In Altered Carbon a person's mind (or "DHF") can be backed up and easily transmitted to a different body, and human bodies ("sleeves") are a commodity that can be cloned and occupied by any other person's mind.

So especially the wealthy ("Meths") can treat their bodies like consumables. Not only are they effectively immortal, but the wealthiest view "sleeve death" as a sport: most people (with the exception of religious objectors) will readily give up their current body for one that is better, and prostitutes and sport fighters will endure physical humiliation and destruction that would otherwise be a crime in exchange for sleeve upgrades.

As best I can gather, "double-sleeving," or running one person's DHF simultaneously in more than one sleeve, is among the most serious crimes that can be committed. Even the interstellar government ("the Protectorate") does not double-sleeve its best soldiers or agents, which seems like an odd handicap. In the course of the first season we come across one high-level criminal named Dimi who notoriously double-sleeved himself. But even when talking to other criminals he seems defensive about having done that, insisting that his other instance is his "brother," not a copy of himself.

I can see how multi-sleeving would make it difficult to keep any story in the Altered Carbon universe from going off the rails. But other than as a plot constraint is there a reason consistent with the universe rules as to why double-sleeving would be a crime, much less one of the worst crimes a person can commit?

  • 11
    A better question is not why double-sleeving is a crime, but why this particular crime is not committed very often by criminals. Even criminals (people who commit crimes, by definition) seem to look on this crime with disgust. Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 19:36
  • Perhaps someone has asked this about John Varley's Nine Worlds, over in scifi.se. Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 1:51

7 Answers 7


Richard Morgan doesn't really explain but...


I, as a distinct individual person(ality), should be held accountable for any crimes I commit.

But "double-sleeving" essentially creates a duplicate (not a clone) of that personality so, essentially, negating the responsibility issue...even though they are the same person regardless of physical form.

A duplicate mind in a different body should be held responsible...at least that's the methodology I see here.

Is it a plot creation...arguably, yes, but the whole legality of sleeving is somewhat cloudy in Altered Carbon. What about cloned bodies used as sleeves?

Some crime needs to be "the worst" and this seems a reasonable option since it involves the fundamental issue of "self" and "individuality".

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    I just clarified my question: I'm trying to figure out why it would be a crime at all. All the other crimes in the AC universe make sense, but I don't understand how double-sleeving causes any harm, much less a harm to society. As you said: In the universe, the person (meaning the "DHF") is held responsible for his actions, regardless of sleeve. If he "forks" his DHF, then it seems straightforward to hold all DHF copies responsible for crimes committed before a fork. (Or rather, no less straightforward than it is without forking.)
    – feetwet
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 15:08
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    There is no canonical answer to this. It just is. If the the "person" is the same with a double sleeve and that's who should be held accountable. In the absence of an actual answer from Mr Morgan this verges on opinion-based.
    – Paulie_D
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 15:10
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    If you're a double-sleeved criminal and you get caught then the other sleeve can still go and commit crimes. So it's easier to make double sleeving a crime than keep catching more of the same criminals.
    – Luciano
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 15:51
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    @Luciano: Interesting argument, but if you outlaw copies of "bad" people you're also outlawing copies of "good" people. Wouldn't we love to have more (copies) of the best scientists, philosophers, authors, humanitarians doing their work? (Even at the price of having to catch (potentially) more of the worst criminals?)
    – feetwet
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 15:16
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    @feetwet Those scientists and philosophers might not like it a whole lot. It would devalue them as individuals.
    – JMac
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 15:36

It MUST be illegal lest everyone just run around committing crimes and then blaming a double sleeve (real or ficticious). Consider the desperate straits cops are already in in the AC world. Criminals can jump sleeves (seemingly at will), any physical evidence would just implicate a sleeve, not the stack, and folks can use artificial or cloned bodies. So if double sleeving was legal, someone could do it, go commit a crime, and then commit suicide (or go to jail), leaving the other version to reap the benefits (theft from a business rival, death of an ex-wife, etc) who can't be held accountable. Or they could just say they were double sleeved and all the evidence points to a rogue version of themselves. But if double sleeving itself is illegal, then this defense would at least carry some penalties.

