What if there was a perfect copy of you? If that copy were to take your place, could it be convincingly be you? Are you now two versions of the same identity? If these questions interest you, then the topic of Swampman is bound to be appealing as well. Swampman is a philosophical thought exercise which is referenced in the anime Summertime Rendering. Further details can be found in the three sections below.
Part 1: Concerning Shadows
On the way back to his island home of Hitogashima, the male protagonist of Summertime Rendering (Shinpei) can be seen reading a book. It’s called “Swampman” by Ryuunosuke Nagumo. Within the universe of Summertime Rendering, “Swampman” is a dark fantasy/mystery novel – one of several similar novels written by Hizuru Minakata using a pen name. Hizuru’s compelling, horror-esque novels were inspired by her experiences with otherworldly creatures called Shadows. To understand Hizuru’s novel, and eventually its connection to the real swampman thought experiment, we should probably review some information about the Shadows.
Centuries ago, a certain creature drifted away from her world into ours. She washed ashore on the island of Hitogashima, where she possessed a human girl and began the Shadow species. This mother of Shadows was named Hiruko. Shadows function by making themselves into copies of humans. They “eat” the “information data” from humans. They have athlete-level strength and agility, and can only be defeated if their true bodies – the shadows underneath the human copy – are killed. The “human” you see is only a projection produced by the Shadow’s true body, which is, well, shadowlike.
So how do Shadows work exactly? Well, a strong Shadow in human form will “eat” some human’s data and, soon after, “give birth” to a new shadow who will look just like the human it copied. Once it’s been created, the new Shadow is driven by instinct to kill and replace the human from which it was copied. It must also kill that human’s family members, eat their data, and produce copies of the family to live with. This way, the Shadows replace the humans and slowly grow in number. The copies of the humans, by the way, are perfect copies – fully physically identical and possessing the same memories of the human.
Now we know a little bit about what Shadows are like. It’s these creatures that Hizuru Minakata wrote her horror stories about. Her most famous novel was “Swampman,” which told of a Shadow-ish copy of a human emerging from a swamp to take the place of the original human. That’s what “Swampman” is within the universe of Summertime Render, but it’s also a allusion to something in reality. Namely, it’s a direct reference to a thought experiment articulated by a philosopher named Donald Davidson.
Part 2: Davidson’s Swampman
A well-respected 20th century thinker, Davidson lived from 1917 to 2003. Starting around the 1960s, he wrote a series of essays on a variety of fascinating topics, including language, knowledge, and the human mind. One such essay from 1987 was called “Knowing One’s Own Mind.” This piece contained a thought experiment that gained lasting notoriety: The Swampman. Rather than try to rephrase it without plagiarizing, I have copied the actual quote below.
“Suppose lightning strikes a dead tree in a swamp; I [Davidson] am standing nearby. My body is reduced to its elements, while entirely by coincidence (and out of different molecules) the tree is turned into my physical replica. My replica, The Swampman, moves exactly as I did; according to its nature it departs the swamp, encounters and seems to recognize my friends, and appears to return their greetings in English. It moves into my house and seems to write articles on radical interpretation. No one can tell the difference. But there is a difference. My replica can’t recognize my friends; it can’t recognize anything, since it never cognized anything in the first place. It can’t know my friends’ names (though of course it seems to), it can’t remember my house. It can’t mean what I do by the word ‘house’, for example, since the sound ‘house’ it makes was not learned in a context that would give it the right meaning—or any meaning at all. Indeed, I don’t see how my replica can be said to mean anything by the sounds it makes, nor to have any thoughts.“
~Donald Davidson, Knowing One’s Own Mind
The Swampman idea is thought-provoking and interesting on several different levels. If there was a perfect physical copy of you, would it really be identical to you? But rather than elaborating or offering any discussion, Davidson unilaterally says, “No.” The copy is not the same. He denies that the replica can think at all, despite seeming capable by all appearances. To me, it is unclear how Davidson arrived at this conclusion. This stumped me so badly that I started to think I didn’t understand the Swampman idea at all.
