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Title: Moral Deliberations in Modern Cinema
Author: Vaknin, Samuel, 1961-
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Copyright (C) 2002 by Lidija Rangelovska.

Moral Deliberations in Modern Cinema


Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

Editing and Design:

Lidija Rangelovska

                          Lidija Rangelovska

            A Narcissus Publications Imprint, Skopje 2003

                Not for Sale! Non-commercial edition.

© 2002 Copyright Lidija Rangelovska.

All rights reserved. This book, or any part thereof, may not be used
or reproduced in any manner without written permission from:

Lidija Rangelovska - write to:

palma@unet.com.mk or to


Visit the Author Archive of Dr. Sam Vaknin in "Central Europe Review":


Visit Sam Vaknin's United Press International (UPI) Article Archive
-Click HERE!

Philosophical Musings and Essays


Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited


Created by:        LIDIJA RANGELOVSKA



I.                The Talented Mr. Ripley

II.              The Truman Show

III.             The Matrix

IV.             Shattered

V.              Titanic

VI.             Being John Malkovich

VII.           Dreamcatcher - The Myth of Destructibility

VIII.          The Author

IX.             About "After the Rain"

                       The Talented Mr. Ripley

                            By: Sam Vaknin

"The Talented Mr. Ripley" is an Hitchcockian and blood-curdling study
of the psychopath and his victims. At the centre of this masterpiece,
set in the exquisitely decadent scapes of Italy, is a titanic
encounter between Ripley, the aforementioned psychopath protagonist
and young Greenleaf, a consummate narcissist.

Ripley is a cartoonishly poor young adult whose overriding desire is
to belong to a higher - or at least, richer - social class. While he
waits upon the subjects of his not so hidden desires, he receives an
offer he cannot refuse: to travel to Italy to retrieve the spoiled and
hedonistic son of a shipbuilding magnate, Greenleaf Senior. He embarks
upon a study of Junior's biography, personality, likes and hobbies. In
a chillingly detailed process, he actually assumes Greenleaf's
identity. Disembarking from a luxurious Cunard liner in his
destination, Italy, he "confesses" to a gullible textile-heiress that
he is the young Greenleaf, travelling incognito.

Thus, we are subtly introduced to the two over-riding themes of the
antisocial personality disorder (still labelled by many professional
authorities "psychopathy" and "sociopathy"): an overwhelming dysphoria
and an even more overweening drive to assuage this angst by belonging.
The psychopath is an unhappy person. He is besieged by recurrent
depression bouts, hypochondria and an overpowering sense of alienation
and drift. He is bored with his own life and is permeated by a
seething and explosive envy of the lucky, the mighty, the clever, the
have it alls, the know it alls, the handsome, the happy - in short:
his opposites. He feels discriminated against and dealt a poor hand in
the great poker game called life. He is driven obsessively to right
these perceived wrongs and feels entirely justified in adopting
whatever means he deems necessary in pursuing this goal.

Ripley's reality test is maintained throughout the film. In other
words - while he gradually merges with the object of his admiring
emulation, the young Greenleaf - Ripley can always tell the
difference. After he kills Greenleaf in self-defense, he assumes his
name, wears his clothes, cashes his checks and makes phone calls from
his rooms. But he also murders - or tries to murder - those who
suspect the truth. These acts of lethal self-preservation prove
conclusively that he knows who he is and that he fully realizes that
his acts are parlously illegal.

Young Greenleaf is young, captivatingly energetic, infinitely
charming, breathtakingly handsome and deceivingly emotional. He lacks
real talents - he know how to play only six jazz tunes, can't make up
his musical mind between his faithful sax and a newly alluring drum
kit and, an aspiring writer, can't even spell. These shortcomings and
discrepancies are tucked under a glittering facade of non-chalance,
refreshing spontaneity, an experimental spirit, unrepressed sexuality
and unrestrained adventurism. But Greenleaf Jr. is a garden variety
narcissist. He cheats on his lovely and loving girlfriend, Marge. He
refuses to lend money - of which he seems to have an unlimited supply,
courtesy his ever more disenchanted father - to a girl he impregnated.
She commits suicide and he blames the primitiveness of the emergency
services, sulks and kicks his precious record player. In the midst of
this infantile temper tantrum the rudiments of a conscience are
visible. He evidently feels guilty. At least for a while.

Greenleaf Jr. falls in and out of love and friendship in a predictable
pendulous rhythm. He idealizes his beaus and then devalues them. He
finds them to be the quiddity of fascination one moment - and the
distilled essence of boredom the next. And he is not shy about
expressing his distaste and disenchantment. He is savagely cruel as he
calls Ripley a leach who has taken over his life and his possessions
(having previously invited him to do so in no uncertain terms). He
says that he is relieved to see him go and he cancels off-handedly
elaborate plans they made together. Greenleaf Jr. maintains a poor
record of keeping promises and a rich record of violence, as we
discover towards the end of this suspenseful, taut yarn.

Ripley himself lacks an identity. He is a binary automaton driven by a
set of two instructions - become someone and overcome resistance. He
feels like a nobody and his overriding ambition is to be somebody,
even if he has to fake it, or steal it. His only talents, he openly
admits, are to fake both personalities and papers. He is a predator
and he hunts for congruence, cohesion and meaning. He is in constant
search of a family. Greenleaf Jr., he declares festively, is the older
brother he never had. Together with the long suffering fiancee in
waiting, Marge, they are a family. Hasn't Greenleaf Sr. actually
adopted him?

This identity disturbance, which is at the psychodynamic root of both
pathological narcissism and rapacious psychopathy, is all-pervasive.
Both Ripley and Greenleaf Jr. are not sure who they are. Ripley wants
to be Greenleaf Jr. - not because of the latter's admirable
personality, but because of his money. Greenleaf Jr. cultivates a
False Self of a jazz giant in the making and the author of the Great
American Novel but he is neither and he bitterly knows it. Even their
sexual identity is not fully formed. Ripley is at once homoerotic,
autoerotic and heteroerotic. He has a succession of homosexual lovers
(though apparently only platonic ones). Yet, he is attracted to women.
He falls desperately in love with Greenleaf's False Self and it is the
revelation of the latter's dilapidated True Self that leads to the
atavistically bloody scene in the boat.

But Ripley is a different -and more ominous - beast altogether. He
rambles on about the metaphorical dark chamber of his secrets, the key
to which he wishes to share with a "loved" one. But this act of
sharing (which never materializes) is intended merely to alleviate the
constant pressure of the hot pursuit he is subjected to by the police
and others. He disposes with equal equanimity of both loved ones and
the occasional prying acquaintance. At least twice he utters words of
love as he actually strangles his newfound inamorato and tries to
slash an old and rekindled flame. He hesitates not a split second when
confronted with an offer to betray Greenleaf Sr., his nominal employer
and benefactor, and abscond with his money. He falsifies signatures
with ease, makes eye contact convincingly, flashes the most heart
rending smile when embarrassed or endangered. He is a caricature of
the American dream: ambitious, driven, winsome, well versed in the
mantras of the bourgeoisie. But beneath this thin veneer of hard
learned, self-conscious and uneasy civility - lurks a beast of prey
best characterized by the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistics Manual):

"Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviour,
deceitfulness as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or
conning others to personal profit or pleasure, impulsivity or failure
to plan ahead... reckless disregard for safety of self or others
...(and above all) lack of remorse." (From the criteria of the
Antisocial Personality Disorder).

But perhaps the most intriguing portraits are those of the victims.
Marge insists, in the face of the most callous and abusive behaviour,
that there is something "tender" in Greenleaf Jr. When she confronts
the beguiling monster, Ripley, she encounters the fate of all victims
of psychopaths: disbelief, pity and ridicule. The truth is too
horrible to contemplate, let alone comprehend. Psychopaths are inhuman
in the most profound sense of this compounded word. Their emotions and
conscience have been amputated and replaced by phantom imitations. But
it is rare to pierce their meticulously crafted facade. They more
often than not go on to great success and social acceptance while
their detractors are relegated to the fringes of society. Both
Meredith and Peter, who had the misfortune of falling in deep,
unrequited love with Ripley, are punished. One by losing his life, the
other by losing Ripley time and again, mysteriously, capriciously,

Thus, ultimately, the film is an intricate study of the pernicious
ways of psychopathology. Mental disorder is a venom not confined to
its source. It spreads and affects its environment in a myriad
surreptitiously subtle forms. It is a hydra, growing one hundred heads
where one was severed. Its victims writhe and as abuse is piled upon
trauma - they turn to stone, the mute witnesses of horror, the
stalactites and stalagmites of pain untold and unrecountable. For
their tormentors are often as talented as Mr. Ripley is and they are
as helpless and as clueless as his victims are.

