Instantly recognizable for his starchy skin tone, removable facial features and Dumbo-esq ears, Mr Potato Head is undoubtedly the unsung hero of the #ToyStory franchise, providing us with endless laughs and an electric on-screen chemistry with his spouse, Mrs Potato Head. However, did you realize that not only is he a spectacular spud, but that his character also brings up questions of philosophy, the mind and the self?
No? Well we didn't either until we chanced upon Julia Galef, the host of the Rationally Speaking Podcast's epic theory which argues that Mr Potato Head helps us understand a question that's been mashing our minds for years. Prepare to have your brain well and truly fried.
Mr Potato Head's Body Parts Make Him Anything But A Common Tater
The one thing that truly distinguishes Mr & Mrs Potato Head from their #Pixar peers is their ability to remove their limbs and facial features, and reassemble them in any way they see fit. We see this happen multiple times across the three movies, often resulting in hilarity, sometimes helping Andy's motley crew of toys escape danger.
However, each time Mr Potato Head becomes estranged from his features something very peculiar happens — his body parts seem to have a mind of their own, each moving independently of each other which leads us to a very complex philosophical question:
Does Mr Potato Head Have One Or Several Independent Brains?
Now, while it may appear that Mr Potato Head's sturdy spud body may actually be controlling these individual body parts from one unified potato brain, there's a crucial (and unforgettable scene) in Toy Story 3 which would beg to differ. After becoming detached from their potato body, Mr Potato Head's features attach themselves to a flour tortilla to create a flimsy, but temporary, substitute body. However, a pigeon chances upon the potato/tortilla hybrid and pecks it apart leaving only a massacre of body parts and shreds of tortilla.
Why is this important? Well, once the pigeon leaves, a thin waif of tortilla on which both an eye and an arm are attached props itself up and begins to look around. Upon spotting a nearby threat the arm then nudges another piece of tortilla which contains a leg to alert it to the upcoming danger meaning that:
- The body parts are not controlled by a unified brain as otherwise the leg would have known about the incoming danger without the arm alerting it.
- Consequently, each body part contains it's own unique brain.
And this is all the more relevant because:
We Still Don't Know Whether Humans Have One Or Many Brains
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Now it's common knowledge that the human brain is split into the left and the right hemisphere and that these two distinct parts communicate to each other, but for some people, the contact between the two is severed. In a phenomena known as "split-brain," these patients are able to function quite normally in most situations apart from when information is given to only one of their two hemispheres.
The Curious Scientific Experiment Demonstrating The Brain As Two Separate Entities:
In his book Reasons and Persons, Derek Parfit discusses an experiment in which a split-brain patient is shown a wide screen, the left half of which is red and the right half of which is blue. On both sides written in a darker shade are the words 'how many colors do you see?' The patient is then asked to write their answer — with both hands. Both of their hands write that they see only one color even though two colors are clearly visible on screen to those without the split-brain disorder.
The patient is then asked to write down what the color is that they see. The left hand writes "red" and the right hand writes "blue," proving that in the mind of a split-brain patient, two separate brains are clearly at work, like Mr Potato Head and his many autonomous body parts. The question is then asked: is the original mind located in the left or the right hemisphere of a split-brain patient? Is there even such a thing as an original mind at all?
But Perhaps The Real Question Isn't How Many Brains Mr Potato Head Has, But How Much Space He Has In His Trunk
While the question of multiple minds and consequently split-selves is indeed fascinating, perhaps the greatest question Mr Potato Head poses is just how much he can fit into his lil spuddy trunk. As Mrs Potato Head demonstrates, like Mary Poppins before him, Mr Potato Head seems to have an unlimited amount of space in his rear, able to house a golf ball, a plastic steak and a yoyo within his butt simultaneously a skill I think we can all agree, is immensely enviable.