The International Writers
They inform me that
through a simple medical procedure, my brain, including all of my memories,
experiences, and personality traits, can be transplanted into a new "donor"
body, there-by extending my life and consciousness. I assume that this
is true, and that my "mind" or "soul" is indistinguishable
from my brain and I am quite eager to undergo the process. I am cautioned
however that to ensure the success of the procedure, my brain will in
fact be split between two "donor" bodiesnot unlike in
vitro fertilization where multiple fertilized eggs are implanted to insure
a successful pregnancy. Likewise there exists the possibility that one,
both or none of the transplant recipients will survive the procedure.
I am further informed that, in any case, "New You Services"
employs a crack team of lawyers.
Personal Identity and Other Minds
is a hypothetical situation: I am a healthy prosperous person
who enjoys life. However, upon contemplating the prospect of aging
and dying, I become distressed and realize I would prefer to continue
living in a youthful body. To my delight, I find that there is
a company"New You Services" which offers a solution
to my problem.
The preceding scenario may seem far-fetched, but the issues it calls to
attention are some of the very same issues discussed in Chapter five of
Philosophy and Contemporary Issues by John Burr and Milton Goldinger.
In "Brain Transplants and Personal Identity: A Dialogue"
a similar hypothetical situation is supposed and Philosophy professors
Derek Parfit and Godfrey Vesey discuss the nature of what we call personal
identity, the concept of psychological continuity and the
Parfits argument is built upon the idea that the memories, experiences
and resulting memory beliefs together make up what he calls "psychological
continuity." He further submits the definition of what he calls "quasi-memory"
or "q-memory" a belief about an experience which seems
like a first hand memory or memory belief which results from an experience
that some person did in fact have. Vesey states, "The significance
of the definition of q-memory is that two people can, in theory, q-remember
what only one person did. So two people can, in theory, be psychologically
continuous with one person." (Burr / Goldinger 424) Parfit concludes
that identity can be thought of as psychological continuity in a oneto-one
relationship (one person only with the same psychological continuity)
and that since identity is merely psychological continuity, and not some
secondary thing, it becomes a matter of degree.
Take for example the hypothetical case in the opening of this essay. In
that case there are three possible outcomes: 1: both brain transplant
bodies survive creating two people who are both psychologically continuous
with me, 2: only one body survives who is psychologically continuous with
me and 3: neither body survives and my existence ends. Through his dialogue
with Vesey, Parfit unfolds his argument such that the idea of personal
identity as an all or nothing condition is rendered, in his opinion, paradoxical,
implausible or absurd.
In the case of the first, if both survive and we assume that both resulting
people have my identity, it leads to the inevitable contradiction that,
while psychologically continuous at the time of the transplant, from that
point on they will be two separate people with different lives. The second
alternative if both survive is to assume that only one of them has my
identity and the other one does not. This seems implausible because both
people would have an exactly similar relationship to me. The third alternative
is that neither person has my identity, in which case the operation is
equivalent to my death because I would therefore cease to exist. If, however,
only one operation is successful and only one transplant recipient survives,
the question as to identity seems to diminish. At a one-to one ratio identity
seems apparent. In a scenario where both operations are successful it
would seem absurd to assume that it is equivalent to my death. The point
to which these ruminations ultimately lead is that although neither person
can be said to be methat is have my identityafter the operations,
survival of one or both of the resulting people is just as good as my
survival, because their relationship to me is not different than my relationship
to myself at some future time.
Another scenario to which this theory might be applied is within the field
of artificial intelligence. "Suppose we scan someone's brain and
reinstate the resulting 'mind file' into a suitable computing medium,"
asks Raymond Kurzweil. "Will the entity that emerges from such an
operation be conscious?" One can continue this line of thinking and
ask: If the resulting entity is in fact conscious, will it have an identity?
While the example of the brain transplants and mind uploading is still
science fiction at this time, the acceptance of identity as psychological
continuity and as being a matter of degree rather than absolute would
have an impact on issues of current relevance. One such issue which Parfit
and Vesey discuss is the ramifications such a view would have on criminal
Parfit states: On the view which Im sketching it seems to me
much more plausible to claim that people deserve much less punishment,
or perhaps even no punishment, for what they did many years ago as compared
with what they did very recently. Plausible because the relations between
them now and them many years ago when they committed the crime are so
much weaker. (Burr / Goldinger, 429)
The problem with Parfits argument is that it is an argument from
analogy based on the theoretical. Parfit asserts that if scientists are
able to replicate psychological continuity in new organic matter that
is exactly similar, they have duplicated what we traditionally call identity
in a relationship that is "just as good" as the original personal
identity relationship. In other words, a person who is exactly similar
to me is just as good as me. But, what if this hypothetical proves to
be impossible? What if it is not in fact possible to replicate psychological
continuity simply by replicating the organic material of ones brain?