After discussing the issue with some friends, the only possible solution I could wrap my head around was that Davidson has a very different definition of consciousness than I do. There is, in my opinion, no sufficient evidence to believe that consciousness is anything but physical, arising from the map and chemistry of the brain. However, if Davidson believed in a metaphysical consciousness – something like a soul – then it would make perfect sense for him to deny the replica any form of meaningful consciousness or even cognition. It is simply a robotic, meaningless shell acting on instinct alone.
Regardless of Davidson’s answer, we should switch gears and look at how Summertime Rendering addresses the Swampman dilemma.
Part 3: Summertime Rendering‘s Reply
The Shadows in Summertime Rendering can be compared to dark fantasy versions of Davidson’s Swampman. They copy a human perfectly, kill that human, and replace it. Now, the anime is about a lot more than just this one philosophical exercise, of course. But it does dwell on Swampman a bit – more than long enough to answer the question proposed within the thought experiment. The reply of Summertime Rendering is the opposite of Davidson’s conclusion and more in line with my own thinking: the copy in this instance would have equal claim to the identity of the original, at least at the point of its creation. The replica might as well be the same.
The best example from the anime is the case of Ushio Kofune. The Shadows tried to have both Ushio and her shadow killed because the two were cooperating. Ushio’s Shadow clone was so like the original in terms of personality that she did the only thing the real Ushio would do: work with her human self. Likewise, the original Ushio had no problem working together with her Shadow counterpart to prevent the conspiracies of the Shadows at large. Both versions of Ushio are regarded as Ushio by the story’s narrative. Both versions also believed they were the true Ushio at first, before agreeing that two heads are better than one and they were both valid.
Although the two versions of Ushio have equal claim to Ushio’s identity, Summertime Rendering also gives some more nuanced answers. The heroes of the anime will work with Shadows who are friendly to humans and reject their “programing,” but in general, they still want to stop the Shadows from replacing everyone. The Shadows have no right to kill the original humans, even if the copies they produce are perfect or near-perfect replicas. So, Summertime Render is also agreeing with Davidson to a degree. The copy is not literally the same, and as long as it contains the instinct to kill humans, it will not be treated with its own right to life.
There is also the interesting case of Mio Kofune and her Shadow. Unlike with Ushio, the two Mio’s have increasing differences as the show continues. This is likely because their experiences are divergent, with the original Mio staying safe among the humans, and the Shadow Mio going on several dangerous missions by order of her Shadow mother. The Shadow version of Mio was also less influenced by the other Shadows, resulting in her becoming an independent identity instead of a copy of her original. She looks like Mio and values the same things for the most part, but Shadow Mio has a distinct personality.
This example makes the point that although physical copies may be identical at the point of their creation, their differing experiences slowly alter the brain and the personality. To sum it up, Summertime Rendering has more than one simple reply to the Swampman Dilemma. The way the anime treats the Shadows is appropriately complex.
You may be wondering why any of this actually matters. Does the Swampman thought experiment have real meaning in our world? The short, direct answer is no. There may not be a good analog in reality that would make the Swampman dilemma a practical exercise. However, there may be some indirect usefulness that could tie into the topic tangentially. For example, think of twins. Identical twins are genetically the same. They may be the closest analogue to the Swampman or the Shadows from Summertime Rendering. It’s far from a perfect comparison, but it’s at least an idea.
Regardless of potentially related analogs, or lack thereof, my opinion is that Swampman needs no practical utility. It is interesting enough in its own right. I know it’s not for everyone, but I personally love this kind of hypothetical thought experiment. It gets the gears of my brain turning in new ways, and prompts fascinating discussions among friends online. The Swampman idea is especially interesting to me as someone who enjoys the topics of identity and consciousness. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed Summertime Rendering‘s references to Swampman.
Thank you for reading~