be known, and there is some other non-physical (by which I mean non-made of matter, not non-subject to physics) plane of existence.

Perhaps. Fun to discuss, though.
(Yes the Dolls are still conscious, but it's not the same consciousness in there.)

But it appears to be the same ur-consciousness. Or, if you prefer, Echo is simply the result of Nature Caroline subjected to Dollhouse Nurture instead of Life Nurture. (Which is why Alpha still had the same compulsions as Carl William Craft. Alpha's starting point after Carl William Craft was wiped was Nature Carl William Craft.)
Heh, yes. Two things to counteract that though...

1) Isn't there an interview with Joss saying that he used to think it was all nurture, but then watched his kids growing up and started to think there's a smidge of nature in there too? So Dollhouse, although it essentially portrays an 'answer' because it has to, is really more about asking the question of does someone still remain, and who is that someone. Or at least... that's been my take on it. (Thought: are Sierra and Victor as seen in E1 ur-Sierra and ur-Victor, or have they had their 'real' memories back?)

2) That ur-consciousness doesn't seem to play a part when it comes to being written with a new consciousness. There's nothing that says Echo can't play a transvestite hooker detective because ur-Caroline could never have developed into that, is there? Likewise, I assume programmed Alpha played a number of sensitive, caring roles without anything bubbling to the surface.

So I just don't know, within the show's universe. I guess the original person (sans nurture) is in there somewhere, but is very weak and can be easily submerged under other things (which I suppose correspond a little to major trauma, injury, substance abuse etc in real life. Maybe). Which would make the gang's automatic killing of all wiped people in E1 a bit morally interesting, too...
there's a smidge of nature in there too

Which is what I said, or was trying to say. The ur-consciousness is (to stick with one Active) Nature Caroline. Originally-wiped Echo in essence is Nature Caroline, who then begins to an entirely new set of experiences via Dollhouse Nurture than the experiences she originally had under Life Nurture. (This is why I believe, frankly, that Echo was every bit the right to exist as does Caroline, despite that basically being an impossibility unless somehow the two are able to integrate themselves, which perhaps is where this is going.)

There's nothing that says Echo can't play a transvestite hooker detective because ur-Caroline could never have developed into that, is there?

Not at all. I'd see it this way: Nature Caroline's experiences via Life Nurture made her one way (Caroline); Nature Caroline's experiences via Dollhouse Nurture make her another way (Echo); and Nature Caroline's experiences via Artificial Nurture make her temporarily a third way (imprinted personalities). But inside each of these remains a core of something (in Echo's case, apparently, Nature Caroline's desire to help and sense of justice).

Which would make the gang's automatic killing of all wiped people in E1 a bit morally interesting, too...

Indeed. It was actually one of my favorite parts of "Epitaph One", precisely because it goes entirely unaddressed.

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2009-08-13 19:47 ]
Agree absolutely with that - although crazy-little-girl-personality sort of gives up her right to an opinion on morality by killing everyone in sight, her point that she couldn't tell them who she was because they were killing everyone imprinted or wiped was completely valid. I hope they pick up on that somehow although... I'm not sure how exactly.

Actually, something else you said ties in very neatly here - that Echo has the same right to existence as Caroline (which I agree with, although am not sure Echo is Dollhouse-nurture as that should all be wiped each time too, surely?). But if that's the case... then imprinted personalities ought to be valid by the same logic. If an imprinted personality really is the 'real' person with a set of imprinted experiences, then nothing makes that person any more or less real than Caroline or Echo themselves.

Of all the Dollhouse characters, I think Topher is the only one who really has a handle on these ideas - but his take is probably that no 'person' is really real anyway and thus there's no such thing as a right to existence for any of them. Maybe?

But I love this undercurrent to the show.

[ edited by skittledog on 2009-08-13 19:59 ]
although am not sure Echo is Dollhouse-nurture as that should all be wiped each time too, surely?

Although the running strain through S1 is that apparently it isn't. For whatever reason she appears to be keeping portions of both life in the Dollhouse and her imprints. I guess the question is whether all Actives do this, or is there something special about Caroline (which E1 certainly seems to suggest, presuming we can trust the memories we witness).

then imprinted personalities ought to be valid by the same logic.

