In several sci-fi works that deal with transferring consciousness, the consciousness is always transferred and treated like a unique commodity. Dollhouse is probably a good example of this where it seemed to be the case that a consciousness was stored on a hard drive and the person was then a doll, unless given a new consciousness.

Why would a person's consciousness be transferred, as opposed to being copied? If the technology works by scanning the brain, why would it render the original host without their consciousness?

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    Good question. Just like somehow the Star Trek transporters "transfer" the object or the person rather than making a copy.
    – Dima
    Commented Apr 20, 2012 at 18:40
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    There are plenty of works in which is is possible to copy conscienceness and run duplicates. In some of those doing so is illegal or otherwise discourages, in other it is not. So the really answer is (as in most of these "why [some limit] in [some work]" questions) narrative convenience. The author wanted it that way, so it is that way. Commented Apr 20, 2012 at 19:42
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    Dollhouse isn't a good example, Clive Ambrose's mind is in 11 dolls as well as his original body in a flashback in Epitaph One, and there's two bodies with Caroline's mind in Epitaph Two (which was also implied in Epitaph One).
    – Izkata
    Commented Apr 20, 2012 at 23:42
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    Even more blatantly, in Dollhouse S02E06, The Left Hand, Victor is imprinted with Topher's personality, and the two of them interact. In Dollhouse, consciousness copy does not require removal from the original - that's just what was done to the Actives, which is who we saw most of.
    – Standback
    Commented Apr 22, 2012 at 6:51
  • OP: I'm not certain if you're asking about Dollhouse tech in particular, or about the consciousness-transfer trope in general. If Dollhouse-specific, I think your premise is in error. If general, perhaps edit since there's so much variety in the field, as @dmckee said above. See also the use of this trope, documented at wikipedia and/or TVTropes.
    – Standback
    Commented Apr 22, 2012 at 7:01

2 Answers 2


If I remember correctly Dollhouse specifically answers this question saying that they can make a copy of the brain without removing the consciousness, specifically the Senator from the Second Season. They decide to remove the consciousness as way to ensure the brain takes the new protocols easily without any contradictory instructions. As when they decide to turn someone into a love slave for their enemy (Sierra's story line from season 2)

As @Brandon Long mentions in the comments the "doll state" is the perfect way to store the bodies as the limited consciousness acts similar to a hypnotic state where suggestion is extremely powerful, such as the reasons they always swim 30 laps, do yoga, or leave when told.

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    And it seemed like the "doll" state was specifically designed to be easy to work with while they're between missions. Commented Apr 20, 2012 at 19:21
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    Topher even mentions that they tried something other than the Tabula Rasa at one point, and it ended very badly.
    – Izkata
    Commented Apr 20, 2012 at 23:39
  • @Izkata: Although that was giving up too soon after gross stupidity; it would probably have gone better if they hadn't tried it on Alpha...
    – Tynam
    Commented Apr 22, 2012 at 9:15
  • This is confirmed in one of the episodes (wikia is unsourced, but I remember the quote). Rossum's MRI machines scan patients and the personality/memory/brain data is collected and stored.
    – phantom42
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 19:27

It's possible that the neural scanning process will need to be destructive in order to work properly. Mapping the neural connections isn't enough; you must also capture enough state that each copied neuron responds as the original neuron does. The task is to get a high resolution, three dimensional snapshot of a highly complex organ that's changing even as you're trying to make the recording. If you take too long to make the recording, brain states at the end of the session will be wildly divergent from the ones recorded at the beginning and the copy will wake up with a scrambled consciousness.

A blackbox approach to copying such as the Moravec Process embraces the inevitable changes in brain state during recording by probing the brain from the outside in, modelling neuronal behavior statistically, learning how each neuron responses to stimuli. When a neuron's behavior has been learned its behavior is imitated by the probe and the neuron is cut away. The probe reaches deeper into the brain and repeats the process. At the end a working copy of the brain exists, being fully imitated by the probe, but the original is utterly destroyed.

If you decide to assay internal neurochemistry without the fancy interactive nanoprobes, then you have to stop the brain from changing while you're recording it, else you're back to having the copy wake up with scrambled brain states. So you stop the brain from changing by killing it quickly, for example by freezing it, then you get out your electron microscopes and microtomes and go to work. You'll need software to correct for damage from swollen and ruptured cells, inevitable stress cracks due to parts freezing at different rates, chemical changes due to freezing, and so on. But you've already perfected the procedure on dogs and great apes beforehand, so the software knows what to do. In the end, you have a working model of the brain inside a computer, but the original brain has been chopped to bits and has no hope of reassembly.

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