The Final Moments of Karl Brant

Here’s something quite possibly unique, a good bit of sci-fi starring Paul Reubens (yes, Pee Wee Herman), raising questions about personal identity — usual are we mind or body stuff, but done well.  Might be of use to those teaching the subject, and amusing for the rest of us too.


  1. Dennis Sceviour

    It was done before in Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey(1968)”. Dave turned off the HAL 9000 series computer because it had become self-aware.

  2. Dennis Sceviour,

    Well, Hal did kill the rest of the crew and then tried to kill Dave. A good lawyer could have gotten him off-insanity defense. 🙂

  3. Dennis Sceviour,

    “It was done before in Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey(1968)”. Dave turned off the HAL 9000 series computer because it had become self-aware.”

    It’s not that HAL has become self-aware. It’s that he seems to be malfunctioning. But you’re not completely sure of what’s happening.

    The book is more descriptive of Dave’s thoughts as he’s deactivating HAL.

    And this sequence also partially answers a question from Mike’s earlier post on why robots are killed in sci-fi comic books and human villains are not. The other part of the answer is in Dave Grossman’s On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society.

    Grossman. Up to relatively recently, as little as only 2% of combat soldiers would kill in battle. Because there is a strong human reflex against killing other humans. Most human violence of the past was like in the animal kingdom; relatively harmless posturing. For 98% of people killing another human is impossibly traumatic, even a bad guy, or another person trying to kill them. In modern warfare we have overcome our natural reflex against killing – but in comic books, where the reader has a vicarious experience (where they live through the hero) bayoneting a bad guy, would induce trauma in the reader. The hero wouldn’t be as heroic anymore. But killing non-humans, or better, machines that are crucially inhuman in many ways, is fine. Fun killing. Paradoxically, killing is both pleasurable and traumatic. Comic book violence offers all the pleasure without the trauma.

    In 2001, as Dave is deactivating HAL, the process is made traumatic for Dave (as well as for the viewer/reader) by humanizing HAL. At one point HAL surprisingly asks “Will I dream?”. This makes Dave pause. But in the book the thought crosses Dave’s mind that this is some security/defense program in HAL’s system – to invoke Dave’s reflex against killing – To make Dave think HAL is not just a machine. Then HAL sings daisy and we all cry, as he dies. It’s like watching a child die. But you’re never made absolutely sure if HAL is or isn’t just a machine. There is some major extraterrestrial force outside of the ship, which you’re never really sure what that is either.

    A superhero can kill a robot in a sci-fi comic as long as the robot doesn’t ask if it will dream ,just as the superhero is about to deliver the fatal blow – and doesn’t sing Daisy in a voice the becomes increasingly wobbly and slowed down as it dies.

    I’m not sure if our emotional response to a machine makes it more or less a being. If you toaster could talk, and through trickery, it’s voice sounded emotional – plaintive even, would you treat it differently – would you think it was alive?

    We don’t know if HAL’s “self awareness” is just trickery.

  4. Dennis Sceviour

    That is an interesting point whether the book or the film screenplay should be the reference. A philosophy professor once suggested that the book should be the main reference. However, this could be an appeal to tradition. A film can be much simpler to understand than the book. Directors and actors can add their own nuances to create a vivid interpretation of a point. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with citing screenplays as a reference, providing a source is mentioned to clarify which one is being used.

    In the specific comment on “2001: A Space Odyssey”, I was a little pretentious in suggesting the cause of the deactivation. After all, it is science fiction, and there is supposed to be some open interpretation on the part of the views imagination. There is a plethora of explanations including the sequel film “2010: The Year We Make Contact”, but the original can stand by itself.

  5. Dennis Sceviour

    One more technical point. Dave and Frank had already discussed turning off HAL before the murders, which HAL has discovered. HAL’s response could be like an elaborate firewall, and not insanity. 🙂

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