The counter-argument, I imagine, would be that artificially constructed personas don't count. Only life actually lived -- whether it be Life Nurture or Dollhouse Nurture -- counts.
... but his take is probably that no 'person' is really real anyway and thus there's no such thing as a right to existence for any of them. Maybe?

'Echo' Topher definitely thinks that IMO. Boyd is a vitalist in the sense that he seems to think a made person can't be a real person because they lack the "vital spark" of spontaneous creation.

This is why I believe, frankly, that Echo was every bit the right to exist as does Caroline, despite that basically being an impossibility unless somehow the two are able to integrate themselves, which perhaps is where this is going

S'partly why I find it hard to root for Caroline, I actually think Echo's a better, more rounded person (when we see Caroline "triumphing" by, with Ballard's help, hiding from the wipe in E1 my first thought wasn't "Yay Caroline!" it was "Aww, Echo's dead"). The great thing about the show is, I think I might be meant to ;).

(and I think integration should be where it's going, to be consistent. Not sure it will be though - when we see Echo come to full awareness in 'Omega' she tells us outright that she "just knows" that she's not a "real girl", that Caroline is, not some mixture of the two of them)

To me the show's premise is that there's an essence of consciousness, untouched by experience, which is separate from the "bulk" of consciousness (which is the part, if you like, "polluted" by culture and the part that gets wiped). So Echo could be a transvestite hooker detective (I smell spin-off ! ;) BUT she'd be a defiant and independent transvestite hooker detective because that's part of the essence that's beneath Caroline (and Echo).

Maybe that's just Joss pointing out that "Hey, our genes partly form us too" but it doesn't feel that way, it feels more like an appeal to a spiritual essence, to something about humanity that "they" can't touch (which is a common enough theme in fiction, we do like to big ourselves up ;). Apart from anything else, we're meant to side with Caroline/Echo because her "essence" is good and brave - if that essence is purely down to her genes (i.e. out of her control, not a choice, a literal accident of birth) then that'd be like siding with her because she's got brown hair.

(unless she's meant to be a stand-in for all of humanity, in which case maybe it's more species pride we're meant to feel)
Only life actually lived -- whether it be Life Nurture or Dollhouse Nurture -- counts.

Mm, nice point. However... hmm, two divergent trains of thought leave from this station.

Firstly, if that's the case, then Echo isn't entitled to the fragments of imprints she retains. But what about the fragments of life she lives while imprinted with them? Do those mean anything out of the context of who she thought she was when she experienced them? Can they add something to the base of Echo without her keeping the memories of her imprint?

Secondly, those imprinted memories were actually lived, just not by the Doll. They are real, they have validity, perhaps they deserve existence as much as the memory that 'belongs' to the bit of flesh it's in. Perhaps... I wonder who Alpha would have been, without a violent personality underneath. Well, the Echo we saw in Omega, I suppose, who is still multiple personalities but manages to hold it together under a unified consciousness (and conscience. Would that still have happened if one of her personalities had been a mass murderer?). But I wonder if he had the glimpse of some truth in his rantings about Übermenschen. If we had all the experiences, all the memories of our ancestors, wouldn't that be the ultimate way for humanity to learn from its past mistakes?

Or the ultimate way to destroy ourselves if the basic personality seeks power and destruction.

Hmm.

when we see Echo come to full awareness in 'Omega' she tells us outright that she "just knows" that she's not a "real girl"

Yes, that made me feel sad. I harbour some hope that the person we saw in E1 was the conglomerate of the two somehow... although I still didn't like her, which probably means it's Caroline. ;)

Apart from anything else, we're meant to side with Caroline/Echo because her "essence" is good and brave - if that essence is purely down to her genes (i.e. out of her control, not a choice, a literal accident of birth) then that'd be like siding with her because she's got brown hair.

Hmm. Good point, because I could believe that to be the underlying belief of some storytellers, but not Joss. Well... although... his female characters are sometimes a little too innately good for my taste. So perhaps I'm not definitely safe. But the whole point of Angel, at least, is that it is your choices that matter, not that your hair is brown or you happen to have a soul. Souls enabled choices, they didn't make you automatically good. So... I can't see the ultimate logic being just 'Caroline was born a better person than the rest of us.' Maybe Caroline was born stubborn, resistant and someone who keeps trying, which gives her an advantage over the Dollhouse's wipes - but we saw that same ability to resist total wiping in Alpha too. That advantage in itself is not what we cheer for - it's what she does with it.
Secondly, those imprinted memories were actually lived, just not by the Doll. They are real, they have validity, perhaps they deserve existence as much as the memory that 'belongs' to the bit of flesh it's in.

