Archive for October 14th, 2011

Thinking way too hard about Mr. Potato Head

I’ve been thinking about the consciousness of Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story films.

His limbs are capable of independent action when detached, and Mrs. Potato Head can see through a detached eye. One can imagine that if Mr. Potato Head were dropped and every single piece fell off except for one arm, he would reassemble himself. What if all the pieces fell out? I believe that his detached lips would call for help. This gedankenexperiment implies that Mr. Potato Head’s consciousness is housed in his plastic body but somehow extends to his pieces wherever they may be.

Yet he can replace one set of eyes with another (e.g. “angry eyes”), and the new eyes can be seen through once plugged in. How does this work? Is it the plugging in that activates the new eyes and deactivates the old, and they remain active (even if detached) until a new set of eyes is plugged in? Or does he continue to see through all his eyes whether attached or detached (as a potato, he should be comfortable with any number of eyes)? If so, what defines which eyes are “his”? Could he see through one of Mrs. Potato Head’s eyes if plugged into his head?

And then there’s the scene in which he replaces his body with a tortilla. So somehow his consciousness can inhabit other, non-Mr.-Potato-Head objects if his pieces are plugged into it. What happens to his plastic potato body while the tortilla with his eyes, arms, and legs is walking around? If the plastic potato were smashed, would Mr. Tortilla Head die? What would happen if you put one eye, one ear, one arm, and one leg into, say, a zucchini? Would both Mr. Potato Head and Mr. Zucchini Head be capable of (limited) perception and action? Would they share a consciousness, or would they become two separate beings?

If any random object can become Mr. Potato Head’s body, what about his other pieces? Could he see through a plain wooden peg if it were plugged into his eye hole? If so… we’ve seen that he can still use his pieces properly if they are plugged into the wrong holes. Could he still see through a wooden peg if it were plugged into his arm hole? What, then, makes it an “eye”? Consider an ambiguous peg with a vaguely ear-like shape and an eye spot. Could he see through it? Hear with it? Would it depend on where it was plugged in? What if it were plugged into an arm hole? Does its shape matter? For that matter, could he see through one of his own feet if it were plugged into an eye hole? Or any hole? Does the effect depend on the intent of the child who plugged it in, if any? (No, let’s not go there. The epistemological relationship between toys and humans in the Toy Story universe is a whole separate essay. Or book.)

If Mr. Potato Head can see through his eyes wherever they are, and if any random object can become part of Mr. Potato Head, that implies that Mr. Potato Head’s consciousness could theoretically extend to any object.

What would happen if you plugged an eye, or a shoe, into the Earth? What are the odds that this has already happened?

Is Mr. Potato Head God?