                           The Truman Show

                            By: Sam Vaknin

"The Truman Show" is a profoundly disturbing movie. On the surface, it
deals with the worn out issue of the intermingling of life and the

Examples for such incestuous relationships abound:

Ronald Reagan, the cinematic president was also a presidential movie
star. In another movie ("The Philadelphia Experiment") a defrosted Rip
Van Winkle exclaims upon seeing Reagan on television (40 years after
his forced hibernation started): "I know this guy, he used to play
Cowboys in the movies".

Candid cameras monitor the lives of webmasters (website owners) almost
24 hours a day. The resulting images are continuously posted on the
Web and are available to anyone with a computer.

The last decade witnessed a spate of films, all concerned with the
confusion between life and the imitations of life, the media. The
ingenious "Capitan Fracasse", "Capricorn One", "Sliver", "Wag the Dog"
and many lesser films have all tried to tackle this (un)fortunate
state of things and its moral and practical implications.

The blurring line between life and its representation in the arts is
arguably the main theme of "The Truman Show". The hero, Truman, lives
in an artificial world, constructed especially for him. He was born
and raised there. He knows no other place. The people around him -
unbeknownst to him - are all actors. His life is monitored by 5000
cameras and broadcast live to the world, 24 hours a day, every day. He
is spontaneous and funny because he is unaware of the monstrosity of
which he is the main cogwheel.

But Peter Weir, the movie's director, takes this issue one step
further by perpetrating a massive act of immorality on screen. Truman
is lied to, cheated, deprived of his ability to make choices,
controlled and manipulated by sinister, half-mad Shylocks. As I said,
he is unwittingly the only spontaneous, non-scripted, "actor" in the
on-going soaper of his own life. All the other figures in his life,
including his parents, are actors. Hundreds of millions of viewers and
voyeurs plug in to take a peep, to intrude upon what Truman innocently
and honestly believes to be his privacy. They are shown responding to
various dramatic or anti-climactic events in Truman's life. That we
are the moral equivalent of these viewers-voyeurs, accomplices to the
same crimes, comes as a shocking realization to us. We are (live)
viewers and they are (celluloid) viewers. We both enjoy Truman's
inadvertent, non-consenting, exhibitionism. We know the truth about
Truman and so do they. Of course, we are in a privileged moral
position because we know it is a movie and they know it is a piece of
raw life that they are watching.

But moviegoers throughout Hollywood's history have willingly and
insatiably participated in numerous "Truman Shows". The lives (real or
concocted) of the studio stars were brutally exploited and
incorporated in their films. Jean Harlow, Barbara Stanwyck, James
Cagney all were forced to spill their guts in cathartic acts of on
camera repentance and not so symbolic humiliation. "Truman Shows" is
the more common phenomenon in the movie industry.

Then there is the question of the director of the movie as God and of
God as the director of a movie. The members of his team - technical
and non-technical alike - obey Christoff, the director, almost
blindly. They suspend their better moral judgement and succumb to his
whims and to the brutal and vulgar aspects of his pervasive dishonesty
and sadism. The torturer loves his victims. They define him and infuse
his life with meaning. Caught in a narrative, the movie says, people
act immorally.

(IN)famous psychological experiments support this assertion. Students
were led to administer what they thought were "deadly" electric shocks
to their colleagues or to treat them bestially in simulated prisons.
They obeyed orders. So did all the hideous genocidal criminals in
history. The Director Weir asks: should God be allowed to be immoral
or should he be bound by morality and ethics? Should his decisions and
actions be constrained by an over-riding code of right and wrong?
Should we obey his commandments blindly or should we exercise

If we do exercise judgement are we then being immoral because God (and
the Director Christoff) know more (about the world, about us, the
viewers and about Truman), know better, are omnipotent? Is the
exercise of judgement the usurpation of divine powers and attributes?
Isn't this act of rebelliousness bound to lead us down the path of

It all boils down to the question of free choice and free will versus
the benevolent determinism imposed by an omniscient and omnipotent
being. What is better: to have the choice and be damned (almost
inevitably, as in the biblical narrative of the Garden of Eden) - or
to succumb to the superior wisdom of a supreme being? A choice always
involves a dilemma. It is the conflict between two equivalent states,
two weighty decisions whose outcomes are equally desirable and two
identically-preferable courses of action. Where there is no such
equivalence - there is no choice, merely the pre-ordained (given full
knowledge) exercise of a preference or inclination. Bees do not choose
to make honey. A fan of football does not choose to watch a football
game. He is motivated by a clear inequity between the choices that he
faces. He can read a book or go to the game. His decision is clear and
pre-determined by his predilection and by the inevitable and
invariable implementation of the principle of pleasure. There is no
choice here. It is all rather automatic. But compare this to the
choice some victims had to make between two of their children in the
face of Nazi brutality. Which child to sentence to death - which one
to sentence to life? Now, this is a real choice. It involves
conflicting emotions of equal strength. One must not confuse
decisions, opportunities and choice.

Decisions are the mere selection of courses of action. This selection
can be the result of a choice or the result of a tendency (conscious,
unconscious, or biological-genetic). Opportunities are current states
of the world, which allow for a decision to be made and to affect the
future state of the world. Choices are our conscious experience of
moral or other dilemmas.

Christoff finds it strange that Truman - having discovered the truth -
insists upon his right to make choices, i.e., upon his right to
experience dilemmas. To the Director, dilemmas are painful,
unnecessary, destructive, or at best disruptive. His utopian world -
the one he constructed for Truman - is choice-free and dilemma-free.
Truman is programmed not in the sense that his spontaneity is
extinguished. Truman is wrong when, in one of the scenes, he keeps
shouting: "Be careful, I am spontaneous". The Director and fat-cat
capitalistic producers want him to be spontaneous, they want him to
make decisions. But they do not want him to make choices. So they
influence his preferences and predilections by providing him with an
absolutely totalitarian, micro-controlled, repetitive environment.
Such an environment reduces the set of possible decisions so that
there is only one favourable or acceptable decision (outcome) at any
junction. Truman does decide whether to walk down a certain path or
not. But when he does decide to walk - only one path is available to
him. His world is constrained and limited - not his actions.

Actually, Truman's only choice in the movie leads to an arguably
immoral decision. He abandons ship. He walks out on the whole project.
He destroys an investment of billions of dollars, people's lives and
careers. He turns his back on some of the actors who seem to really be
emotionally attached to him. He ignores the good and pleasure that the
show has brought to the lives of millions of people (the viewers). He
selfishly and vengefully goes away. He knows all this. By the time he
makes his decision, he is fully informed. He knows that some people
may commit suicide, go bankrupt, endure major depressive episodes, do
drugs. But this massive landscape of resulting devastation does not
deter him. He prefers his narrow, personal, interest. He walks.

But Truman did not ask or choose to be put in his position. He found
himself responsible for all these people without being consulted.
There was no consent or act of choice involved. How can anyone be
responsible for the well-being and lives of other people - if he did
not CHOOSE to be so responsible? Moreover, Truman had the perfect
moral right to think that these people wronged him. Are we morally
responsible and accountable for the well-being and lives of those who
wrong us? True Christians are, for instance.

Moreover, most of us, most of the time, find ourselves in situations
which we did not help mould by our decisions. We are unwillingly cast
into the world. We do not provide prior consent to being born. This
fundamental decision is made for us, forced upon us. This pattern
persists throughout our childhood and adolescence: decisions are made
elsewhere by others and influence our lives profoundly.

As adults we are the objects - often the victims - of the decisions of
corrupt politicians, mad scientists, megalomaniac media barons,
gung-ho generals and demented artists. This world is not of our making
and our ability to shape and influence it is very limited and rather
illusory. We live in our own "Truman Show". Does this mean that we are
not morally responsible for others?

We are morally responsible even if we did not choose the circumstances
and the parameters and characteristics of the universe that we
inhabit. The Swedish Count Wallenberg imperilled his life (and lost
it) smuggling hunted Jews out of Nazi occupied Europe. He did not
choose, or helped to shape Nazi Europe. It was the brainchild of the
deranged Director Hitler. Having found himself an unwilling
participant in Hitler's horror show, Wallenberg did not turn his back
and opted out. He remained within the bloody and horrific set and did
his best. Truman should have done the same. Jesus said that he should
have loved his enemies. He should have felt and acted with
responsibility towards his fellow human beings, even towards those who
wronged him greatly.

But this may be an inhuman demand. Such forgiveness and magnanimity
are the reserve of God. And the fact that Truman's tormentors did not
see themselves as such and believed that they were acting in his best
interests and that they were catering to his every need - does not
absolve them from their crimes. Truman should have maintained a fine
balance between his responsibility to the show, its creators and its
viewers and his natural drive to get back at his tormentors. The
source of the dilemma (which led to his act of choosing) is that the
two groups overlap.

