consciousness

The Prestige – a moral conundrum?

Posted on February 3, 2007. Filed under: consciousness, morality, movie, Philosophy |

Please stop reading if you have not seen the film The Prestige; following discussion revolves around the central plot of the film.

Hugh Jackman’s character in the film kills his clone, then proceeds to kill himself a hundred times over. Now I know it is just a film with an implausible premise, but it does bring up interesting questions about morality and consciousness.

The cloning machine in the film is capable of producing an exact copy of any object, living or otherwise. If I use the machine on myself, it would make a copy of me, resulting in two of me. But what does it mean to have two of me? My clone will look like me and have my brain (and everything that goes with that), so unlike identical twins who are clearly two different individuals, my clone will be me. Does that mean we share a single consciousness? How will I be able to separate myself from this other individual knowing that he is me for all practical purposes? He will know everything I know about me and my past, my deepest fears and desires, my hopes and aspirations, the essence of being me. Who is to say I am me and not him? He will have as much claim to “me” as I do!

That brings us to the question – what does “me” mean? I think the moment my clone is created, it becomes a separate entity; even though he is essentially the same person, he has a mind (hence a consciousness) of his own which is tied to the body. The body is the manifestation of a person in the physical world, and consciousness exists to protect the selfish interests of the body. So my clone, in spite of being me, will be a whole different person, who will be thinking and acting in his own interest from the moment he is created.

The film also raises this morality question – was Hugh Jackman’s magical performance of drowning himself only to reappear in the form of his clone, an act of murder or suicide? He kills himself everyday only to be reborn the same instant. Is the man drowning himself guilty of suicide or is the clone guilty of murder? Or has no crime been committed because nobody is missing? Nevertheless, it is an amazing feat to be able to die a hundred times and still not know what its like to die!

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