Who Are These People?

Who are these people? And are they people?

Take the quiz!

All of these beings (except for the generic human astronaut, top) are from specific SF stories, and all have some connection with the question about Personhood, this year’s theme for the Journal of Science Fiction and Philosophy. How many can you identify? Try it out, and look below for the answers.

Which ones do you recognize? (By degree of difficulty)

(#1 is just a generic human astronaut)

Congratulations! If you identified these, you don’t live in a cave!

(Or maybe you do — in a Platonic sense. Our next issue will decide it!)

3. R2-D2 (or “Arturito,” in Spanish-speaking places) (Star Wars)

9. Frankenstein’s monster

12. Dalek (Doctor Who)

20. Chewbacca the Wookie (Star Wars)

You have the basics covered:

2. E.T. The Extraterrestrial

4. Wall-E

11. Borg (Star Trek)

16. Bender (Futurama)

You know your way around around SF!

6. Nibbler (Futurama)

8. The monolith from 2001

13. Cylon Centurion (Battlestar Galactica)

18. Baby Groot (Guardians of the Galaxy)

You, sir (or madam, or multidimensional hyperintelligent superbeing) are a scholar and a gentleman!

7. A Thark from Barsoom (John Carter of Mars)

10. Mice (i.e., the projection in 3-D space of multidimensional hyperintelligent superbeings). (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).

14. Skitter (Falling Skies)

15. Vorlon (Babylon 5)

19. Maria (Metropolis)

You know too much. It’s slightly disturbing:

5. Sentient crystals (Stargate SG-1)

17. Democratus (Anachronox)

But why are they here?

The characters portrayed here have been chosen because they all have some bearing on philosophical reflections about the notion of personhood.

1. Generic human astronaut: Because, well, it seems we’re the ones who will be doing the philosophizing about personhood in the current volume. It seems only fair that we are represented here.

2. E.T. The Extraterrestrial: This movie was groundbreaking in that, perhaps for the first time in the history of Hollywood blockbusters, visitors from another planet were portrayed not as hostile invaders but curious, kind, fun-loving, lovable and in need of our help.

3. R2-D2 (or “Arturito,” in Spanish-speaking places): I haven’t seen this question come up much, but, what is the status of droids in the Star Wars universe? They do embody many key elements in personhood, including curiosity, loyalty and a sense of duty that seems to transcend their programming. But they seem still bound to their programming, and their owners have no qualms erasing their memories regularly so they don’t get too… person-y.

4. Wall-E: Here’s a robot with a sense of duty, and a sense of wonder

5. Sentient crystals (Stargate SG-1): Yes, this one was probably impossible to guess. But I did want to include some person-like beings that were neither animal nor plants (nor robots). So… crystals!

6. Nibbler (Futurama): Spoiler alert: he fools us all by pretending to be a cute, ravenous little pet. But it seems we got it all wrong. Except for the ravenous, cute, and little part.

7. A Thark from Barsoom/Mars (John Carter of Mars): Nearly a century before the blue people of Avatar, Edgar Rice-Burroughs was already playing with the idea that a member of a warlike, “primitive” alien with strange skin color can be the noblest and fiercest of friends.

8. The monolith from 2001: It is not clear in the movie (I’m not sure anything at all is clear in the movie), but in the novel, this one (spoiler) is responsible for accelerating evolution among some hominids, and thus, responsible for us. It might have made more sense to include Hal, but then, how do you draw it?

9. Frankenstein’s monster: A person, created by an irresponsible scientist from bits and pieces. But he’s just too horrifically ugly (see Abrams’ article) to be accepted among other persons, despite his high intelligence and tender heart…

10. Mice (actually, the projection in 3-D space of multidimensional hyperintelligent superbeings) from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Conducting experiment on us, who, as it turned out, are only the third most intelligent species on Earth.

11. Borg (Star Trek): Is the individual the person? Or the collective? Or both? Or neither? Such a great concept!

12. Dalek (Doctor Who): A being genetically engineered to be xenophobic. And act upon it. But can Daleks rise above their genetic makeup? Depends mostly on which episode you’ll be quoting from.

13. Cylon Centurion (Battlestar Galactica): These ones seem pretty tortured by the fact that they’ve been made by humans. Their meaning of life seems, basically, to show us.

14. Skitter (Falling Skies): What looks at the beginning like generic alien cannon fodder, turns to be a species much more complex, and much more interesting.

15. Vorlon (Babylon 5): What is the ultimate step in evolution? And how does it relate to us?

16. Bender (Futurama): A sociopathic robot, made so by an accident in his programming. Can we blame him? Can he rise over his own subroutines? And what if he doesn’t want to?

17. Democratus (From the game Anachronox): A whole planet acting as one being. And following you around because, well, you are so cool.

18. Baby Groot (Guardians of the Galaxy): Here’s a plant that is a person. With a very limited vocabulary.

19. The Robot Maria (from the German film Metropolis): Would you trust a human being to build something better than a human being?

20. Chewbacca the Wookie (Star Wars): Word is he was enslaved, like many among his species, until Han Solo came and freed him. So there’s that theme. But mostly, he is here because he’s really fun to draw.