So this would create a legal nightmare in a world already struggling with gross inequality and a lack of accountability.

It would also lower the stakes for the protagonists. As we see in the shows last few episodes, Tak is ...

...perfectly safe in the finale because a version of him is off having an orgy. Not only does this let the other Tak get into the floating station, but it gives him a suicide option because he is already alive elsewhere.

This robs the story of considerable narrative tension, IMHO.

  • I see (and in fact, conceded in the OP) the "narrative necessity" argument. But I don't see the practical argument, because at the very end we see that the authorities quite easily deal with the double-sleeved good-guy. In fact, I am having a hard time seeing how this doesn't reduce to an argument against allowing identical twins to live (since they are naturally "double-sleeved" at conception).
    – feetwet
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 15:23
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    @feetwet You're sleeving the DHF, not DNA. Even identical twins would have different memories from before birth. Double sleeving would be closer to the opposite; you could have different DNA but the same memories in both bodies.
    – JMac
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 15:35
  • That last line, +1. Otherwise it'd be a pay-to-play plot.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 0:15

The previous answers have touched upon some really good reasons ranging from - accountability to problems with law enforcement. But at the crux of it, double-sleeving is deemed a serious crime in the Altered Carbon universe and is looked down upon even by criminals as it is ethically wrong.

Let me present a few scenarios to present the ethical challenges.

  1. When you double-sleeve a person, the new sleeve has the exact same memories and emotions as the original individual. What would that entail in a family? A husband who was double sleeved is now competing with another person for the affections of his wife. See the problem here? This would be a real issue for all factions of the society, Meth or otherwise.

  2. Another scenario - a person who has been horribly wronged by somebody is double-sleeved. The new sleeve on waking up (born?) now proceeds to exact revenge and kills the said person. The sleeve could then argue that their action was a manifestation of the thoughts and emotions they were born with. In this case it could be argued that the sleeve is as guilty as the original.

A somewhat similar situation arose in the series when Kovascs double-sleeved himself. Later, one of them has to die. But both of them are fully functioning humans that carry the same emotions and neither actually wants to die. Who dies in that scenario? After all they are both living people in all sense of the word.

P.S. When I say it's ethically wrong, I am pointing to the conundrum of cloning that it robs away the individuality of a person.

... there may be expectations that the cloned individuals would act identically to the human from which they were cloned, which could infringe on the right to self-determination - Wiki


In Altered Carbon, "double-sleeving" is considered a crime because -- while the continued and widespread use of the stack technology has allowed for the period of economic stagnation maintaining the social status of individuals in the ruling class -- the technology fundamentally debases the value of human life, evidenced by the rampant violence and prostitution. It allows people to copy their memories into another body but it can't copy the soul. In the world of this show, when you die your stream of consciousness is still permanently ended. When the stack gets re-sleeved your stream of consciousness does not pick up again, it is just a copy of you.

This is the significance of the brief mention of the fact that this technology was adopted after being discovered on an alien planet belonging to a long-extinct race. It is implied that they went extinct because the stack technology inherently reduces the value of life.

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    That sounds like an indictment of resleeving generally. But the AC universe's society – especially the upper "Meth" class – is predicated on resleeving being broadly accepted. Only "religious Neo-Catholic" people even protest being implanted with a stack. So this answer, if anything, points out that it is not consistent with the AC universe for double-sleeving to be a crime (much less a serious one).
    – feetwet
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 18:56
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    The continued existence of the Meth class depends upon the continued use of the stacks, and the fact that "double-sleeving" is even possible exposes a strong philosophical argument against the technology, wholesale. The fact that in general, even among criminals, it is something that is simply not done is evidence that, as a society, they do not want to think about it. Double sleeving is illegal because the ruling class does not want people thinking about what the possibility implies. It's Orwellian in nature.
    – Z4RQUON
    Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 19:06
  • Your statements contradict in-universe actions. Neo Christians quite clearly believe the stack is attached to the soul in some sense, otherwise winding a stack back up wouldn't be the issue it is to them. They think it taints the soul and forever casts it out of heaven. And I don't think there's any indication the Ancients ever used a stack like technology. What happened to them is a complete mystery. A human devised stack technology from what she learned from ancient tech, but it's not said she copied an ancient tech. Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 6:39

Here's my two cents on why double sleeving is a crime in the Altered Carbon universe. What is clear from the plot is that double sleeving is not just a crime - it's a deep cultural taboo.

