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Material for T10 – Alien

January 31, 2013

This week’s film is Ridley Scott‘s Alien. Please (re)watch the 2003/2004 director’s cut version of it.

alien_movie_poster

The nature of personal identity is a persistent and subtle theme throughout Alien and its sequel, as it is in Metropolis. Please choose one of the following prompt – each of which addresses this theme in one of a variety of ways – to write on for this assignment.

  1. Alien personhood: Is the alien (a.k.a., the xenomorph) a person? Why or why not?
  2. Sexual/gender identity: Notoriously, this film plays with sexual and gender identity. Men are impregnated, while (spoiler alert!) a woman becomes the action hero. Consider the following question: To what extent, if any, is sex or gender a necessary feature of one’s identity? How does Alien answer this question, and how convincing is this answer?
  3. Personal limits: Is Dallas still Dallas by the time Ripley finds him at the end of the film? Explore similarities and differences between this question applied to Dallas and to the city in the prompt that accompanies Metropolis.

Use some of the considerations about the nature of personhood in John Perry’s A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality and Dan Dennett’s essay “Where Am I?” to help address these questions.

Nota Bene 1: I suggest keeping an eye on the character named Ash, since some questions about his identity (or the identity of those like him) will come back into play when we move onto Scott’s Blade Runner next week.

Nota Bene 2: No less than four sequels/prequels. Following the theme of identity through (some of) them might make for the start of a good term paper.

Have fun!

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32 Comments
  1. Micah Patten permalink

    Alien Personhood:

    The definition of the “Alien” as a person or not raises interesting questions on exactly what makes a person a person. It is obviously an organism of sorts, and it has what resembles of a face as well as what seems to be a type of intelligence, even if only to survive and kill its prey. It is born from a human host and has a general body structure resembling a human. The definition of this creature as a person; however, is not accurate for three specific reasons. First, the creature does not ever create original work or even make use of anything that has intelligent purpose. The alien ship that was discovered was not modified in any way by these creatures except the laying of eggs, nor was there any sign throughout the movie that the creature could make use of any tools or equipment within the ship. This may have been for a lack of need of anything other than what was naturally provided, but it did not seem to even have the ability or understanding to launch the escape pod, which would have been as simple as pushing a button. These signs direct the viewer to thing that the creature is far more bestial, and its intelligence lies in its instinctual killer traits more than stand alone self awareness and complex thought as is attributed to a person.
    Secondly, the creature seems to have no moral or ethical process. It seems to have no great need to kill the crew, and yet immediately focuses on this purpose entirely, with no hesitation or concept of morality. This is not a complete proof of non-personhood, since some people in history have had similar characteristics, but it was not cruelty or hatred or any emotion or thought that seemed to drive the creature, but rather, again, an instinctual bestial tendency to kill everything and survive at all costs.
    Lastly, the lack of any sort of social communication or interaction with anything other than itself points to an even less personhood than the cat. The cat seems to want to be with the humans and even to some degree communicate to them; whereas the only interest the alien has is to kill.
    These, independently may seem week evidences of personhood; however, they are together evidences of a lack of a soul and rational thought. Mankind has been set apart because it is not entirely driven by instinct, but rather by rational thought. This leads to a variety of actions based on different thought processes and allows creative actions; while the alien only seemed to react by instinct. The soul is a much more fleeting idea; however, the evidence in humans over animals is the idea of morality. Even killing beings less than itself should only be done out of necessity or in some level of moderation or purpose; while the alien seemed as though it would have destroyed a planet of humans if it was physically capable of doing so, even though there would be more purpose in leaving them alive because they were the only way the creature could reproduce.
    Ultimately, there can be no definitive answer without better understanding both the alien creature and the accepted definition of personhood; however, by all standards that I can understand, there is nothing that makes the thing a person.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Micah: I like your way of approaching this prompt. It looks like you identify 3 necessary conditions for being a person: (1) capability to act with “intelligent purpose,” (2) capability to act in a way that involves reflection on moral limits, and (3) social awareness. Notice, by the way, that this is a fairly restrictive conception of personhood. Would a fetus count as a person? Would a 1 year-old human infant? Would an elderly person who suffers from dementia? Would a human adult in a coma? That’s not, of course, to say that this is the wrong conception of a person, but it is worth noting these implications.