Pretty sure I don't buy the idea that memories deserve anything. Experiences matter to the person who lived them, but once that person is gone, why do the memories somehow deserve to live on in someone else?

"Eleanor Penn", for example, was constructed out of various other people. Various memories from those people become part of the "Eleanor Penn" mix. But just because "Eleanor Penn" had someone's memories of being abducted as a child doesn't mean that memory somehow has a right to live on in someone after "Eleanor Penn" is removed from Echo.

On another note being discussed: The fact that Echo/Omega states that she knows she's just the porch light waiting for Caroline to come home only represents her choice in the matter. Echo has the right to knowingly sacrifice herself for Caroline's sake. But that doesn't mean anyone else has the right to kill Echo.
It just saddens me because Caroline would never sacrifice herself for Echo...

What I meant about 'memories' deserving to live on was probably worded wrong - what I essentially meant is that "Eleanor Penn" had those experiences just as much as Echo did, while one was imprinted on the other. And "Eleanor Penn" can't tell the difference between herself and a 'real' person. Likewise, does the Whiskey version of Dr Saunders - explicitly created by Topher such that she has certain personality traits - not deserve to exist as a real person? Or to be even more clear-cut, how about Margaret Bashford? She is definitely a real person who just happens to now be in a different body (and potentially with a slightly different consciousness underneath). She was killed unjustly and early.

In a hypothetical future beyond E1 where nobody is unwiped... why would these personalities be less entitled to a life than the ones which originally belonged to the bodies still alive?

(I do sort of believe that they are... I just don't know why I believe that. It'd be nice if someone clever could figure it out for me. ;)

[ edited by skittledog on 2009-08-13 20:43 ]

[ edited by skittledog on 2009-08-13 20:44 ]
It'd be nice if someone clever could figure it out for me. ;) ...

Yeah, I second that, been looking for the manual for this thing for bloody ages ;).

...why would these personalities be less entitled to a life than the ones which originally belonged to the bodies still alive?

The "essences" are, ironically enough, one potential reason IMO. Because the essence can be entirely different to the imprint, that's one way the imprint is less than (or at least different to) a "true" personality - it's in the wrong body.

Souls enabled choices, they didn't make you automatically good.

Hmm, not "automatically good" but I think "automatically more deserving" is consistent with both Buffy and Angel. Killing someone with a soul was a greater sin in both shows, maybe because that person could always choose to atone later (and if you killed them you'd be removing that chance once and for all).

ETA what I meant to say after the souls thing ...:But yeah, to some extent Dollhouse wants to have its cake and eat it too IMO, it wants us to reward characters for noble choices and hold them morally responsible for evil ones while at the same time seemingly saying that we all have "something" within us that's outwith our ability to choose./ETA

On another note being discussed: The fact that Echo/Omega states that she knows she's just the porch light waiting for Caroline to come home only represents her choice in the matter.

Not sure about that, to me Echo's speech had the feel of the show itself laying out its philosophy if you like. She doesn't say "I'm less worthy" or "You were here first" or "I'll die for you" (though she will), she basically says that she isn't even a 'me' to begin with, that no-matter how many imprints she has they're still not real, that there's something Caroline "just has" that Echo is missing, some disconnect from the truth of human existence.

But that doesn't mean anyone else has the right to kill Echo.

If Echo's correct then it arguably does, since she's less than human (or at least, they have as much right to kill her as they do any other sentient - or maybe semi-sentient - being but that's a whole other can of worms ;).

[ edited by Saje on 2009-08-13 21:43 ]
I'll just say this to that: If said speech indeed was the show telegraphing its philosophy, period, rather than just Echo making her own choice, the show automatically likely becomes significantly less interesting and complex to me than it could be. If only because if that was meant to be the show's philosophical position, the scene would strike me as little more than a convenient way for the writers to avoid having to deal with half the premise's morally gray questions. (In other words, kind of a cop out.)

[ edited by The One True b!X on 2009-08-13 22:06 ]
Agreed - Echo's stance on pretty much everything else is fairly simplistic, so I'm not sure we need to believe she's hit the nail on the head with this one. I definitely think there's a reason Echo is the character we're getting to know, not Caroline, and if that speech was right then there wouldn't even really be an Echo to know. I think there is - and a Whiskey too, for that matter - so I think she's wrong. Maybe not completely, but enough that it makes all the difference.