The best parallel that I can draw is to the move "The 6th Day" in which cloning technology had advanced to the point that any living creature can be cloned and the clone given the memories of its donor; however, cloning of humans is forbidden by law, and violations of the law are called "6th Day" violations, which is a reference to the Genesis Creation Myth in which God created man and woman in his image on the 6th day of creation. Cloning humans is regarded by religious zealots as an abomination.

In the Altered Carbon universe, society has evidently gotten past any taboo against cloning humans and genetically engineering sleeves, but it hasn't gotten past the idea of the soul. Altered Carbon is perhaps intentionally ambiguous about what is going on when DHF is transferred from one stack to another and what is going on when DHF is backed up. Most of what we see in the story when DHF is transferred from one stack to another is that the DHF is REMOVED from one stack and transferred into a second stack. An illustrative metaphor is pouring water from a full bucket into an empty bucket - the water was in bucket #1 but is no longer in bucket #1 because it's been transferred to bucket #2. Thus, DHF is for all intents and purposes the human soul.

However, the story also makes clear that it is possible to copy DHF for backup purposes since it is essentially computer data. But, as we know, when one transfers a file from one computer system to another, the data on the first system is not necessarily deleted during or after the transfer. If DHF is really just computer data, then DHF can be downloaded and distributed into as many other stacks as desired. However, when it comes to double sleeving, copying DHF to the stack of any other sleeve and animating that sleeve violates the taboo because a soulless human being is now walking around the settled worlds, and that calls into question whether there is such a thing as the human soul.

In my opinion, meths who are real-deathed and are reanimated from backups are actually double-sleeving although it's not called than nor is unlawful or in violation of the cultural taboo. Nevertheless, religious zealots like the one in "The 6th Day" would regard a meth who is reanimated from backed up DHF as an abomination. For some reason that is not explained, the "legal fiction" or "moral fiction" is that a meth who is reanimated from backed up DHF is still the same person that was real-deathed and that the soul of the real-deathed meth now resides in the reanimated sleeve. However, backed up DHF that is transferred to two or more sleeves that are then animated is regarded as an abomination of the highest order and as a capital offense.

So, double sleeving directly undermines the closely held idea of the existence of the human soul and of continuity of life and consciousness of an individual from one stack & sleeve to the next stack & sleeve, Accordingly, a double-sleeved individual is an abomination that must be exterminated, and the perpetrator of the double sleeving is must be punished harshly. Other responders in this thread characterize this is terms of an undermining the idea of responsibility of the individual for his/her actions.

One question I had is why is it not possible to merge two or more DHFs from double sleeved individuals to yield a single DHF that has memories of both double sleeved individuals. I presume that the response would be either that doing this is not possible or that while it is possible, doing so would cause psychosis in the merged DHF as the mind tries to figure out which of the DHF is actually is upon recalling multiple memories for the same period of time. In "Total Recall," this sort of thing was called a "schizoid embolism" and why one was not permitted to go on a memory trip of something that he/she had already done in real life.


A lot of Reasons, but mostly due to the extremely skewed concepts of Morality that pervade the world of Altered Carbon as a whole

Double-Sleeving in Altered Carbon is weird. It should, from a surface-viewpoint, be something that is viewed as a good thing, as it would be incredibly beneficial to the status quo (creating a surplus of labor to ensure a massive wage gap between the Meths and the Grounders), improve productivity, et cetera. In fact, in similar and derivative universes like Eclipse Phase, "Forking" (ie: Double-Sleeving) is fundamental to the economy and is incredibly normalized. But the views of Protectorate society on Double-Sleeving in Altered Carbon treat it as a massive ethical sin.

