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Material for T6 – Total Recall

January 13, 2013

Please (re)watch the 1990 version of Total Recall.


I love that shot.

Anyway, then read Robert Nozick‘s “The Experience Machine” in Fumerton and (optionally) Nick Bostrom‘s “Are You in a Computer Simulation?” in Schneider. Once you’ve done all of that, please complete your weekly assignment by responding to the following prompt: The film leaves it somewhat unclear whether Quaid is Hauser or whether Hauser is a figment of Quaid’s deranged imagination. In what sense does it matter whether Quaid hallucination everything after his first visit to the Rekall Lab? In what sense does it not matter? As always,

  • Please limit yourself to 300-500 words;
  • Please post your assignment as a comment to this blog entry;
  • Please do all of this no later than 24 hours before class begins on T6.

Here are a few clips to which you might want to direct your attention:

Dr. Edgemar’s Pill

The Rekall Lab

Blue Sky on Mars

You might also want to have a look at film’s script or the short story on which it was based, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, by Philip K. Dick.

From → Assignments

  1. Taylor Warren permalink

    a. I’m not sure that it matters at all whether the hallucinations are real or not—either way you view the story it makes sense. You can argue either side of the story, because both plot outcomes seem reasonable. But, for the blog’s sake, I will argue that all of Quaid’s hallucinations matter after his first visit to the Rekall Lab because that’s the meat of the story. The hallucinations—and whether they are real or not—determines how the audience makes conclusions about the movie. Unfortunately for Quaid/Hauser, as far as I can fathom, there is no way for him to truly know what is reality and what is a dream from Rekall. If the hallucinations are real, then that means Rekall is real and it successfully implanted the “vacation” that Quaid wanted—to be a secret agent on Mars with the brunette woman, Melina. But if the hallucinations are fake, and what “happens within Rekall” actually is reality, then everything that Quaid is seeing/feeling/remembering is legitimate. This was my first time seeing the original “Total Recall” and personally, there were a few key moments that made me decide in the end that his time in the Rekall Lab was not just a dream, but reality. First, the issue of his fake implanted wife, Lori. If she was fake, how would she have been able to show up at Mars during his intervention? How would they have been able to implant her halfway through his dream? I don’t think they could. She just seems so fake the whole time, and it’s apparent to Quaid/Hauser too since he ends up shooting her in the head. The second moment was in the same scene, when the doctor who tries to convince him to “go back to reality” has a bead of sweat roll down his face, indicating that his whole speech was a bunch of doped up lies. The blue sky scene really throws me off, because the blue sky makes its first appearance in the Rekall Lab as a dream and also again at the end of the movie as Hauser’s apparent reality.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Taylor: One thing that might be helpful to think about is what you mean by “legitimate” in the sentence “But if the hallucinations are fake, and what ‘happens within Rekall’ actually is reality, then everything that Quaid is seeing/feeling/remembering is legitimate.” Does “legitimate” mean “real”? Or does it mean “okay regardless of whether true”? Or does it mean something else? By the way, Lori shows up at the beginning of the film and – presumably – has flown to Mars (or been taken to the Rekall lab).

  2. Cory Johnson permalink

    Via The Matrix, our class has nearly exhausted the topic of how sensation and perception create a reality that is indeterminately “real.” So, from that discussion we can determine that for Quaid himself it does not matter and that this is a worthy substitute for reality, even if this is not necessarily “real.”

    Is it morally permissible, or even preferable to obtain experiences in the manner of Total Recall? More broadly, is there something inherently wrong with artificial experiences? Nozick argues that its usefulness ends if we’re looking for something other than pleasure. That useful experience demands flesh and blood, to which I disagree. Humans are not merely pleasure seeking organisms, they’re more. They require different types of inputs.

    I propose we are two main things: knowledge seekers and reproducers—what some might call our highest and basest drives. A Total Recall system becomes very attractive as a means of advancing knowledge. If we were able to start at age 10 with advanced understandings of several fields the technological and cultural advancement of our species would suddenly excel at alarming rates. We could provide balanced educations that provide both the technical “how?” and the philosophical “why?” Secondly, it can provide a solution to the ancient problem of “love conquering all.”
    Distracting reproductive ambitions could be easily stifled in the real world with implanted memories of families, or otherwise. If used in these productive outlets, artificial experiences could not be so easily disparaged.

    The theme here is that products for this plane of reality are desired over another. Even if almost everyone can become a “brain in a vat” their bodies still exist somewhere else. That somewhere else, that and our own plane of existence is superior because it’s the foundation for everything above it. A house, and also a reality without a strong foundation cannot stand and for that reason where Quaid actually is in Total Recall does matter. This man is either institutionalized or opened up another enormous frontier for human utilization, of course it matters!

    This is a bit of stretch for relevancy, but an interesting tangent worth mentioning. Advanced simulated realities like the one seen in Total Recall have been suggested as solution to The Fermi Paradox which says that

    “The size and age of the universe suggest that many technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilizations ought to exist. However, this hypothesis seems inconsistent with the lack of observational evidence to support it.”

    Once civilizations reach a certain level they may decide to interface almost completely in an artificial environment. This affords unlimited freedom, faster thinking and could even push back the heat death of the universe by drastically changing how they perceive time. Where are the aliens? They’re still back home, playing video games.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Cory: Your reductionist move (“we are two main things: knowledge seekers and reproducers”) is interesting, but I wonder if it’s a stable equilibrium. In some ways, a more satisfying solution would be to suggest that we have just *one* motive and the highest/most base motive reduces to it. The desire for knowledge is just a way of gaining reproductive advantage, or (somehow) vice-versa. If we’re going to reduce, why not go for the full Monty, right? Or perhaps we could try this: the desire for knowledge and reproduction are really different manifestations of the same even more fundamental desire. I take it that this is the line Socrates explores in Plato’s “Symposium.” Worth taking a look sometime.

