Episode 44 – “The Lateness of the Hour”

Technology can be marvelous. Cars whisk us to our destinations, washing machines clean our clothes. In this episode we see technology in spades: Jaina’s father has created technology that goes beyond our wildest dreams. Robotic servants and a fully controlled environment allows the family to live “retired from the world.” But Jaina thinks she is an “insulated freak.” What Dr. Loren takes to be freeing, his daughter takes to be imprisoning.

Dr. Loren values his robots not merely for their convenience, but as his marvelously complex creations.  He even attributes life to them, though Jaina quickly corrects him. “I’ve given each one of them a memory of his own, haven’t I. And all of them can recount, in detail, everything that’s happened to them in their childhood. But they have no childhood.” Do Dr. Loren’s robots have memory? Are they persons?

When we attempt to give an analysis of personal identity we quickly discover that memory must have something to do with it. A person at time t2 who has absolutely no memory of the person with the same body at t1 does not seem to qualify as the same person. So it looks like a necessary condition for being the same person at t1 and t2 is that the person at t2 have the memories of what happened to the person at t1. But this can’t be enough: I remember my brother’s 5th birthday party, and that doesn’t make me the same person as my brother!  Clearly it’s our first person memories that matter. I have to have the memories of my past.

The episode brings an important wrinkle into the memory requirement for personal identity: Dr. Loren’s robots have beliefs – memories – of their past. But are they really memories? Isn’t it the case that instead of memories the robots have false beliefs? The things they seem to remember didn’t really happen. They don’t have actual memories.  The robots seem to remember childhoods they never experienced. They are not the same person as the person they remember, because there was no such person.

Are the robotic servants persons at all? Clearly they are wrong about the extent of  their personhood. But perhaps they are persons from the moment they are switched on by Mr. Lorens. Whether they are persons would seem to depend at least in part on whether they can actually remember what happens to them over time. There’s good reason to doubt that this is the case: They believe that they had a childhood, but they also stand by and accept that they are robots when Mr. Lorens describes them as such.

Jaina disapproves of her parents’ lifestyle and delivers the ultimatum: unplug the servants or I’m leaving. The Lorens clearly love their daughter more than they value the comforts provided by the servants. When push comes to shove, the servants go and Jaina stays.  Alone with her parents, Jaina quickly becomes suspicious about her own case. She looks in the family photo album and doesn’t find any pictures of herself as a child.  She is horrified to learn that she too is a robot – a robotic daughter – a machine. Her father tries to comfort her, to convince her that it doesn’t matter.  Aren’t the apparent memories as good as real ones? Apparently not!

Jaina’s anguish over the discovery of her origins is extraordinary. She seems to realize that the discovery changes everything. She is neither a feeling thing nor a person. But she does feel the intense disappointment at her discovery. She feels bad about not feeling. More importantly, it seems that she’s realized that she isn’t a person. Not only does she have a false past, but a false future as well. She can’t have hopes and dreams. She can’t escape the world her father has created. She may be a thinking thing at any moment,  but is she a person? She also remembers things that have happened over the last several days, at least. She believes correctly that they never go out, that her mother loves to be massaged, that she herself is terribly unhappy.  Jaina does seem to meet the Lockean conditions of personhood, even if her personhood doesn’t extend as far as she, and we, originally thought it did.

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