Farscape and What It Means to Be a Person, Part 2

For Part 1 see: Farscape and What It Means to Be a Person, Part 1

What does it mean to be a person? Crichton is a person, a human. Because we have experience only with human persons, we recognize only beings who look like us as persons. However, as Harry Frankfurt points out, the attributes we use to define a person are the attributes that

are the subject of our most humane concern with ourselves and the source of what we regard as most important and most problematical in our lives. Now these attributes would be of equal significance to us even if they were not in fact peculiar and common to the members of our own species. What interests us most in the human condition would not interest us less if it were also a feature of the condition  of other creatures as well. (Frankfurt, “Freedom of the Will,” 6)

Farscape loaded and readyThe other characters of Farscape are aliens but also persons in that they have the same attributes that we regard as most important and most problematical in our lives. Moya is a spaceship but also a person. Moya is alive, is intelligent, wills, feels fear and worry, and is capable of enjoyment and love. Moya even has a child in the show, another living spaceship named Talyn. Moya can communicate to the others only through Pilot, whose sentient species sends its best persons to serve on Leviathans by biologically linking with them in a lifelong symbiotic relationship. Pilot is also a person, because despite his consciousness being joined with Moya’s, he has his own will and desires and Moya and Pilot are occasionally at odds with each other. (“Bad Timing,” 4.22) Zhaan is a plant but still a person, and in nearly every respect a humanoid being with intellect, will, and emotions like ourselves. All of the Sebaceans, Luxans, Hynerians, and other species of crew members we meet in the series—Nebari, Banik, Interion, and Traskan—are, despite their different appearances, more easily recognizable to us as being persons because they act like us and have the same concerns as us. Scarans are not as easily recognizable as persons, more because of their behaviors and values than their appearance.

But what does it mean to be a person? The philosopher John Locke defined a person as “a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places.” (Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 335) Locke’s account of personal identity centers on one’s self-reflective consciousness and concern being able to be extended backward to one’s previous experiences and forward to one’s future self. It is the same self then and now if the consciousness that reflects on it now can be extended back to a past thought or action. Locke also said that what is me as a person is where my current consciousness resides and that there can be a transfer of consciousness from one body to another in which my personal identity that can remember past experiences now resides within a different body.

D'Argo Transformed
His body may be changed, but D’Argo knows he is D’Argo because he has his memories.

Farscape explored Locke’s ideas in three plot lines. One is the episode in which a weapon fired by the Halosians interacts with a malfunction on Moya causing the consciousness or souls of the crew members to transfer to another crew member’s bodies. (“Out of Their Minds,” 2.9) After the consciousness transfer, each possessed their own consciousness and traits of speech and movements within the body of another. Locke would say that if the consciousness of Chiana is in the body that we knew as D’Argo, then we would have to say that that body is now Chiana. Indeed, Chiana has to explain to the others that “I’m Chiana,” because in her consciousness she is the person Chaina even if she is now within another body. In another body, each person gets to feel what it is like to have the sensory stimulations of another body. Crichton and Aeryn get a chance to feel what it is like being in the other opposite sex’s body. The novel solution the crew members devise to keep things straight while they work to reverse the consciousness transfers is to hang photos of their “real” bodies around the neck of the body in which their consciousness currently resides—a clear illustration of Locke’s concept of persons in consciousness transfer. They do work out a solution to revert back to their original bodies before the 44 minute episode ends but not before the show uses the situation for good comedic effect.

Another more serious exploration of Locke’s ideas is a story arc that begins in the episode “Eat Me” (3.6). A criminally insane genius, Kaarvok, has developed a device that can instantly twin a person into two exact genetic duplicates of each other—as Kaarvok says, “equal and original.” The twinning device is his modest solution to supply food within his own petty domain in his captured Leviathan: he can twin any life form and use one for food without reducing the quantity of livestock. Having started with only Sebaceans aboard the ship, he made do with what he had, but, as he admits, after 30 to 40 twinnings, the Sebaceans have degraded into nonsentient bestial beings. When Crichton, D’Argo, and Chiana blunder onboard as they search for supplies, Kaarvok is thrilled to have new genetic stock and he succeeds in twinning D’Argo and Chiana before anyone realizes the threat. Crichton manages to thwart the episode’s villain, but as Kaarvok is engulfed in an explosion, his twinning device bursts and a blob of its energy hits the fleeing Crichton, twinning him.