      • @ Cory: One more thing – the question of the least efficient way to lose your money in a casino is actually somewhat vexing. The house’s edge over you is less decisive in craps than other other games your likely to find (provided you don’t make some careless bets). However, craps is a much faster game than, say, roulette so your hourly rate of expected loss might be higher even though your odds are better. Ouch.

    • Seth Rodgers permalink

      I love that line: “Where are the aliens? They’re still back home, playing video games.”

  3. Amy Vander Wyst permalink

    A memory is a memory no matter what way you try to spin it. Memories have certain constructions in our brains and are connected to countless other memories, other sensory memories, and can be called forth with certain stimuli. We find it inconceivable today to fathom a way to implant fake memories or alter existing ones.

    But what makes an experience? That, I think, is really the core question behind this assignment. Taking the stance that Quaid hallucinates everything after his first visit to Rekall, does it really matter? He is still living a life, he is still experiencing everything around him, and he is still able to interact with the world that surrounds him. Whether or not everything is real or fake can be thrown out the window and Quaid could theoretically live out his life in whatever universe, or version of it, he is experiencing. That is, if he is willing to accept it.

    I call into question, what makes something real? Our physical bodies would remain much the same if the memory of rigorous exercise was implanted into us somehow. But could one still say that we had experienced this exercise? We did experience it in the sense that we perceived certain stimuli and chose to act in a certain way. We may have gathered knowledge or learned countless things from our surroundings. Our body remembers the strain of exercise and surely the exhaustion, dehydration, and rush of endorphins that followed. We have the full memory of exercising, but that does not necessarily mean that we experienced it.

    If the hallucinations do matter, then Quaid must decide what is real and what is not. He is completely unable to rely on his senses, at least the five that commonly provide data about our environment and the events occurring in it. Instead, he relies on the timeless and ever-reliable ‘gut feeling’. He has been convinced that certain things are real while he questions other events. He is aware that his mind could have been manipulated, but that he could also be imagining things. I loved this movie due to the fact that I just couldn’t pin down what really happened. I don’t know if Quaid is Hauser, or Hauser is a figment of his imagination, or whatever other secret ending could be hiding among the chaos and confusion.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Amy: Yes, what I was struggling to get at in the prompt was the “does it matter” question. If it’s true that Quaid is really a secret double agent, then he avoids a kind of self-annihilation by not taking Dr. Edgemar’s Pill. Well done, Quaid/Hauser. But if Quaid is just a poor schlub who has gotten lost in his own mind, it’s a little less clear what to say. His fantasy life as the savior of an entire planet is a lot more interesting, exciting, and fulfilling than his life as Quaid. But is he missing out on something of importance? Nozick thinks he is, and the Experience Machine thought experiment is suppose to convince us, though I don’t know whether or not it should.

    • @ Amy: And thanks for the tip about “How to Be an Existentialist.” I’ll have to check it out.

  4. Seth Rodgers permalink

    In my opinion, the central question of Total Recall and the concept of an Experience Machine is whether or not our lives have some overarching, predestined purpose.

    If we truly are the result of some amazing recipe for nucleotide soup that randomness and pure accident cooked up, then it would be reasonable to make comfort, or the avoidance of pain, the object of our lives. In this case, an experience machine would be wonderful, so it really doesn’t matter if Quaid is hallucinating: since the reality of the physical world or who we are does not matter (unless it threatens the comfort of ourselves and others) then we might as well find the most pleasurable way conceivable to pass the time until death renders us inert. Interestingly, movies and video games are perhaps the first iterations of an Experience Machine, and yet they fail to provide any lasting form of escapism in these primitive stages of development. It follows that suicide must not be that bad. Granted, if people exist that would suffer greatly with your death, then suicide would be the most selfish things possible (why being selfish matters is another great topic of discussion). But if you find yourself alone in the world, say, stranded on an island with no chance of rescue, punching out prematurely couldn’t possibly be detrimental to anyone…

    …Unless we exist for a reason. And what if it’s a good reason at that? What if life has been meticulously designed for us to accomplish an incredibly important task, the result of which will affect our existence after death? Who the designer is and what that task could be I will leave up in the air, so bear with me. Should this scenario be true, then submitting yourself to an Experience Machine (or committing suicide for that matter) would be the worst possible mistake anyone could make, so it would be best for Quaid to snap out of his hallucination immediately and start fulfilling his true purpose. To further explain, imagine mysteriously regaining consciousness while running down a winding path in the woods. You’re tired and want to stop, but there is a nagging feeling in the back of your mind that you are running for a very important reason—if only you could remember what it was. In reality, you had recently gotten a phone call from your daughter who you are running to rescue as she bleeds to death. Enduring shock and exhaustion, you started fading in and out of consciousness and are experiencing short term memory loss. In this case, to ignore that strange need to keep pushing on would be to let your daughter die, cold and alone.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Seth: Is there a third possibility here? It might be the case that we neither lack a purpose per se nor have a purpose which is independent of our own wills. Rather, the thought might go, that we provide ourselves with a purpose by, say, making certain kinds of choices. Someone might make the case that this is what Quaid/Hauser does when he aligns himself with the Martian rebels. It would require a lot of argument, however, to show that this is really a viable third option. Jean-Paul Sartre takes, very roughly, this view in his famous Existentialism is a Humanism (translations of the title vary somewhat).