The first and most logical, rational reason is that there is already a deficit of Sleeves (and ability to sustain Sleeves) in Protectorate Society, compared to the number of Stacks. There are far more Stacks than the Earth can support sleeves, and many other Protectorate Planets have similar issues, which may or may not be exacerbated by arbitrary factors like deciding that specific planets are "resort worlds" purely for Meths, which means that these worlds can't be allowed to sustain more people because doing that would mean that Meths wouldn't have pretty planets as their exclusive clubhouses anymore.

A second reason, one which would often be cited in-Universe, would be the Legal difficulties of having multiple sleeves in your clones. It would be difficult to distinguish legal responsibility in such an environment in a way that was, again, easily corruptible by Meths to suit their needs.

But there is another reason, which boils down to the fundamental understandings of Human Life in Altered Carbon, and the incredibly skewed systems of morality that underpin the universe. I'm going to go ahead and make a statement here which seems (based on some opinions I have seen made about the series and its Netflix adaptation) surprisingly controversial+:

Altered Carbon is a Dystopia. It is not supposed to be viewed as an ideal society. This is evident in the constant themes of stagnation, human degeneracy, and unchecked squalor in the series despite the technological advancement of the setting.

And, as a Dystopia, Altered Carbon has very skewed perceptions of human existence. A "human" in Protectorate Society is Digital Human Freight. It is not a body, a body or "sleeve" is merely the property of whomever owns it. Clones are not considered Humans, because they aren't uploaded to DHF and placed in a stack (that would defeat the purpose of clones as a "free" source of bodies to make sleeves which are compatible with the Egos sleeved into them) Clones are placed in Sensory Deprivation Tanks to ensure that they don't start becoming too sentient, both out of a society that views Clones as less-than human, and because it impairs the ability of DHF to re-sleeve into a clone with minimal Ego deterioration, which is the whole purpose of using Clones to resleeve.

This assumption that a "person" is Digital Human Freight, and nothing else is worthy of Human Rights, inherently clashes with the concept of Double-Sleeving. Double-Sleeving destroys the illusion of the sanctity of DHF as the metric by which a Human Life is judged. If consciousness can reproduce outside of Birth, it destroys the social systems on which the Protectorate is built. It leads to big questions about the very nature of consciousness. It is fundamentally dangerous to the social order of the Protectorate, and society has absorbed this order very well, so much so that they treat people who would go against this as if they were worse than people who destroyed consciousness by intentionally destroying stacks.

+: I mean, from a subjective standpoint, I felt this was made clear from the incredibly grey conflict between the Protectorate, motivated by financial and political reasoning to ensure that Stacks continued to exist and to commercialize human existence, and the Envoys, motivated by fanatic and extremist views regarding the problem of DHF and a fetishism of Death, resulting in both sides attempting to Genocide each other; or from the very term Digital Human FREIGHT denigrating human consciousness to the same level as "baggage".


This is not explicitly mentioned in the show, but it is important enough to be a good reason to enact such a law.

To prevent the utter destruction of the human race.

If double sleeving were legal, it opens society up to abuses that results in one personality effectively taking control of humanity. When one person became both rich and powerful, they could double sleeve themselves and create a private army of themselves and capture control of the entirety of humanity within a reasonably short period of time.

One rich person visits another rich person privately. The rich person steals their body and nobody is any wiser. They do this over and over again. On the surface it's a bunch of meths doing what meths do. But "under the hood" it's one person taking control of the wealthiest parts of society. Once total control of the super-wealthy is complete, it's time to start taking over the powerful in the non-meth society. And gradually trickle-down bodysnatching becomes systematised until nobody is left to stop the control personality.

It would be the perfect crime too, because there would never need to be any evidence that it was occurring, because the personality could conceive of the plan and the act of forking themselves secretly would be enough to fill in the plan to their mind clones. And if they're rich and powerful enough (which they would need to be to start this process), they would ultimately be able to take over humanity from the top down, leading to the ultimate downfall of the species.

Remember, sleeves are a finite resource but the forked minds would not be.

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