Posts tagged ‘buffy’

2012/06/18

Darn that Colbert!

Here I am in the middle of a multi-week think about how to talk about the Magisterium and the Vatican and the LCWR and the Inquisition-I-mean-CDF and Just Love and all that, and there he goes making funny jokes about it on TV and having one of the admirable nuns herself on his show.

Well, although once something’s been on TV it’s normally far too old to be on weblogs, I may cut myself some slack and talk about it someday anyway, it’s so inneresting and/or creepy.

In the meantime, I will just take issue with xkcd, ’cause it’s not often one gets to correct that particular Fountain of Clue.

The Real Truth is of course as everyone knows:

A few: 3
A handful: 4 to 6
Several: 7
A couple: 2

Happy to have the chance to clear that up.

(Also, “Beer, Bad” was a fantastic episode, whatever those stuffed shirts over at Buffy Guide say. Or said. Back in 1999.)

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2011/12/07

Vampire Willow

That’s a fun title! All sorts of possible meanings. But only one in the Buffy context, and this time we are in the Buffy context because I have been watching ancient Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes again (or, as I keep saying by accident much to M’s hysterical amusement, “Bumpy”).

That’s Vampire Willow over to the right there (or somewhere nearby, or else you just have to imagine a picture, depending on how you’re Experiencing this Content). She appears in two Episodes: “The Wish” and “Doppelgängland”. She is, obviously, the vampire form of Willow, the shy quiet bookish young hacker girl that everyone with an inner geeky highschool gynophile has an enormous crush on.

Vampire Willow is the sultry sexy id of the Good Girl Willow. She has Willow’s cute mannerisms, without the insecurity and repression. She also looks on humans as primarily a food-source, and enjoys causing fear and suffering, but our inner geeky highschool gynophiles are willing to overlook that because she looks so good in leather.

Besides fanboying all over the character, I bring up the topic of Vampire Willow because the episodes, especially “Doppelgängland”, touch on the question we considered the other week: just what is the relationship, in the Buffyverse, between a person and the vampire that that person becomes after they are, um, made into a vampire? And what does this tell us about personal identity, moral responsibility, justice, and so on?

One delicious and relevant moment in “Doppelgängland”:

Willow: It’s horrible. That’s me as a vampire? I’m so evil, and skanky… and I think I’m kinda gay.
Buffy: Willow, just remember, a vampire’s personality has nothing to do with the person it was.
Angel: Well, actually…
[pauses as Willow and Buffy look at him]
Angel: That’s a good point.

Now Angel was about to say something along the lines of “actually, a vampire’s personality is shaped to a surprising extent by the personality of the person” (and of course the “kinda gay” thing is lovely foreshadowing since it will turn out that Willow is in fact kinda gay, for various values of “kinda” and “gay”).

This suggests some sort of subtle grey area between our previous wondering whether a vampire is (a) the same person, just with the soul / conscience / goodness removed, or (b) a completely different person (well, demon) who is just using the body of the (now dead or whatever) person.

Perhaps the vampire is a demon who is using the body, and also using the personality of the original person, only with the non-demonic bits left out, maybe because this flavor of demon doesn’t have a personality of its own. When looking at the vampire, then, we might draw conclusions about the person, not so much that they are culpable for the vampire’s acts or anything, but something along the lines of “this is what Willow / Angel / whoever would be like if they cast off the shackles of conscience“.

This still doesn’t seem to justify (for instance) Xander or Giles hating Angel-with-soul for what demon-Angel actually did, so we still have a puzzle there. But one can imagine that knowing things of the form “if he were to cast off the shackles of conscience, Angel-with-soul would be capable of X and Y and Z” might make one sort of uncomfortable to be around him, at a visceral level. (As might, I admit, just knowing that his body had in the past done these various very unpleasant things.)

Nor does it really make any sense of the gypsies’ (gad, is that the right spelling?) wanting to give Angel back his soul so he could suffer for what he (“he”) had done. The closest it really gets is “we will give him back his soul so that he can see the awful kinds of things that he might do if he didn’t have a soul!”. But that’s kinda stupid. If not any stupider than any other explanation we’ve been able to come up with for the gypsy thing.

Presumably (or at least this is worth thinking about) we don’t hold anyone morally responsible for things that they would do if they had no conscience, because when we judge someone morally we are judging (among other things) exactly their conscience. If we found out that someone would be a murderer if only they were a better shot, we might judge them harshly; but “he’d be a murderer if only he had no conscience” is not nearly the same sort of accusation.