      Looking forward to hearing what you think about Life of Pi. Obviously, it’s gotten a lot of extra attention of late because of the film, but I’ve not gotten around to either seeing or reading for myself.

      • Seth Rodgers permalink

        That’s a good point. I guess I ruled out a third possibility based on a couple of assumptions inherent to the experience machine: firstly, everyone can be hooked up to the machine, so there are no outside problems to be solved; secondly, the machine is so realistic that the synthetic experiences are just as satisfying as anything that could be produced in reality. Basically, why try to come up with your own purpose if this life is finite and we can efforlessly replicate the best possible experiences? Granted, those are two pretty lofty assumptions which, in my opinion, create a scenario so far removed from possibility that its hardly worth considering.
        So, yes, I do agree that a third possbility (i.e. us making our own purpose) is a viable alternative to the either-or argument I used. If only we knew which purposes were worthwhile.

  5. Theodore Kruczek permalink

    This seems to be very similar to the questions raised when watching the matrix. When responding to that I raised the question of whether Neo actually went into his own subconscious rather than leaving the matrix. In Total Recall, Quaid may or may not be lost in a fantasy of his subconscious, but this only matters to everyone else.

    If Quaid isn’t really Hauser, then there is a wife on the outside of his “reality” that has lost her husband and a company that likely just lost a lot of business. That may matter to those characters, but isn’t really an issue for Quaid.

    If Quaid is really Hauser then he is a hero and he is enjoying his old life, despite having some trouble accepting it at first.

    The only thing that matters to Hauser is whether or not he is enjoying it. Cory suggested that we are only here to find pleasure and reproduce, but I will reduce everything to enjoying ourselves. There are obviously varying levels of enjoyment (Good food versus achieving a lifelong goal), but if your entire life was spent without enjoyment then reproduction, while important to your species, would be meaningless to you once you die. I contend that reproducing is merely a product of natural selection and without any enjoyment suicide would kill our species before we were able to reproduce.

    So, if pleasure is all that matters, and there is no higher being that can determine the “true” reality, then whatever reality Quaid/Hauser has is the only one that matters and it is better for him to accept Hauser and enjoy it than to live a life of disappointment knowing he is trapped inside his own mind.

    In response to Cory’s hypothetical, that seems improbable to me because if aliens were to interface with artificial simulations than how would they continue to reproduce while maintaining their reality inside the simulation? Cory suggests that they would interface because it would provide more pleasure. If pleasure is the goal, and I do believe it is, then they would want to seek real pleasure and explore rather than simulated pleasure.

    • pythagoras permalink

      Gah, WordPress just ate my reply to Theodore (or do you prefer ‘Ted’?). Long story short, the following claim seems right:

      * If pleasure is the only thing of value, then it doesn’t matter whether Quaid is (or we are) subjects at the Rekall lab (or brains-in-a-vat).

      But Nozick’s point in “The Experience Machine” seems to be that it really does matter whether we’re just hallucinating all of this or whether our actions have some significant connection with reality. And it follows that if Nozick is right, then pleasure is not the only thing of value. So there’s really a lot at stake here.

  6. Uddit Patel permalink

    Everything we may have seen though out the film could have been Quaid hallucinating or could have been reality. If Quaid hallucinated after this first visit to the Rekall lab matters because it can cause barriers between his wife and society in the real world. In retrospect this could have been reality and not indeed Quaid’s hallucination which makes Quaid a hero on Mars, and proves that Vilos Cohaagen was indeed evil. The hallucinations also matter because Quaid could make the walls of his reality come tumbling down, and not be able to believe the world around him. Instead Quaid may believe that the world he currently is within may actually be reality and the world that is reality is just a figment of his imagination. Quaid may be confused to the world he is living in and may not be able to believe any of part of his mind. During Quaid’s first visit to the Rekall lab, Quaid wants an implanted memory of Mars. However, Quaid wakes up abruptly without the Mars program being loaded. Instead of the program being loaded, Quaid was given an injection around four times to calm him down to sedate him, and get put into the cab without any explanation. The real questions after the sedation are whether Quaid’s experience is real or if his experience part of the Rekall program and paid for package. Does Quaid’s dream start when he wakes up or did Quaid really wake up to from a taxi ride?

    Reasons to believe that the hallucination could be reality are that the doctors recognize that he has actual memories from Mars and decide to wipe his memory from remembering the Rekall lab experience. If this was a pure hallucination Quaid memories would have given him hints about the dream and Quaid could have woken up from his dream from taking a single red pill. Also, the dreams from the beginning of the film tend to coincide that Quaid was once an agent and Quaid is remembering old memories/ experiences again. However, reasons to believe that Quaid’s dream was indeed a hallucination is the idea of the “blue Mars experience” that Quaid paid for in the Rekall lab.