  2. Matthew Drake permalink

    In response to Prompt 1, the Alien is not a person. In fact, the science officer calls the creature the perfect being. This creature is created by an egg impregnating a host life form. The embryo feeds off this host life form then eats its way out. This “perfect being” matures fairly quickly, and sheds its exoskeleton. This organism feeds off of flesh, and bleeds molecular acid.
    This creature points out several flaws of man. Alien is a silent killer, and can easily outsmart our finest of minds. Whenever our crewmen try to devise a way to kill the creature, it is always one step ahead. The only person to successfully kill ONE of these creatures was Ripley when she opened the hatch aboard the escape pod. Alien is stronger, faster, smarter, and cooler looking than any human being. If you watch all the Alien series and the prequel, Prometheus, you understand that our creators made Alien as the perfect being of the universe. Eggs are generated by the queen that contain the egg-layers. They can populate quickly and wipe out anything in its way. They do not necessarily rely on the physical constraints of human life, i.e. oxygen. The creature was still able to kick and scream when in the vacuum of space. The only way Ripley was able to kill the thing was by firing the main boosters of the ship directly on the thing roasting it after some time. These creatures may be an infestation, but they make humans look like an easy hunting meal. Alien vs. Predator does these majestic creatures no justice.
    Aliens have no moral restrictions. They don’t worship a false idol. They simply live life and kill anything in their way, which is similar to humans. But Alien is not human, they are something much more.
    If God created the human race in his image, then God sucks at life.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Matthew: Very interesting but would one’s status as a “perfect being” prevent one from being a person? Would that mean, e.g., that a god or a very advanced form of life could not be a person? Another point you raise (at least implicitly) is whether a person could be created, or whether that’s something that is beyond the ability of anything which is not itself, say, a divine power or a force of nature (or something similar). I’m not sure, though clearly, questions about Ash arise here. Questions about us arise too, if the engineers in Prometheus are really responsible not only for making the xenomorphs but for making humans too.

      “Alien vs. Predator does these majestic creatures no justice.” Totally agree!

  3. krengan3 permalink

    Alien highlights not a distinction between the male and female role, but focuses on a blending of the two. That is to say, the film focuses on the aspect that a male can exert some female qualities, while a female can take the males role. There are the obvious scenes in the film that represent this idea, such as Kane giving birth to the alien, and Ripley becoming the hero by sending the alien out of the air-lock. Other more subtle instances of more male traits in Ripley, was her unwillingness to allow Kane into the ship, citing 24-hour contamination protocol, which shows the more stereotyped trait of a male who is unsympathetic where it would be considered more female-esque to show compassion, Ripley remained true to protocol( ultimately the air-lock was opened). However, this is not to say that the men did not take on their own stereotyped roles along with the only other female, Lambert. It should be noted that it was a male that was the leader of the mission –Dallas- and it was he who designed the plan to corner the alien and air lock. It was also Dallas that headed into the ship alone to try to find and corner the alien –a great act of courage. Dallas was contrasted with Lambert who became the movies stereotyped female –scared at every point, rash about decisions, and extremely emotional. I think the movie tries to show, and does a good job with, making the argument that there are stereotyped versions of the male and stereotyped versions of the female, but in the end it is the blending of the two which wins out and survives. So sex is not a necessary feature of ones identity if they can combine attributes of both sexes. I believe that the answer is very convincing because they chose to cast the female as the hero, where they could have casted a male with female qualities. Instead they decided to cast the female to make it more obvious to the viewer that there was no distinction; something that in the modern culture would have worked if a male was the hero.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Krishna: Glad to see your avatar is back. It wasn’t showing up for awhile. Just a followup question to your reply to the prompt. Does this mean that there being a man or a woman has no essence? That is to say, there are no necessary (and jointly) conditions for being a man (or a woman)? In a certain sense, that’s a very radical conclusion!

