Fake Memories?

GET TO THE CHOP–Whoops wrong movie

In the movie Total Recall (I’m referring to the original 1990 movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, haven’t seen the more recent remake), the main character Douglas Quaid wants to go on a vacation to Mars but he cannot afford to physically transport himself. Instead, he opts to go to a company called Rekall that will allow him to receive a brain implant that makes him believe that he went to Mars.

The rest of this blog will contain unmarked spoilers, so let the reader beware.

During the operation to get the memory transplant, something goes wrong and Doug receives painful shocks. Once he goes home, he sees that what he believed to be his life is all a sham, as his supposed wife is a secret agent working against him. Doug finds a recording from the future that he is a secret agent called Hauser and that he erased his memories in order to protect himself from a conspiracy. Doug goes to Mars to find out more about the conspiracy. Once he arrives, he goes on an adventure that reveals a secret device that can provide breathing air for all the residents, thereby bringing peace among the settlers and the Martian natives. Doug is able to release the device but in the last scene of the movie he asks himself if this was all a dream. Were his efforts to save Mars just a highly sophisticated memory implanted in his brain?

This brings me to the philosophical part of this blog post, where I found a connection between Doug’s memories and Locke’s view of identity. Locke argued that if “consciousness” was maintained by a person, then the identity of the person stays the same. He states the “consciousness can be extended to backwards to any past action or thought”, which means that one is able to recall past memories and actions (335). However, this also exposes one of the holes in Locke’s theory. A famous scenario called the breakfast problem asks that if I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, I was not myself during breakfast time yesterday. In Total Recall, it is not truly known whether Hauser truly existed or if he was a memory implanted into Doug’s brain. If Doug cannot make a distinction between a dream and reality, is he truly himself? I personally believe that Doug’s adventure was a dream and he either woke up or died after the movie ends.

My external source is not related to the movie, but it is a song I have been listening to while writing this blog post. It’s called “Is It Real?” from one of my favorite shows Cowboy Bebop. It ponders on reality and what can be done to prove my existence and whether the world around me is real or just a figment of my imagination.

4 responses to “Fake Memories?

  1. I recently watched this movie and I also think that it was an elaborate artificial memory that Doug experienced. But whether or not he is his real self is a good question. My most recent blog post was about a Ted talk hosted by Julian Baggini who questioned whether or not we ave a central I. He argues that instead of having an I that is central to ourselves and that connects all of our experiences together to form the I, we are simply a sum of our parts. Our experiences are what shapes us without the inclusion of the I.
    From this perspective, is there really a real Doug? Even though the memories may be false Doug still gets something from the memories and he reacts to them, and it is real to him. And, since Doug is just a sum of all of his experiences, he experienced the fake memories the same way he experienced, and he reacts to them the same way that he would react to any other experience. So, if we are a sum of our experiences, and if Doug experienced these fake memories the same way he experiences anything else, then wouldn’t that be his real self?

  2. I was drawn by the mentioning of Mars in your post. First, the loss (or lack ) of identity is definitely present in the movie. How can one be sure of one’s identity if no one is there to validate the reality of the presence? Just like Hegel says, a conscious needs to be acknowledged by another consciousness. Doug is not able to tell which “consciousness” (people) are real ones. Lastly, Mars reminds me of the people who signed up for a one-way trip to Mars. My question is: are they going to have any identity at all once they go there? Yes, they will be known on Earth as those who go to Mars. However, once they get there, what can stop them from pursing different identities? There is no laws nor order for people to follow. They are the ones who live and create rules. When you give people power/another identity, they will assume that identity (Stanford Prison study is a good example). It is horrifying to imagine what will happen on Mars.

  3. I’ve never seen this movie before but it seems very interesting and mind boggling. From what I read through your spoilers and your connections to Locke’s philosophy on consciousness, I would agree with you that his trip to Mars and everything else was just a dream. Although like we discussed in class about Locke’s argument that memories make up your identity, it would seem as if this alleged dream is all Doug seems to “know” about himself. So in a twisted turn of events, either Doug’s identity is either a total lie or his real identity has now ceased to exist as he knew of it before. But then again if it was all just a dream, then every aspect of his identity before then should be intact right? Any thoughts?

  4. I thank you all for your comments. It is interesting to explore that even Doug’s identity could be false. Perhaps his memories of his life even before he went to Rekall were all falsified, and those “memories” were just dreams. Perhaps his entire “life” is a memory implanted to a body. I am not so pessimistic as to think that Mars would be a prison or a lawless planet, but I do agree that people could go to Mars in the future to escape their earthly identities and create a new one. Once you stick people into a completely different environment, it would be fascinating to see how they respond to different stimuli. Finally, there can be a strong debate on whether Doug’s adventure was a dream or not, and if so when do the memories end and the dream begins. I think that his life before going to Rekall was all real and that the adventure was a dream. There is no way to confirm if Doug was actually brainwashed by “himself” and forgot his previous life as Hauser. For me the story of Hauser seems too improbable as to brainwash himself, that’s why I think his adventure is actually a dream.

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