    Quaid’s hallucination would disprove Robert Nozick‘s “The Experience Machine” when he tries to state the people would rather want to be reality than a life in the experience machine because even though given a change to leave his hallucination and go into reality, Quaid decided to stay where he is. Quaid decided to live in a world of fake if this indeed was a hallucination. Whether Quaid was hallucinating or not, these experiences matter because Quaid doesn’t know what to rely on. Quaid can’t rely on the senses he has used for the duration of his life, or the people around him. Quaid cannot even rely on his brain. Quaid has accepted the world he currently is in and no matter the way people try to convince Quaid, the world Quaid is in will always be reality to Quaid.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Uddit: You’re certainly right. If we’re going to try to make the case that Quaid is still in the Rekall lab at the end of the film, we have to explain his odd experiences at the beginning without reference to the Hauser story line. Perhaps the best thing to say is that Quaid was a little crazy to begin with and was already starting to see patterns, etc., where there were none.

  7. Matthew Drake permalink

    I’m not quite sure what the question was asking, but there are some points in the film where whether or not he is hallucinating really matters. In the beginning, the Rekall workers didn’t insert the program yet, making it truly believable that this is real. But what really launches the viewer into a spiral of confusion is when the negotiator shows up to talk to Quad/Hauser. If it truly were just a figment of Rekall, his brunette woman would be right on. The coincidence of that happening in real life is very slim. But, Quaid did choose his description of his ideal woman based on his recollection of his dreams, which may be actual memories. Yet, the possibility of Rekall getting the exact person from his dreams would be nearly impossible. In a way, it really doesn’t matter if this is all part of his imagination or not. It honestly could go either way. One of the really important scenes is where Quaid/Hauser shoots the doctor in the head. If the doctor was correct, Quaid might very well be lobotomized, therefore living in false reality for eternity. But, again, this is assuming the doctor is telling the truth.
    Personally, I believe that Rekall reactivated Hauser’s memories. This is mainly because of the hints and bits of foreshadowing the director puts out in the beginning of the film. However, I do not believe that it really matters who is who and what is real. It is all up to the viewer interpretation. It all depends on what you believe in. A great dream that you only experience once then carry on with the same routine, or being the real thing and live in constant chaos. The entire film plays off of how you would like to live your life. Some people like established order, and others complete anarchy. It’s really up to you.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Matthew: Good point about the whole “woman of Quaid’s dreams” business. But wouldn’t Rekall just be doing its job by getting this right? That wouldn’t be so much a coincidence as it would be part of the plan. If they got this detail wrong, the experience they provide for Quaid would be sub-optimal. At any rate, if you had to choose between going on Quaid’s adventure and saving the Martian rebels or just hallucinating it, would you still say that it doesn’t matter?

  8. J. Lucky permalink

    I suppose in reference to how real the experience was to Quaid, whether all that came after his visit to Rekall was a dream or hallucination doesn’t really matter unless he later comes out of it. If it was a dream then what malicious feelings does he harbor against his wife that in his dreams he would kill her and cheat on her? If it was a hallucination, did he go on a murderous rampage? However, if he never comes out of it then it would not matter in the slightest for him since he will never know the difference.

    The greater issue I see, especially in the concept of an experience or transformation machine is in the lack of true self it allows to be realized. While we may or may not have free will, we do at least seem to have individually free reason or reasoning processes within each of us that gives rise to a variety of differing responses to the constant waves of stimulus we are confronted with both from internal emotions and external societal and environmental constraints and influences. This is not to say that we can even control that reasoning process but what would be produced by it could never coincide with what would be inputted by a computer program unless it still allowed that reason free reign to respond to each stimulus. That being said all of this is moot if the machine is a perfect simulator meaning that it gives us the exact same knowledge and experience as if we had actually done the real thing. Especially if it could be done as it was in The Matrix, what better training programs would there be?

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ JL: I’m interested in what you say about our “individually free reason or reasoning processes.” I’m not exactly sure whether I understand what the difference is between this and free will. To be clear, I’m not saying that there isn’t a difference. It’s just that I can’t quite see it in what you say. It’s certainly true that, for example, when I add several large numbers or when I try to figure out where that terrible smell is coming from, I engage in some kind of “reasoning process.” But what makes it “free,” as you put it?

      • J. Lucky permalink

        @ pythagoras: I wouldn’t consider it to be free will rather the reasoning process seems independent of us. What I mean by this (and I may still be unclear) is that even when I can explain to someone the motives behind why I did something, I don’t seem to have truly chosen that act as a freely acting agent but rather was compelled to do it by my reason. While I certainly am not fully aware of everything going on around me, I often seem to act in the best way. Then looking back I realize that I must have subconsciously pick up on a certain cue or stimulus that instigated the said action.
        So when say that the reason is free I mean that, like a computer operating system, it runs independent of us constantly doing calculations and interpreting stimuli and every once in a while it gives us a glimpse (like what goes up on the screen).

      • pythagoras permalink

        @ JL: Thanks for the helpful reply!

  9. So first off, this movie completely messed with my head. It is like a 1990 Inception. That being said, it does not matter if what he is seeing is real or not, if he is Quaid or if he is Hauser, just as the Matrix never would have mattered if Neo had not found out about it. If we follow the normal chain of events, where Hauser had his memory erased just so he could remember portions of it and come back to lead the Agency to the rebel leader, but rebelled against the idea of becoming Hauser again in order to save Mars, he can now live a happy life as Quaid and never be any the wiser about his life as a secret agent. However, this is a compelling case for the entire thing being a figment of Quaid’s imagination, and him actually seeing all of this in Rekall. Malina was exactly as he described how he wanted a woman. He asked to be a secret agent, which is suspect to begin with. Also, when they were working on what memories to implant, the technician mentioned that he had never seen a fantasy with a blue sky on Mars before, which is exactly how the film ended. However, if that was all a fantasy, it would be really hard for Quaid to go back to his old life, believing that he killed his wife. In truth, I don’t think the film ends in much of a cliff hanger. It seems to want to make the viewer believe that he was really Hauser, but rejected that reality in order to become Quaid and save Mars. He could now live out his entire life in this sense. The parts that go against this, however, are that when he first woke up in Rekall, he believed he was a secret agent, which implies that it is true, and that the “safety measure” sent to give him the red pill started to sweat, showing he actually was nervous, although he claimed to have nothing to lose regardless of what Quaid did.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Tony: Good – it’s certainly suppose to be messing with your head. One of the things that’s worth thinking about further is whether what Nozick says is relevant to the case of Quaid/Hauser. Nozick suggests that there is something important that we’re missing if we fail to connect with reality in much the way that Quaid might. In general, I find that the older people get, the more they sympathize with this idea. Take that for what it’s worth.

