“One certainly has a soul; but how it came to allow itself to be enclosed in a body is more than I can imagine.”Lord Byron in a letter to Thomas Moore, 1817.
Who am I? What makes me what I am? Am I all flesh and bone, or am I neurons and synapses? Can my personality be measured and weighed? Can I be transferred into a storage medium to fit inside of a computer? Or am I ultimately an amorphous spirit that floats along with my corporeal form?
Scratching the Surface
Science fiction has been exploring these topics for hundreds of years. Stargate has taken its own stab at identity in various means, including Goa’uld and Tok’ra implantation into other life forms. In this instance, it was made fairly clear over the course of SG-1 that two independent personalities could continue to exist within a single form, even if (under most circumstances) only one could have physical control of a body at a time.
Stargate SG-1’s ‘Maternal Instinct’ introduced the idea of ascension, where the mind could be freed from the body to potentially attain a higher cosmic significance. By Stargate Atlantis’s ‘Tao of Rodney’ (S3, Ep14), we were introduced to technology that measured that transformation of mind over matter by actual percentage points as McKay (David Hewlett) drew closer to the Great Path.
In Season 8’s ‘Citizen Joe’, an episode arguably meant to be a clever cost-saver as a clip show, an extremely vital storytelling tool was introduced: the Ancient communication stone. With this device, users were able to see through each other’s eyes. Joe Spencer (Dan Castellaneta) saw the world of Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) for nearly eight years while Jack witnessed barbershops and bowling matches.
By Season 9 the introduction of the Ancient communication terminal led the stones to provide much more – a complete transposition of consciousness from one body to another. Whoever had possession of a terminal had the ability to shift into another person’s body, and to move and speak within that body.
By Season 1 of Stargate Universe, humanity had reverse-engineered the terminal technology into something more portable – a small square device that could accommodate up to five stones, swapping up to ten people simultaneously across five users at each end. This technology proved to be extremely useful for maintaining contact between Destiny and Earth, as the Ancient spaceship was at the opposite end of the cosmos.
Wrong People, Wrong Place
The introduction of the stones to the lives of the humans living aboard Destiny introduced new opportunities, as well as new challenges. Those brought aboard the ship after the destruction of Icarus base were, in the words of Colonel Everett Young (Louis Ferreira), “the wrong people in the wrong place.” This was not a mission they had necessarily signed up for. They were emotionally unprepared to be permanently separated from loved ones back on Earth. The crew of Destiny was only able to appear through other host bodies, “donated” by Air Force personnel for the duration of the transfer.
Even more devastating, the majority of the families of Destiny’s crew did not have the security clearance to know about the fate of their absent kin, so even though the Destiny crew could see and hear those they cared about through the hosts, the majority of those visited were not allowed to know the truth.
A Vulnerable System
As the Destiny crew became more comfortable with the use of the communication stones, unique problems began to creep into their usage. When Destiny would enter or exit faster-than-light speeds, the transfer was interrupted at both ends for approximately twelve seconds. This would create unique circumstances for the crew to overcome.
Additionally, the health and safety of each user had to be taken into account at the time of the use of the device. This was put to the ultimate test in Season 2’s ‘The Greater Good’ (S2, Ep7) and ‘Malice’ (S2, Ep8) when a user’s life was taken while interfacing with the device. Simeon (Robert Knepper) of the Lucian Alliance, enraged at the apparent treason of Ginn (Julie McNiven), chose to murder her while Dr. Amanda Perry (Kathleen Munroe) was in her body. With Ginn unable to return to her body, and Amanda Perry killed while in the body of Ginn, both hosts ultimately perished.
But this was not the end of their story.
After agreeing to transfer consciousness from one body to another, users were largely able to go about their daily lives as if nothing was different. In Season 1’s ‘Earth’ (S1, Ep7), we witness the climax of a romantic encounter with Emily Young (Ona Grauer) and Everett Young while the colonel is in the body of David Telford (Lou Diamond Phillips).
Telford’s reaction at the moment the transfer of consciousness is interrupted is one of the great moments of the series, but the scene illustrates that during the transfer of consciousness, almost anything goes.
Obviously, anything directly resulting in harm to a host body would have to be avoided. Food allergies would have to be taken into consideration. Addictive substances harmful to the body would hopefully be avoided so that when the host returned to their original body they would not experience lingering aftereffects from the choices of the other user.
As the series progressed, though, deeper questions began to make themselves apparent.
Out of Mind and Body
The murder of Ginn and Perry was sudden and traumatic and fear of the unpredictable power of the communication stones was clearer than ever. But in Season 2’s ‘Hope’ (S2, Ep14), a new possibility began to manifest. Not only were the consciousnesses of both women very much intact, but they had been “floating” near the ship since they had been killed.
