Who Is Rachael? Blade Runner and Personal Identity

Does what you remember determine who you are now?

It’s no coincidence that a lot of philosophers are big fans of science fiction. Philosophers like to think about far-fetched scenarios or ‘thought experiments’, explore how they play out, and think about what light they can shed on how we should think about our own situation. What if you could travel back in time? Would you be able to kill your own grandfather, thereby preventing him from meeting your grandmother, meaning that you would never have been born in the first place? What if we could somehow predict with certainty what people would do? Would that mean that nobody had free will? What if I was really just a brain wired up to a sophisticated computer running virtual reality software? Should it matter to me that the world around me – including other people – is real rather than a VR simulation? And how do I know that it’s not?

Questions such as these routinely get posed in sci-fi books and films, and in a particularly vivid and thought-provoking way. In immer

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Dave Stawinski 14 July 2021

@Richard Baron - in the sequel, things are further complicated by the fact that G (likely, but not certainly a natural human being) put those memories into H based upon G's own memories (and possibly q-memories and probably also fabrications) of G's own lived experience. Not unlike creating a narrative using the sci-fi magical memory-designing media technology in the movie. So, some or even all of H's memory (and, therefore personhood) may be "q-q-memories." The sequel is, maybe, saying something about storytelling and the role that media plays in personhood, just as the original film was exploring personhood in a more general way. My own take-away from the original film (not from the book--they are very different, I feel) was that all the Replicants are people, and that anyone who knows their fate is living life at peak experience and should be learned from. The second film, like many narratives these days, had a lot more to say about a lot more things, but did not follow them all the way down to their essentials as well. A good example is the story of K's simulated partner. Her personhood is defined by K's (another person's) emotional responses to her. And we see by the end of her arc that this relationship humanizes her, and changes K as well. The film's POV is clearly that she, too, fits the definition of "person", but she is ultimately disposable, and her "life" only ends up serving K's actualization (not very feminist). So, to me, it left more unsolved problems and less narrative resolution than did the original's more, I think, brave statement about the boundaries of life and/or "artificial life." Blade Runner makes a statement: If a being possesses empathy, it is a person. Blade Runner 2049 is a good film, but more muddled in my opinion. It exists more to extend and explore the ramifications of the first film, I think, than to fearlessly define personhood in the internet age.

Richard Baron 9 October 2017

As I understand it, the new film, Blade Runner 2049, offers us an extra twist on memory transfer, which will allow us to ask more questions. (I have not seen the new film, only read a plot summary, and what follows is worded so as not to provide a spoiler.)

It seems that in the new film, an entity G deliberately puts one of G's own memories (rather than any memory of a conveniently available niece) into another entity H. (I won't say whether G and H are humans or replicants.)

If it were only one memory, or a small selection of memories, then the fact that it was G's own memory, rather than the memory of a niece, would not seem to matter much. But suppose it were a complete package of memories, G's whole life history in the form remembered by G (which probably includes gaps and creative imaginings to fill those gaps that are noticed).

If this happened mid-way through G's life and H stuck around, G would say "Yes, conversations with H are sometimes uncanny, but I know how we got here, and I am fully aware that H is not me".

Now suppose G did this at a time when he or she was aware that death was an hour away, with the intention of surviving death. (G would presumably want to transfer habits of thought as well as memories.) There would be a short period when it would be hard for anyone (including G) to say without explanation that G was H, because we are all aware that 2 does not equal 1. But if G were to say "Yes, H is me, I have ensured my survival", we would understand what G meant, and we would take it at as close to face value as we could while not committing ourselves to thinking that 2 equalled 1. And I suggest that it would be important to our having this respect for what G said that the transfer to H was G's own choice, made for G's own purpose of ensuring survival.

Abraham Joseph 8 October 2017

All the questions raised will be answered once all of mind,intelligence and Reason sit together and introspect,whether Sciences have thoroughly checked,probed and verified the way man knows. He is stuck at his observation, experience methods,based on the old idea of how he knows.
Has he thoroughly checked,how he ascertain the ' certainty' of his theories?
It is a delicate theme,until the above class get to know how badly they depend upon our mystery sense or faculty of Reason for the job!
Would share here a paper, that depicts Faculty of Reason as a mystery internal sense organ that detects or senses 'order' or sense of what we believe:https://isreasonasenseorgan.blogspot.in/2013/09/is-reason-internal-sense-organ-super.html?m=1