  10. kim cory permalink

    It does not matter whether Quaid’s hallucination is true or not, because his memories are unreliable and there is no way for him to tell which one is the truth or which one is the fake. What he believes is what people around him tell him. He cannot recall his actual experience by himself, so they are fragile. In the movie, when the doctor from the Recall comes and finds Quaid at the hotel, he says, “You are not here and neither am I… what you are experiencing in it [imprinted chair]is a free-form delusion based on our memory tapes, but you are inventing it yourself as you go along.” And when the doctor brings about the type of girl Quaid likes, he responds, “She is real; I dreamed about her before I went to the Recall.” This shows how he is relying on what he experiences and he feels, which the doctor explains as it could be something that has been imprinted based on the artificial memory. Also, the movie shows that after his first visit to the Recall Lab, he watches the recorded tape that shows him from the past saying what the truth is. He trusts what he has been told, and start the journey. Then he trusts Melina because Hauser leads him to her. When he faces the wall of him deciding what facts to believe, he does not know which one to choose; he cannot recall any of those memories, but to go by his instinct. Therefore, it does not matter whether Quaid’s hallucination everything after his visit to the Recall lab is true or not. The plot is laid out focusing on him, and whatever he believes that’s the way the story will go and that’s the way Quaid will believe.
    Although it seems as though the truth does not really matter, it matters in a sense of invoking Quaid’s free will. Robert Nozick says “Without elaborating on the implications of this, which I believe connect surprisingly with issues about free will and casual accounts of knowledge, we need merely note that intricacy of the question of what matters for people other than their experiences.” According to the movie, Quaid did not lose the memory based on his decision, rather it was decided by others without any consents. So Quaid was more confused because he had no idea of him losing memories or his memory being replaced by something else. Therefore, a chance for him to decide what matter for him other than his experience was not given to him, which invoked his free will.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Kim: You raise a really worthwhile point here: How much good is freedom of the will if our decisions are made under conditions of extreme ignorance. Suppose a fair coin will be flipped. The results, obviously, will be either heads or tails. Suppose also that the result will be either of the following – a correct call brings me one million dollars, and an incorrect call causes my (painful) death. Given that it’s a straightforward 50/50 affair, does it matter whether I make the prediction or someone else does? What good is freely choosing heads (or tails) if I have no more reason to think one will come up rather than the other?

  11. The interesting parallel between the conclusion that Schwarzenegger’s character is not Hauser, the undercover secret agent whose memory was erased after a mission to Mars, and Neo, is the ability to learn skills through implantation. In order to assume that Schwarzenegger is not the secret agent, we have to assume that any experiences he would have or could have experienced in the Rekall machine (e.g. Neo’s astute observation of learning Kung Fu, Hauser’s ability to use a gun and fight, etc.) were learned without actually participating in them in a conscious state. Though, as we found out with analysis of The Matrix this isn’t an entirely foreign idea, (e.g. we didn’t focus on it as a point of strangeness) so I won’t dwell on it. What’s interestingly coincidental is the fact that Schwarzenegger’s character does not remember or demonstrate any sign of knowledge about his time in Mars until he arrives at Rekall. Though it could be that the Rekall center and the anticipation of the trip to Mars could have triggered a recollection about his time in “The Agency,” I think the more logical conclusion to come to is that he had never been to Mars and was never implanted by “The Agency” gave him. The only anomaly to this theory is that the person at the Rekall facility states that no memories had been implanted yet. Her motive to lie is unclear, yet, assuming she had hadn’t implanted the memories has too many coincidences to be true. All of the details told to Schwarzenegger about his trip come true: staying at The Hilton, the exotic/demure/sleazy brunette, etc. If the memories hadn’t been planted this would be almost unfathomable to assume. Yet, if Quaid actually is Hauser, a secret agent, I’m sure they would not skimp on the amenities for these agents in Mars. Yet, even Melina’s memory of Hauser could have been implanted by the staff at the Rekall center. Because of the coincidental nature of all the details of the film’s events, I think that there is not really a Hauser, instead, the idea of him is implanted in Quaid’s head as part of his Mars vacation.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Cory: It’s a hard call, and there’s certainly evidence in both directions. Perhaps Hauser was just laying low when he went to the Hilton. And have you tried to arrange TDY? Getting a nice hotel is no easy trick. Anyway, here’s a question to follow up on. Is it really learning if it occurs my implantation? Could you really get an education by having information or skills implanted in your mind (if that makes sense)? Or is there something more to it than this?