Of course I’m awful at explaining human behavior in general. :) Don’t get me started on sexual jealousy, for instance (another common Bumpy theme); why is Willow hiding in the girls’ room crying (in “Consequences” I vaguely think it was) because she’s found out that Xander (whom she loves but is carefully not physically involved with because she is going all steady with Oz who she probably also loves) has had sex with ummm Faith, and why does she dislike Faith intensely as a result?

It’s not like she and Xander had pledged mutual fidelity and he’s broken the agreement; quite the opposite in fact! (That is, they’ve promised not to get physically involved with each other.) Is no one she loves allowed to have sex with anyone else? (That would probably condemn Xander to a life of celibacy, given the Oz thing.) Is she envious of Faith? Is she wishing that society wasn’t so annoyingly monogamous so she could snuggle with them both? (That one would almost make sense to me, come to think of it.) But it doesn’t seem to be that kind of crying.

(Maybe it’s more the “In this situation I’m supposed to cry for no rational reason, like in the hundreds of similar love stories you’ve seen throughout your life, and don’t question it or you’re some kind of sick pervert!” kind of crying, heh heh.)

So okay, that (and for that matter my relative incomprehension of the immediate “never speak to me again!” reaction of Cordelia and Oz finding Xander and Willow kissing that time in “Lover’s Walk”, when you’d think that if there was any actual, y’know, love involved it’d be more like “I understand, pumpkin, you both thought you were going to die, it’s a perfectly normal reaction”, or in Cordelia’s case “whatever, as long as you continue to turn me on with your wild chemistry”) — ehem anyway, that is my cluelessness about human nature for the night.

I will go back to interacting with nice rational computers now. :)

2011/11/17

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Okay, so, random update! I’m on vacation this week, which has been very nice and restful. Some small (well, variable-sized) voice is telling me that I ought to be actually doing special vacation-things during it, but mostly I haven’t been.

I did go and get a massage at the Club, which was pricey but lovely (all that oxytocin!); tomorrow the plan (slightly tentative, but a plan) is to go down into The Big City, maybe see Steve (who yeah hasn’t updated for awhile), maybe go to Poet’s House, which is for no particular reason my current NYC Heart’s Desire (having finally accomplished my original one the other year, and my second one more recently (did I really not write about that anywhere? seems implausible)), maybe just sort of bop around insouciantly (WordPress thinks that is not a word, more fool it).

I didn’t go today because (A) it is Cold and Grey out, and (B) the city is all busy being occupied, and while I do support the protestors in spirit, I don’t seem to be prepared to either occupy along with them, or route around them, in person (and why not, another variable-volume voice inquires, why not?).

I have made basically zero more progress on the novel, which is somewhat surprising. I figured a week’s vacation (which means nine days all told) would be the obvious time to write an’ write an’ write, but it hasn’t worked out that way. I am not into forcing myself to do stuff while on vacation. :) I’ve tried a few times, but the Story So Far is apparently not something that I see alot of inspiring possibilities in.

(It is funny how Word Mavens and spellcheckers insist that “alot” is not a valid word, and everyone should write “a lot”. I am not quite descriptivist to think that anything where you have to keep telling people that they’re doing it wrong is probably therefore correct (I am a hard-liner on apostrophe-use, for instance), but eventually one does have to cede the field, especially on things that I like to use.)

I seem to be entirely bored with World of Warcraft (and apparently I’m not the only one); it’s amusing to see that in a break with some previous practice WoW is apparently getting playable Pandas in the next expansion. We’ll see if that lures me back; I dunno.

I’m sort of plateaued on Glitch at the moment also; I’ve done a bit of everything, I’ve run around everywhere; there are a bunch of more badges and trophies that I could get but… For now I’ve released my piggies, and I’m just poking my head in now and then.

For unknown reasons I’ve started playing Illyriad, which is one of those sort of multi-player online versions of Civilization, where you build tanneries and upgrade barracks and chop wood and send scouts and armies around and stuff. This is I think me here, but we’ll see how long I remain actually interested.

Second Life, in contrast, continues to be fresh an’ interesting (the virtues of user-generated content). I’ve been generally hanging out and exploring stuff as usual, and for the first time gotten into some PvE combat, which I’ve never really done in SL before. And in order to figure out how that works I’ve started fiddling with my own combat scripts; maybe I will post the sources to the Wiki once I have it all working (it will be simpler than the full blown open-source RPG system that’s out there now, so maybe easier to learn stuff from). Unless I get distracted. Which I usually do. :)

(Today’s distraction, while I was fiddling with combat scripts, was a friend I hadn’t talked to in ages IMing me at random and eventually mentioning that she’d gotten into SL Golf lately, and of course we ended up going off golfing a bit together, which was fun.)