Because the essence can be entirely different to the imprint, that's one way the imprint is less than (or at least different to) a "true" personality - it's in the wrong body.

Can it? I'm not sure where we've seen that. In all Echo cases, I think we've seen the imprint and the essence working together in the same way that a real person would - Echo's strengths back up the character overlaid on them. I suppose experiences which occurred with one essence will mesh better with that essence than any other, maybe? Perhaps that's a potential way to fix the whole mess... invent a nifty bit of software that creates homing memories. Like homing pigeons except better.

Thought: what would have happened if Caroline had been one of the many imprinted onto Echo in Omega? Would she have dominated, or would she just have been one of the throng? I think she'd have dominated, which supports the 'better mesh' theory.

Killing someone with a soul was a greater sin in both shows, maybe because that person could always choose to atone later (and if you killed them you'd be removing that chance once and for all).

Yes exactly, it was the potential for choice that felt like it mattered to me. But let's not get into the moral morass of demon-killing in the Buffyverse since it changed quite a lot over the seasons...

she basically says that she isn't even a 'me' to begin with, that no-matter how many imprints she has they're still not real, that there's something Caroline "just has" that Echo is missing, some disconnect from the truth of human existence.

Do you think she'd still say that if she had as many conscious years of life and memory as Caroline had had? I think she might, just because Caroline was there first, and that's therefore where I think she's wrong about the whole thing. Length of life does not equal worthiness to live. Unless of course there is something more to the imprints than memory, like some non-nurture character traits, but I don't think that's what we're intended to understand.

But yeah, to some extent Dollhouse wants to have its cake and eat it too IMO, it wants us to reward characters for noble choices and hold them morally responsible for evil ones while at the same time seemingly saying that we all have "something" within us that's outwith our ability to choose.

Yes. And yet... this doesn't bug me as much as it should, so I think there's something else going on that isn't fully clear yet. Perhaps Echo and Alpha are too clear-cut good and bad in their underlying selves... but then, that's probably necessary for an audience to find somebody to cheer for and against, given that neither of them has a character as such. So I do think that that 'something' is not a something that affects the choices you can make... like Alpha didn't have to be a violent, killing person. Caroline didn't have to be a goody-two-shoes. Maybe? So we all start from different places, different genetics, but we all have the conscious ability to change from that point, and it's those changes that matter, not the basic form?

Perhaps. I think the show has to go down a route something like that if I am not to be very bugged by this 'innately good' nature of Echo's.

(This is also an interesting thought as regards non-Dolls - both Topher and Adelle have made a considerable number of choices going both with and against their 'nature,' and it'll be interesting how those start to pan out as we head towards E1 from the s2 side, I think.)

I have to go to sleep now... brain exhausted. ;) Thanks for the rather good discussion (if I do say so myself :)
Thought mebbe some of you might want to read dreamlogic's blog post about this: Dreamsoflogic: "In response to Saje at http://whedonesque.com/comments/21298"

ETF: Ooops, thanks, Saje. "Always check your work. Always check your work."

[ edited by QuoterGal on 2009-08-13 23:13 ]
That link's slightly wrong QG (there's an evil 'g' on the end ;). Think i'm gonna sleep on dreamlogic's post, it's good stuff though i'm not quite sure if she's saying that since we end up with dualism it must be impossible to read a mind full-stop or if she's saying "Hey look, dualism !" ;).

Intuitively it seems like a self is the sensation of state following state (it's a continuity of states) so that any one number is "just" a state description rather than a self (and instants seem to be discrete, cos of Planck ;). To get to a self you need both the description of the state and the "rules" for advancing to the next state. Brains just "know" these rules, it falls out of their structure and chemistry, other "self-number playing machines" would need to be told - if you have a machine that knows a state and the state++ rules you effectively have an artificial brain. Not sure though, needs to percolate.

(why didn't she post on here BTW ? Stuff seems to have happened in my away time ;)

...the scene would strike me as little more than a convenient way for the writers to avoid having to deal with half the premise's morally gray questions. (In other words, kind of a cop out.)

