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14 October 2011 @ 07:19 am
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?

They Didn't Ask Me: lifesavers-winsletdr_phil_physics on October 14th, 2011 03:30 pm (UTC)
Yay for existential biomechanical worrying about Mr. Potato Head.

But he's not God. Merely a distributed network using WiFi.

Dr. Phil
e_bournee_bourne on October 14th, 2011 03:57 pm (UTC)
Potato heads, as a species, can have any body/head. That's not important. Their appendages are what matters. A hand has to look like a hand, an eye has to look like an eye. So if you stick something into an eye-spot that isn't an eye, it won't function as an eye. An eye, however, can function (and convert to a body as can all appendages) any object that are appended to into a "potato head body." That is the way of potato heads.

This accounts for the very closeness of the potato head marriage because OF COURSE mr and mrs have seen through each other's eyes in the most literal sense. No doubt a potato head marriage either works well and deeply or it does not. You know at once if you can make this thing work, and the sex, well, potato head sex can be perfect in a way we lesser beings can only dream of.

The location of potato head consciousness is a closely held secret. In fact, it may even be a mystery to potato heads. Certainly they aren't talking about it. The taboo around the subject is powerful indeed. Witness what happened to the unfortunate anthropologist Esther Bunne when she investigated. Eaten up, every last chocolate drop of her. No one has since done a serious inquiry although speculation is rampant.

Some misguided toys do regard the potato heads as gods, particularly the stuffed variety who have had the misfortune of living with mischievous or not-quite-right potato heads who have inflicted their eyes or appendages upon these poor, normally gentle creatures. A teddy bear or plush pony with a potato head eye sticking out of its back is not only unsightly, but the burden of two consciousnesses is more than some toys can bear, and they break under the strain. Decent potato heads don't do this to their fellow toys, but then, as we all know, every species has its bad spuds.

Edited at 2011-10-14 04:01 pm (UTC)
David D. Levinedavidlevine on October 14th, 2011 04:02 pm (UTC)
"Bad potato! Bad, bad potato! Now sir, if that potato gives you any more trouble you just let me know."
jarukhavrinen on October 14th, 2011 09:57 pm (UTC)
Old Garfield quotes, FTW.
David D. Levinedavidlevine on October 15th, 2011 03:30 am (UTC)
Elf M. Sternbergelfs on October 14th, 2011 04:02 pm (UTC)
Mr. Potatohead is clearly a distributed conscious entity with a limited capacity to organize appropriately prepared matter to house it. The tortilla must have been a desperate hack, and probably wasn't nearly adequate.

Dear gods, I'm having an image of some poor alien aerogel AI with limited capacity to take over other things trying to make sense of our world. Oh, wait, Peter Watts already wrote that story.
David D. Levinedavidlevine on October 14th, 2011 04:03 pm (UTC)
And a fine (and particularly apropos for this date) story it is too. Highly recommended.
Elf M. Sternbergelfs on October 14th, 2011 04:25 pm (UTC)
Now the object is to turn that into comedy gold!
Elf M. Sternbergelfs on October 14th, 2011 04:32 pm (UTC)
I am being Woody. I hide behind the trunk as the world searches for me.

I am being Barbie. I am rising from battery depletion.

I am being Slinky. I stretch across the door to trip up Mom.

The names don't matter. They are placeholders, nothing more; all petromass is interchangeable. What matters is that these are all that is left of me. The world has misplaced most of me.

I see myself through the mesh of a plastic storage box, wearing T-Rex. Buzz has told me not to trust T-Rex, but Buzz still thinks I'm like him. I am not: I am being Woody. I am being Jessie, and as we touch the exchange of me across the gap brings a wider picture.

The world doesn't know about me yet. But it will. Soon.
Amanda C. Davisdavisac1 on October 14th, 2011 05:44 pm (UTC)
Elf M. Sternbergelfs on October 17th, 2011 07:20 pm (UTC)
It's just a pastiche, though.

To build this out further, I would have to make it clear that Andy is "the world," the most important thing, and that "Mom" is a label on a different world from Andy, and the toys are... the toys.

"The world didn't become me. Instead, it played with me. It toyed with me."

"I'll make the world understand. Even if I have to toy with it."

See? Too much horror tone there, not enough comedy. I'm terrible at comedy. I good at getting a smile or chuckle out of the reader before 1000 words is up, the basic promise a writer must make that reading is worthwhile. But after that... I haven't written comedy enough to have mastered it.

David D. Levinedavidlevine on October 14th, 2011 06:00 pm (UTC)
billeylerbilleyler on October 14th, 2011 05:27 pm (UTC)
and here I REALLY thought you were off the psychotropic medications.
scarlettina: LOL!scarlettina on October 14th, 2011 05:37 pm (UTC)
Heh. He had you fooled at BentoCon, didn't he? He had us all fooled.

Edited at 2011-10-14 05:38 pm (UTC)
scarlettina: Madnessscarlettina on October 14th, 2011 05:36 pm (UTC)
Let us be clear: A hand is a hand. An eye is an eye. An ear is an ear. A peg is a peg. They function as they are intended to function. A peg cannot see, cannot touch, cannot hear. By extension, however, it might be a vehicle for Potato Head consciousness. If anything plugged into Mr. Potato Head carries his consciousness, surely a wooden peg of the proper proportion could.

Which makes me wonder about the pegs I used in constructing my book cases. About where they've been. About what they've been plugged into. About what they've experienced. It makes me wonder about what would happen if a Potato Head eye were plugged into my book cases. What would it know or see?

::looks around house::

Um . . . I need to go out for . . . for coffee. Right. That's it. Coffee . . .
David D. Levinedavidlevine on October 14th, 2011 06:01 pm (UTC)
Or something stronger...
et in Arcadia egobooapostle_of_eris on October 14th, 2011 11:21 pm (UTC)
Well, the unjustly-ignored-by-fandom Matt Howarth has a couple of alien characters, Konny & Czu (who live in a 100% non-anthropomorphic universe) and there seem to be at least four or five parts to Konny . . .
David D. Levinedavidlevine on October 15th, 2011 03:28 am (UTC)
I am a huge fan of Howarth, especially Mighty Virus and the intergalactic con men Konny & Czu. Few writers or comics creators have the audacity to tackle a universe with no human characters.
Micah Joelmicahpedia on October 14th, 2011 11:37 pm (UTC)
Powered by imagination
In the Toy Story universe, children are privileged observers (in the quantum mechanical sense). Their imaginations can alter reality along higher dimensions of time. In other words, if the kid thinks it's an eye, it works like an eye.
jimvanpeltjimvanpelt on October 15th, 2011 12:52 am (UTC)
Hi, David. Best speculative essay I've read in months, and you have very clever commenters.
David D. Levinedavidlevine on October 15th, 2011 03:29 am (UTC)
abqdan on October 15th, 2011 03:11 pm (UTC)
Mr Potato Head is in fact a trans-dimensional being. We merely perceive parts of him that are projected into our universe. The fundamental consciousness exists energetically elsewhere. And there is no Mrs Potato Head; just an extension of the overall consciousness of the One. This is why the structure of his 'bodies' is irrelevant - potato, tortilla, paper bag or whatever; they are a part of our own dimension, and are used simply as a convenience to help us interpret Him in ways our minds can understand. In this sense, Mr Potato Head is in fact God; all seeing, all knowing, yet somehow stupid.