Joss Whedon has written a new TV series called Dollhouse. A brief summary is below:
Eliza Dushku plays a young woman called Echo, a member of a group of people known as "Actives" or "Dolls". The Dolls have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas, including memory, muscle memory, skills, and language, for different assignments (referred to as engagements). The new persona is... an amalgam of different, existing personalities... The Actives are then hired out for particular jobs – crimes, fantasies, and the occasional good deed... In between tasks, they are mind-wiped into a child-like state... The story follows Echo, who begins, in her mind-wiped state, to become self-aware.The first few episodes created an interesting phenomenon amongst the audience of the show. Online discussion boards were rife with eager fans of Joss Whedon's previous work (e.g. Buffy or Firefly) expressing disappointment about their own emotional detachment from the newest series. The stunts were great, the futuristic science fiction was interesting, but something was missing. What was it?
The audience struggled, because they couldn't connect with an empty vessel as a protagonist. Whilst the idea of an amnesiac is intriguing, we don't care for Echo, because in an important sense, she ceased to exist the moment the Rossum Corporation wiped her mind. What then, does it mean to exist?
Modern philosophers consider a person to exist if they are a temporally extended psychological entity bound in a physical body; e.g., a human with consciousness and connected memories. This notion ensures that zombies are not people, but also entails that there is no immaterial soul that survives after the body ceases to be.
The psychological reality of a normal person includes their sense of self and their ability to connect up with their memories consciously. The psychological model also explains why we think that a person is 'gone' if they're in the advance stages of dementia, in a coma or a vegetative state.
Joss Whedon realizes this of course, which is why Echo's journey is not simply about an amnesiac doll, but about a girl's journey uncovering 'repressed' memories. We're meant to believe that Rossum's procedures were able to suppress Echo's psychological attributes and memories, but not exterminate them altogether. This is obviously conveyed by the name 'Echo' which implies a causal connection between the current form and the solidity of the original person.
Repression is a Freudian notion of cognitive mechanisms that cordon off painful or unwanted memories. Whilst there is no scientific evidence for such mechanisms, memories do become difficult to access for various reasons (e.g. over time or via drugs). Whilst the audience struggled to care about Echo in the beginning of the series, they became engaged as soon as her amnesia was shown to be partial; that is, once they knew she was still a person.
So, whilst Dollhouse is based on an inaccurate repression theory of memory, it recognizes the importance of memory and personal identity to establish a connection with the audience.