Yep, I sort of agree (I don't think they're avoiding dealing with the moral greyness, I think they just want to have an uncrushable, essential spirit while at the same time having the hero make heroic choices and either haven't realised that they're inconsistent with each other OR are playing a fantastic "long game").

I still wonder if Echo will turn out to be "just" a fluke of imperfect technology and that Imprintotron 2.0 will have ironed out the bugs that allowed her to persist. Or another option would be accepting that free-will is an illusion, that Echo was always going to follow her nature and had no choice in the matter. Either would be consistent albeit pretty bleak and anti-heroic, maybe too bleak for Joss for whom as skittledog says, choice is apparently so important (maybe too bleak for us too, same reason ;). Course, "Epitaph One" seems to preclude that kind of nihilistic end result but you never know, there's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip.

... if that speech was right then there wouldn't even really be an Echo to know.

Ah but getting to know and love Echo only to find out she's not real would be one hell of a way to pull the rug out from under our feet. There might also be something there about fans of actors, writers etc. basically anyone we think we know but actually don't (which the show's danced around a few times IMO).

It's just the delivery, the feel of it, it seemed like she was realising something true rather than just stating an opinion. May just be me ;).

In all Echo cases, I think we've seen the imprint and the essence working together in the same way that a real person would - Echo's strengths back up the character overlaid on them.

What about Beth from the funny episode ? She seemed extremely passive, unlike Echo (as far as she's able) and Caroline. And then there's Alpha.

And yet... this doesn't bug me as much as it should, so I think there's something else going on that isn't fully clear yet.

Personally I think it doesn't bug most people because it's what a lot of us actually think (or at least want to think). You've said yourself skittledog that you feel there must be something more than "just" matter and physics to your consciousness, some other level.
Yes but... dammit I should have gone to bed, this is not going to make great coherent sense, I fear... that 'something' doesn't have to preclude choice. It just is (or could be), and we can choose on top of it. It would be like saying all our choices are meaningless because they are determined by our physical surroundings (i.e. the choices of a rich kid in NY don't matter and neither do the choices of a slum kid in Delhi because they are both constrained by their surroundings). Which completely is not true - you take what you have, and you work with it. Just because there's something fixed about us (and the nurture stuff is really just as fixed, as it is things done to us) isn't a reason to say 'okay, we don't even have to try.'

Like saying 'ooh I could be different but only if the sky weren't blue...'

It definitely comes down to a question of free will in the end. And I can't quite imagine a Joss show concluding that there is no free will, somehow.

I can't remember Beth. Which one is the funny episode? *braindead*

[ edited by skittledog on 2009-08-13 23:26 ]
D'oh! I missed out on all the fun. I'm too tired to post now, and I'm too tired to even catch up on everything I missed in detail and with the due care and attention it deserves. But I will say this: having said to myself that I wasn't going to get sucked into the philosophical discussion of Dollhouse (mostly for reasons of time and thinking I wouldn't be satisfied with anything short of a paper worthy of sending off to Mind or Behavioral and Brain Sciences) I enjoyed dipping my toe in, and enjoyed reading the responses, and now want to say more. The trouble is I'm just about to go on holiday. But I do have an account on whedonesque.org even though I don't think I've ever posted there. Would anyone be interested in participating in a general "Philosophical Topics from Dollhouse" thread there when I get back? (I'm away for 10 days.) We could easily start it off with some copying-and-pasting from already posted comments here. I think I'd be really quite into that. Anyone else? (Saje in particular: I have so much to say re your comments on the self, which I hope might be of interest to at least you.)
I missed a lot of posts as well. Lol.

Saje what I'm trying to get at is not that there are some things that can violate physical laws, but that it is possible that there are a whole mess of physical laws that we may never be able to understand. Science has it's limits. For example we will never be able to observe a substance at 0 degrees kelvin and we will never be able to see the inside of a black hole. We have a practical understanding of things helpful to improve our day to day lives, but I am skeptical that we'll ever see it answering the bigger questions.

Anyway, I understand that our thoughts and perceptions can be altered by chemicals, but that still can coincide with the theory that the brain is merely a storehouse of memories and a communicator. If you disrupt the communication of course you would be affected.

