Rather than giving definite answers, Guilty Robots, Happy Dogs raises a number of thought-provoking questions. For example, does a dog experience pain if someone gently squeezes its injured paw? Most people would probably answer “yes,” McFarland says. But what about the rooster that lived on for another 18 months after a Colorado farmer decapitated it? Fed with an eyedropper directly into its throat, the bird gained five and a half pounds, walked around and even attempted to crow. Would that animal experience pain?
After examining the question of alien minds from all angles, McFarland surmises that most of the attributes suggesting mental processes in animals can be achieved without thought: “Probably all the phenomena that have been cited as evidence that animals have some kind of mentality have also been demonstrated in robots.” He ultimately leaves the reader with only one conclusion: we will never really know if robots can feel guilty or if dogs can be happy.
Quid Pro Quo
HDNet Films, 2008
In a dark New York City basement, reporter Isaac Knott finds a group of people sitting in wheelchairs, talking in hushed voices. A woman moves her legs. To his surprise, Isaac realizes he has interrupted a support group for able-bodied people who want to be like he is: paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.
These are characters in the feature film Quid Pro Quo, and they have variants of body integrity identity disorder (BIID), a rare psychiatric illness that causes people to feel alienated from their own body parts [see “Amputee Envy,” by Sabine Mueller; Scientific American Mind, December 2007/January 2008]. Members of the fictional support group go by the real-life slang for their particular desire: a “pretender” wears a nonworking breathing tube, and “wannabes” strive to become disabled by ingesting a paralyzing chemical or by bribing doctors to sever their limbs.
Isaac quickly falls for Fiona, a beautiful woman attached to her unnecessary antique Milwaukee back brace. Filmmaker Carlos Brooks takes creative liberties to explain Fiona’s behavior, melding various explanations for BIID. Unfortunately, he misses the mark by focusing on the more bizarre and titillating elements of the disease, ignoring the latest neurological findings that brain damage may be the root of some cases. The movie and its treatment of BIID veer off course when both Isaac’s and Fiona’s symptoms fluctuate wildly and unbelievably. Though surreal, the film deserves credit for daring to raise the question, Why would someone who isn’t paralyzed want to be?