Would it not be logical to assume that identity is, after all, a further
fact? If a different hypothetical is used, a different conclusion may
be reached. If we accept Parfits hypothesis and conclusion, we then
must make the analogy that because my identity is a matter of degree based
on my relationship with myself, that it is also a matter of degree for
other people (and perhaps for machines as well.) The problem that we are
left with is "the problem of other minds."
John Hospers explores the problem of other minds by using the example
of pain sensation:
When my finger is cut and bleeding, I know that I have pain in the
most direct way possible: I feel it. I do not infer from my behavior or
anything else that I feel pain, I am directly aware of it
your finger is cut and bleeding, I do not know in the same way that you
are feeling pain. I infer it from the fact that I see blood and hear you
saying that it hurts, and so on
.It seems impossible for me to feel
your pain and for you to feel mine.
This is not merely a case of semantics. It is easy enough to say that
since all people learn to define pain by associating the word with a series
of observations, another persons definition of pain may be different
than mine. But suppose, instead that scientists produce a way to measure
the pain response in a persons brain, (as in fact they have to some
extent) and that in some cases the resulting data conflicts with a persons
report of feeling pain. To eliminate the possibility of a mistaken definition
of pain, assume also that this machine was used to teach the person from
childhood the appropriate use of the word "pain". The question
remains, can we override first-person reports of inner experience with
external physical evidence? Of course we can, as a rule, state that a
first-person account which conflicts with the physical data is false,
but can we ever truly know?
According to Dr. Albert Ray, MD.: Pain cannot be palpated, touched,
or imaged. Physicians must believe their patients when they say that they
hurt. It has been stated that "pain is whatever the patient says
Although this may sound simplistic, it is a very useful working definition
of pain that incorporates the concept that each persons painful
experience is unique and based on his or her own perceptions.
The issue that remains to be solved is what the nature of a persons
inner experience is. Is it purely physical, as the materialist would assert?
Is the mind, where our inner-experiences occur, a separate entity from
the physical body and material world? Or is consciousness and perception
an interaction between the physical and some other phenomenaa case
of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts? While the materialist
would undoubtedly insist that the burden of proof is on the dualist to
produce evidence of an immaterial mind, the inability of physical science
to adequately explain conscious thought is often used as an argument against
materialism. In "Sense Without Matter" A. A. Luce goes
so far as to require proof that matter exists at all.
Luce Writes: "See yonder mahogany table. Its colour is brown
touch is hard and smooth. It has a smell and a taste
Now the theory
it asks me to believe that all these sense-data
not constitute the real table
that beneath the table I see and touch
stands another table
that cannot be seen or touched or sensed in
any other way." (Burr / Goldinger, 408)
While, in this authors opinion, idealism in its purest form (that
nothing exists outside of the mind) can never be conclusively disproved,
this particular argument brings up an interesting aspect of the material
vs. immaterial debate. Newtonian physics, with its Laws of Causation,
is very effective at describing and explaining large systems and organisms,
but it breaks down at the sub-atomic level. In what scientists call the
"classical world" objects and events are orderly and predictable,
but at the sub-atomic level there is unpredictability and chance. Traditionally
neurobiology has been undertaken with a Newtonian approach, but currently
the introduction of Quantum Theory is producing new ideas in the areas
of physiology, neurobiology, memory and consciousness. If one views consciousness
as occurring on a subatomic level, scientists may be greatly underestimating
the quantity and nature of consciousness in the universe. ("Quantum
These issues and debates are likely to go on, as the answers we are seeking
continue to increasingly affect our everyday lives. As the science fiction
of today gives way to the reality of tomorrow, thinking machines, genetic
engineering, immortality and shared identity may well permeate our headline
or be as mundane the internet or penicillin. In any case the
questions we ask now will shape our future.
© Kimberly Pfeifer 2007
Kim Pfeifer <email@example.com
Burr, John R. and Milton Goldinger. Philosophy and Contemporary Issues.
New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1996
Kurzweil, Raymond. "Will Machines Become Conscious?". http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/meme/memelist.html?m%3D4
Ray, Albert. "Pain Perception". http://www.hmpcommunications.com/cg/displayArticle.cfm?articleID=cgac561
Scaruffi, Piero. "Quantum Consciousness". http://www.thymos.com/science/qc.html
21st Century Issues
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