Truman found himself in the impossible position of being the sole
guarantor of the well-being and lives of his tormentors. To put the
question in sharper relief: are we morally obliged to save the life
and livelihood of someone who greatly wronged us? Or is vengeance
justified in such a case?

A very problematic figure in this respect is that of Truman's best and
childhood friend. They grew up together, shared secrets, emotions and
adventures. Yet he lies to Truman constantly and under the Director's
instructions. Everything he says is part of a script. It is this
disinformation that convinces us that he is not Truman's true friend.
A real friend is expected, above all, to provide us with full and true
information and, thereby, to enhance our ability to choose. Truman's
true love in the Show tried to do it. She paid the price: she was
ousted from the show. But she tried to provide Truman with a choice.
It is not sufficient to say the right things and make the right moves.
Inner drive and motivation are required and the willingness to take
risks (such as the risk of providing Truman with full information
about his condition). All the actors who played Truman's parents,
loving wife, friends and colleagues, miserably failed on this score.

It is in this mimicry that the philosophical key to the whole movie
rests. A Utopia cannot be faked. Captain Nemo's utopian underwater
city was a real Utopia because everyone knew everything about it.
People were given a choice (though an irreversible and irrevocable
one). They chose to become lifetime members of the reclusive Captain's
colony and to abide by its (overly rational) rules.

The Utopia came closest to extinction when a group of stray survivors
of a maritime accident were imprisoned in it against their expressed
will. In the absence of choice, no utopia can exist. In the absence of
full, timely and accurate information, no choice can exist. Actually,
the availability of choice is so crucial that even when it is
prevented by nature itself - and not by the designs of more or less
sinister or monomaniac people - there can be no Utopia. In H.G. Wells'
book "The Time Machine", the hero wanders off to the third millennium
only to come across a peaceful Utopia. Its members are immortal, don't
have to work, or think in order to survive. Sophisticated machines
take care of all their needs. No one forbids them to make choices.
There simply is no need to make them. So the Utopia is fake and indeed
ends badly.

Finally, the "Truman Show" encapsulates the most virulent attack on
capitalism in a long time. Greedy, thoughtless money machines in the
form of billionaire tycoon-producers exploit Truman's life shamelessly
and remorselessly in the ugliest display of human vices possible. The
Director indulges in his control-mania. The producers indulge in their
monetary obsession. The viewers (on both sides of the silver screen)
indulge in voyeurism. The actors vie and compete in the compulsive
activity of furthering their petty careers. It is a repulsive canvas
of a disintegrating world. Perhaps Christoff is right after al when he
warns Truman about the true nature of the world. But Truman chooses.
He chooses the exit door leading to the outer darkness over the false
sunlight in the Utopia that he leaves behind.

                              The Matrix

                            By: Sam Vaknin

It is easy to confuse the concepts of "virtual reality" and a
"computerized model of reality (simulation)". The former is a
self-contained Universe, replete with its "laws of physics" and
"logic". It can bear resemblance to the real world or not. It can be
consistent or not. It can interact with the real world or not. In
short, it is an arbitrary environment. In contrast, a model of reality
must have a direct and strong relationship to the world. It must obey
the rules of physics and of logic. The absence of such a relationship
renders it meaningless. A flight simulator is not much good in a world
without aeroplanes or if it ignores the laws of nature. A technical
analysis program is useless without a stock exchange or if its
mathematically erroneous.

Yet, the two concepts are often confused because they are both
mediated by and reside on computers. The computer is a self-contained
(though not closed) Universe. It incorporates the hardware, the data
and the instructions for the manipulation of the data (software). It
is, therefore, by definition, a virtual reality. It is versatile and
can correlate its reality with the world outside. But it can also
refrain from doing so. This is the ominous "what if" in artificial
intelligence (AI). What if a computer were to refuse to correlate its
internal (virtual) reality with the reality of its makers? What if it
were to impose its own reality on us and make it the privileged one?

In the visually tantalizing movie, "The Matrix", a breed of AI
computers takes over the world. It harvests human embryos in
laboratories called "fields". It then feeds them through grim looking
tubes and keeps them immersed in gelatinous liquid in cocoons. This
new "machine species" derives its energy needs from the electricity
produced by the billions of human bodies thus preserved. A
sophisticated, all-pervasive, computer program called "The Matrix"
generates a "world" inhabited by the consciousness of the unfortunate
human batteries. Ensconced in their shells, they see themselves
walking, talking, working and making love. This is a tangible and
olfactory phantasm masterfully created by the Matrix. Its computing
power is mind boggling. It generates the minutest details and reams of
data in a spectacularly successful effort to maintain the illusion.

A group of human miscreants succeeds to learn the secret of the
Matrix. They form an underground and live aboard a ship, loosely
communicating with a halcyon city called "Zion", the last bastion of
resistance. In one of the scenes, Cypher, one of the rebels defects.
Over a glass of (illusory) rubicund wine and (spectral) juicy steak,
he poses the main dilemma of the movie. Is it better to live happily
in a perfectly detailed delusion - or to survive unhappily but free of
its hold?

The Matrix controls the minds of all the humans in the world. It is a
bridge between them, they inter-connected through it. It makes them
share the same sights, smells and textures. They remember. They
compete. They make decisions.

The Matrix is sufficiently complex to allow for this apparent lack of
determinism and ubiquity of free will. The root question is: is there
any difference between making decisions and feeling certain of making
them (not having made them)? If one is unaware of the existence of the
Matrix, the answer is no. From the inside, as a part of the Matrix,
making decisions and appearing to be making them are identical states.
Only an outside observer - one who in possession of full information
regarding both the Matrix and the humans - can tell the difference.

Moreover, if the Matrix were a computer program of infinite
complexity, no observer (finite or infinite) would have been able to
say with any certainty whose a decision was - the Matrix's or the
human's. And because the Matrix, for all intents and purposes, is
infinite compared to the mind of any single, tube-nourished,
individual - it is safe to say that the states of "making a decision"
and "appearing to be making a decision" are subjectively
indistinguishable. No individual within the Matrix would be able to
tell the difference. His or her life would seem to him or her as real
as ours are to us. The Matrix may be deterministic - but this
determinism is inaccessible to individual minds because of the
complexity involved. When faced with a trillion deterministic paths,
one would be justified to feel that he exercised free, unconstrained
will in choosing one of them. Free will and determinism are
indistinguishable at a certain level of complexity.

Yet, we KNOW that the Matrix is different to our world. It is NOT the
same. This is an intuitive kind of knowledge, for sure, but this does
not detract from its firmness. If there is no subjective difference
between the Matrix and our Universe, there must be an objective one.
Another key sentence is uttered by Morpheus, the leader of the rebels.
He says to "The Chosen One" (the Messiah) that it is really the year
2199, though the Matrix gives the impression that it is 1999.

This is where the Matrix and reality diverge. Though a human who would
experience both would find them indistinguishable - objectively they
are different. In one of them (the Matrix), people have no objective
TIME (though the Matrix might have it). The other (reality) is
governed by it.

Under the spell of the Matrix, people feel as though time goes by.
They have functioning watches. The sun rises and sets. Seasons change.
They grow old and die. This is not entirely an illusion. Their bodies
do decay and die, as ours do. They are not exempt from the laws of
nature. But their AWARENESS of time is computer generated. The Matrix
is sufficiently sophisticated and knowledgeable to maintain a close
correlation between the physical state of the human (his health and
age) and his consciousness of the passage of time. The basic rules of
time - for instance, its asymmetry - are part of the program.

But this is precisely it. Time in the minds of these people is
program-generated, not reality-induced. It is not the derivative of
change and irreversible (thermodynamic and other) processes OUT THERE.
Their minds are part of a computer program and the computer program is
a part of their minds.

Their bodies are static, degenerating in their protective nests.
Nothing happens to them except in their minds. They have no physical
effect on the world. They effect no change. These things set the
Matrix and reality apart.

To "qualify" as reality a two-way interaction must occur. One flow of
data is when reality influences the minds of people (as does the
Matrix). The obverse, but equally necessary, type of data flow is when
people know reality and influence it. The Matrix triggers a time
sensation in people the same way that the Universe triggers a time
sensation in us. Something does happen OUT THERE and it is called the
Matrix. In this sense, the Matrix is real, it is the reality of these
humans. It maintains the requirement of the first type of flow of
data. But it fails the second test: people do not know that it exists
or any of its attributes, nor do they affect it irreversibly. They do
not change the Matrix. Paradoxically, the rebels do affect the Matrix
(they almost destroy it). In doing so, they make it REAL. It is their
REALITY because they KNOW it and they irreversibly CHANGE it.