  12. Simeon Cole-Fletcher permalink

    If Quaid is hallucinating, several important implications are to result from his visions. Firstly, he is depriving himself of the life he should be living, while being plugged into the chair dreaming. While normal dreaming is not bad, to pay to insert false memories into his head seems to lessen the value and significance of actual memories he makes. Too much inserting of false memories makes his real life seem unoriginal and worse yet, he is no longer the author. In actual life, (depending on one’s belief on the influence of some higher being), one has the ability to influence by personal decisions one’s own way in life. By subjecting yourself to a simulation, your experiences, no matter how grand, are limited by the creativity of another person, the writer of the program.
    Furthermore, he deprives his loved ones of the experiences they could enjoy with Quaid by being strapped to a chair away from their presence. I think it is also notable that if the whole plot was a hallucination, Quaid put himself on quite the ego trip. While this may not be a bad thing, look at the sheer number of people he affected within his possible hallucination.
    His hallucinations do not matter if he is allowed to live on in the world in which he is dreaming. This would require him to live in some sort of vegetation state for the rest of his life however. Imagine I he had been dreaming it all up. The claim of Recall is that your brain won’t be able to tell the difference, meaning the continuation of his real life would have to equate reasonably to his dream life. If the dream state and the ensuing life he lives even out, then his hallucinations do not matter, but if this is impossible, which realistically probably is, his hallucinations will leave him in quite the mental conundrum upon his return to the real world.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Simeon: Another really intriguing point here. Quaid shot his wife in head. Even if that was just part of a computerized fantasy that got out of control, should he feel guilty for having done that? Should his wife feel indignant? People do sometimes feel like they’ve acted wrongly in dreams, but the choice element seems much more important here. Just how much moral responsibility should we feel for what we do (or at least what Quaid does) in these circumstances?

  13. John Decker permalink

    It matters in the sense that if Quaid is Hauser then he is tied up in a dangerous situation. In essence he has killed the top man on Mars and there will still be those who are loyal to him. This means that there may be a continued civil war in which Quaid will certainly have to play an important role in. However, his opposition will be severely weakened because of the new atmosphere in Mars. Now their main source of power has been taken away and the main means of control for them has been taken away. Also, it matters because Quaid has killed several people along the way. Whether or not he will be in trouble for this is not answered in the film. Finally, it matters because if Quaid is Hauser, he may believe that he has some sort of interest in Mars and may feel that he has to hide or move there in order to continue his life; this would ruin his life that he has established on Earth and will forever affect him. If Quaid is Hauser, then his life will be radically different. However, it does not matter for several reasons. First, if Hauser is Quaid, and he has been absolved of his service and is no longer connected to it (at least in his mind), then he can continue living the life he was leading before he went on the trip. The trip, its events and his past life, will simply be a thing of the past and a person that he used to be. Also, as long as the trip happened long enough in the past, his love interest in Melina will not affect his current relationship. Therefore, as long as Quaid can separate himself from the trip and Rekall Labs has programmed it right to only be a memory of a past life and a past event, he will be able to separate it from his current life and will have lived out the trip/past that he has wanted for a long time.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ John: Right, if Quaid really did make it out of the Rekall lab and on to Mars, his adventures are not over when the film ends. But I suppose that might be seen as a good thing. After all, Quaid didn’t like his boring life prior to going to the Rekall lab. I guess there’s no reason to think he’d want to slow things down. I wonder, though, whether it matters even whether these experiences have the sort of connection with reality that Quaid ends up thinking they do. Nozick clearly thought so, and it seems to make a difference to us in judging his life to be a success or a failure whether he accomplishes anything or just thinks he does.

  14. Heather Ireland permalink

    While I believe that Quaid’s experience on Mars is just a dream from his Rekall experience, I am not entirely sure it matters. He perceives the events as factual, and therefore his thoughts, emotions, and decisions are his reality.
    Bostrom’s 3rd supposition supports the line of thought that Quaid’s time on Mars is nothing more than a simulation. He raises an interesting and valid point in his line of questioning, “If we are in a simulation is it possible that we could know for certain?” (Bostrom, 23) he answers with, “If the simulators don’t want us to know we probably never will.” Using this line of thought in Quaid’s case, Quaid does not doubt that his situation is real not a dream. Although Cohaagen tries to convince Quaid that it is a Rekall dream, Quaid is so firmly engrained in his simulation that he chooses to believe it is reality, and in fact this event helps strengthen his belief that this is a real event.
    There are a few scenes/scenarios which convince me that Quaid’s Mars adventure is a simulation. First, is the matter of the blue sky on mars. The tech who is going to implant the dream mentions it moments before Quaid goes under and into his dream. The second is the sales pitch of the spy dream at Rekall, where the salesman tells him that he can get an action adventure spy dream with a slutty yet demure brunette sidekick. That is exactly what Quaid got. The third is the matter of his wife who did not want him going to Rekall in the first place who becomes the villain in his fantasy. Why would his wife be the villain? Because he goes to Rekall behind her back and chooses a pretty female sidekick. Would she approve? No! and in his conscious, knowing that, she is a conscience reprimanding him in his dream.
    Regardless of whether the experience is just a dream or reality, Quaid will come out of it differently and need to reconcile his newly discovered views with his life. Where it will matter is what life he will have to come to terms with. Should the Mars events be only a dream, he will have to come to terms with his thoughts and feelings towards his wife, his job, and his friends…essentially he would have to come out of a delusional spiral.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Heather: Yes, if Bostrom is right, then life gets very complicated. There’s a good chance, a la Bostrom, that even if Quaid isn’t stuck in the Rekall lab, he’s still in some sort of simulated reality. The only question after that, I suppose, is just how far the matrices are stacked (as in “The Thirteenth Floor.”