What else what else? I’ve been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes (in order from the beginning) on Netflix streaming on the iPad (did I mention that?). I last watched Season Three: Episode Five (“Homecoming”). It’s a kinda guilty pleasure :) but really it’s pretty good, most of the time. I get annoyed when things happen too obviously for plot reasons, but that’s only once in awhile.

Soon I will be caught up as of the end of 1998!

And finally, what’s up with people behind counters saying “Can I help who’s next?”? (Or possibly “Can I help who’s next?”) Is that an East Coast thing? A New York thing? A suburban thing? Do people say that around you? Maybe someone can ask Language Hat

2011/10/25

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Personal Identity and the Continuity of Consciousness in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and that one Babylon 5 Episode

We use these two fragments of popular culture (decade-old popular culture, at that) to explore and illuminate our intuitions, or lack thereof, about personal identity, consciousness, and moral responsibility (that last bit didn’t fit into the title, or really it would have fit, but then the title would have been really really long).

The theory of vampirism in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as laid out by the title character in the Season Two episode “Lie to me“, is that when a vampire does whatever it is to a human to make the human into a vampire, the human dies, and a demon comes to inhabit and animate the human’s (former) body.

This simple theory is complicated by the vampire Angel, or Angelus. After he does terrible things to a stereotypical tribe of gypsies, the gypsies cast a curse on him in revenge. The curse, intended to make the vampire suffer, “restores his soul”.

There are (at least) two ways we could imagine this soul-restoration occurring: either the original human soul (including subjectivity and memory) is brought back from some afterlife to inhabit its former body (although, as textual evidence from other episodes strongly suggests, with the demon also still in residence in a usually-subservient position), or some generic soul (consisting really of just a “conscience” or a sense of right and wrong (whose?)) is injected into the body along with the demon.

The first of these possibilities is supported by most of the evidence; on first having his soul restored, Angel is confused at first, not knowing where he is or why. This is consistent with the consciousness having just returned from some afterlife, and not having been caught up with what the demon in its (former) body has been up to. But then the memories do arrive, and Angel is horrified to realize all of the things that he (the demon? his body?) has done, and begins to suffer as the gypsies intended him to.

Note the bizarre moral theory here, however. In this reading, in order to punish the demon for his evil acts, the gypsies have summoned up someone else entirely who will feel bad about these acts, and arranged for that someone else to suffer. (The demon, presumably, is not really suffering, except to the extent of being annoyed by this human soul having taken over the body; an annoyance that is attested to in later episodes when the human soul goes away again, and we hear from the demon; although the body of utterances there is not completely unambiguous.)

But why would the gypsies consider that to be justice, and why would anyone sane go along with that consideration? The demon has done terrible things, so we will arrange for someone else, who in the past inhabited this same body, to suffer. How could that be just?

The other possible reading is that the original Angel is still dead and gone, and some more generic feelings of guilt have been imposed upon the demon inhabiting the body. This seems a little more plausible as a kind of justice, but the theory of moral feelings that it requires is odd; in this view moral feelings must be something independent of one’s nature, of who one actually is, so that they can be sort of grafted on after the fact to any personality and consciousness at all, including that of the most depraved demon. And while Angel-with-no-soul is the vilest creature imaginable, Angel-with-soul is such a great guy that Buffy falls in love with him, the viewer is clearly supposed to identify strongly with him as a Good Guy, and so on. (Also, later on when the soul is removed again, the now-evil Angel says of the human one “your boyfriend is dead”, which is more evidence for the first theory, although it could possibly be a figurative way of saying “because I no longer have a conscience, I am evil and nasty again, so that goodness you saw in me before is dead”; but that seems a bit of a stretch perhaps.)

So neither of these theories is really satisfying, and this suggests that our ideas about continuity of consciousness, personal identity, and moral responsibility aren’t sufficiently well-formed to handle these counterfactual edge-cases in any consistent way. If a demon takes over my body, surely I shouldn’t be responsible for its depraved acts, and made to suffer in the name of justice. On the other hand, surely just adding a generic conscience to a vile monster would not convert that personality into something virtuous and admirable.

Then there’s that one Babylon 5 episode. Which one was it, let’s see… Ah, yes: Divided Loyalties (also in the second season, albeit of a different series).

The setup at one point here is that it’s known that someone on the station innocently and unknowingly has a bomb hidden in their brain, and in order to find who it is they have people line up to sit in a booth where, if they are the one with the bomb, it will go off and kill them, while not hurting anyone else. So everyone lines up more or less calmly, except for a bit of grousing about interfering with personal privacy, to sit in the booth and be examined and possibly die.