Applying this dual-track test, "virtual" reality IS a reality, albeit,
at this stage, of a deterministic type. It affects our minds, we know
that it exists and we affect it in return. Our choices and actions
irreversibly alter the state of the system. This altered state, in
turn, affects our minds. This interaction IS what we call "reality".
With the advent of stochastic and quantum virtual reality generators -
the distinction between "real" and "virtual" will fade. The Matrix
thus is not impossible. But that it is possible - does not make it

                       The Shattered Identity

                            By: Sam Vaknin

                       Read these essays first:

                        The Habitual Identity

                    Death, Meaning, and Identity

                            Fact and Truth

                    Dreams - The Metaphors of Mind

I. Exposition

In the movie "Shattered" (1991), Dan Merrick survives an accident and
develops total amnesia regarding his past. His battered face is
reconstructed by plastic surgeons and, with the help of his loving
wife, he gradually recovers his will to live. But he never develops a
proper sense of identity. It is as though he is constantly ill at ease
in his own body. As the plot unravels, Dan is led to believe that he
may have murdered his wife's lover, Jack. This thriller offers
additional twists and turns but, throughout it all, we face this

Dan has no recollection of being Dan. Dan does not remember murdering
Jack. It seems as though Dan's very identity has been erased. Yet, Dan
is in sound mind and can tell right from wrong. Should Dan be held
(morally and, as a result, perhaps legally as well) accountable for
Jack's murder?

Would the answer to this question still be the same had Dan erased
from his memory ONLY the crime -but recalled everything else (in an
act of selective dissociation)? Do our moral and legal accountability
and responsibility spring from the integrity of our memories? If Dan
were to be punished for a crime he doesn't have the faintest
recollection of committing - wouldn't he feel horribly wronged?
Wouldn't he be justified in feeling so?

There are many states of consciousness that involve dissociation and
selective amnesia: hypnosis, trance and possession, hallucination,
illusion, memory disorders (like organic, or functional amnesia),
depersonalization disorder, dissociative fugue, dreaming, psychosis,
post traumatic stress disorder, and drug-induced psychotomimetic

Consider this, for instance:

What if Dan were the victim of a Multiple Personality Disorder (now
known as "Dissociative Identity Disorder")? What if one of his
"alters" (i.e., one of the multitude of "identities" sharing Dan's
mind and body) committed the crime? Should Dan still be held
responsible? What if the alter "John" committed the crime and then
"vanished", leaving behind another alter (let us say, "Joseph") in

Should "Joseph" be held responsible for the crime "John" committed?
What if "John" were to reappear 10 years after he "vanished"? What if
he were to reappear 50 years after he "vanished"? What if he were to
reappear for a period of 90 days - only to "vanish" again? And what is
Dan's role in all this? Who, exactly, then, is Dan?

II. Who is Dan?

Buddhism compares Man to a river. Both retain their identity despite
the fact that their individual composition is different at different
moments. The possession of a body as the foundation of a self-identity
is a dubious proposition. Bodies change drastically in time (consider
a baby compared to an adult). Almost all the cells in a human body are
replaced every few years. Changing one's brain (by transplantation) -
also changes one's identity, even if the rest of the body remains the

Thus, the only thing that binds a "person" together (i.e., gives him a
self and an identity) is time, or, more precisely, memory. By "memory"
I also mean: personality, skills, habits, retrospected emotions - in
short: all long term imprints and behavioural patterns. The body is
not an accidental and insignificant container, of course. It
constitutes an important part of one's self-image, self-esteem, sense
of self-worth, and sense of existence (spatial, temporal, and social).
But one can easily imagine a brain in vitro as having the same
identity as when it resided in a body. One cannot imagine a body
without a brain (or with a different brain) as having the same
identity it had before the brain was removed or replaced.

What if the brain in vitro (in the above example) could not
communicate with us at all? Would we still think it is possessed of a
self? The biological functions of people in coma are maintained. But
do they have an identity, a self? If yes, why do we "pull the plug" on
them so often?

It would seem (as it did to Locke) that we accept that someone has a
self-identity if: (a) He has the same hardware as we do (notably, a
brain) and (b) He communicates his humanly recognizable and
comprehensible inner world to us and manipulates his environment. We
accept that he has a given (i.e., the same continuous) self-identity
if (c) He shows consistent intentional (i.e., willed) patterns
("memory") in doing (b) for a long period of time.

It seems that we accept that we have a self-identity (i.e., we are
self-conscious) if (a) We discern (usually through introspection) long
term consistent intentional (i.e., willed) patterns ("memory") in our
manipulation ("relating to") of our environment and (b) Others accept
that we have a self-identity (Herbert Mead, Feuerbach).

Dan (probably) has the same hardware as we do (a brain). He
communicates his (humanly recognizable and comprehensible) inner world
to us (which is how he manipulates us and his environment). Thus, Dan
clearly has a self-identity. But he is inconsistent. His intentional
(willed) patterns, his memory, are incompatible with those
demonstrated by Dan before the accident. Though he clearly is
possessed of a self-identity, we cannot say that he has the SAME
self-identity he possessed before the crash. In other words, we cannot
say that he, indeed, is Dan.

Dan himself does not feel that he has a self-identity at all. He
discerns intentional (willed) patterns in his manipulation of his
environment but, due to his amnesia, he cannot tell if these are
consistent, or long term. In other words, Dan has no memory. Moreover,
others do not accept him as Dan (or have their doubts) because they
have no memory of Dan as he is now.

Interim conclusion:

Having a memory is a necessary and sufficient condition for possessing
a self-identity.

III. Repression

Yet, resorting to memory to define identity may appear to be a
circular (even tautological) argument. When we postulate  memory -
don't we already presuppose the existence of a "remembering agent"
with an established self-identity?

Moreover, we keep talking about "discerning", "intentional", or
"willed" patterns. But isn't a big part of our self (in the form of
the unconscious, full of repressed memories) unavailable to us? Don't
we develop defence mechanisms against repressed memories and
fantasies, against unconscious content incongruent with our
self-image? Even worse, this hidden, inaccessible, dynamically active
part of our self is thought responsible for our recurrent discernible
patterns of behaviour. The phenomenon of posthypnotic suggestion seems
to indicate that this may be the case. The existence of a
self-identity is, therefore, determined through introspection (by
oneself) and observation (by others) of merely the conscious part of
the self.

But the unconscious is as much a part of one's self-identity as one's
conscious. What if, due to a mishap, the roles were reversed? What if
Dan's conscious part were to become his unconscious and his
unconscious part - his conscious? What if all his conscious memories,
drives, fears, wishes, fantasies, and hopes - were to become
unconscious while his repressed memories, drives, etc. - were to
become conscious? Would we still say that it is "the same" Dan and
that he retains his self-identity? Not very likely. And yet, one's
(unremembered) unconscious - for instance, the conflict between id and
ego - determines one's personality and self-identity.

The main contribution of psychoanalysis and later psychodynamic
schools is the understanding that self-identity is a dynamic,
evolving, ever-changing construct - and not a static, inertial, and
passive entity. It casts doubt over the meaningfulness of the question
with which we ended the exposition: "Who, exactly, then, is Dan?" Dan
is different at different stages of his life (Erikson) and he
constantly evolves in accordance with his innate nature (Jung), past
history (Adler), drives (Freud), cultural milieu (Horney), upbringing
(Klein, Winnicott), needs (Murray), or the interplay with his genetic
makeup. Dan is not a thing - he is a process. Even Dan's personality
traits and cognitive style, which may well be stable, are often
influenced by Dan's social setting and by his social interactions.

It would seem that having a memory is a necessary but insufficient
condition for possessing a self-identity. One cannot remember one's
unconscious states (though one can remember their outcomes). One often
forgets events, names, and other information even if it was conscious
at a given time in one's past. Yet, one's (unremembered) unconscious
is an integral and important part of one's identity and one's self.
The remembered as well as the unremembered constitute one's

IV. The Memory Link

Hume said that to be considered in possession of a mind, a creature
needs to have a few states of consciousness linked by memory in a kind
of narrative or personal mythology. Can this conjecture be equally
applied to unconscious mental states (e.g. subliminal perceptions,
beliefs, drives, emotions, desires, etc.)?

In other words, can we rephrase Hume and say that to be considered in
possession of a mind, a creature needs to have a few states of
consciousness and a few states of the unconscious - all linked by
memory into a personal narrative? Isn't it a contradiction in terms to
remember the unconscious?

The unconscious and the subliminal are instance of the general
category of mental phenomena which are not states of consciousness
(i.e., are not conscious). Sleep and hypnosis are two others. But so
are "background mental phenomena" - e.g., one holds onto one's beliefs
and knowledge even when one is not aware (conscious) of them at every
given moment.