  15. krengan3 permalink

    The film does not answer the question of what reality really is –although I believe that there are strong hints that he is still inside his mind, that being the Recall Doctor inputting a blue sky into Mars, and the construction of Melina. In answering the prompt, Melina is important in determining whether it matters if Quaid is “hallucinating.” As explained in The Experience Machine, the experience might be limited to providing only experiences compatible to the sort of person plugged in. Melina represents an object that was created in Quaid’s mind before the Recall lab. What develops during the course of the movie is a type of confirmation bias. Quaid begins filling in the story/memory from snippets of the past. When the movie first starts there is the News program talking about Mars and the resistance; maybe subconsciously Quaid remembers this and has implanted that narrative into his recall memory. Whatever is truly happening, we can see that Quaid is a man wanting more out of life, he wants to be something that he is not, so when presented with the opportunity to be someone who matters, he fills in the hero narrative with tidbits of things he already suspects and does not fully understand. Thus, the “hallucination” does not matter if you can keep up the construct of the story with implants of the person doing the hallucinations imagination. If you cannot the whole “hallucination” will crash as there is nothing that feeds the images (other than a machine, but seeing the greed of the salesman, how long will they keep the program running). This is when the “hallucination” matters. I can only hypothesis within the realm of science fiction what will happen if the construct fails –going along with the story, he might need to get lobotomized (brain butchers). Again, whatever the reality is, it would seem that he is perpetuating the “hallucination” with his own delusions of grandeur.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Krishna: I’m still not sure whether Quaid is hallucinating in the Rekall lab or whether he really makes it to Mars, but I guess I find myself more and more persuaded that it matters. Even if Quaid never learns that he is hallucinating his life is still (it seems to me) much worse for being totally disconnecting with reality (if that’s what is happening). Perhaps Nozick has a point here.

  16. Micah Patten permalink

    The significance of Quaid’s perceptions depend mostly on the world in which he exists. In the imaginary world implanted in his mind by Recall exists in his mind and is as significant to him as the real world; however, the wife and co-workers and other individu.. to be continued

    • Micah Patten permalink

      …individuals who interact with him. In the state that he was in; either being trapped or if he awoke after the credits, either way it changes who he is to them, either by being in a coma or by having reservations about everyone in his life, especially his wife.
      The perceived world has effect on the individual and the layer of reality is relevant because of the interactions of individual beings. Quaid’s actions in his dream world shape who he is and are equal to his decisions in a normal life because he perceives it as real; however, being in the dream layer prevents him from experiencing the next layer out. There can be much discussion on if this initial layer is the final “real” layer, but to place oneself in a deeper layer rather than trying to understand the current or possibility of an outer layer is to limit one’s self from living a fulfilling life. Nothing that Quaid does in his dream world, even saving Mars and thousands, has any impact on the outside world, and as soon as he wakes up or dies, the entirety of his dream world is destroyed, making everything he did meaningless because there were no other individuals to be affected by his actions. They were all just a projection of his imagination.

      • pythagoras permalink

        @ Micah: The point about Quaid’s connection with other seems right. If Quaid is just living out his own fantasies, then nothing matters to anyone but him. He can be as kind or as cruel as he likes without making any difference to others. But that points to a real difference between Quaid and Neo. When Neo takes out his landlady’s trash in the matrix, he is still making someone happier. As long as Neo is part of a communal virtual reality, his actions matter in a way that Quaid’s don’t.

  17. It matters if Quaid hallucinated everything after his first visit to the Rekall lab in the sense that “what we desire is to live ourselves, in contact with reality”, as explained by Richard Fumerton within “Introducing Philosophy through Film”. Human beings, Quaid, cannot be thoroughly satisfied with living in a world both created and run by man; an artificial way of life. It matters that people live their own lives, and experience reality from their own perspectives because “something matters in addition to one’s experiences and what one is like” so it matters that our experiences are completely natural and not fabricated to what we think we would enjoy. Experiencing both the positive and negative sides of life is what lets humans know that they are real; that is how we know what truly matters to us. Who we are as a person matters to us, and living within a man-made reality world does not provide actual relationships, experiences, or contact with people. The desire to experience life to the fullest and as true as it can be experienced is not provided by a machine. People “want to do certain things, and not just have the experience of doing them”, which is an important statement pointed out by Fumerton to consider the degree of importance of hallucination. These are reasons that explain why whether or not Quaid imagines everything after the first visit to the Rekall lab matters. It does not matter if Quaid hallucinates everything after the first visit in the sense that we should consider “what else can matter to us, other than how our lives feel from the inside” when we approach Quaid’s experiences. In this sense, it can be said that if Quaid is content within the life he chose in the Rekall lab, then the inside of him is satisfied with his chosen unconventional lifestyle. If Quaid seeks a lifetime of happiness, bliss, and every experience he ever dreamt of, then it would not matter whether or not he imagines everything after his first visit to the Rekall lab. It does not matter whether or not Quaid virtually fabricates everything after his visit to the Rekall lab because it is up to the audience, and their views on the machine lifestyle, that makes the movie appealing to large amounts of people.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Taylor: I think you’re right to bring in the audience this way. We’re experiencing a kind of simulated reality when we watch the film, and it matters to us whether what we see is really happening. Oddly enough, it seems to matter in the opposite way that it would matter to Quaid. It’s better for us if Quaid isn’t really killing people, if people are being starved for O2 on Mars, etc.

