I like the story. Like the characters. Really like Carswell Thorne. Most of all, I like the questions I ask in response—one of which relates to Cinder’s character as a cyborg. Though it contributes to who she is, her cyborg identity’s greater relevance is in defining who Cinder is to others. People hold lots of prejudice against cyborgs in her world. Many people believe that cyborgs are less than, and perhaps not even, human. They don’t get the same rights or securities as “normal people.”
Cinder doesn’t like it, but that’s a protagonist’s bias. I’m curious. The way that cyborgs are built, combining humans and computers… in the context of TLC, can we call cyborgs people? Is Cinder a person? What makes her that way?
That is what I will ask. But first, a few points worth making:
People with prosthetics are, of course, people.Were Cinder just a girl with prosthetics, this post would not even exist. Prosthetics do not bear on one’s existence as a person. As current technology allows, most prosthetics exist either for an aesthetic or functional purpose. The aesthetic ones mimic the appearance of able limbs/organs, like fake hands or glass eyes; functional ones help people do things their old limbs/organs used to, like how a prosthetic leg might help an amputee walk.
Though some prosthetics (like for hands) have a mobility to them, it’s because their mechanism is triggered through movement or electrodes. So far, prosthetic technology works without us bonding a computer to someone’s brain and operating them that way.
But that is how cyborgs work.
Computers are not people.As science people explore the wonders of Artificial Intelligence, maybe someday this will change. I don’t think computers have yet gained any sentient consciousnesses yet. Sure, we have Siri and Galaxy, robots and androids that respond to and impersonate people, but they are not people.
And before you say so, the human brain isn’t really a computer:
- you can’t distinguish the hardware and software in your brain
- computers turn off; human’s don’t
- the ways our memory work are so different (short-term, long-term, storage, all the things)
- computers are not electrochemical; we are
- computers are digital; we are analog, like clocks
- computers don’t have bodies; we do, and we use them, and it’s weird
(And if you’d like to know more, I got all that information from right here.)
While a character like Iko, an android, might bring the personhood of computers into question, let’s leave it at this for now: Iko has a subjective experience (there is something that it is like to be Iko) but that doesn’t negate the fact that she’s a computer. She has no illusions about this. She might not be a person. But again, later.
Why is Cinder’s Personhood in Question?We’ve established that humans are people and computers are not. Cinder’s personhood is in question, though, because she is both.
Yes, her body’s mostly intact. Yes, she has a human personality. And from what I can tell, yeah, her consciousness is housed in the organic part of her brain.
But some of Cinder’s brain isn’t organic. To operate her prostheses, Cinder’s brain connects to and functions alongside a computer—a computer she can’t function without. Cinder has a digital brain. Cinder has software in her head, her memory is stored by both parts. Cinder can be turned off.
In other words, yeah, Cinder acts like a human… but she also acts with traits unique to computers. What does that mean? Are cyborgs people turned into computers? Are cyborgs just people with computer access in their bodies? Are they something else?
I don’t know what Marissa Meyer had in mind when she thought of Cinder, and I’m not convinced it applies to all cyborgs… but I think Cinder is a person who can equally identify as human and computer.
Cinder has a digital mind, she can turn off. You can’t ignore her computer self. She couldn’t survive without it. Forget her leg and arm—that computer operates the cybernetic fibers in her heart (which is a pretty important organ, btw). These pieces are parts of Cinder, who she really is, body and mind.
But she’s still human, too. She has emotions. She has an ingenuity and talent that computers haven’t attained, and maybe can’t. She has a consciousness, a perspective we can witness in her narrative—she can share her experience. On top of that, without the body to give them meaning, the computer parts of Cinder would just be machinery. Cinder’s human-ness gives her a real significance we all identify with.
We can’t separate Cinder the computer and Cinder the human, but together, they make one whole person. She’s a character I myself know and love. One side of her can’t be and isn’t more important, nor can we consider her half a person.
Maybe it’s a stupid ending, but I’m gonna say it anyway: Cinder is a person because she is more than the sum of her parts. And there you go.