Philosophical themes in Schwarzenegger

Is an Arnie film really philosophical?

Would you believe it; but the original plot by Philip K. Dick, and the film “Total Recall” has very interesting questions that philosophers think about. There are two questions which are very interesting; one has precedent from Descartes’ First Meditation, and perhaps even further to the likes of (say,) Sextus Empiricus; and the second is precedented from a thought experiment by a Robert Nozick.

Thesis: Arnold Schwarzenegger films display profound and difficult philosophical issues

Case 1: Scepticism in Total Recall

Scepticism is the doctrine against a stable grasp of any given proposition; scepticism, if it is correct, (at best) gives us reason to have doubt over the absolute certainty over any proposition P. Scepticism, at worst, is an absolute claim of rational doubt over every proposition (with the exception of a few which are completely trivial).

In Decartes’ Meditation on First Philosophy (First Book); Descartes, in a preparation for his own conception of knowledge, gives preliminary doubt to our prima facie claims to knowledge, by putting forward three arguments; each one more powerful than the one before it. The second sceptical thought that Descartes’ gives goes something like: given that I have had an experience in the past that I thought was real, but was actually a dream; I could have any experience, including this one, as a dream. How do I know I’m not dreaming?

A similar thought comes at the end of Total Recall: how does Arnie know that he isn’t in Recall at the end of the film, going through the virtual reality simulation of him going to mars as a secret agent? There is a lot to suggest that Arnie could be in a dream, and a little also to suggest that he isn’t in a dream. This is a thought provoking, and worrying thought. Is Quaid really Hauser in disguise; was the schizoid embolism real? Was there really a Hauser?

Case 2: The Experience Machine

The Experience Machine is a very interesting thought experiment regarding our conceptions of desire and happiness; one reason, is because I’m not entirely sure what the thought experiment proves! Lets say that the view that we are trying to attack in this thought experiment is of the following presuppositions in the way we live our lives:

i. We seek to fulfill our desires
ii. Happiness and desire-satisfaction are our primary ends

Here’s the thought: Imagine if you could be plugged into a machine FOREVER which could satisfy every desire you had; it would make you experience all the things you wanted to experience, but the catch is…you can’t get out of the machine. Would you plug in?

A lot of people when asked this question answer ‘No’ to this question. That’s the platitude of this thought experiment. Now; the question is, what does this fact that we won’t go into the experience machine tell us?

It might tell us that when we want a desire satisfied; we want it to really happen, not to occur as some sensory thing in our brain. If I want a ferrari, I want it in real life; not some virtual mental simulation. What it might also tell us is that desire-satisfaction (or our own happiness? ) isn’t the primary, or sole end of human conduct.

What does this have to do with Arnie? Well, counter to what I just said about what most people would do in the thought experiment; Arnie chose to go into the experience machine (although he could get out…maybe that is what the situation different). The question we may ask ourselves is this; if we were given an oppurtunity to simulate memories, or have experiences (about false states of affairs); would we accept this offer?

A similar issue comes up in an episode of Red Dwarf “Thanks for the memory” insofar as the fact that Rimmer’s memory of his first love is false haunts him.

Case 3: Clones and personal identity

The first point to make is this; the idea that a clone will be the same in terms of physical age and memories (a photocopy) is further from how cloning really works in reality; that aside; this is a thought experiment that has been addressed by the likes of John Hick (as a thought about Resurrection in Christianity); Donald Davidson (the ‘swampman’) and probably a few dozen others.

If you, were duplicated in every possible respect (EXCEPT ONE); would you be the same person? This question isn’t really answered in the film, the Sixth Day; except maybe one. In Arnie’s (Adam Gibson’s) case; he was cloned due to an accident where he was presumed to be dead. In the story; we find that Adam Gibson wakes up at some point after he is at work, in a taxi. Adam then finds out that some impostor is in his house “eating [his] birthday cake”.

We eventually find out that Adam Gibson, who sees his doppleganger in his home, is actually a clone; and the one in the house is real. There are a lot of ways to slice this pie: which is the real Adam Gibson? Although in one sense, the film sets out a definite answer to this (the one with the mark of a clone on their eyelid). But; the more profound question is this; in virtue of WHAT makes Adam Gibson* the clone?

This is where philosophers don’t as such answer a question; but put out distinctions about the identity of a thing:

i. What is the condition of identity? Leibniz’ law? (or Principle of the Indiscernablity of Identicals [PII], as some of the department properly refer to it!)
ii. What kind of Identity are we talking about? Numerical or Qualitative?
iii. When we refer to a thing; what can we say about the necessity of their identity? Is water necessarily H2O in all worlds? (cf. Putnam/Kripke) What is the fundamental primitive that defines a “THIS-ness” of a thing? Genetic/atomic structure? Physical components?

Case 4: Time Travel

I’m not going to say much about this; but there is a lot of popular culture thoughts about Time Travel (cf. Dragonball Z’s ‘Cell saga’; Back to the Future… Family Guy)

Here are some prima facie questions (concerning modality)

1. Is time travel conceivable?
2. Is time travel possible?
3. Is the conceivable, possible? and, is the possible, concievable?

My last point…

The reason I love Arnie films is not because of the interesting science fiction themes that arise…it’s because of the VIOLENCE!!!!!!!

And, at the end of the day, isn’t that really what Arnie’s about? Not these profound questions of metaphysics and ethics, but… this….



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