Alan Talbot checks his watch, murders a religious fanatic in the subway, and arrives late to an appointment with his girlfriend. Just another day in New York, or is something unusual happening? The next thing we see is Alan Talbot visiting his significant other, with no hint that he just committed a murder. Alan has a problem with memory and with time. He seems to have lost track of it. Perhaps this is a hint that we’re already dealing with the issue of personal identity.
Alan asks his significant other whether she knows enough about him to be in a serious relationship with him. She rattles off his life history. One almost gets the idea that she knows more about him than he does. They set off to explore his past, visiting his town and family. But things are not as Alan remembers it to be. Some things are right, but much isn’t. Many of Alan’s beliefs appear to be temporally misplaced. Things go from bad to worse. Alan’s web of beliefs seems radically unconnected the the actual world. Some hypotheses about what’s gone wrong are advanced. None of them are remotely plausible. What’s going on?
A solution to puzzle begins to appear when we literally get under Alan’s skin. Like Alecia, he’s not a flesh and blood human being, at least not entirely. He has a non-biological arm. Is he all machine, or is it just a prosthetic arm? We already knew that he seemed to be controlled by voices he heard. We get more evidence: Alan puts a flame to his hand, and he feels no pain. If Alan is a robot, his circumstances are very different from those of Alecia in “The Lonely” or Grandma in “I Sing the Body Electric.” He is situated as a human being, taken to be one, by almost everyone around him, everyone except Walter.
Walter is Alan’s twin, his Doppleganger. When they meet, Alan’s first questions are “Are you real?” Alan asks: “Who am I?” and Walter says “You are nobody.” Walter elaborates: “You are a machine. I built you.” So Alan is an artificial Walter, a duplicate, qualitatively similar, but clearly a separate individual who came to “life” in Walter’s basement a week ago. Once animated, Alan attacked his maker and took off.
Is this a case of fission? In fission cases we have two individuals who have the same causal continuity to past stages of themselves. At the moment of fission they are in the same cognitive state, but over time, due to differences in their bodily position and perceptual circumstances, they diverge. If Alan started out as a duplicate of Walter, he has certainly emerged as his “own person” when he meets his maker. How successful is Walter at convincing Alan that he isn’t a person? Is Walter right, or Alan? Put yourself in Walter’s shoes: If you created a robotic version of yourself, how would you convince it that it was not you? Answering this question can take you a long way toward understanding the problem of personal identity.