Warning: contains (small) SPOILERS
Philosophy might be defined as the pursuit of asking fundamental questions. For example, what is the fundamental nature of reality (metaphysics)? What is the nature of right and wrong (ethics)? What is the meaning of life (value)?
I write philosophical fiction, or fiction that explores philosophical questions. In The Solace Pill I explore, among other issues, two problems:
- Personal identity: what makes me, me? Is it my body? Is it my memories?
- Epistemology: how do I know that what I am experiencing is real?
One of the question that has perturbed philosophers is the question of personal identity, or in technical jargon: what is the diachronic criterion of identity for a person? That is, why am I the same person yesterday and today, even though there are differences between the me of today and the me of yesterday?
Philosophers have answered this questions in a number of ways. The two most influential answers are that: (a) my body makes me who I am, and (b) my memories (or my psychological profile) make me who I am.
On the bodily account of personal identity, the me of yesterday is the me of today because the me of yesterday and the me of today share the same body, or at least a physically continuous body. The problem with this account of identity is that it seems possible for me to lose parts of my body, or perhaps my entire body, and yet survive. In The Solace Pill, the characters are able to “reprint” themselves, by destroying their current bodies and replacing them with a 3D-printed copy, often with improvements. The character who steps into the 3D printer seems to be the same character who steps out the other side, even though he has a different, improved body. What would it be like to be older, younger, healthier, fitter? Find out by stepping into the printer. And our intuition is that it would be YOU who steps out the other side, not some other person with your memories.
So, if my body isn’t what makes me who I am, then perhaps it’s my memories, thoughts, emotions, beliefs, etc? That is, perhaps my psychological profile makes me who I am? When I step into the printer, pulp (or destroy) my body, and step out of the printer with a different body, I step into a fresh body with the SAME memories. What allows me to continue is psychological continuity, rather than bodily continuity. But the problem is that the novel also suggests counterexamples to the psychological account of personal identity. Specifically, there are cases where the machine doesn’t work correctly. It doesn’t destroy the original body. What results is more than one body walking around with brains possessing the same memories. So, which person am I? I can’t be two people at once? But if the psychological criterion of identity is correct, then I must be both of these bodies, which seems incorrect.
Finally, if the bodily criterion of identity is incorrect, and I am not my body, then there seems to be no good reason (or at least not as much reason as we commonly believe) not to treat the body with massive disrespect. Examples include feeding the bodies pulped by the printer (called “grunge” in the novel) to citizens who can’t afford to eat unprinted food; and the mass slaughter of bodies that occurs in Solace End, the second episode of The Solace Pill.
In The Solace Pill the characters take a pill to slow their perception of time. This allows them to cram 5 hours of experience into 15 minutes. Don’t have time to watch a movie, take a holiday, or have sex? Do it on a Solace Pill. But the pill does something more than slow time. It connects the characters. If two people take pills from the same blister pack, they’ll be linked in their Solace Experience – they’ll share thoughts and emotions for their 15 minutes on the pill. The result is that if you take the pill with a group of people, you’ll have a wacky, hallucinogenic experience, with thoughts and emotions from all the members of the group infiltrating your mind.
In Preparation 162, the third episode of the Solace Pill, George doesn’t know just how much of what he’s experiencing is real, and how much may be a Solace Experience of one or more of the other characters. As the book progresses, the dates of the chapters become garbled, as Solace takes over his experience of reality. Eventually, it’s impossible for him, and the reader, to distinguish between what is real, and what is Solace.