Visions of Theseus

Our hero walks through the dimly-lit offices of Fat Mop Zoo. A single, flickering lightbulb swings ominously. Okay, John actually hit it with his head, but still… Cobwebs clinging to his balding pate, he slumps into his weathered office chair in a cloud of swirling dust.

Right! So… How do I do this again? I don’t think I knew how to do it before, actually. Anyways…

I have a bad habit of “viewing shows from afar.” I read enough about them in topical articles, but don’t actually watch them for lack of time/enough interest. One of those shows lately has been Wandavision. A scene from the episode caught my attention.


Don’t say I didn’t warn you. So towards the end (I guess?) of the episode, White Vision squares off against Wanda Maximoff’s mind-created Vision. The latter asks the former if he’s familiar with the Ship of Theseus thought experiment.

He allows that he does: “The Ship of Theseus is an artifact in a museum. Over time, its planks of wood rot and are replaced with new planks. When no original plank remains is it still the Ship of Theseus?”

Somebody hasn’t been outside in a while.

The Wanda-created Vision continues his line of thinking: “Secondly, if those removed planks are restored and reassembled, free of the rot, is that the Ship of Theseus?”

Whitey Vision responds: “Neither is the true ship. Both are the true ship.”

After a brief conversation in regards to what each Vision has of the “real” vision, Wanda-Vision muses: “Perhaps the rot is the memories. The wear and tear of the voyages. The wood touched by Theseus himself.” At this point, he restores Whitey-Vision’s memories, et cetera, and so on.

My point is that it got me thinking. One of the over-arching themes that surrounds the androids, or “Synthetics,” in my books is what level of consciousness they have. More to the point: What level of “selfness” do they have? This thought experiment is especially applicable to “transfers,” or Synthetics that house a transferred human consciousness.

I touched on the idea in Preservation Protocol and have explored it in the No Road Home series. The subject takes precedence in the final book in the series, Deliverance, that I’m currently writing. If you could transfer an exact map of someone’s mind to an artificial being, would that being BE that someone?

This question gets underlined in the last book when it’s confirmed that a character’s original human form is still alive with all of their faculties intact. In other words, you have one human, and one “clone.” Both have the same exact thoughts, memories, feelings, etc. Is the human THE person? Can the Synthetic not also be considered the person?

The question gains weight when one considers a “terminal transfer.” The “original” person expires at the conclusion of the mind transfer to the Synthetic. It could be argued that the Synthetic is undoubtedly the person, now. The human body ceased to function, and the artificial one woke up believing itself to be that person.

One inevitably wades into metaphysical waters when you further extrapolate on the idea. What happens when the human body wakes up? Both are conscious. Would the Synthetic be considered to have an artificial consciousness? And what is consciousness, anyway?

According to Merriam-Webster, it is “sentience or awareness of internal or external existence.” It’s the whole “I think, therefore I am” deal. So arguably, both android and human would be the same person.

It’s all quite mind-bending, but it’s something that humans are going to have to explore in the future. Scientists are already working on devices that could one day augment — or even replace — memory in the brain. This actually adds shades of gray to the conversation.

At what point would one’s consciousness be seated in the technology instead of the brain? Science can’t even agree yet on where consciousness physically manifests. Further, if the mind is wholly encompassed in that technology, what happens if it is powered down?

When one is “woken up,” will it be the same person? Or would it be like dying, with the person who “wakes up” being a precise clone of the former consciousness? It could be that, as with your organic brain, having your technological brain power down would essentially be the death of your unique consciousness.

This is how the question is handled in the canon of my books. Synthetics fear a loss of power to their neural net, as continual power is required to maintain their conscious state even in dormancy. Zero power will collapse the neural net, resulting in irreversible brain “death” for the individual.

A fun, but equally disturbing aside from the world of Star Trek: Transporters. In the fictional universe of Star Trek, transporters work by mapping out the position of every molecule of your body, breaking it down into a data-matter stream, and precisely reassembling it on the other side. We find similar questions here.