  4. kim cory permalink

    I do not think gender is a necessary feature of one’s identity. In modern society, gender is used to categorize people, but not to identify people. In order to decide whether gender is used to identify people or not, figuring out the definition – a main purpose of identifying someone (ie. general or detailed information – of identity is needed. If a purpose is just physically categorizing someone, gender is a necessary feature, but if a purpose is categorizing by someone’s characteristics, gender is not going to be much useful.
    The movie “Alien” shows that a gender is not a necessary feature of one’s identity. During the movie, there are no scenes that were used to show the differences between the two genders or the crews’ restrictions on actions based on their genders. Both male and female characters died due to the alien attack on the ship. When females were getting attacked, males helped them out, vice versa; they worked together to fight the alien or creatures. In spite of the common attitude towards females on their physical strength, the last person who survived to fight the alien was a female. The movie actually switched the roles of males and females. However, it did not really affect the plots of the movie. I do not think the outcome would have been different if the last person to fight the alien was male. On the ship, both genders worked and took their responsibilities based on their rank, not based on their genders. This shows the audience that Alien does not use gender to identify its characters.
    One fact that I thought of during the Alien was that the movie did not tell the gender of the creature. Normally, we use gender as a feature to identify people or animals. However, when it comes down to creatures that we are unsure of, we do not categorize it by its gender. We do not call it “he” or “she”; we call it “it.” If gender is necessary feature of one’s identity, why do we not use that to the unknown creatures or the alien in this movie? I think that assists answering how Alien answers the question on the relation between gender and identity.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Kim Cory: I see your point. But is the question of gender/sex any more important if we switch from a third-person point of view to a first-person point of view? Would you be a different person if your sex or gender changed? Gender-reassignment surgery is not the stuff of science fiction anymore, after all. Perhaps it just doesn’t matter, but human beings have made a lot of the differences between men and women for about as long as we’ve walked the planet. There might be something to it.

  5. The xenomorph is not a person. On the basis of the popular belief that human beings are created in the image of God (the God in the Bibles and on the Billboards), the aliens seem to be anything but created in the image of God. Also, the xenomorph link suggests that “based on the limited information we have, the most commonly accepted hypothesis is that they are an artificially created species, although another hypothesis says that they evolved naturally on a planet much different than our own”, which means that both of these hypothesis prove the aliens to not be human because they are not created by God and in the image of God. Again, I am going off the commonly believed image of God as looking like us. Going further, the xenomorph was described in the move as “the perfect being” meaning that the aliens have no feelings or rational thoughts. They are a fast moving species who use their strength and knowledge for the sake of reproducing and survival. The link also brings to light the fact that the xenomorphs have a hive mentality, which means their collective memories, work, and existence is for the sake of their queen. Also, aliens have little to no emotion, which goes back to their sole purpose being to reproduce and to survive. Finally, the aliens are aware of their acidic blood and use it to their advantage because they know the harsh effects that result from their loss of blood. With this idea, the aliens are said to be creative and fast-thinkers when it comes to killing and surviving. They are able to think on their toes (so to speak) when it comes to outsmarting their enemy. The hive mentality differs from a human being because humans can work collectively, but can also think and act through an independent lens. Humans are capable of experiencing and expressing great amounts of emotion, many at the same time, which drives our actions. This lack of emotion also separates the aliens from humans. The aliens are a highly adaptable, collective thinking, and strong species who use their qualities to reproduce and survive. Humans are more complicated concerning our purpose in life, and dealing with the “me” on the inside.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Sierra: Let me suggest a few ways in ways of pushing further with your ideas. First, is being a person the same thing as being a human? I’m pretty sure I agree that the xenomorph is not a human (even though it does seem to pick up a lot of human traits from its host). But there might be non-human persons. To take your example, a lot of people think that God is a person, but clearly God is (or at least in the Old Testament was) not a human. Perhaps Ash (the android) was a person too, though he wasn’t a human. At any rate, I’m very intrigued about your point about the place that emotion might play in being a person, which you raise near the end of your post. I hope we have time to talk about that in class.