We know that an apple will fall towards the earth, we know how to
drive a car ("automatically"), and we believe that the sun will rise
tomorrow, even though we do not spend every second of our waking life
consciously thinking about falling apples, driving cars, or the
position of the sun.

Yet, the fact that knowledge and beliefs and other background mental
phenomena are not constantly conscious - does not mean that they
cannot be remembered. They can be remembered either by an act of will,
or in (sometimes an involuntary) response to changes in the
environment. The same applies to all other unconscious content.
Unconscious content can be recalled. Psychoanalysis, for instance, is
about re-introducing repressed unconscious content to the patient's
conscious memory and thus making it "remembered".

In fact, one's self-identity may be such a background mental
phenomenon (always there, not always conscious, not always
remembered). The acts of will which bring it to the surface are what
we call "memory" and "introspection".

This would seem to imply that having a self-identity is independent of
having a memory (or the ability to introspect). Memory is just the
mechanism by which one becomes aware of one's background, "always-on",
and omnipresent (all-pervasive) self-identity. Self-identity is the
object and predicate of memory and introspection. It is as though
self-identity were an emergent extensive parameter of the complex
human system - measurable by the dual techniques of memory and

We, therefore, have to modify our previous conclusions:

Having a memory is not a necessary nor a sufficient condition for
possessing a self-identity.

We are back to square one. The poor souls in Oliver Sacks' tome, "The
Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat" are unable to create and retain
memories. They occupy an eternal present, with no past. They are thus
unable to access (or invoke) their self-identity by remembering it.
Their self-identity is unavailable to them (though it is available to
those who observe them over many years) - but it exists for sure.
Therapy often succeeds in restoring pre-amnesiac memories and

V. The Incorrigible Self

Self-identity is not only always-on and all-pervasive - but also
incorrigible. In other words, no one - neither an observer,  nor the
person himself - can "disprove" the existence of his self-identity. No
one can prove that a report about the existence of his (or another's)
self-identity is mistaken.

Is it equally safe to say that no one - neither an observer, nor the
person himself - can prove (or disprove) the non-existence of his
self-identity? Would it be correct to say that no one can prove that a
report about the non-existence of his (or another's) self-identity is
true or false?

Dan's criminal responsibility crucially depends on the answers to
these questions. Dan cannot be held responsible for Jack's murder if
he can prove that he is ignorant of the facts of his action (i.e., if
he can prove the non-existence of his self-identity). If he has no
access to his (former) self-identity - he can hardly be expected to be
aware and cognizant of these facts.

What is in question is not Dan's mens rea, nor the application of the
McNaghten tests (did Dan know the nature and quality of his act or
could he  tell right from wrong) to determine whether Dan was insane
when he committed the crime. A much broader issue is at stake: is it
the same person? Is the murderous Dan the same person as the current
Dan? Even though Dan seems to own the same body and brain and is
manifestly sane - he patently has no access to his (former)
self-identity. He has changed so drastically that it is arguable
whether he is still the same person - he has been "replaced".

Finally, we can try to unite all the strands of our discourse into
this double definition:

It would seem that we accept that someone has a self-identity if: (a)
He has the same hardware as we do (notably, a brain) and, by
implication, the same software as we do (an all-pervasive, omnipresent
self-identity) and (b) He communicates his humanly recognizable and
comprehensible inner world to us and manipulates his environment. We
accept that he has a specific (i.e., the same continuous)
self-identity if (c) He shows consistent intentional (i.e., willed)
patterns ("memory") in doing (b) for a long period of time.

It seems that we accept that we have a specific self-identity (i.e.,
we are self-conscious of a specific identity) if (a) We discern
(usually through memory and introspection) long term consistent
intentional (i.e., willed) patterns ("memory") in our manipulation
("relating to") of our environment and (b) Others accept that we have
a specific self-identity.

In conclusion: Dan undoubtedly has a self-identity (being human and,
thus, endowed with a brain). Equally undoubtedly, this self-identity
is not Dan's (but a new, unfamiliar, one).

Such is the stuff of our nightmares - body snatching, demonic
possession, waking up in a strange place, not knowing who we are.
Without a continuous personal history - we are not. It is what binds
our various bodies, states of mind, memories, skills, emotions, and
cognitions - into a coherent bundle of identity. Dan speaks, drinks,
dances, talks, and makes love - but throughout that time, he is not
present because he does not remember Dan and how it is to be Dan. He
may have murdered Jake - but, by all philosophical and ethical
criteria, it was most definitely not his fault.

                   Titanic, or a Moral Deliberation

                            By: Sam Vaknin

The film "Titanic" is riddled with moral dilemmas. In one of the
scenes, the owner of Star Line, the shipping company that owned the
now-sinking Unsinkable, joins a lowered life-boat. The tortured
expression on his face demonstrates that even he experiences more than
unease at his own conduct. Prior to the disaster, he instructs the
captain to adopt a policy dangerous to the ship. Indeed, it proves
fatal. A complicating factor was the fact that only women and children
were allowed by the officers in charge into the lifeboats. Another was
the discrimination against Third Class passengers. The boats sufficed
only to half the number of those on board and the First Class, High
Society passengers were preferred over the Low-Life immigrants under

Why do we all feel that the owner should have stayed on and faced his
inevitable death? Because we judge him responsible for the demise of
the ship. Additionally, his wrong instructions - motivated by greed
and the pursuit of celebrity - were a crucial contributing factor. The
owner should have been punished (in his future) for things that he has
done (in his past). This is intuitively appealing.

Would we have rendered the same judgement had the Titanic's fate been
the outcome of accident and accident alone? If the owner of the ship
could have had no control over the circumstances of its horrible
ending - would we have still condemned him for saving his life? Less
severely, perhaps. So, the fact that a moral entity has ACTED (or
omitted, or refrained from acting) in its past is essential in
dispensing with future rewards or punishments.

The "product liability" approach also fits here. The owner (and his
"long arms": manufacturer, engineers, builders, etc.) of the Titanic
were deemed responsible because they implicitly contracted with their
passengers. They made a representation (which was explicit in their
case but is implicit in most others): "This ship was constructed with
knowledge and forethought. The best design was employed to avoid
danger. The best materials to increase pleasure." That the Titanic
sank was an irreversible breach of this contract. In a way, it was an
act of abrogation of duties and obligations. The owner/manufacturer of
a product must compensate the consumers should his product harm them
in any manner that they were not explicitly, clearly, visibly and
repeatedly warned against. Moreover, he should even make amends if the
product failed to meet the reasonable and justified expectations of
consumers, based on such warrants and representations. The payment
should be either in kind (as in more ancient justice systems) or in
cash (as in modern Western civilization).

The product called "Titanic" took away the lives of its end-users. Our
"gut justice" tells us that the owner should have paid in kind. Faulty
engineering, insufficient number of lifeboats, over-capacity, hubris,
passengers and crew not drilled to face emergencies, extravagant
claims regarding the ship's resilience, contravening the captain's
professional judgement. All these seem to be sufficient grounds to the
death penalty.

And yet, this is not the real question. The serious problem is this :
WHY should anyone pay in his future for his actions in the past?
First, there are some thorny issues to be eliminated. Such as
determinism: if there is no free will, there can be no personal
responsibility. Another is the preservation of personal identity: are
the person who committed the act and the person who is made to pay for
it - one and the same? If the answer is in the affirmative, in which
sense are they the same, the physical, the mental? Is the "overlap"
only limited and probabilistic? Still, we could assume, for this
discussion's sake, that the personal identity is undeniably and
absolutely preserved and that there is free will and, therefore, that
people can predict the outcomes of their actions, to a reasonable
degree of accuracy and that they elect to accept these outcomes prior
to the commission of their acts or to their omission. All this does
not answer the question that opened this paragraph. Even if there were
a contract signed between the acting person and the world, in which
the person willingly, consciously and intelligently (=without
diminished responsibility) accepted the future outcome of his acts,
the questions would remain: WHY should it be so? Why cannot we
conceive of a world in which acts and outcomes are divorced? It is
because we cannot believe in an a-causal world.

Causality is a relationship (mostly between two things, or, rather,
events, the cause and the effect). Something generates or produces
another. Therefore, it is the other's efficient cause and it acts upon
it (=it acts to bring it about) through the mechanism of efficient
causation. A cause can be a direct physical mechanism or an
explanatory feature (historical cause). Of Aristotle's Four Causes
(Formal, Material, Efficient and Final), only the efficient cause
creates something distinguishable from itself. The causal discourse,
therefore, is problematic (how can a cause lead to an effect,
indistinguishable from itself?). Singular Paradigmatic Causal
Statements (Event A caused Event B) differ from General ones (Event A
causes Event B). Both are inadequate in dealing with mundane, routine,
causal statements because they do not reveal an OVERT relation between
the two events discussed. Moreover, in daily usage we treat facts (as
well as events) as causes. Not all the philosophers are in agreement
regarding factual causation. Davidson, for instance, admits that facts
can be RELEVANT to causal explanations but refuses to accept them AS
reasons. Acts may be distinct from facts, philosophically, but not in
day-to-day regular usage. By laymen (the vast majority of humanity,
that is), though, they are perceived to be the same.

