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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God does play dice!

Posted on January 26, 2007. Filed under: Evolution, God, Philosophy, Religion |

Fact – life on earth has been almost entirely wiped out several times in its 4 billion years of history. Mass extinctions result from changes in earth’s environment brought about by asteroid impact, massive volcanic eruption or some such natural calamity. The last mass extinction event, called the K-T extinction, happened around 65 million years ago and was responsible for the end of non-avian dinosaurs. Had dinosaurs not been wiped out, mammals may have never evolved further and humans may have never walked the earth.

Fact – when natural selection is allowed to work in seclusion, we see it produce unique forms of life. Life found on geographically isolated places such as Galapagos Island or Australia are examples of what evolution in isolation, absence of competition from other successful species, can do and the result is speciation, emergence of unique forms of life like marine iguana and platypus that are endemic to those places. This indicates that evolution is totally random in general and is solely dependent on its ecosystem; it is not directed towards any specific species; presented with a circumstance it produces dinosaurs and in another, humans.

Conclusion – evolution of intelligent human species is pure chance. We owe our existence to the asteroid which killed the dinosaurs and to the ecological conditions in which our ancestors evolved. If we let life play out in Galapagos without any external influence, will the marine iguanas ever evolve to be as intelligent as us? Will the dinosaurs ever re-evolve? The answer in all likelihood is no and no.

We humans are here because of random events in the history of earth. Had those events not played out the way they did, we may have never come into existence. Humans have come this far as a result of refinements to our genetic structure by means of mutations and physiological changes, such as bipedalism and opposable thumb, by natural selection. Combine that with language, which lets us pass on every skill (language included) we acquire from one generation to next (every child born theoretically has at its disposal everything that humanity has learnt till then) and we have in effect taken the reins of evolution into our own hands.

Natural selection, over time, seems to improve upon the biological designs it operates on, but it does not have any intrinsic goal or direction, it does not have any ‘intelligence’ driving it, its just a logical consequence of life competing for the limited resources available to it, design improvements over time just an unintended but welcome side-effect.

If humans are not meant to be here but just happen to be, where does that leave God? If there is a God and if God did indeed set evolution in motion, we are not what God intended, evolution by natural selection is not a tool anyone with a plan would use to create something specific and earth with its violent past and uncertain future is certainly not a place to carry out such a plan. God did not have any intention; we are nothing but an accidental byproduct of the experiment that is evolution.

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