  6. Uddit Patel permalink

    The alien is not a person or does not represent any form of a person. The xenomorph shows some resemblance of intelligence, some fear, and use person like tactics and all these items may show that the alien is some type of being. The alien uses different type of tactics to attack the people and moves quickly and quietly to attack its prey. But overall, the xenomorph is not a person. The alien does not resemble any signs of relationships/ social interaction or the idea of morality, or even a personality that a person would have. The alien also did not have a personal appearance of a person. Even if we wanted to say that the alien is a person, the idea would be rejected based on the aliens personal appearance. The alien has similar features like teeth and body; however the alien looks like it will harm someone with its spiky tail, with the slimy pointed teeth, and the way it represents itself throughout the movie. The personal appearance of the alien brings fear and brings instincts that this character will most likely kill and harm people while a person’s personal appearance is portrayed with being friendly, help others or not kill for no reason. The alien resplendence like a predator with the two mouths and like it was going to eat and kill whatever was in its way in which is not like a person.

    The alien also does not show signs of social interaction or relationship. The xenomorph does not interact with the people as a person but only wants to harm them or kill them in a way. The alien does not try to interact with the humans or people to try to work together. The alien also does not seem to have a problem with the human. Usually a person would kill another person because of revenge and before a person kills they would talk about it. However, the alien would not do that at all. The alien just chases and scares the people around and ultimately kills the people. If the alien was like a person, the alien would have tried to interact with the people rather than kill.

    The alien also does not have an idea of morality. The lack of morality can been see by the alien killing for no reason. However, an argument can be like some persons do not have an idea of morality like Hitler, or massacre killers. However, these people have some sense of emotions in which these aliens did not have. The aliens had little emotions, but do have a sense of pain when their eggs are attacked and when fire is used to attack them. The alien also shows pain like a person and scream when attacked. Ultimately, a person can interact with its surroundings and has a sense of morality in which the alien does not have and this represents that the alien is not a person.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Uddit: Can the xenomorph have a “personal appearance” without being a person? I suppose that’s just quibbling on my part. Your larger point, as I understand it, is about two necessary conditions for being a person which the xenomorph seems to lack. The first is that the xenomorph appears to be asocial, and the second is that he/she/it seems to be amoral. Would you be any more inclined to think of the xenomorph if, say, it cooperated with other xenomorphs for their common good? It’s worth asking this question – and not only because they seem to get up to this a bit in the sequel Aliens. One could press a similar line with regard to morality. Consider humans who suffer from the condition known as psychopathy and, as a result, have no sense of moral right and wrong (or so I’m told by people with degrees in psychology; I claim no authority here)? Are psychopaths persons? If not, how should we treat them?

  7. Ben Vowell permalink

    Prompt 1 Response:

    I will contend that the “alien” is in a large way, inhuman. First, it is paramount to think about and get a rough definition of what makes a human a human. Certainly, our desire, our need even, for social contact plays a large part. This, coupled with our capacity for higher thinking and the expression of qualities beyond aggression and appetite seems to define the general population of the human species.

    The alien is portrayed in the film as nothing more than an apex-predator. It appears to simply arise like a parasite, with its only goal being to prolong its own life and kill any competing life forms. It makes no attempt at communication with the crew of the Nostromo. It also does not show any sign of contemplation when it interacts with its prey. I found myself comparing the alien to a shark several times, which is certainly not human-like in any way. As for the question of its intelligence, it cannot be denied that it possesses some degree of calculated thinking. However, the creature retreats to air ducts and relies on darkness to aid its purpose. It makes no use of the technology at its disposal. Again, Earth predators come to mind. Last, we look at the alien’s capacity for human emotion and other qualities that set us apart from simple parasites and other, less complex, organisms. We can turn to Ash’s chilling quote. He states that it is a creature “unclouded by conscience, remorse, and delusions of morality.” These are all things any ordinary human possesses. The absence of any of them in a person is immediately recognized as a symptom of illness. So, we arrive at a point where the alien is, at best, human in the way a serial killer is human and, at worst, less human than most Earth predators. What makes something “human” can only marginally be attributed to biological processes (why I ignored its human-like birth) and really lies in the interaction of its “brain” with other organisms.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Ben V: I think your point about the xenomorph being “inhuman” is a good one, but I’m just not sure that closes the book on whether it’s a person. That said, you make nice points about the alien lacking social feelings, a propensity to use technology, and anything like a conscience. Those are certainly traits of most, if not all, persons with whom we have contact. Just to play the devil’s advocate, I’m not sure the last two of these are necessary conditions of being a person. If we dropped an adult human from roughly 50,000 years ago into a shopping mall, it would probably have a very difficult time figuring out how to use our tech to help it escape what it perceived as threats. Cars, cell phones, and light switches would all be, well, wholly alien. Our tendency to tack that sort of thing for granted is the historical outlier. But I don’t think I’d want to deny that our ancestors are persons. As for morality, I mentioned in my response to Sierra that some humans – psychopaths – also seem to lack a moral conscience. I’m not sure that they fail, thereby, to be persons. Finally, it might be that the xenomorph has a social sense but only toward members of its own species. The sequel to this film, Aliens, makes a bit of a case for that. Notice that we humans tend to treat members of our own species as being uniquely (or almost uniquely) important to.