Pairs of events that are each other's cause and effect are accorded a
special status. But, that one follows the other (even if invariably)
is insufficient grounds to endow them with this status. This is the
famous "Post hoc, ergo propter hoc" fallacy. Other relations must be
weighed and the possibility of common causation must be seriously
contemplated. Such sequencing is, conceptually, not even necessary:
simultaneous causation and backwards causation are part of modern
physics, for instance.

Time seems to be irrelevant to the status of events, though both time
and causation share an asymmetric structure (A causes B but B does not
cause A). The direction (the asymmetry) of the causal chain is not of
the same type as the direction (asymmetry) of time. The former is
formal, the latter, presumably, physical, or mental. A more serious
problem, to my mind, is the converse: what sets apart causal (cause
and effect) pairs of events from other pairs in which both
member-events are the outcomes of a common cause? Event B can
invariably follow Event A and still not be its effect. Both events
could have been caused by a common cause. A cause either necessitates
the effect, or is a sufficient condition for its occurrence. The
sequence is either inevitable, or possible. The meaninglessness of
this sentence is evident.

Here, philosophers diverge. Some say (following Hume's reasoning and
his constant conjunction relation between events) that a necessary
causal relation exists between events when one is the inevitable
outcome (=follows) the other. Others propound a weaker version: the
necessity of the effect is hypothetical or conditional, given the laws
of nature. Put differently: to say that A necessitates (=causes) B is
no more than to say that it is a result of the laws of nature that
when A happens, so does B. Hempel generalized this approach. He said
that a statement of a fact (whether a private or a general fact) is
explained only if deduced from other statements, at least one of which
is a statement of a general scientific law.

This is the "Covering Law Model" and it implies a symmetry between
explaining and predicting (at least where private facts are
concerned). If an event can be explained, it could have been predicted
and vice versa. Needless to say that Hempel's approach did not get us
nearer to solving the problems of causal priority and of
indeterministic causation.

The Empiricists went a step further. They stipulated that the laws of
nature are contingencies and not necessary truths. Other chains of
events are possible where the laws of nature are different. This is
the same tired regularity theory in a more exotic guise. They are all
descendants of Hume's definition of causality: "An object followed by
another and where all the objects that resemble the first are followed
by objects that resemble the second." Nothing in the world is,
therefore, a causal necessity, events are only constantly conjoined.
Regularities in our experience condition us to form the idea of causal
necessity and to deduce that causes must generate events. Kant called
this latter deduction "A bastard of the imagination, impregnated by
experience" with no legitimate application in the world. It also
constituted a theological impediment. God is considered to be "Causa
Sui", His own cause. But any application of a causal chain or force,
already assumes the existence of a cause. This existence cannot,
therefore, be the outcome of the use made of it. God had to be recast
as the uncaused cause of the existence of all things contingent and
His existence necessitated no cause because He, himself, is necessary.
This is flimsy stuff and it gets even flimsier when the issue of
causal deviance is debated.

A causal deviance is an abnormal, though causal, relation between
events or states of the world. It mainly arises when we introduce
intentional action and perception into the theory of causation. Let us
revert to the much-maligned owner of the sinking Titanic. He intended
to do one thing and another happened. Granted, if he intended to do
something and his intention was the cause of his doing so - then we
could have said that he intentionally committed an act. But what if he
intended to do one thing and out came another? And what if he intended
to do something, mistakenly did something else and, still,
accidentally, achieved what he set out to do? The popular example is
if someone intends to do something and gets so nervous that it happens
even without an act being committed (intends to refuse an invitation
by his boss, gets so nervous that he falls asleep and misses the
party). Are these actions and intentions in their classical senses?
There is room for doubt. Davidson narrows down the demands. To him,
"thinking causes" (causally efficient propositional attitudes) are
nothing but causal relations between events with the right application
of mental predicates which ascribe propositional attitudes supervening
the right application of physical predicates. This approach omits
intention altogether, not to mention the ascription of desire and

But shouldn't have the hapless owner availed his precious place to
women and children? Should not he have obeyed the captain's orders
(=the marine law)? Should we succumb to laws that put our lives at
risk (fight in a war, sink with a ship)? The reason that women and
children are preferred over men is that they represent the future.
They are either capable of bringing life to the world (women) - or of
living longer (children). Societal etiquette reflects the arithmetic
of the species, in this (and in many another) case. But if this were
entirely and exclusively so, then young girls and female infants would
have been preferred over all the other groups of passengers. Old women
would have been left with the men, to die. That the actual (and
declared) selection processes differed from our theoretical exercise
says a lot about the vigorousness and applicability of our theories -
and a lot about the real world out there. The owner's behaviour may
have been deplorable - but it, definitely, was natural. He put his
interests (his survival) above the concerns of his society and his
species. Most of us would have done the same under the same

The owner of the ship - though "Newly Rich" - undoubtedly belonged to
the First Class, Upper Crust, Cream of Society passengers. These were
treated to the lifeboats before the passengers of the lower classes
and decks. Was this a morally right decision? For sure, it was not
politically correct, in today's terms. Class and money distinctions
were formally abolished three decades ago in the enlightened West.
Discrimination between human beings in now allowed only on the basis
of merit (=on the basis of one's natural endowments). Why should we
think one basis for discrimination preferable to another? Can we
eliminate discrimination completely and if it were possible, would it
have been desirable?

The answers, in my view, are that no basis of discrimination can hold
the moral high ground. They are all morally problematic because they
are deterministic and assign independent, objective, exogenous values
to humans. On the other hand, we are not born equal, nor do we proceed
to develop equally, or live under the same circumstances and
conditions. It is impossible to equate the unequal. Discrimination is
not imposed by humans on an otherwise egalitarian world. It is
introduced by the world into human society. And the elimination of
discrimination would constitute a grave error. The inequalities among
humans and the ensuing conflicts are the fuel that feeds the engines
of human development. Hopes, desires, aspirations and inspiration are
all the derivatives of discrimination or of the wish to be favoured,
or preferred over others. Disparities of money create markets, labour,
property, planning, wealth and capital. Mental inequalities lead to
innovation and theory. Knowledge differentials are at the heart of
educational institutions, professionalism, government and so on.
Osmotic and diffusive forces in human society are all the results of
incongruences, disparities, differences, inequalities and the negative
and positive emotions attached to them. The passengers of the first
class were preferred because they paid more for their tickets.
Inevitably, a tacit portion of the price went to amortize the costs of
"class insurance": should anything bad happen to this boat, persons
who paid a superior price will be entitled to receive a superior
treatment. There is nothing morally wrong with this. Some people get
to sit in the front rows of a theatre, or to travel in luxury, or to
receive superior medical treatment (or any medical treatment)
precisely because of this reason. There is no practical or
philosophical difference between an expensive liver transplant and a
place in a life boat. Both are lifesavers.

A natural disaster is no Great Equalizer. Nothing is. Even the
argument that money is "external" or "accidental" to the rich
individual is weak. Often, people who marry for money considerations
are judged to be insincere or worse (cunning, conspiring, evil). "He
married her for her money", we say, as though the she-owner and the
money were two separate things. The equivalent sentence: "He married
her for her youth or for her beauty" sounds flawed. But youth and
beauty are more temporary and transient than money. They are really
accidental because the individual has no responsibility for or share
in their generation and has no possibility to effect their long-term
preservation. Money, on the other hand, is generated or preserved (or
both) owing to the personality of its owner. It is a better reflection
of personality than youth, beauty and many other (transient or
situation-dependent) "character" traits. Money is an integral part of
its owner and a reliable witness as to his mental disposition. It is,
therefore, a valid criterion for discrimination.

The other argument in favour of favouring the first class passengers
is their contribution to society. A rich person contributes more to
his society in the shorter and medium term than a poor person. Vincent
Van Gogh may have been a million times more valuable to humanity, as a
whole, than his brother Theo - in the long run. But in the
intermediate term, Theo made it possible for Vincent and many others
(family, employees, suppliers, their dependants and his country) to
survive by virtue of his wealth. Rich people feed and cloth poor
people directly (employment, donations) and indirectly (taxation). The
opposite, alas, is not the case. Yet, this argument is flawed because
it does not take time into account. We have no way to predict the
future with any certainty.

Each person carries the Marshall's baton in his bag, the painter's
brush, the author's fables. It is the potential that should count. A
selection process, which would have preferred Theo to Vincent would
have been erroneous. In the long run, Vincent proved more beneficial
to human society and in more ways - including financially - then Theo
could have ever been.

