Thursday, August 23, 2012

Total Recall, Ahnuld and Personal Identity

This is one of the films I am using for a course (Philosophy Through Film) I'm teaching this term. It's 90s hokey, and entertaining. In terms of philosophical content, we're looking at its central premise:



Bad guy, Hauser agrees to a procedure that will wipe his memories. His memories will be replaced by a complete set of new memories, essentially memories of another person's life (Quaid). He will naturally take these memories to be his own. He will remember nothing of his previous life. These memories include those about people he will find around himself in his 'new life,' principally his 'wife.' These folks are in on the conspiracy.

The intention is to insert Quaid into a rebel group on Mars, sabotaging their efforts toward thwarting the aims of the bad guys. Up to the point we join the film, insertion of moles has not been possible due to mind readers amongst the target population that can detect agents.

Because our bad guy has been formatted and his mental furniture has been re-populated, so to speak, he will not be found out by the mind readers. During the movie, Quaid finds out about Hauser and the conspiracy. He fights against the conspiracy, doesn't like that he finds himself in the midst of it, coerced, as it were, into cooperating, and resists when the bad guys attempt to reformat and re-boot to Hauser.

Questions to consider: Is this a case where two persons have inhabited the same physical body? Does it make a difference to your answer that the second person's memories are fabricated?

Does the logical possibility of something like this show that it is also logically possible that we are not souls, but something that must have a physical substance underlying and supporting it in order for it to exist (this being so, even when a simulacrum of transmigration is possible as is implied in the premise)?

Might you say there was in fact only one person undergoing all this, but one person overlaid with two complete, self consistent, but mutually exclusive lives and self conceptions? If so, what exactly does 'being that one person' amount to? Is it simply 'being a conscious center of experience and action'? But, are there not two of these, due to the enforced amnesia? So, are we back to two persons in one body?

Should Hauser be re-installed, rebooted and held accountable? If so, what to do with Quaid? Will you not have killed him if you do this? Consider that "Hauser" must be in some sort of non-conscious, non-active, non-live or latent state; he is stored; information in the "Rekall" gizmo that will, if used, format reinstall and reconstitute him as a feature of Ahnuld's body. He is like the info on a computer disk, something that will activate and become fully functional upon installation. Is it best to leave 'him' in that state, or does he need to be brought to life, so to speak, and answer for his crimes before his is killed?