  8. Theodore Kruczek permalink

    I had a lot of thoughts on all three prompts but think the gender identity question was the most controversial and felt it would lead to more discussion:

    Gender is paramount to someone’s sense of self. What Alien does, and I will not repeat Krishna’s examples, but those are what I would reference, is it helps show why a sense of gender is not the same as the physical trait of gender (biologically male or female). When we say that someone is a man, what we are identifying with is, in part, their biological traits such as increased testosterone and larger muscle mass, but to a greater extent we are identifying with the traditional role of protector that they play. When someone tries to describe themselves they look to the roles that they play to explain their impact on the world. This often includes their job, hobbies, beliefs, and gender role (again different from biological gender).

    The reason that we often confuse biologic gender and gender role is because of the large impact that biochemistry and societal conditioning play on shaping which gender role we align with. If, as a society, we began demanding that women play the role of protector (as has happened in some Russian feminist cults) then the large majority of women in the next generation would adapt to this role regardless of their biological gender. Likewise, to a lesser extent, if we began pumping women full of testosterone enhancing steroids, they would begin acting in a manner that we typically associate with women.

    To answer the prompt directly, biological gender has very little to do with our sense of self (more with our sense of appearance). Gender roles on the other hand, like any role, play a huge part in our sense of who we are. Alien addresses this in some ways by showing that if biological limitations are removed and the gender roles are all that remain, then we still associate with those roles, but are able to cross over into the opposite role of which we were born.

    I think it is important to consider the implications this has on sexual orientation and gender role confusion, but would much rather ignite that taboo question in class.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Ted: I think the (very plausible) distinction you’re making between “biological gender” and “gender role” is roughly the same one that is often made between sex and gender. Here’s what, fore example, the World Health Organization has to say on the topic:

      “Sex” refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.

      “Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.

      The whole enchilada is here: http://www.who.int/gender/whatisgender/en/.

      As far as taboos go, I understand what you mean, though I’d point out that sometimes the most important things we can talk about are the hardest to discuss.

  9. The question of whether or not the Alien is a person is an interesting question. There seem to be several considerations upon which one could form an argument in either direction. There seem to be two sides to this coin.

    At the very base level, there exists the argument that the Alien is not an individual, nor can it be, due to the very nature of its existence. The xenomorph is a parasite, a creature which cannot survive (at least not in a mature form) without a host (or if you prefer, a surrogate). Once its host is impregnated, the alien fetus takes on its traits. In this sense, the organism is not a creature which, like a human being, can form its own identity. It is, to a degree, merely a loose copy of the individual into which it is implanted.

    However, there also comes to bare the notion that, if for this reason the alien cannot be considered a person, neither can a human being. Much of what we are is a result of our genetics; we exist one half our father, one half our mother. Following this mode of thought, if a human being can be considered an individual, so can the Alien, since it utilizes the genetic information of its host in creating a new organism.

    So, if, in the context considered, neither a human, nor the alien can be considered solely their own individual, what makes a person a person?

