Theory of Mind in Doctor Who
If a mind and body are perfectly simulated but composed of different substances, is it the same mind?
In the BBC sci-fi programme Doctor Who, there is a substance called ‘the Flesh’, a fully programmable matter which can replicate any living organism. This matter can be formed into “flesh avatars”, also called Gangers, like doppelgangers, that are typically controlled by real, living people. The Gangers do human things; they have emotions and feelings and memories like we do. Their experiences are identical to those who are controlling them. However, despite appearing identical, the Gangers are not technically human. The difference in substance composition poses the question ‘if a mind and body are perfectly simulated but composed of different substances, is it the same mind?’ In this essay, I will discuss and evaluate this issue from two opposing perspectives. Firstly, from the perspective of a functionalist and secondly from the viewpoint of an identity theorist. A functionalist would claim it is a human because of its exact replication of actions and thought processes, despite not being of the same substance. Contrastingly, an identity theorist would claim it’s not the same person or even a human being. It’s just a replica, nothing more. As the brain of the Ganger is its own, so is its mind. Hence, the Ganger is a completely different being and does not share the same mind.
An essential belief of functionalism is that what makes something a thought, mental state, or being is its function in the system of which it is a part. Like the well-known quote of abductive reasoning: ‘If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck’, so to speak. In this case, if a non-human being acts like a human, it is simply so. Because a replica would behave just as an original being would, with the same actions and thought processes, a perfectly stimulated mind and body would share the same mind, despite the difference in substance. However, there are significant faults with the theory of functionalism. While at first glance this theory may seem reasonable and makes a great deal of sense, looking closer we can identify that functionalism fails to account for social change and individual agency. In the example of this Doctor Who episode, we see that while the Gangers share the same memories and lived experiences, their outlook on life is different from their controllers because of their identities as clones. The Gangers’ thought processes and actions may be predictable due to whom they come from, but their opinions regarding their own freedom and rights differ. Functionalism’s inability to address deviation from norms, of which there are always plenty, does not exactly fit in neatly with the question.
Identity theory offers a contrasting answer to the question. But first, to understand how an identity theorist would answer the question of ‘if a mind and body are perfectly simulated but composed of different substances, is it the same mind?’, one must first identify the key beliefs and arguments of the theory. Identity theory claims that “states and processes of the mind are identical to states and processes of the brain.” Essentially, the theory asserts that the mind and brain are, in reality, the same thing. Since a perfectly simulated being has its own body and physical brain, it therefore also has its own mind. Thus, an identity theorist would claim that despite thinking and behaving like its original counterpart, a perfect duplicate of a mind and body would be a completely separate entity with its own mind. However, identity theory fails to address how subjective experiences do not necessarily correspond with brain states. Our individual experiences, even if identical to our peers, could result in a different brain state depending on our lived experiences. Additionally, American philosopher Hilary Putnam claims that ‘mental properties are not identical to physical properties because the same mental property can be related to different physical properties,’ and thus there is a distinction between mind and brain. Therefore, this theory directly invalidates the ideologies of identity theory.
Functionalism and identity theory are fundamentally entirely different concepts, though both can be rationally applied to this scenario to answer the question of ‘if a mind and body are perfectly simulated but composed of different substances, is it the same mind?’. Both arguments are valid to a certain extent, though fail to address some issues in their respective areas. Additionally, both functionalism and identity theory lack a conclusion on the subject of these replicas being their own kind with their own thought processes. Functionalism does not allow space for a clone to branch out and have its own thoughts and feelings. Similarly, identity theory assumes that although said replica may have its own brain and mind, it would fundamentally act, think and feel the same as its original counterpart as it is part of a collective identity. There is no definite conclusion on this issue, though the flaws in the arguments of both functionalism and identity theory allow us to further understand the scenario of the Gangers. That all said, I remain inconclusive on this issue and impartial to both theories.