Thursday, October 1, 2020

Abortion and "What We Are," in our "Essence"

Abortion raises the abstract question of what we are. Are we our bodies, and so we begin to exist at conception? Or are we really our minds, such that we come to exist after our bodies come to exist? (Or are we some combination of these, or neither of these?).

This takes us to the topic of personal identity, which has potential relevance to the topic of abortion. Below is a page of interesting examples to think about, to help us think about what we really are, which is essential to thinking critically about abortion. See these examples below the fold. (Click on the post title to get there).  

Here are some cases to help us begin thinking about the topic of personal identity, which is how we retain our identity or remain the same individual over time, despite the many physical and mental changes that happen to us. We tend to think that we do retain that identity and that, for example, you were once 5 years old: that 5 year old was you. (That assumption can be challenged, however). These cases below can be helpful in beginning to think about these issues.

Note: one concern here is whether these cases are possible but in the sense of logically possible or metaphysically possible or even physically possible. We aren't concerned about whether these cases are realistic or are likely to happen, just that they are possible in some of these senses. 

[This page is discussed on the "I think, therefore I fan" podcast]

1. Brain swap: your brain, originally in "body 1" is put into another body, "body 2," which then "wakes up" and all is fine. Where are you?

2. Mind swap: your mind (what's that?), originally in Body 1, is now in Body 2. (And the mind in Body 1 is now in body 2). which then "wakes up" and all is fine. Where are you? 

Particular versions of this case: 

2.1. John Locke's "prince and the cobbler." The prince did something really bad, deserving of punishment. He "wakes up" - with his memories and knowledge - in the cobbler's body (and the cobbler wakes up in the prince's body, happy to now get to live the life of a prince). Which body should be punished?

2.2. Films like "Freaky Friday" (also, there are many films and shows about personal identity, e.g., Star Trek .. what else?):


3. Partial brain swap: your cerebrum (or "higher brain," responsible for consciousness, awareness, thoughts, perceptions, etc.) is transplanted to another body (and then you "wake up" fine and go about your life), but your brain stem remains in that body, and so that body continues to breath, the heart keeps pumping blood, and so that body remains biologically alive. Where are you? 

4. Brain or mind swaps with a race and/or sex twist
  • your brain, originally in "body 1" is put into another body, "body 2," and body 2 is of a different race or sex than body 1. Where are you? (If you think this isn't possible, then you would seem to think that your race or sex is essential to who you are, so if that changes, you wouldn't exist anymore. However, things might be more complicated because perhaps there's a way that your brain or mind can be racialized or sexed [or gendered] in ways that you could retain that even on this type of body swap). 
  • your mind, originally in "body 1" is put into another body, "body 2," and body 2 is of a different race or sex than body 1. Where are you? (If you think this isn't possible, then you would seem to think that your race or sex is essential to who you are, so if that changes, you wouldn't exist anymore. However, things might be more complicated because perhaps there's a way that your brain or mind can be racialized or sexed [or gendered] in ways that you could retain that even on this type of body swap). 
5. Death: you are hit by a bus and killed. Assume there is no afterlife, heaven or hell. Where are you?

6. Permanent coma: You are hit by a bus and your brain (or higher brain) totally destroyed, and so there is no consciousness or potential for consciousness, but your body keeps breathing for 50+ years and then it dies. Assume there is no afterlife, heaven or hell. Where are you? When did you end?

6.5When do you begin? When your body begins (or the body you will "inhabit" begins)? Or when your mind begins? When is that? (What are you? Are you your biology, or your biography [or both, or neither!]?)

7. "Day person" and "night person" or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-like case (with the story modified a bit): there's one body, and during the day we might say that kind Dr. Jekyll is "in" that body, whereas at night evil "Mr. Hyde" is "in" that body, and they don't know about each other at all. How many people are "in" in that body? If Mr. Hyde does something bad, should Dr. Jekyll be blamed for it?


8. Brain split: your brain is removed and split in two. Assume it will still function just as well (!!!) and the two halves of the brain are put in new bodies (or one old body and one new body). Where are you? What has happened here?


9. Teletransporter: on Earth, the transporter machine scans your body for all its physical information, destroys that body, beams that information to Mars, the machine rebuilds an exact physical duplicate of that body, and that body is conscious with all the memories and knowledge that you had. That body gets out of the transporter, remembering what had been happening on Earth moments ago and goes about their business. Where are you?


10. Teletransporter variants
  1. the transporter machine on Earth scans your body for all its physical information, does not destroy that body, beams that information to Mars, the machine rebuilds an exact physical duplicate of that body, and that body is conscious with all the memories and knowledge that you had. That body gets out of the transporter, remembering what had been happening on Earth moments ago and goes about their businessAlso, that body on Earth steps out of the transporter, unharmed. Where are you? What's happened here?
  2. the transporter machine on Earth scans your body for all its physical information, destroys your body, beams that information to Mars, the moon and Jupiter, the machine rebuilds exact physical duplicates of that body, and that body is conscious with all the memories and knowledge that you had. Those bodies get out of the transporter, remembering what had been happening on Earth moments ago and goes about their businessAlso, that body on Earth steps out of the transporter, unharmed. Where are you? What's happened here? ("The Prestige" is a film that has a scenario like this). 
  3. the transporter machine on Earth scans your body for all its physical information, does not destroy that body, beams that information to Mars, the moon and Jupiter, the machine rebuilds exact physical duplicates of that body, and that body is conscious with all the memories and knowledge that you had. Those bodies gets out of the transporter, remembering what had been happening on Earth moments ago and goes about their businessAlso, that body on Earth steps out of the transporter, unharmed. Where are you? What's happened here?
In these splitting cases, it seems like the (separate) individuals involved have a shared, overlapping past: at least that's how they experience it. What does that mean for personal identity?


Discussion questions:

1. Sometimes people do bad things and then they later (perhaps after going to prison) declare that they are a "new person," and sometimes they seem to mean that literally. Given your understanding of the topic of personal identity, do you think this could be true, that this individual is a literal new person, which suggests they aren't the same person who did that bad thing? Explain and discuss.

2. Could *you* have had different parents? Given your understanding of the topic of personal identity, explain why this is a complex issue, and explain and defend your answer. 

3. You are a person, right? What makes you a person? Why are you a person? (We know you are human or a human being, but why are humans or human beings persons?). Explain and defend your answer in light of the readings and discussions.

4. If people can make it to heaven or hell, how could that be? Given your understanding of personal identity, explain what position on that issue would be best to take in order to think that we can continue to exist after death. Defend your perspective.

5. What are you, in your essence? What, if you lost it, would you literally cease to exist? What makes you *you*? Explain and defend your views. 



No comments:

Post a Comment