  18. Ben Vowell permalink

    There may be compelling arguments for both sides, pertaining to the reality of Quaid/Hauser’s experiences. I believe it to be more likely that, given the cues of the movie, Quaid experiences some sort of disconnect with his conscious self when he goes to the Rekall lab for the first time. Almost every aspect of the pre-programed trip he purchases through Rekall takes place over the next several days of the film. However, one might ask why his wife and friend from work would be so opposed to him going to Mars/ using a Rekall implantation of Mars before his initial visit. Perhaps his wife was sincere in her desire to go on a more romantic, less adventurous vacation, and perhaps his friend, obviously a layman, had heard some exaggerated story of the Rekall lab’s technology. These possibilities at least seem much more likely than someone having their memory erased, in order to cover up the fact that they are a kind of double agent involved in an interplanetary plot to exploit the civilization of an entire planet, however disappointing that may be.

    If he is, in fact, in a dreamlike state, there are implications for his actions. For instance, he murders his wife in his dream, which was not supposed to be part of the original package he purchased. This may have consequences for his conscious self. The dream he experiences is also incredibly vivid, perhaps causing him to have trouble distinguishing between his actual reality and the reality of his dreams. It can be argued that these are equal realities, occurring using similar parts and processes in the brain, so the Quaid character might have trouble living with the existence of both. This fact might easily drive a person insane or cause him to be perpetually addicted to his dream experiences. Who wouldn’t want to experience a tailored life without the possibility of real-world physical consequences for your actions? This, in a way, makes his dream life, which seems (and so can be argued is) like reality, preferable to his conscious life. One can imagine the repercussion if many people were hooked onto this technology and indifferent to contributing to their conscious lives and relationships.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Ben: Yes, probability seems to push Quaid in one direction, while his gut pushes him in another. The chances that one is a secret agent whose memory has been erased (even if this technology existed) have got to be pretty slim. It seems much more likely that one is the subject of some kind of malfunction (think who often your computer crashes). But Quaid goes with his intuition. Seeing the doctor sweat does it for him. There’s a pretty deep question about how we ought to live our lives at stake here.

  19. Caroline Martin permalink

    We largely return to the brain-in-a-vat scenario in this film. In a sense, the only case in which it truly matters whether Quaid hallucinates everything after his first visit to Rekall is in the case of viewing. It only matters for us, the people watching the film, seeing his story. The reason it matters to us is because we see the deception that possibly surrounds Rekall and the whole Mars scenario, and our poor, desperate sense of justice screams, “It matters!” However, to Quaid (or Hauser or whoever is a BIV) it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because all that matters is what he believes because, as a BIV, his belief, similar to Neo in The Matrix, is his truth, his knowing. Quaid states, “She’s real because I dreamed her.” This statement is a risky one because Quaid oversteps the separation of dream and reality. However, Quaid is essentially using his knowledge that dreams are taken–for the most part–from reality. Therefore, because she was in his dream, she is real. Another statement that brings us to the fact that Quaid might be hallucinating NOT mattering is when the creepy baby mutant says, “A man is defined by his action, not his memory.” Therefore, all that matters to Quaid is the here and now. His actions make who he is. Not his hallucinated past or hallucinated present. Simply his actions. He chooses to be the Quaid form of himself as opposed to Hauser. I hate to steal a Dumbledore quote but…”It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are…” Our struggling brains can return to the matter of mattering and question, “Does he believe it…Is it true…Is he justified?” The first and last question are easy enough to answer, and our thoughts our put at rest…almost. But the second question is one that can never really be answered with certainty. If everything was certain and never open to possibility, the human race would never progress. Therefore, although it matters to us as viewers, Quaid’s situation–if he is truly a BIV–doesn’t matter because it doesn’t matter to him (or his beliefs at least).

  20. Monica Hottle permalink

    I honestly have no idea whether Quaid is actually Hauser or if Hauser is a figment of Quaid’s imagination as he undergoes the “Blue Sky On Mars” program at Recall. But what does it matter? Particularly, to Quaid. If Quaid is actually Hauser, he has finally “awakened” to who he really is and is no longer living his former, delusional life as a construction worker and is doing something bigger than himself. However, if Hauser is simply the character Quaid is while under the influence of Recall, than Quaid is living in an extravagant dream as a great hero who essentially saves the world, gets the girl, et cetera. Despite with scenario is true, how great it is the live as a hero, especially when Quaid has known nothing but a relatively mundane life prior to Recall.
    There is a distinctive weight to the word “hallucination.” As defined by, a hallucination is “a sensory experience of something that does not exist outside the mind, caused by various physical and mental disorders, or by reaction to certain toxic substances, and usually manifested as visual or auditory images.” Based on this definition alone, I am inclined to believe that Quaid is “mad trippin” throughout this movie and the movie ends right before he awakens in Recall. But then I look back to the beginning of the film – he dreamed of Melina prior to his first experience at Recall. Also, he went to Recall despite what his co workers told him (to avoid it), and even his wife told him that his life was perfect as it was as a construction worker. Everyone around him was trying to pry him away from Recall, yet he was still drawn to it; could this have been Hauser deep inside trying to wake up from his delusional life or was this simply an inner calling to have a fabulous “vacation” in which the subject cannot tell dream from reality?
    There are so many “what-ifs” in this film, and it is sickly delightful how each audience member can interpret Quaid/Hauser’s true identity. If Quaid’s hallucinations are important at all, it would be to provide closure to the audience.

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