Two Crichtons
As Fluffy looks on, the two Crichtons are still tied.

Both Crichtons escape and the episode ends with the two Crichtons playing rock-paper-scissors, but each and every time they make the identical move in the game—showing us the true exactness of the twinning (though unintentionally assuming determinism).

Because both Crichtons share the same memories up to the point of the twinning, both, by Locke’s standard, are Crichton. For that reason, both Crichtons are convinced the other is the clone and himself the original—how else could they think of the situation? However, from that moment on, their experiences differ and, by Locke’s standard, they are now different persons. At first, Moya’s crew take advantage of the two identical but separate Crichtons to their advantage (“Thanks for Sharing,” 3.7), but an emergency causes the two Crichtons to separate—one with Crais and Aeryn on the ship Talyn, and the other remaining with D’Argo on Moya. Over six episodes, we switch back and forth between the different lives of the two Crichtons until in a two-part episode, “Infinite Possibilties” (3.14, 3.15), the Crichton with Aeryn is killed shortly after she finally gives up her long-running resistance to admitting her love for Crichton. With his death, Aeryn is understandably devastated.

When Talyn and Moya are reunited, Aeryn is confronted with dealing with the other Crichton who is the man she loves but not the man she has loved. The Moya Crichton is eager to be with her, as was the Talyn Crichton, and Aeryn is understandably in a quandary as she fears watching John die in her arms again yet has the amazing possibility of being able to love again. She expresses her agony to him: “…you’re just like him I mean, you are him.” Crichton’s slightly bitter and fully warranted response is: “No. I’m me. I was here. I missed that dance.” (“I-Yensch, You-Yensch,” 3.19) The two Crichtons are living examples of Locke’s definition of personhood as memory. It takes some time for Aeryn to decide and declare to Crichton that there is no distinction in her mind anymore between the two Crichtons. Her response, given the trauma of seeing the man she was intimate with die, shows considerable emotional courage because in her person, her memory, she has suffered a loss the surviving Crichton has not.

Harvey is a person within a person.

The most intricate and long-term exploration of consciousness transfer and identity is the storyline over two seasons of the character of the neural clone. Scorpius, once he learned that Crichton had knowledge of wormhole technology buried in his subconscious (knowledge put there by The Ancients in “A Human Reaction” (1.16), which becomes a major plot element in the rest of the series but is not directly related to the theme of this essay), places a neural chip in Crichton’s brain to attempt to extract the information. A side effect of the chip is that it creates within Crichton’s mind a clone of Scorpius. According to Locke’s standard of a person, the clone has Scorpius’s memories up to the moment of implantation into Crichton’s brain. The clone is programmed with instructions from Scorpius, but because it is now seperate from Scorpius, it possesses a will of its own. In attempting to influence Crichton’s behavior, the clone leaks into Crichton’s consciousness, and the two begin to have conversations with each other. Crichton names the clone “Harvey” after the Jimmy Stewart film and has a long battle of wills with Harvey, though Crichton learns he can get insights on Scorpius from talking with Harvey. Scorpius is able to retrieve the neural chip at one point (“Die Me Dichotomy,” 2.22) and upload the information it received from Crichton’s mind, but to both his and Crichton’s surprise, Harvey continues to live inside Crichton’s mind. Despite having no physical body, Harvey is a person, with memory, sentience, will, and self-determination, including a desire for self-preservation. Living inside Crichton’s mind, Harvey can experience all that Crichton does, but being a separate person, like all the other persons on Farscape, is continually constituting himself through his choices and actions in response to his environment.

Not that these explorations in Farscape cover all the aspects of being a person, but Farscape does more than most shows have in exploring personhood. I will be posting more about these explorations in future posts.



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