This would obviously obstruct your consciousness, not to mention literally obliterate your physical brain, regardless of it’s reassembly on the other side. Would you, in fact, still be you? For the religious: Would this scrambling happen to your soul, as well? Would it get left behind? Travel along?

More ominously, scientific consensus at the moment is that transporting would be a little more… uh, lethal in this reality. Such a system would most likely still map your molecules, but then it would recreate those molecules on the far side like another Star Trek staple, the replicator. The kicker? It would be a perfect recreation of you, and the original would be destroyed.

Bones probably had a damn good reason for hating transporters.

It kind of puts all of Star Trek into a new light. Just imagine every time Kirk or Picard or any of your favorite characters beam themselves somewhere, they’re dying at the moment of transfer. The person stepping out on the other side of the process is just another in a line of clueless clones, doomed to die the next time they need to be somewhere fast.

Any of that should be more than enough to tighten your sphincter. It’s also pretty thought-provoking. For more thought experiments on the subject, check out Preservation Protocol and the No Road Home series, and be sure to look out for Deliverance later this year.



Both the hunter and the hunted are not what they first appear to be.

The dark-haired woman worked with amazing precision. She calmly picked through the shelf of jewelry before her even as the security alarm screamed in her ears. She looked towards one corner of the store, brushing a lock of hair from her inquisitive face.

A black figure peered back at her from beneath a hooded sweatshirt. The figure held up a gloved hand and extended three fingers. The sound of sirens drifted in through the storefront. Two of the fingers fell away.

The woman nodded. She shifted her priority to securing the satchel she had been filling with stolen goods. She looked up as she slid the satchel over her shoulder.

Tires squealed on the pavement outside. The light-bar on the police car painted the walls of the jewelry store red and blue. The hooded figure nodded. “It’s time. Go.”

Both the dark-haired woman and hooded stranger ran silently to the back of the store. Flashlight beams cuts into the murk inside the store a moment too late. The two thieves cut into the alley that ran along the building.

At least one of the police anticipated just such a move. “FREEZE! New Wave PD!” Another officer joined him, leveling his plasma pistol.

The woman looked at the hooded figure, who nodded. The figure ran into the night as the woman turned her own plasma pistol on the police and opened fire. One brilliant yellow blast of energy hit the first officer, dropping him immediately.

The woman ran off down the alley, quickly gaining speed. Yellow bursts of energy from the other officer’s pistol chased after her, but never found their target. “Damn!”

The officer made to chase after her, but was caught short. “STOP!” A man in a black trench coat and sunglasses stepped up behind him. He held up a badge. “I’ll handle this. Stay back.”

The officer nodded numbly and stepped aside. The trench-coated man stepped forward scanning to the back of the alley. A black blur rounded the corner. He broke into a dead-run in the direction the young woman had traveled.

He reached the end of the of alley. All three directions were empty. The man stopped and listened. Footfalls pattered to his left. He turned and sprinted down the side alley.

The trench-coated man erupted into the middle of a quiet street. A quick sweep revealed he was alone. He took off his sunglasses, revealing eyes with faintly-glowing turquoise irises.

The Synthetic officer scanned the street. A lone tabby cat mewed on the corner of North Avenue. He raised his sight higher. A vagrant sitting on the steps of a fire escape saluted him with one finger.

He ignored the gesture and looked higher. His eyes flitted from one rooftop to the next, straining to pick up on any heat signatures. There… A bobbing head.

“Nimble little thing…” The officer ran into the alley adjacent to the building and ran up to where the vagrant was. He leaped into the air and grabbed the hand rail of the fire escape.

He pulled himself up and over. The vagrant scrambled back against the building, a wild look in his eyes. “Pardon,” the officer said as he slid past.

He continued up the stairs, going from landing to landing. Yellow blasts of energy greeted him as he crested the top of the building. He returned fire and ducked back down.

