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Identity Crisis

Written by Jenna Black

In the world of Replica, it is possible for the very rich and very privileged to make what amounts to backup copies of themselves. Periodically, they have scans made of their bodies, and if they should ever die of preventable causes, a Replica can be made based on those scans. That Replica will have all the original person’s thoughts and memories up until the time that the backup was made, and is in all other ways identical to the original.

One of the things that intrigues me most about this premise is the question of identity. One of the protagonists of the series, Nate Hayes, is murdered in the opening , and it is left to his Replica to try to solve the mystery of who killed him. So who, exactly, is Nate’s Replica? If he is identical to the original Nate in every way except for a few missing memories, does that mean he actually is Nate? According to the legal system in my story, yes, he is the real Nate Hayes; but is that how people would see him? Is that how he would see himself? After all, he feels identical to the original, even though he knows he’s a Replica.

I expect the answers to these questions will be very different for different individuals, but I tried to imagine how I would feel if, after one of my loved ones had died, a person appeared who looked and acted exactly like them and had their memories. My conclusion was that for me, at least, it would be very hard not to be completely taken in by the illusion. If, for example, I were faced with a Replica of my father, I suspect that although the relationship would be weird and awkward at first, eventually I would begin treating him and thinking about him as if he really were my father. Which then made me wonder: would I still grieve for the death of my real father?

There is something very appealing and tempting about the idea of being able to make backup copies, about not having the specter of loss always hovering over us. But it’s a disturbing idea, too. Just because I wouldn’t suffer the loss of my father wouldn’t mean that my father hadn’t died. Would the man who died not deserve to be mourned? How would I feel about the prospect of my loved ones having an identical copy of me available if I died? Obviously, I’d want my loved ones to be happy and to spare them any hurt I could, but there’s also something uncomfortably dehumanizing about the idea. Who am I, as an individual, if I can be copied and replaced so easily?

I won’t pretend I came up with any answers for these questions during the writing of Replica. I thought about them a lot, and came up with hypothetical answers from the points of view of my various characters, but most of them still struggle with some amount of confusion and mixed feelings.

Asking “what if” questions of this sort is one of my favorite things about writing science fiction and fantasy. And for me, it isn’t the actual answering of the questions that is fun, it’s the posing of them and the thinking about them in the first place.

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From the Tor/Forge July 22nd newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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  1. July 22, 2013 at 10:22 am

    Nice. In a situation like that I guess I would feel happy that I got more time with the person for what it’s worth. But I guess it would always be in the back of my head they aren’t the ‘real thing’ for want of a better phrase. And you posed a good point. I think it would actually be somewhat unfair to the person who died, because it would feel like trivializing their death. Something came to mind at that point. It’s said that the worst thing a man could say to his partner after they have lost a baby is, ‘We can always make another one.’ I think my mindset would be similar to the woman: you cant just MAKE another one to replace what was lost.

  2. Meg
    July 22, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    I love these kinds of philosophical thoughts. 🙂 I don’t think I would have a problem with someone being a copy, nor being a copy of myself. But it does bring up the interesting notion of what happens when both an original and a copy are active at once. Both of you are you, but one of you stayed the original, and one became a copy. Who decides which one is which? Does the question even make sense? It is more interesting when the two are different in some significant way, like one going to the stars, or one having a different body.

    Have you read Altered Carbon? There’s a similar sort of scenario going on there.

  3. Amos
    July 22, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    Well, it seems that creating a replica such as this is mostly for the benefit of those left behind, and also to make sure one’s interests are kept in order. The dead original would stay dead and have no notion of what’s going on.
    This being the case, the question of why make the replica at all arises. It does not add to one’s life, only creates an identical being with identical memories.
    Let’s say person A dies, and is replicated, causing person B comfort, because in this way he can still interact with person A. Then B dies, and is replicated, causing the replica of A comfort, for the same reason. This cycle can go on and on indefinitely, not achieving immortality in an actual sense, only maintaining a sort of emotional stasis.
    I guess it’s quite similar to what goes on in The 6th Day

  4. Jason D
    July 22, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    You should read Kiln People by David Brin – he tackles a lot of this as well, except his copies are made of clay and depending on the $$ you pour into them, have different skill sets, and people send their golems out to work for them each day as each is only good for 24 hours. Very well done story.

    As for the premise here – there are a few questions this leaves me with. One, how are people copied? Is it a grown/manufactured living breathing human being that is indistinguishable from the original? Or is it an android replicant form with that person’s memories at the time of the copy? Two, what are the limitations on the copy? Can I activate my copy at any time and be in two places at once? Do they stay active until killed or they reach some natural end of life (can they grow old)? Third, can we re-integrate experiences and memories from a copy into ourselves? And finally, is it possible for a copy to be made of a copy, thus perpetuating someone’s life possibly forever?

    Identity and self-awareness do not depend on the form in my opinion, but I would hope the laws would prevent someone from basically becoming immortal and continuously gaining wealth and power. The laws of personhood should change if you are not the original you, whether it be “you are legally you” for the duration of the copy (if it has a natural limit of X days to finish up business maybe) or if it has no automatic end-of-life but the law says you are now merely a “child of the state” or some equivalent, after whatever period, then I’m all for this technology I think.

  5. Gilbert Gosseyn
    July 22, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Also, read The Golden Age by John C. Wright. Very similar premise, except that the missing memories in one case were crucial to the person’s sense of identity, and the other claimant to be the heir, the real version, of that person was a much earlier copy.

    There may be other, earlier books dealing with replicated memories, but I cannot bring them to mind. — Gilbert

  6. Chas
    July 22, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    Speaking of earlier books, a similar idea was advanced by Jack Vance in “To Live Forever”.

  7. July 22, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    An episode in Doctor Who explores this also–I’m not certain which episode it is, but at a dangerous factory they have what they call “gangers” or dopplegangers who are used for the dangerous work and are expendable even though they have the exact same memories as the real person. The Doctor ends up with a ganger and they switch to make Amy think that one of them was the original when he actually wasn’t–its interesting how she treats each of them, as well as the other characters in the episode. Very thought-provoking, and somewhat irritating!

  8. Sean
    July 22, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    John Varley’s ‘Eight Worlds’ setting also employs this theme, with individuals making recordings of themselves to be reloaded into a cloned body if they are killed. The stories also take the concept of identity further, in that individuals can have their consciousness ‘doppled’ into the body of an animal in one of the ‘disneylands’ for a vacation, with the braintape being played back into the original body at the end of the experience.

    Justin Lieber also visits some of the same concepts with his ‘Beyond’ trilogy, where, like Varley’s stories, individuals can record their mind, but without the technology to clone adult bodies, these recordings can only be loaded into mind-blanked bodies, requiring extensive assistance for the mind to integrate with the body, and nymphers — a class of individual who have themselves implanted into newborn clones and raise the body to adulthood before taping themselves and repeating the process, producing a limited supply of unoccupied bodies (there are other sources, equally as limited).

  9. Brian White
    July 23, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    I can’t confirm where I read it, but I believe that 98% of the atoms of our bodies are replaced each month. Technically each month you are a different person than you were the month before. It is your memories that make you the same person. Since we cannot prove a soul we’d be limited to that. So, is a Replica any less you as compared to the you of a month and a half ago? You of now and your Replica both have completely different atoms than that person 45 days ago.

  1. July 22, 2013 at 9:54 am
  2. July 24, 2013 at 3:53 pm
  3. July 26, 2013 at 1:31 pm

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