    My creative writing teacher, Professor Donald Anderson notes that “We are where we have been and what we have read.” I am very much akin to this philosophy when making a consideration such as this. Obviously Aliens don’t read (there’s not much time for that when you’re, as Ash says “a perfect organism,” solely devoted to killing and reproducing), but the underlying point is that what constitutes a person is the experiences and relationships which they have had. Regardless of your genetic makeup and how many phenotypes and tendencies you may share with your parents, you are still your own individual person because you are the only person who has experienced exactly what you have, from your own point of view. Are identical twins different people? Most would say yes. Despite sharing 100% of the same DNA, they are not, nor will they ever be the same person.

    Because of this reason, despite their slimy, repulsive, and incredibly violent nature, I must lean to the side which says; ‘Give the Xenomorphs a break’… Aliens are people too.

  10. Taylor Warren permalink

    In response to promt #2:

    Gender identity is irrevocably paralleled with personal identity, as it is a larger chunk of how we define ourselves as well as the rolls we fill within our lifetimes. Throughout the film Aliens there are several characters who test the boundaries of what is considered “normal gender identities” by society. It can be presumed that the whole point of creating characters that experience out-of-the-norm gender identity conflicts is to force the audience into feeling awkward—which then causes them to think about gender identity and what it means. Gender is important to one’s identity, but experiencing other gender roles shouldn’t result in changing one’s identity. For example, the man who was impregnated by the alien—that didn’t make him any less of a man. Similarly, Ridley saving the day and being the heroine didn’t make her any less of a woman. These situations can be empowering to one’s identity, or they can be damaging. I don’t know too many guys who would be comfortable with the idea of being impregnated. Similar gender concepts were explored in the film Junior in which Arnold Schwarzenegger is artificially impregnated and carries a child to full term and then has a C-section. It might be healthy to stop and consider other gender roles that aren’t specific to one’s identity, but only for the purpose of gaining appreciation or expanding one’s sensibilities. Ultimately, gender identity is important to personal identity because it allows us all to behave within certain roles that society has deemed acceptable for the time being. Hopefully, people won’t be so tied down to the idea that gender roles are set in stone and society will be willing to expand and morph as necessary throughout time to accommodate growth and change, both intellectually and democratically.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Taylor: Making the distinction between (to put it in my own words) essential and inessential gender properties seems very judicious. It often helps a lot when faced with philosophical difficulties to make a few careful distinctions.

  11. Caroline Martin permalink

    3. Personal limits: Dallas is no longer Dallas by the time that Ripley encounters him at the end of the film. Although it’s possible that his mind is still intact while his body acts against his mind, the film makes no suggestion of that. At most, the only reference to the mind of the alien offered in the film is when Ash, the robot, says he admires the alien as the “perfect organism” because it is “unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.” These are not aspects of Dallas’s mind. According to Dennet, “the acquisition of a new body leaves one’s person intact.” Dallas’s person is defined by his personality. I think we can all agree on the fact that one’s personality is not explicitly defined by actions or appearance. Consider the lack of individuality that abounds throughout the Academy simply because we cannot dress the way we wish to dress. Dennet states, “…like being possessed—hearing my own voice say things I didn’t mean to say, watching in frustration as my own hands performed deeds I hadn’t intended.” So while we may not be able to assess whether Dallas’s personality is still intact based on the aliens actions, we know, based on Ash’s description of the alien’s intent that the alien’s personality does not match Dallas’s. Therefore, we can only assume that Dallas is not Dallas by the end of the film. He is an alien who is lacking in personality besides the need to eat, live, survive. This assessment differs from my analysis of Metropolis because, in Metropolis, the character of the city is restored when Maria returns to her own body rather than staying in the mind and body of “Mariabot.” Honestly, if I had to choose between the two films, I would choose Metropolis. Alien was disgusting.

    • pythagoras permalink

      @ Caroline: I hadn’t really noticed, but that line from Ash is very telling. One wouldn’t say a stone is “unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality,” though I suppose it’s true since stones don’t have minds at all. One wouldn’t even say it about a cat or dog, though it would be odd to think of a cat as suffering from delusions of morality. Ash seems to think that the xenomorph is mentally rather like us, though without the limitations of conscience. That seems significant.

