It’s 12.31 AM on a Thursday, and instead of sleeping I’m pondering the latest Dollhouse episode, Omega. Joss Whedon is a master story teller in his own right, but this time it’s more than just a good yarn, it’s more than character development. In Dollhouse he’s hacking into the collective unconscious of the American psyche. After watching this most recent episode, the weaker parts of me wonder if it isn’t better to let sleeping dogs lie. But that’s for another post.
Without spoiling the plot for those of you purests out there, let me say that Omega broaches a heady subject. What makes up the “you” of you? Assuming for a moment that we had the technological ability to store a matrix of information as complex as the human brain. If that information was uploaded from your brain and put into another one, would there still be a you? Would the upload itself be you? Or, would you be you if the upload was downloaded into another brain?
The first question we are tempted to ask in response to these questions is this. At what point does a change in structure preclude the structure’s usability? Is your favorite hammer still your favorite hammer if you swap it’s splintery wooden handle for a plastic one? Is it still your favorite hammer if you replace the head? At what point does a thing become another thing? This question is interesting, but it is the wrong question.
The right question is a bit stranger. And it’s answer stranger still. We know too well from the history of medicine that changing the brain means changing the person. Lobotomies, strokes, head injuries, they all may leave in tact memories and information, but may also significantly alter the identity of a person. On the one hand this could lead us to believe that the brain is just a storage facility, and that damage to the storage means damage to the persona who accesses the storage. But another possibility exists. The possibility that the youness of you is not just uploadable information, but architecture as well.
When I say architecture, I don’t mean just the network of neurons, but the whole event of you. The architecture of experience is less a question of attributes: can you play a Beethoven sonata on a toy piano? And more a question of resonant space. It’s more like asking: can you sing in a vacuum?
We take for granted the substance of air because it’s invisible to us. But it is this invisible substance that functions, quite literally, as resonant space. We cannot speak or sing without it. Neither has meaning, or possibly even existence without a space in which to discover their expression.
Is it the same with the youness of you? What is the data without a space in which to resonate? I’m resisting the urge to bring up Lacan and Heidegger and Husserl and Void. I’ll save that for future posts. Suffice it to say, when it comes to human beings and the architecture of our experience, there may be no such thing as a picture without it’s frame. The you that you know as you, may very well be inherent to your personal architecture.