                         Being John Malkovich

                          By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

A quintessential loser, an out-of-job puppeteer, is hired by a firm,
whose offices are ensconced in a half floor (literally. The ceiling is
about a metre high, reminiscent of Taniel's hallucinatory Alice in
Wonderland illustrations). By sheer accident, he discovers a tunnel (a
"portal", in Internet-age parlance), which sucks its visitors into the
mind of the celebrated actor, John Malkovich. The movie is a tongue in
cheek discourse of identity, gender and passion in an age of languid
promiscuity. It poses all the right metaphysical riddles and presses
the viewers' intellectual stimulation buttons.

A two line bit of dialogue, though, forms the axis of this
nightmarishly chimerical film. John Malkovich (played by himself),
enraged and bewildered by the unabashed commercial exploitation of the
serendipitous portal to his mind, insists that Craig, the
aforementioned puppet master, cease and desist with his activities.
"It is MY brain" - he screams and, with a typical American finale, "I
will see you in court". Craig responds: "But, it was I who discovered
the portal. It is my livelihood".

This apparently innocuous exchange disguises a few very unsettling
ethical dilemmas.

The basic question is "whose brain is it, anyway"? Does John Malkovich
OWN his brain? Is one's brain - one's PROPERTY? Property is usually
acquired somehow. Is our brain "acquired"?  It is clear that we do not
acquire the hardware (neurones) and software (electrical and chemical
pathways) we are born with. But it is equally clear that we do
"acquire" both brain mass and the contents of our brains (its wiring
or irreversible chemical changes) through learning and experience.
Does this process of acquisition endow us with property rights?

It would seem that property rights pertaining to human bodies are
fairly restricted. We have no right to sell our kidneys, for instance.
Or to destroy our body through the use of drugs. Or to commit an
abortion at will. Yet, the law does recognize and strives to enforce
copyrights, patents and other forms of intellectual property rights.

This dichotomy is curious. For what is intellectual property but a
mere record of the brain's activities? A book, a painting, an
invention are the documentation and representation of brain waves.
They are mere shadows, symbols of the real presence - our mind. How
can we reconcile this contradiction? We are deemed by the law to be
capable of holding full and unmitigated rights to the PRODUCTS of our
brain activity, to the recording and documentation of our brain waves.
But we hold only partial rights to the brain itself, their originator.

This can be somewhat understood if we were to consider this article,
for instance. It is composed on a word processor. I do not own full
rights to the word processing software (merely a licence), nor is the
laptop I use my property - but I posses and can exercise and enforce
full rights regarding this article.

Admittedly, it is a partial parallel, at best: the computer and word
processing software are passive elements. It is my brain that does the
authoring. And so, the mystery remains: how can I own the article -
but not my brain? Why do I have the right to ruin the article at will
- but not to annihilate my brain at whim?

Another angle of philosophical attack is to say that we rarely hold
rights to nature or to life. We can copyright a photograph we take of
a forest - but not the forest. To reduce it to the absurd: we can own
a sunset captured on film - but never the phenomenon thus documented.
The brain is natural and life's pivot - could this be why we cannot
fully own it?

Wrong premises inevitably lead to wrong conclusions. We often own
natural objects and manifestations, including those related to human
life directly. We even issue patents for sequences of human DNA. And
people do own forests and rivers and the specific views of sunsets.

Some scholars raise the issues of exclusivity and scarcity as the
precursors of property rights. My brain can be accessed only by myself
and its is one of a kind (sui generis). True but not relevant. One
cannot rigorously derive from these properties of our brain a right to
deny others access to them (should this become technologically
feasible) - or even to set a price on such granted access. In other
words, exclusivity and scarcity do not constitute property rights or
even lead to their establishment. Other rights may be at play (the
right to privacy, for instance) - but not the right to own property
and to derive economic benefits from such ownership.

On the contrary, it is surprisingly easy to think of numerous
exceptions to a purported natural right of single access to one's
brain. If one memorized the formula to cure AIDS or cancer and refused
to divulge it for a reasonable compensation - surely, we should feel
entitled to invade his brain and extract it? Once such technology is
available - shouldn't authorized bodies of inspection have access to
the brains of our leaders on a periodic basis? And shouldn't we all
gain visitation rights to the minds of great men and women of science,
art and culture - as we do today gain access to their homes and to the
products of their brains?

There is one hidden assumption, though, in both the movie and this
article. It is that mind and brain are one. The portal leads to John
Malkovich's MIND - yet, he keeps talking about his BRAIN and writhing
physically on the screen. The portal is useless without JM's mind.
Indeed, one can wonder whether JM's mind is not an INTEGRAL part of
the portal - structurally and functionally inseparable from it. If so,
does not the discoverer of the portal hold equal rights to John
Malkovich's mind, an integral part thereof?

The portal leads to JM's mind. Can we prove that it leads to his
brain? Is this identity automatic? Of course not. It is the old
psychophysical question, at the heart of dualism - still far from
resolved. Can a MIND be copyrighted or patented? If no one knows WHAT
is the mind - how can it be the subject of laws and rights? If JM is
bothered by the portal voyagers, the intruders - he surely has legal
recourse, but not through the application of the rights to own
property and to benefit from it. These rights provide him with no
remedy because their subject (the mind) is a mystery.

Can JM sue Craig and his clientele for unauthorized visits to his mind
(trespassing) - IF he is unaware of their comings and goings and
unperturbed by them? Moreover, can he prove that the portal leads to
HIS mind, that it is HIS mind that is being visited? Is there a way to
PROVE that one has visited another's mind? (See: "On Empathy").

And if property rights to one's brain and mind were firmly established
- how will telepathy (if ever proven) be treated legally? Or mind
reading? The recording of dreams? Will a distinction be made between a
mere visit - and the exercise of influence on the host and his / her
manipulation (similar questions arise in time travel)?

This, precisely, is where the film crosses the line between the
intriguing and the macabre. The master puppeteer, unable to resist his
urges, manipulates John Malkovich and finally possesses him
completely. This is so clearly wrong, so manifestly forbidden, so
patently immoral, that the film loses its urgent ambivalence, its
surrealistic moral landscape and deteriorates into another banal
comedy of situations.

             Dreamcatcher - The Myth of Destructibility

                          By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

                      Read these essays first:

                        The Habitual Identity

                    Death, Meaning, and Identity

                         Being John Malkovich

                         "Shattered" Identity

                      More Film REVIEWS - HERE!

 In the movie "Dreamcatcher", four childhood friends, exposed to an
alien, disguised as a retarded child, develop psychic powers. Years
later they reunite only to confront a vicious extraterrestrial
life-form. Only two survive but they succeed to eradicate the monster
by incinerating it and crushing its tiny off-spring underfoot.

Being mortal ourselves, we cannot conceive of an indestructible
entity. The artifacts of popular culture - thrillers, action and
sci-fi films, video games, computer viruses - assume that all
organisms, organizations and automata possess fatal vulnerabilities.
Medicine and warfare are predicated on a similar contention.

We react with shock and horror when we are faced with "resistant
stains" of bacteria or with creatures, machines, or groups able to
survive and thrive in extremely hostile environments.

Destruction is multi-faceted. Even the simplest system has a structure
and performs functions. If the spatial continuity or arrangement of an
entity's structure is severed or substantially transformed - its
functions are usually adversely affected. Direct interference with a
system's functionality is equally deleterious.

We can render a system dysfunctional by inhibiting or reversing any
stage in the complex processes involved - or by preventing the
entity's communication with its environs. Another method of
annihilation involves the alteration of the entity's context - its
surroundings, its codes and signals, its interactive patterns, its
potential partners, friends and foes.

Finding the lethal weaknesses of an organism, an apparatus, or a
society is described as a process of trial and error. But the outcome
is guaranteed: mortal susceptibility is assumed to be a universal
trait. No one and nothing is perfectly immune, utterly invulnerable,
or beyond extermination.

Yet, what is poison to one species is nectar to another. Water can be
either toxic or indispensable, depending on the animal, the automaton,
or the system. Scorching temperatures, sulfur emissions, ammonia or
absolute lack of oxygen are, to some organisms, the characteristics of
inviting habitats. To others, the very same are deadly.

Can we conceive of an indestructible thing - be it unicellular or
multicellular, alive or robotic, composed of independent individuals
or acting in perfect, centrally-dictated unison? Can anything be, in
principle, eternal?

This question is not as outlandish as it sounds. By fighting disease
and trying to postpone death, for instance, we aspire to immortality
and imperishability. Some of us believe in God - an entity securely
beyond ruin. Intuitively, we consider the Universe - if not time and
space - to be everlasting, though constantly metamorphosing.