      “Alien was disgusting.” I agree, though I think the film self-consciously aims at this reaction. Being alive is a pretty gross affair. Don’t ask how the hamburger got on your plate or how your belt was made. And have you seen a the birth of a human being. Dang. This is exactly the kind of thing that most sci-fi films completely suppress from our line of sight. But Alien takes every opportunity to remind us of what’s missing from the usual vision of the future.

  12. Cory Johnson permalink

    If I were to answer prompt number one without referencing the readings I would go to Wikipedia and select one of the numerous definitions of personhood, then apply it to the xenomorph’s case. However, having now read the readings, I feel compelled to answer the question in a substantially different way (Your prompt did say “have fun”…). Perry’s article especially deals with the continuity of self. In the context of the film I can’t help but try to apply this to a human-based xenomorph. Is it possible that some part of Kane’s self survived the metamorphosis process? After all, xenomorphs do use their host’s DNA to shape the adult’s body structure.

    Let’s assume that somehow all of Kane’s thoughts and memories were transferred to the xenomorph and are now part of alien’s thought process. Perhaps these memories could be used to navigate around the ship or even Kane’s hometown. Is the entity in the alien’s head Kane, or merely a copy? When the chest buster leaves its host, Kane the original clearly dies. Yet, there is now a creature roaming the ship with some form of Kane’s thoughts and memories. Perry’s article suggests that the chain of continuity is clearly broken here and that the alien is not actually remembering Kane’s memories, but just seeming to remember. Having false memories breaks one of Perry’s criteria for establishing personal identity. Thus, the alien cannot be the original Kane in any continuous sense of “self,” the alien can only be a copy with copies of Kane’s thoughts and memories.

    Side notes: I’m pretty sure Perry wrote Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige even though Google disagrees. Your inclusion of the xenomorph wikia page consumed twenty minutes of my life that I’m not getting back. And, Gretchen Weirob has an unexpected abundance of physical and mental energy for someone on their death bed.

  13. Seth Rodgers permalink

    Alien personhood:
    Whether or not the Alien is a person hinges on two things: defining the word “person” and then defining what the Alien is. According to most dictionaries (e.g. Oxford, Merriam-Webster), a person is a human being which is regarded as an individual. If we accept this definition, then we are forced narrow it further and elaborate on what constitutes a human. Form a survival standpoint, humans are distinguished from animals and even more so from plants due to our unsurpassed level of adaptability. Essentially, we are able to manipulate stimuli in a much more elaborate way than our monkey counterparts. However, I propose that superb adaptability (i.e. superior intelligence) is not the only thing which distinguishes humans from other life forms. Though many people choose to live their lives enslaved to survival of fittest and in a state of constant competition with others, selflessness is still a strange and remarkable phenomena that some miraculously subscribe to. The type of selflessness I am referring to is valuing other’s lives more than your own, not simply others in hopes of receiving tangible benefits in return.
    Now that I’ve vaguely outlined what I think defines a human being, it’s time to analyze the Alien. According to Ash, the Alien is a “Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility…A survivor, unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.” By perfect, Ash seems to mean perfect for survival, part of which means that it is perfectly violent to any other organism which might threaten its existence. This certainly does not jive with how I, and hopefully most people, would imagine the perfect human being, perhaps because we recognize that there is more to us than the meaningless workings of natural selection and that notions of love and morality are greater than a simple genetic mutation which has somehow proliferated despite deadly implications for survival. It seems that those we admire the most are not the people who are best at surviving, but rather those who often embody selfless disregard for their own lives, such as Medal of Honor recipients, or a mother willing to die for her child. Once again, some might try to cram these compelling examples into the black box of evolution: “naturally a mother would want to die for her child so that her genes would be propagated.” Why, though, does that completely destroy the beauty of her act? Why are we not moved and energized by this explanation if it supposedly represents the fabric of our being? Granted, this is a very simplistic argument, but I do think it deserves some attention.
    To conclude, the Alien is not a person because it lacks everything that it most beautiful in humans: conscience, remorse, morality… It is little more than an organic machine programmed for existence at the expense of all other life forms.

