Mick Gordon’s 2005 play, On Ego, made in collaboration with Paul Broks, a neuropsychologist, poses philosophical questions about selfhood. It plays with teleportation to create a doubled character, Alex, and asks whether the original or the copy is the more ‘Alex’. Seeing the show now, it is as if it, too, has been teleported and doubled. Are the 2016 Alexes more or less ‘Alex’ than their 2005 counterparts?
The script holds up: whether the physical body is sufficient to create a self or if there has to be a soul as well remains unresolved, as it will for a long time yet. The odd detail sticks out - it's now thought the human brain has 86 billion neurons, not 100 billion - but it doesn't affect the story. And while today you might consider making Alex a geneticist interested in cloning and genome editing, the fact that he is a neurologist keeps him as the intellectual ‘head’ of the drama.
Its emotional heart comes from Alice, who is diagnosed with a brain tumour that takes away her words, her memories and her identity - or identities, because she also has a doubled identity, although of a more mundane origin than Alex’s. Alice is defined through her relationship to Alex, her husband, and to the third character, her father Derek. The two men’s connection - Alex is Derek’s former student but they don't like each other - closes the triangle and Alice accommodates her dual roles as wife and daughter. When Alice suspects that Alex is an imposter, her doctors tell her she has Capgras syndrome, the defining symptom of which is that someone believes people close to them have been replaced. Perhaps, seen from Alice’s perspective, the play could be read as her attempt to make sense of this belief by creating a fantastical narrative about teleportation?
When On Ego is teleported again, it would be interesting to see a change of genders, to explore a different dynamic than two male scientists fighting over a patient female symbol of love and neurodegeneration while they consider important, ‘self-ish’ philosophical questions. (MR)
Mind Over Matter Theatre Collective's On Ego by Mick Gordon is on at 14.00 at ZOO Sanctuary until 20th August. Includes Relaxed Performances - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/on-ego-by-mick-gordon
On On Ego in 2005: https://www.thestage.co.uk/features/2005/big-thinker-mick-gordon-and-on-ego/
On teleportation accidents in popular culture: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TeleporterAccident
On Capgras syndrome and its relationship to neurodegenerative disease: http://archneur.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=794900
On sexism in science fiction: http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2015/08/i-read-100-best-fantasy-and-sci-fi-novels-and-they-were-shockingly-offensive
On the number of human brain cells: https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2012/feb/28/how-many-neurons-human-brain