There was no return fire. The officer peeked back up cautiously and scanned the roof of the other building. Clear. He hopped onto the hand rail of the fire escape and leaped.

The Synthetic easily cleared the gap, landing on the roof of the far building with hardly a noise. He quickly found his pistol and held it out in front of him. Three quick bursts of plasma fire headed his way.

One blast found its way through his open trench coat as he turned. He snapped back and fired at a ghostly shadow sprinting across the rooftop. “Don’t make me kill you!”

The figure dropped below the roof-line on the far side of the building. “Of course.” The officer sighed, dropping back into a sprint.

He dropped to one knee at the edge of the building and looked over. Nothing. He looked along the alley below and followed it out to the street.

“There you are.” The officer swung over the side of the fire escape. He let himself drop level by level, grabbing each hand rail in turn as he fell.

He ran into the middle of the street and scanned his surroundings. The woman ran down yet another alley. He shook his head and ran.

The woman stood waiting for him at the far end of the alley. Her hands remained at her side. She was not holding her weapon. “Give it up, robot.”

The Synthetic officer’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not making things any easier for yourself, ma’am.”

“Ma’am? How polite. Are you going to ask me to ‘please come here’?”

The officer shrugged. “Would it help?”

“Not today, I’m afraid.” She disappeared around the corner.

“Oh, come on, lady!” The officer chased after her once more.

He turned the corner onto the street and looked in the direction the woman had run. He spotted her nearly a block away. “That’s impossible, unless…”

“Give up, robot!” She ran down another alley.

The officer beared down and ran with superhuman speed. The wind whistled past his ears. He rounded the corner and ran into a parked car.

He dented in the front end and caved the hood. The Synthetic allowed himself to roll up and over the car and kept running. The alarm went off. A balding man in a white wife-beater leaned out a window. “HEY, YOU!”

“New Wave PD!” the officer shouted, even as he accelerated away.

He burst onto another street. This time, yellow plasma blasts greeted him. He turned and fired blindly, barely missing the woman. She disappeared into another alley.

The officer turned to pursue. He made it about halfway before plasma shots landed on either side of him. They came from somewhere behind him. “What, the…”

He turned to find the woman half a block behind him. He fired back, missing her by a wide margin. She flashed him a smile and a wink before disappearing behind a building.

“All right, what’s going on…” The officer retreated to the middle of the street and attempted to look in all directions at once.

A shrill whistle came from the top of the building in front of him. There was the dark-haired woman, smiling down from above. “Wonderful evening, isn’t it?”

“You’re a Synthetic! You have to be!”

“I don’t have to be anything, but I assure you that I am not a Synthetic. Now her…” She pointed down.

The officer lowered his gaze just in time to see the woman, the same woman, drop down right in front of him. “Hello, robot.”

He raised his plasma pistol. The woman expertly kicked it from his hand, making it discharge into a nearby wall as it spun through the air. She punched him twice in the chest, then aimed for his chin.

The officer caught the fist and squeezed. The woman did not flinch, but punched him in the face with her other fist. The officer returned the favor.

The skin tore slightly where he had hit. Titanium glittered underneath it in the streetlight. “There’s the Synthetic.”

“Here I am.” The woman went at him with a series of successful punches and kicks. The officer backed up rapidly. He needed time to respond, but also to scan for the real target.

She was gone. He zeroed back in on the Synthetic. He ran at her. She braced for the hit and rolled him onto the ground.

He followed the roll to where his pistol lay on the ground. He snatched it up and popped up on one knee. He turned and fired, but the woman was gone. He scrambled back to the end of the alley.

She was already halfway down the block. A shrill whistle came from the opposite direction. He turned to see the real woman boarding a city bus.

She blew him a kiss before pulling the hood of her black sweatshirt back over her head. He whipped back around the other way. The Synthetic woman was gone from sight.

“Damn it!” The officer angrily kicked a can across the street. Someone inside an apartment building shouted at him to shut the hell up.

He sighed, rubbing at his chin. “The boss ain’t going to like this one bit.”