  14. Cory Johnson permalink

    If I were to answer prompt number one without referencing the readings I would go to Wikipedia and select one of the numerous definitions of personhood, then apply it to the xenomorph’s case. However, having now read the readings, I feel compelled to answer the question in a substantially different way. Perry’s article deals extensively with self, continuity of self and what it means to be oneself. In the context of the film I can’t help but try to apply this to a human-based xenomorph. Is it possible that some part of Kane’s self survived the metamorphosis process? After all, xenomorphs do use their host’s DNA to shape the adult’s basic body structure.

    Let’s assume that somehow all of Kane’s thoughts and memories were transferred to the xenomorph and are now part of alien’s thought process. Perhaps these memories could be used to navigate around the ship or even Kane’s hometown. Is the entity in the alien’s head Kane or merely a copy? When the chest buster leaves its host, Kane the original clearly dies. Yet, there is now a creature roaming the ship with some form of Kane’s thoughts and memories. Perry’s article suggests that the chain of continuity is clearly broken here and that the alien is not actually remembering Kane’s memories, but just seeming to remember. If someone merely seems to remember things then these memories do not meet the necessary criteria for establishing personal identity. In this sense, the alien cannot be the person Kane.

    Side notes: I’m pretty sure Perry wrote Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige even though Google disagrees. Your inclusion of the xenomorph wikia page consumed twenty minutes of my life that I’m not getting back. And, Gretchen Weirob has an unexpected abundance of physical and mental energy for someone on their death bed.

  15. J. Lucky permalink

    Prompt 2: For the alien it doesn’t really matter if a person is male or female, either way its violence will cause it to kill them. Likewise the little egg-alien thing can impregnate either sex as shown in other films based on the original concept and doesn’t much care that the original person is a man.
    The roles within the film also play with the traditional gender roles. Ripley plays a far more independent and heroine role than any of the male characters do. The other characters to include the male leaders do not seem to have the same level of independence or for that matter logical planning about them that Ripley displays once she is placed into the leading role with the final three survivors. However, that being said there are some gender ideas that are continued into the film. For instance the other female is constantly screaming and whining. Ripley seems to have some love interest with Dallas and in the end the only thing she saves is her pussy, Mr. Jones. Of course this all gets ruined in AVP where the very masculine Predators beat the crap out of all the aliens and make the humans look like a bunch of weakling idiots.

  16. John Yang permalink

    Gender does play a huge role in one’s identity, and in Ripley Scott’s film Alien, the issue is addressed through the non-typical roles played by some of the characters. While there are always exceptions to the rule, and people tend to use different ways to define themselves with some constantly evolving form of ill-defined identity, gender is consistently one of the main factors, regardless of whether people use it to follow societal norms or to break the mold and forge their own definition of what gender should mean to themselves. Alien answers the question of gender’s necessity in identifying oneself differently; one could make a case, and arguably Ridley Scott makes this case in some underlying manner, that people are only truly defined by their actions under duress and in times of crisis. The xenomorph’s reign of terror on board the Nostromo certainly falls under the category of an extremely trying and perilous situation. In this situation, the Nostromo’s crew actions reveal more about their identity than normal, and Sigourney Weaver’s character, Ripley, does not need her gender to define her own actions as a stereotypical masculine hero-figure of decisiveness and action, despite her femininity. Alien’s answer to the gender question is simple; an individual’s sex has no true bearing on their identity, at least in times when it counts (like when a xenomorph brutally hunts down members of your stranded space vessel). As far as exactly how convincing the answer provided by the film is, I found it an interesting and stimulating way of portraying characters with reversed gender roles, but I believe that ultimately sex is still an active part of one’s identity; people actively and consciously reject or accept the gender roles handed them in their own situations and lives.

  17. pythagoras permalink

    @ Josh: “Aliens are people too” – that’s the best line I’ve heard yet in a lot of very good discussion.

    Just a quick point: I think what you say about reading is really quite important. At least in this film, it doesn’t look like xenomorphs have an understanding of language. *If* that’s right, it might be a strike against the possibility that they are persons. That’s something that often comes up when questions about the personhood of, say, gorillas and dolphins are discussed. Some people even think that consciousness as we understand it depends on the ability to use language. The Zorblaxians have a different take though:

    http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2867#comic

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