Re: Soul - Prove/Disprove?

Our Lady of Paradox (
Sat, 17 Apr 1999 10:09:15 -0400

> 2> We've had transplants of all kinds of organs - but we've never
>had a brain transplant. If I were to detach my brain physically
> from myself, and have it attached to something else that it can
>communicate with (either another body, a machine that reacts
> to it like a body, etc etc) -- would I have the same
>conciousness/be the same person? (this one may not be obvious).

Ah...a question I can respond to!

I assume what you're asking is "is consciousness/identity contained in the physical brain in such a way that if the brain is transferred, the consciousness/identity is as well?" The way I've heard the situation formulated is that a mad scientist captures you and your best friend and switches your brains. Which, if either, would be you? I'd say that if the brain remains intact and in all ways the same as it was when it was within the original body, identity and consciousness follows the brain: i.e., you would be "in" your friend's body, and your friend would be "in" your body. However, if the brains was "reprogrammed" so that your physical brain now contained the same information that your friend's brain previously contained, and your friend's brain was reconfigured to contain the information _your_ brain previously contained, then the body containing your physical brain would possess the identity of your friend, and vice-versa. Consciousness may not follow, however. I don't think we can actually know that unless we ourselves tried it.

To be derived from the above is the fact that I think that "identity" follows the information rather than the physical component. For instance, in the case in which your friend's brain is reprogrammed to contain the same information as your brain and then is put in your body, an outside observer would notice no change whatsoever. You would act, talk, etc., just like you did before, and for all practical purposes would be the same person. This extends to uploading...if it were possible to upload all the information in your brain onto a hard drive, then the hard drive would possess your identity. (Keep in mind that the information is constantly changing with experience, so if both continued to exist simultaneously, they would very soon diverge and become non-identical...the question as to whether or not the computer would still be "you" becomes fuzzy.)

The question of consciousness is obviously far more sticky. First of all, I'm not exactly sure how to _define_ consciousness, rather than in the vague way that it is a continuity of thought and self-identity. I guess in practice, consciousness equals "do I wake up after the experience?" but even that is not terribly specific. Anyone with a better definition, please let me know :)

In some way, the idea of consciousness seems similar to the idea of a soul in that it's something that remains constant which is beyond the physical. As such, I suspect that a lot of people on this list would argue that there's no such animal :)

Eileen C. Krasowski

P.S. A word of introduction, since I'm new here...I'm currently a junior at Yale majoring in philosophy. Extropianism is fairly new to me...a friend of mine got me interested in it through an extended discussion concerning cloning. I wouldn't define myself as an extropian, but I find the ideas quite fascinating :)

Tortoise: I've never had time to analyze Beauty. It's a Capitalized

        Essence; and I never seem to have the time for Capitalized
Achilles: Speaking of Capitalized Essences, Mr.T, have you ever wondered
        about the Purpose of Life?

Tortoise: Oh, heavens, no.