Ha ha, no, of course that isn’t actually it! That would be ridiculous. It’s actually that someone has an evil Psi Corps artificial personality implant, which will activate when a telepath thinks a certain code-word into their brain, so everyone lines up, with only a bit of grousing about not liking telepaths, to have the code-word thought at them. Which, if they are the one, will awaken the artificial personality implant. Effectively killing their real personality.

And that is actually it! And the people line up anyway! Is that bizarre, or what? It’s again hard to imagine the theory of personal identity and continuity of consciousness here, that would either cause the people to be willing to be tested with only a little grumbling, or that would cause the supposedly virtuous station staff to attack the problem that way (rather than, as they presumably would have done in the brain-bomb case, looking for a way to find and defuse the bomb without killing the person that happened to be carrying it).

It seems as though the writers, and the commentators who have written about this episode without noting the bizarreness of the whole test thing, are working from some theory where people only care that their bodies continue to exist, with some consciousness in them, even if it’s not the one that’s in charge right now. Echoes here of the gypsies, who only care that some consciousness in Angel’s body suffers, even if it’s not the one that was in charge when the actual atrocities were committed.

We might speculate, for instance, that we are so used to seeing a single body always associated with a single personality and a single consciousness, that we don’t really think very hard, at least in these examples, about what happens to identity, moral culpability, or personal survival when that is no longer the case, and we don’t always get a sensible answer when although there’s still someone in there, it’s now someone else.

Readers are warmly invited to submit other ways to read either or both of these fragments of popular culture, in ways that simplify or otherwise cast different lights on the issues.

Other things I might weblogify about in future issues: how Apple is becoming less evil, and iTunes-U and this thing I’m listening to. Also bread, and other stuff!

2011/10/19

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Marilyn Langston writes:

Dear David Chess,

I just got done reading your “Wednesday, February 16, 2011” and I found it really informative! Do you do advertising? I’m marketing out a few sites and can pay you $50 via PayPal to add a text link into one of your older posts. The link would go to an education site and I’d make sure the site relates to your post’s content.

Thanks and let me know if we can work something out!

Marilyn Langston

I can certainly understand why someone might want a link from the really informative “Wednesday, February 16, 2011“, all about how bad Apple is at giving names to their products, but I think I will hold out for a better offer…

So I think I am pretty bored with World of Warcraft right now; haven’t played it in some time and don’t miss it. I have a level 85 DPS (ol’ Spennix), healer, and tank, they’ve done most of the Stuff except for raiding, I’m not that fascinated by raiding, and it’s hard to schedule anyway.

I’m also sort of tired of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I have been watching episodes of from the Lesser Mesozoic on Netflix. I’d been having a very good time watching them, really, but then somehow at the beginning of the extremely exciting finale to Season Two, where the evil version of Angel is grinning devilishly (or vampirically) at an unusupecting Buffy from behind a tree in the cemetery, I was suddenly overcome by a large “oh, yeah, yeah, sure, evil Angel, whatever”, and switched it off.

(“Vampirically”? “Vampiricly”? “Vampirishly”? “Vampiresquely”?)

I’m not tired of Glitch yet (see me!), and am level 23, have nearly 50,000 units of currency (which is enough to buy the most fancy kind of house, although I’m enjoying life in my tiny apartment enough that I don’t currently plan to move), and am working on getting more and more and more skills.

With the various skills I currently have the money flows in at a pretty huge rate, from just walking through the world and casually harvesting things that I don’t actually need (because I already have 750 of them in my bags), and selling them in the selling place (which is called “auctions” although it contains no actual auctioning).

Once I have Master Chef II, though, and maybe once I’ve used my Martial Imagination and Piety to fend off a rook attack or two, I can imagine getting tired of glitch also. We’ll see if they develop the story as I hope they are going to.

I have not gotten in the least tired of Second Life, because it is sort of infinite, being different stuff created by the users alla time. (See ol’ Dale Innis’s insightful essay on user-generated content: UGC FTW!.) Lately I have been rather deeply embroiled in women’s fashion, but hey it’s the XXIst century, after all.

Oh, and…

So...

does anyone know what “kasou no morinomajyo” might mean?

:)

While making a little house out of pieces of takeout-food cardboard on the floor this evening to amuse the cat, I suddenly remembered that I used to sit for hours and hours on the floor of the livingroom back in the house, making and knocking down and making again and putting heavy things experimentally onto the rooves of, endless houses of cards, made with more or less dogeared and more or less complete decks of playing cards.

Good times, good times. Haven’t thought about that in years…