The Venture Bros. is one of those shows I don’t really laugh out loud at until the third or forth time I watch an episode. It isn’t because the jokes aren’t hilarious the first time, it’s just that there is so much awesome compressed into every moment I don’t have time to laugh. “Twenty Years to Midnight” is one of the few exclusions: the Grand Galactic Inquisitor’s ridiculous interjections still make me tear up from laughing so hard. My larger point is that there is so much going on in any given episode, some stuff can get lost in the mix.
One long narrative thread that gets drawn from the first episode of season 2 all the way to the end of season 3 is that the boys, Hank and Dean, can be cloned when they die. Their beds record their memories, so the clones have almost no memory break between death and waking up the next morning. A classic ethical problem of cloning technology has always been “would the clone be a new person or the same one?” There are two versions of the answer to the metaphysical/ontological aspect of this question: the religious and the secular answers.
In the religious version, the answer is that the soul cannot continue on, despite the “memories” being implanted in the new cloned substrate. Basically this results in a soulless zombie thing that is not the same person. So the answer is no.
In the secular version, the answer is that the original person really did die, so his or her consciousness is no longer continuous, meaning he or she is gone. The clone, despite having the same memories and not perceiving a gap in time, thus having a contiguous conscious experience, is still a different person. Again, we come to the answer of no.
Normally, this would be a bit of a problem, as The Venture Bros. is a show watched by nerds who undoubtedly would have figured out this conundrum and become upset that their favorite characters were now, well, not the same as the ones from the first season (despite that the Hank and Dean from the first season were also clones, but nerds are good at cherry picking when we’re being cranky). But, you see, thanks to the metaphysical footwork of Dr. Orpheus, the Venture’s necromancer neighbor, getting into an argument with Venture, we’re presented with a strange workaround to the problem of a clones’ consciousness.
Orpheus, guilt-ridden that he was a terrible babysitter and let the boys die, seeks to find their souls in the underworld. After a failed search, he realizes the boys’ souls are “trapped” in a machine. Dr. Venture starts arguing with Orpheus that the mumbo-jumbo about “souls” and “resurrection” is no different from using clone slugs and recorded memories. The strange implication of all of this is, when we accept the rules of the Venture world for a moment, are actually forced to agree with Venture in that Orpheus detects the souls of the boys in the computer storing their memories.
Thus, the resolution that Jason Publick and Doc Hammer come up with is: your soul is your memories, can be stored for future usage and ultimately put into a new body. The religious and secular problems are overcome.
Ok ok, I know this isn’t exactly a rigorous philosophical or theological examination of the implications of clones with implanted memories. I think Moon probably does a better job of handling that than The Venture Bros. But it is the only effort I’ve seen to combine the secular and religious argument and, in the process, reverse the conclusion of both. Oh, and it means we get the “aborted clone desperate to live up to the original” episode to boot. Everybody wins.
Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.
Nicole Sallak Anderson is a Computer Science graduate from Purdue University. She developed encryption and network security software, which inspired the eHuman Trilogy—both eHuman Dawn and eHuman Deception are available at Amazon, the third installment is expected in early 2016. She is a member of the advisory board for the Lifeboat Foundation and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.
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