Chloe Armstrong (Elyse Levesque), attempting to utilize the communication stones to find out what happened on Earth during a recent bombing, was instead taken over by the personality of Ginn. Chloe’s mind was not transmitted to Earth. She was simply suppressed, reporting no knowledge that she had been under Ginn’s control.
With no one at Earth’s end to complete the connection, Ginn’s personality intersected with Chloe’s use of the stone. Ginn herself explained that no time had passed since her Lucian Alliance debriefing on Earth, and she had not been aware that Simeon had killed her.
Shortly afterward, Amanda Perry’s personality surfaced within Chloe as well. The three women were literally trading spaces in Chloe’s body at what appeared to be random.
Doctor Nicholas Rush (Robert Carlyle) successfully devised a means of using the Destiny control chair to download the personality of both Ginn and Perry into the ship’s mainframe. Like other personalities before them, they would exist independent of the ship, only making themselves available to individuals whenever they chose.
Ultimately, their personalities were placed in quarantine within Destiny’s memory.
A chilling possibility of existence, or lack thereof, is made apparent by Ginn’s prior comment. Between her death and slipping into Chloe’s body episodes later, she recalls experiencing nothing. No passage of time, no void, no afterlife. One moment she was on Earth at the moment of her apparent death aboard Destiny, and the next she was within Chloe.
This of course raises an obvious question – is this all there is? Are those who are connected to the stones capable of going elsewhere? Do we cease to be if we do not have a body to exist within?
A musical instrument exists apart from a performer, but the two brought together only then truly realize the instrument’s purpose. Are human beings more like this? Is it possible for us to exist apart from ourselves? Ascension says this is the case, but what about the spirit that is non-corporeal but never self-actualized to achieve ascension?
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The Body Matters Not
Since early on in Stargate SG-1’s run, it has been suggested that we are more than the corporeal. More than flesh and blood and bone. With ascension, the body can be surpassed and the consciousness continues to exist.
With Stargate Universe, we humans can continue separate from our bodies as fields of consciousness that can be measured and stored as blocks of enormous data within computer systems. But is this all that we are? Do these blocks of data completely encompass the sum of our lived experiences, personality, and plans for the future? Are we really so succinct as beings that we can be calculated down to exact computer bits?
It is also evident that we are capable of sharing bodies with other beings. The Nakai, having pursued Destiny across the cosmos with the hopes of unlocking its secrets, managed to take a communication stone from Dr. Nicholas Rush’s possession when they rescued (captured) him from a planet. One unwitting Nakai was transferred into the body of Colonel Young, making it clear that this technology works for numerous forms of intelligent life, not just human beings.
“Your Species Has Great Potential.”
If we are to continue to interact with Ancient technology, we have a responsibility to wield it with as much patience and care as we can. For better or for worse, the Ancients did an excellent job of leaving pieces of their genius nearly everywhere they lived, but they didn’t do the best job at protecting it, or for that matter leaving behind instruction manuals on how to run it. As a result, we have been left doing the best we can in terms of figuring out how to make their technology serve us.
The communication stones are a fine example of this. We have had to learn as we go in terms of fully realizing their use. The first step, duplicating the communication terminal into something more compact and portable, was achieved, but much like Earth’s Stargate dialing computer, it is far from a perfect adoption of the technology upon which it is based.
If anything is certain, it is that human beings are vast sums of unlimited potential. We are the offspring of one of the greatest species to ever grace the known universe. Our forebears created Stargates which spanned networks of galaxies. They sent vast ships on voyages to the outer reaches of the cosmos to discover what made the universe tick. We have quite the legacy to live up to.
Back on Earth, Google’s Ray Kurzweil has declared that by 2045 we will be uploading our own memories and thought patterns into mainframes. This is an extraordinary premise and one that seems more like science fiction than science fact. But just imagine our technology from 30 years ago. Would you have believed it would be possible to wield the entire repository of human knowledge in the palm of your hand? We have managed to come an extremely long way. It is entirely possible that, with the growth of our own technology, such a future may be just around the corner.
Let us say that we will be able to properly map the human brain, and duplicate that consciousness into a system of computers with the proper horsepower to successfully transfer us, and then keep us incorporated. Is this “person” living inside a computer going to be an actual copy of the person whose brain the thoughts came from? A mere shadow? What if the person who shared their brain is still present and using that brain?
Let us say that technology exists. Is this something you would want to do? Would you want to exist independent of your body, or would you prefer to take the Stargate route of swapping one body for another, as with the communication stones?
These are questions we will have to grapple with sooner than we realize. Let us hope that those who will be making these first steps into this new world will have the wisdom and patience to do right by the human race.
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David Read is the host and executive producer of Dial the Gate. He has been reporting on the Stargate franchise via GateWorld.net since he was 18 years old. He has written for the Official Stargate Magazine, sold Stargate costumes and props through the Propworx auction house, and managed the online community of the ill-fated Stargate Worlds Massively Multiplayer video game. When not working on a Stargate-related project, you’ll likely find him watching Star Trek.