What makes someone real?

I’ve been listening to (and enjoying) the band Savlonic recently, and it’s prompted me to revisit some questions that have been at the back of my mind recently.

See, the interesting thing about Savlonic (other than that they do fun music) is that it’s a band consisting entirely of fictional characters. The band members, Roscoe, Evangeline and Kandi, are not actually real people. They’re animated characters.

But the question, to me, is what does this actually mean? Why aren’t they real?

The band is unquestionably real in that it performs the function of a band: There are songs by Savlonic. AlphaGo may not be a person, but it plays Go and is thus a Go player. Savlonic may not be made of people, but it creates and performs songs and is thus a band.

Two of the individual band members have always mapped pretty closely onto real life people: Roscoe is voiced by Weebl and Evangeline by Sarah Darling. The third, Kandi, started out “life” entirely unvoiced and when singing was just a pitch shifted version of Sarah. These days Kandi is voiced by Katt Wade.

So what makes the members of the band fictional as opposed to just stage names? It’s hardly unusual to go by a stage name, and many (possibly almost all) peoples’ public personas are very different from their private personas. Do we consider stage personas to be fictional characters? What’s the difference between a full blown stage persona and someone just acting a bit different in public?

(Note: This is different from e.g. an actor in a movie. Luke Skywalker does not fulfill the role of an actual Jedi in the same way that Roscoe, Evangeline and Kandi form the role of a real band member).

The big thing that makes them fictional rather than stage personas is that as far as I know, that’s what the actors and characters say they are.

I’m not sure how I feel about self-declaration as the sole determiner of reality though. It’s probably necessary, but is it sufficient? If we stuck a voice box on AlphaGo that shouted “AlphaGo is alive! No disassemble!” would AlphaGo now be a real person? It would certainly simplify the Turing test if so.

The Turing test won’t work as a determiner either: If we wanted to give Evangeline the Turing test it would be pretty easy – we’d just be talking to Sarah, who is probably quite good at convincing you that she’s a real person.

Is the fact that Sarah would be lying when she tells you her name is Evangeline the determiner of whether Evangeline is real? What’s a real name anyway? What if the character were called Evangeline because that’s a nickname Sarah often goes by? (To the best of my knowledge it is not). Is it the fictional biography? If your long interview never really touched on any biographical details would that somehow not make it a valid test of reality? What distinguishes a fictional person from a real person who is just lying?

I don’t really have any conclusions, except to note that “real person” seems to be a fuzzier concept than might naturally be assumed. I do think Savlonic fall on the “not actually real people” side, but I’m not entirely sure why I think that.

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