Anyway my argument from incredulity was a case of laziness in being specific. Lol. Basically there are several reasons that have me leaning towards this particular direction. One of which being that if we are nothing more than cells and chemicals why do we have a subjective consciousness? How would that develop from survival of the fittest? Why aren't we just essentially extremely complicated robots that act exactly the same way without the sense of self? Another big reason for me may seem a little funny, but my experiences cannot allow me to discount it. I don't know if you believe in ghosts or not but, I've seen enough to have it factor in to my thoughts on the matter. Lol.

[ edited by mysteryshadesman on 2009-08-14 05:07 ]
For example we will never be able to observe a substance at 0 degrees kelvin and we will never be able to see the inside of a black hole.

Well, that's not really a limitation of science, it's more a "limitation" of reality since 0K can't occur in nature (as we currently understand it). It's perfectly possible in principle to see inside a black hole though, so long as it's massive enough that tidal gradients don't kill you too quickly (but it is currently impossible to tell anyone outside the event horizon what you see so no Nobel Prize unfortunately ;).

That said, science does have limits and more importantly IMO, we have limits. As I say above it could well be that we're just not "designed" to understand our own consciousness fully.

One of which being that if we are nothing more than cells and chemicals why do we have a subjective consciousness? How would that develop from survival of the fittest?

Possibly by accident i.e. it might be an "unintended" evolutionary consequence of all the different methods we have for sensing the world and processing that information interacting with each other. Or maybe it's a method in itself, possibly a way of filtering those sense impressions and directing our actions as a result, like a way of focussing attention.

It's an interesting question but again, if you're saying e.g. "I can't believe consciousness is just an accident" then we're back to that old argument from incredulity.

I don't know if you believe in ghosts or not but, I've seen enough to have it factor in to my thoughts on the matter.

Not so much, no, though i'm not categorically saying they're impossible either. I've seen plenty of weird things but nothing that seemed fundamentally unexplainable and ultimately, i'm suspicious of experiences like that actually reflecting something unexplainable in your sense anyway since so many similar experiences have turned out to be perfectly understandable phenomena (historically thunder was due to angry gods, now we know it's weather, willo-the-wisps were spirits, now we know they're marsh gases, St Elmo's fire was supernatural, now we know it's electricity etc.).

...that 'something' doesn't have to preclude choice. It just is (or could be), and we can choose on top of it.

I think that depends what the "essential self" on the show actually is skittledog. If it's just another property of you, like being brunette or short-sighted, then yeah, it's just one more pressure on your behaviour, more of a tendency to behave a certain way, a current rather than a dam. But then why should we celebrate that essence if it's basically on the same level as having six toes or a prominent birthmark ? And to me the show does celebrate that essence, in fact the thrust of it seems to be that the essence is, well, essential to your you-ness, the sine qua non of being a real person.

I'm only semi-kidding when I say if the essence is no more important than e.g. having really efficient kidneys then i'd like to see an episode where Echo's the hero solely because she's got great circulation, in the interests of balance ;).

Would anyone be interested in participating in a general "Philosophical Topics from Dollhouse" thread there when I get back?

Yeah, i'm up for that. Threads have a less stringent sell-by date on the .org so we can take our time and really end up not coming to any firm conclusions ;).
I would enjoy a discussion on the .org - I'm pretty sure I have a login over there although I don't think I ever posted. (Except I'll be on holiday myself in 10 days' time. Ah well. ;)

I think that depends what the "essential self" on the show actually is skittledog.

Yup. I knew I shouldn't have been typing last night, because I misunderstood your question and even managed to type my answer in a way that I don't totally agree with. Go me. I think, getting back to basics, that the 'essence' is the part that can make choices. Genes are fixed, environment is fixed, nothing there gives us free will (which I do believe in) without something that can make choices. And that's what I think is left in the Dolls. Note, however, that I do not think we need to assume that that 'essence' - which essentially corresponds to the computer logic for getting from state to state+1 which Saje mentioned earlier - needs to be a constant. I don't see why that also can't alter over time - could even, potentially, choose to change itself.

So perhaps I think that the essence/state+1 logic of each Doll is as it was when they were wiped? But then, as each encounter is imprinted on top, they can still add to that state - because it is not wiped along with everything else. So maybe Echo's state+1 logic is no longer quite the same as Caroline's, for example.

I just had to reply to that bit before I forgot what I wanted to say, because I messed it up so badly last night.
Doubt I can contribute intelligently to the discussion on .org, but I'm looking forward to reading it! Hope you all get it going when you're back from holidays. :)

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