What is common to these examples of infinite resilience is their
unbounded and unparalleled size and might. Lesser objects are born or
created. Since there has been a time, prior to their genesis, in which
they did not exist - it is easy to imagine a future without them.

Even where the distinction between individual and collective is
spurious their end is plausible. True, though we can obliterate
numerous "individual" bacteria - others, genetically identical, will
always survive our onslaught. Yet, should the entire Earth vanish - so
would these organisms. The extinction of all bacteria, though
predicated on an unlikely event, is still thinkable.

But what about an entity that is "pure energy", a matrix of fields, a
thought, immaterial yet very real, omnipresent and present nowhere?
Such a being comes perilously close to the divine. For if it is
confined to  certain space - however immense - it is perishable
together with that space. If it is not - then it is God, as perceived
by its believers.

But what constitutes "destruction" or "annihilation"? We are familiar
with death - widely considered the most common form of inexistence.
But some people believe that death is merely a transformation from one
state of being to another. Sometimes all the constituents of a system
remain intact but cease to interact. Does this amount to obliteration?
And what about a machine that stops interacting with its environment
altogether - though its internal processes continue unabated. Is it
still "functioning"?

It is near impossible to say when a "live" or "functioning" entity
ceases to be so. Death is the form of destruction we are most
acquainted with. For a discussion of death and the human condition -
read this Death, Meaning, and Identity

                          T H E A U T H O R


Curriculum Vitae

Click on blue text to access relevant web sites - thank you.

Born in 1961 in Qiryat-Yam, Israel.

Served in the Israeli Defence Force (1979-1982) in training and
education units.


Graduated a few semesters in the Technion - Israel Institute of
Technology, Haifa.

Ph.D. in Philosophy (major : Philosophy of Physics) - Pacific Western
University, California.

Graduate of numerous courses in Finance Theory and International

Certified E-Commerce Concepts Analyst.

Certified in Psychological Counselling Techniques.

Full proficiency in Hebrew and in English.

Business Experience

1980 to 1983

Founder and co-owner of a chain of computerized information kiosks in
Tel-Aviv, Israel.

1982 to 1985

Senior positions with the Nessim D. Gaon Group of Companies in Geneva,
Paris and New-York (NOGA and APROFIM SA):

- Chief Analyst of Edible Commodities in the Group's Headquarters in
- Manager of the Research and Analysis Division
- Manager of the Data Processing Division
- Project Manager of The Nigerian Computerized Census
- Vice President in charge of RND and Advanced Technologies
- Vice President in charge of Sovereign Debt Financing

1985 to 1986

Represented Canadian Venture Capital Funds in Israel.

1986 to 1987

General Manager of IPE Ltd. in London. The firm financed international
multi-lateral countertrade and leasing transactions.

1988 to 1990

Co-founder and Director of "Mikbats - Tesuah", a portfolio management
firm based in Tel-Aviv.
Activities included large-scale portfolio management, underwriting,
forex trading and general financial advisory services.

1990 to Present

Free-lance consultant to many of Israel's Blue-Chip firms, mainly on
issues related to the capital markets in Israel, Canada, the UK and
the USA.

Consultant to foreign RND ventures and to Governments on
macro-economic matters.

President of the Israel chapter of the Professors World Peace Academy
(PWPA) and (briefly) Israel representative of the "Washington Times".

1993 to 1994

Co-owner and Director of many business enterprises:

- The Omega and Energy Air-Conditioning Concern
- AVP Financial Consultants
- Handiman Legal Services
   Total annual turnover of the group: 10 million USD.

Co-owner, Director and Finance Manager of COSTI Ltd. -  Israel's
largest computerized information vendor and developer. Raised funds
through a series of private placements locally, in the USA, Canada and

1993 to 1996

Publisher and Editor of a Capital Markets Newsletter distributed by
subscription only to dozens of subscribers countrywide.

In a legal precedent in 1995 - studied in business schools and law
faculties across Israel - was tried for his role in an attempted
takeover of Israel's Agriculture Bank.

Was interned in the State School of Prison Wardens.

Managed the Central School Library, wrote, published and lectured on
various occasions.

Managed the Internet and International News Department of an Israeli
mass media group, "Ha-Tikshoret and Namer".

Assistant in the Law Faculty in Tel-Aviv University (to Prof. S.G.

1996 to 1999

Financial consultant to leading businesses in Macedonia, Russia and
the Czech Republic.

Collaborated with the Agency of  Transformation of Business with
Social Capital.

Economic commentator in "Nova Makedonija", "Dnevnik", "Izvestia",
"Argumenti i Fakti", "The Middle East Times", "Makedonija Denes", "The
New Presence", "Central Europe Review" , and other periodicals and in
the economic programs on various channels of Macedonian Television.

Chief Lecturer in courses organized by the Agency of Transformation,
by the Macedonian Stock Exchange and by the Ministry of Trade.

1999 to 2002

Economic Advisor to the Government of the Republic of Macedonia and to
the Ministry of Finance.

2001 to present

Senior Business Correspondent for United Press International (UPI)

Web and Journalistic Activities

Author of extensive Websites in Psychology ("Malignant Self Love") -
An Open Directory Cool Site

Philosophy ("Philosophical Musings")

Economics and Geopolitics ("World in Conflict and Transition")

Owner of the Narcissistic Abuse Announcement and Study List and the
Narcissism Revisited mailing list (more than 3900 members)

Owner of the Economies in Conflict and Transition Study list.

Editor of mental health disorders and Central and Eastern Europe
categories in web directories (Open Directory, Suite 101, Search

Columnist and commentator in "The New Presence", United Press
International (UPI), InternetContent, eBookWeb and "Central Europe

Publications and Awards

"Managing Investment Portfolios in states of Uncertainty", Limon
Publishers, Tel-Aviv, 1988

"The Gambling Industry", Limon Publishers., Tel-Aviv, 1990

"Requesting my Loved One - Short Stories", Yedioth Aharonot, Tel-Aviv,

"The Macedonian Economy at a Crossroads - On the way to a Healthier
Economy" (with Nikola Gruevski), Skopje, 1998

"Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited", Narcissus Publications,
Prague and Skopje, 1999, 2001, 2002

The Narcissism Series - e-books regarding relationships with abusive
narcissists (Skopje, 1999-2002)

"The Exporters' Pocketbook", Ministry of Trade, Republic of Macedonia,
Skopje, 1999

"The Suffering of Being Kafka" (electronic book of Hebrew Short
Fiction, Prague, 1998)

"After the Rain - How the West Lost the East", Narcissus Publications
in association with Central Europe Review/CEENMI, Prague and Skopje,

Winner of numerous awards, among them the Israeli Education Ministry
Prize (Literature) 1997, The Rotary Club Award for Social Studies
(1976) and the Bilateral Relations Studies Award of the American
Embassy in Israel (1978).

Hundreds of professional articles in all fields of finances and the
economy and numerous articles dealing with geopolitical and political
economic issues published in both print and web periodicals in many

Many appearances in the electronic media on subjects in philosophy and
the Sciences and concerning economic matters.

Contact Details:



My Web Sites:

Economy / Politics:









                            After the Rain

                             How the West

                            Lost the East

                               The Book

  This is a series of articles written and published in 1996-2000 in
      Macedonia, in Russia, in Egypt and in the Czech Republic.

     How the West lost the East. The economics, the politics, the
 geopolitics, the conspiracies, the corruption, the old and the new,
    the plough and the internet - it is all here, in colourful and
                          provocative prose.

                     From "The Mind of Darkness":

  "'The Balkans' - I say - 'is the unconscious of the world'. People
stop to digest this metaphor and then they nod enthusiastically. It is
here that the repressed memories of history, its traumas and fears and
 images reside. It is here that the psychodynamics of humanity - the
      tectonic clash between Rome and Byzantium, West and East,
  Judeo-Christianity and Islam - is still easily discernible. We are
  seated at a New Year's dining table, loaded with a roasted pig and
    exotic salads. I, the Jew, only half foreign to this cradle of
Slavonics. Four Serbs, five Macedonians. It is in the Balkans that all
      ethnic distinctions fail and it is here that they prevail
anachronistically and atavistically. Contradiction and change the only
   two fixtures of this tormented region. The women of the Balkan -
 buried under provocative mask-like make up, retro hairstyles and too
 narrow dresses. The men, clad in sepia colours, old fashioned suits
  and turn of the century moustaches. In the background there is the
   crying game that is Balkanian music: liturgy and folk and elegy
combined. The smells are heavy with muskular perfumes. It is like time
           travel. It is like revisiting one's childhood."

                              The Author

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited
and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for
Central Europe Review and eBookWeb , a United Press International
(UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health
and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.

Until recently, he served as the Economic Advisor to the Government of

Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com

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