Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, November 28, 2016

Who's Philosophy?

Doctor Who, the last time lord.
He saves the world and his companions daily, but finds it hard to avoid death himself. If you are not familiar with the Doctor, you may not understand how someone who finds death so often is, well, alive. That’s what sets him apart as a time lord, he regenerates. This simply means that instead of dying he comes back as a different person. This spawns the question, is he the same person after each generation? John Locke holds the claim that memory is what makes you different from the person next to you. After all, we all start the same and our experiences that turn into memories are what changes us over time. One example of this in the Doctor Who series is the 5th and the 10th generation of the Doctor. [Skip to 5:24 for some memory stuff]

They are claimed to be the same because they both remember each other, despite the gap in time. But. there can be a flaw in this. Memory is something that can be lost, so what makes you the same person then? Or are you the same person?
Thomas Reid proposed a mathematical equation that can be used to help figure this out. He said that if A=B and B=C, then A=C. It is by this law that we can help figure out some of the problems with memory loss and self, especially in the world of Gallifrey and time lords. Doctor Who has a companion in one area of the series by the name of Donna. Donna goes through some pretty hardcore stuff during the show including turning into somewhat of a doctor herself, which is what I will discuss.  I’ll be referring to her in three terms: Pre Doctor Donna- who she was before she turned, Doctor Donna- who she was while she was in Doctor mode, and Post Doctor Donna- who she was after the Doctor. Post Doctor Donna remembers Pre Doctor Donna, but she does not remember Doctor Donna. Doctor Donna remembers Pre Doctor Donna, however. (it gets real confusing here, if you are not already lost.) Locke would argue that because of this Post Doctor Donna is no longer the same because she does not remember Doctor Donna. Reid’s equation shows us that despite that, since the first and the last are the same and the last and the middle are the same, then they are all the same! Paul Grice came up with something called a memory chain which allows us to see this confusing statement of words a little more clearly through a visual aid.

As you can see above, it gets a little confusing, but there are links between them. This suggests that even when we forget things as long as we can remember some of ourselves, then we are still the same person. This memory chain is how they explain the Doctor and his memories as well. The Doctor’s case is a little different though considering he has twelve different selves rather than just the one. The memory chain concept would state that since the 12th doctor remembers the 1th and the 11th remembers the 10th and so on backwards that the 12th doctor is still the same as the 1st doctor as memory trickles down the chain to the next one. By this logic, the Doctor remains the same person without having to remember each version of himself.
One problem the Doctor faces in his identity and memory comes with John Smith, and I don’t mean the pilgrim. Bernard Williams proposed a thought experiment regarding body swapping, which we can see in Doctor Who’s own experiences. At one point in the series, the Doctor transforms himself into John Smith, with all of the Doctor’s memories and experiences trapped in a watch. John Smith has his own memories, whether they are real or not, of his life and they don’t match with the Doctor’s. So, in this case are they the same? Locke would say no and Reid’s theory would do nothing to dissuade him. Let’s look at this from the Doctor’s perspective. If you tell him that something horrible and terribly painful will happen to his future self of John Smith, he will tell you not too, as would we all when someone tells us about ourselves. The problem with that is if he does not remember him, how can they be the same person? This unique thought experiment suggests that while it is memory that helps create us, is it possible that we are more than just that alone? Are we simply our memories made up over time?
What is to be said about those with total amnesia? Are they lost to themselves- stuck so late in life having to rebuild themselves and who they are? Or is there a way to access their former selves despite having no memory of such? These are some of the questions that run much deeper than just Doctor Who.
Another interesting part of the world of Doctor Who is something called a Weeping Angel.
These monsters of time throw a screw in one of Berkeley’s famous ideals. Berkeley tells us that “to be is to be perceived.” Weeping Angels are the screw in the logic of that statement. For Weeping Angels being perceived leaves them in a state of not being. This may sound completely crazy and make no sense, because really they don’t. Weeping Angels are these creatures that while in someone’s sight-even another Angel- they do not move. Once eyes are off of them, even if for just a moment, they come alive.

These monsters live off of a person’s possible timeline and the energy from that. Once they touch you, you are zapped back in time to another period and another place. The Angels then live and feed off the timeline that you would have lived in. In Doctor Who, their experiences with the Weeping Angels leads to a sort of closed causal chain. A closed causal chain is a loop of events that all lead back to one another in one way or another. It can be confusing but it is best explained by this clip in the episode “Easter Egg.”

As you can see in the clip, the Doctor seems to know what Sally says before she says it. This is because due to the time loop, her actions led to some other actions that eventually led to the Doctor knowing exactly what happens as it happens in life. Because he recorded that clip, those events happened again, and you can see the chain that begins. It can be kind of confusing, but it does make sense in a sort of convoluted way.
This confusing matter of the Weeping Angels also becomes what we can see in Kant’s noumenal realm, rather than our phenomenal realm. Kant is an empirical realist when it comes to the world we live in and that can be seen clearly in his noumenal realm description. By his logic of the noumenal versus the phenomenal, it is obvious where our angels seem to fall. The Weeping Angels fall beyond our experience, as when we try to sense them in any way, by sight or by touch, they disappear back into stone and back out of living existence.

Here is a link explaining Kant’s view of noumenal versus phenomenal. When it comes to these Angels, we face different questions. How can we live only on our real time in life, yet they can exist on the proposed? Can that proposed lifeline be changed and altered? In this sense, are the phenomenal and noumenal intertwined together or separate entirely and just exchanging time together? The Weeping Angels clearly exist in our noumenal realm, but our lives and experiences lie in the phenomenal. What causes this crossover? Who knows.

Final Word Count: 1308
Sources used: Doctor Who and Philosophy:Bigger on the Inside


  1. H1
    Yay Doctor Who! I love how you examined the show to mine its depth. You chose some of the most interesting questions that it posed, and taught me something about different concepts of memory and identity. Perhaps in your second post you could examine identity in copies; like the Doctor that Rose ends up with in the alternate reality. Is he really the Doctor?

    1. I may actually, that is a great idea!

  2. I'm actually never been a fan of Doctor Who and failed to understand the appeal, but this is a valuable analysis. I noticed your incorporation of Kant, which I used on my analysis of Marilyn Manson to contrast the nihilism from Friedrich Nietzsche.

  3. "Who knows?" Or WHO knows?

    Thanks for this, I'll be using it next time I try to explain the difference between Locke and Reid on memory and personal identity.

    Is Dr. Who the same person through all his instantiations, or is he the same consciousness realized consecutively in myriad persons? Does he change and grow? Is he an illustration of a kind of immortal being who should never grow bored, since he continually shucks his skin and occupies a new identity?

    The most intriguing feature of Dr. Who, for me - I've never really watched it - is the concept of a finite spaceship that expands spatially when you enter it. The world of learning is just like that, no?

    1. Watch for my second installment, I will be discussing the T.A.R.D.I.S.!

  4. (H3) Wow that was really complex. I have never watched Doctor Who but it definitely sounds like an intriguing challenge. I love how you incorporated so many different philosophers and philosophies into your discussion. You explained the timeline with Donna really well. I was a little confused on the John Smith scenario but I think I grasp the main concept. I look forward to more on the subject and possibly starting the series.

    1. Thanks! You really should it is a great series to watch!

  5. I think its interesting that you talked about the weeping angels, when I thought Dr. Who monsters and philosophy I thought of the Cybermen, who remove all emotion to make humans perfect. My question is though, are humans perfect even without emotions? They still have parts of their brains and I don't think you can make a perfect human as long as they can still think partially human thoughts, so even if you were to remove it you wouldn't have a perfect human because then it would no longer be human.