Oxford Scholarship Online
- Most philosophers agree that some sort of psychological continuity1 is necessary or sufficient for us to persist – the Psychological Approach to personal identity.
- Some implications of this view are sketched.
- The Biological Approach, by contrast, says that our identity, over time, consists in brute biological continuity.
- Human Vegetables and Cerebrum Transplants2
- The Psychological Approach
- The Biological Approach
- Human Vegetables and Cerebrum Transplants4
- Olson wants to consider “our” identity over time, without at this stage deciding what “we” are.
- To do this, he will consider some “puzzle cases” (ie. TEs5).
- The first is the “Vegetable Case” (ie. PVS6).
- The cells in the cerebral cortex have died of anoxia. Claims:
- Brain cells don’t regenerate;
- Consciousness and thought are cortex-based, so are irretrievably lost.
- So “you7” are irretrievably non-cognitive.
- However, the parts of the brain8 (thalamus, basal ganglia, cerebellum, brain-stem) that support your vegetative functions are more resistant to oxygen starvation and might survive intact.
- Olson mentions Karen Quinlan (Wikipedia: Karen Ann Quinlan), who continued in a PVS9 for 10 years after10 her respirator was switched off.
- Olson claims that the entity11 in a PVS12 is “a human animal13 as much like you as anything could be without having a mind”.
- The human animal14 in a PVS15 is not in a coma but “is awake but unaware”; “the lights are on, but no-one’s at home”. Various reflexes remain, but there’s no behavioral responsiveness16.
- Nor is the animal brain-dead – what Olson describes as a “ventilated corpse17” – because the brain still performs its regulative functions. The patient is alive in the sense that “oak trees and oysters18 are alive”.
- Olson admits there is room for doubt as to whether in a PVS19 you have really lost all cognitive function, and that the loss is permanent – though this is the medical consensus. But this is effectively a TE, so for the sake of the argument20 we assume that both these assumptions are correct.
- There are lots of ethical questions about what to do with individuals in a PVS21, but these aren’t Olson’s concern here. Rather, he wants to know what happened to “you” in this story. He doesn’t care about lots of legal issues, or quality-of-life issues either. All he wants to know is whether “you” are still there in that pathetic state. Has your existence been brought to an end as in ordinary cases of death, or have you survived?
- Olson considers the case where you die and are cremated, and a memorial statue22 is erected in your honour. Now, you are not that statue23. If you had said that one day you would be that statue24, you would have made a false statement in a way that is not so obviously false in the case of the PVS-individual25. Whereas in the first case you have been clearly replaced by something else, has this happened in the PVS-case26?
- We now move on to a second TE27 – Cerebrum Transplants28.
- Olson refers to “that organ” (which is most responsible for your higher cognitive functions), so is presumably thinking of both hemispheres at this stage. The supposition is that the technical wiring difficulties can be overcome29, so that “it is able to function properly inside its new head just as it once functioned inside yours”.
- Olson assumes various things about the post-transplant30 recipient of your cerebrum31:-
- She is a human being32, …
- Psychologically more or less exactly like you,
- Appears33 to remember your past,
- Apparently34 acts on your intentions,
- May be physically very unlike you,
- Initially, her personality, tastes and affections are just like yours,
- She thinks35 she is you,
- She does not remember36 anything that happened to the person into whose head the cerebrum37 was implanted, nor does she initially38 acquire any of that person’s character.
- What about the cerebrum39 donor? Olson correctly adduces evidence from the survival of PVS-victims40, anencephalics (Wikipedia: Anencephaly) and single-cerebrum41 excision42 to show that the donor would remain a living, but irreversibly non-cognitive, human animal43 whose biological functions continue as before.
- In a footnote, Olson admits that cerebrum-transplants44 are science fiction, and their possibility might be questioned. However, he thinks there are no further45 difficulties than for WBTs46, and adduces the following in support of the theoretical possibility of the latter:-
- "Puccetti (Roland) - Brain Transplants and Personal Identity",
- "Snowdon (Paul) - Personal Identity and Brain Transplants" (pp. 114-7), and
- "Wilkes (Kathleen) - Thought Experiments", p. 37.
- Olson asks what has become of you in the “Transplant47 Case”? He only48 considers 3 possibilities:-
- You are the donor, or
- You “go along” with your cerebrum49, or
- You cease50 to exist.
- The key question Olson asks is whether one of your organs51 has been transplanted52 (as a liver might have been) leaving you in situ, or whether you have been pared down to a cerebrum53 and rehoused, the surgeon grafting the rest of the recipient’s body (and brain) onto you. Olson’s answer will no doubt appear later on54.
- The Psychological Approach
- Olson sees two sorts of considerations that might answer questions of personal identity raised by the puzzle cases:-
- Phychological continuity, and
- Biological continuity
- He gives the usual arguments that you are psychologically continuous with the cerebrum55 recipient, but not the PVS-victim56, or the cerebrum57 donor.
- But you are biologically-related to the PVS-victim58, and to the cerebrum59 donor, who each preserve your biological life60.
- We are referred to Chapter 2 ("Olson (Eric) - Why We Need Not Accept the Psychological Approach"), Section II (“Whole-Brain Transplants”)61, for why a WBT62 is entirely different to a CT. In the case of a CT, the recipient does not receive your life-sustaining functions, but “just an organ63”. From the biological perspective, transplanting a cerebrum64 is no different to transplanting65 a kidney, or any other organ you could live without.
- Olson claims there is no biological continuity between you and the cerebrum66 recipient, but this seems to me to go too far67.
- Olson thinks these two sorts of continuity have not received equal attention, with the case defaulting to the PV68. Biology is deemed irrelevant, with nothing continuing in either the PVS69 case or on the donor-side of the transplant70 case being you. Olson cites "Lockwood (Michael) - When Does a Life Begin?", p. 11, as describing this view as “scientifically-educated common sense”.
- However, a footnote gives other equally-scientifically-educated dissenting views. "Ayers (Michael R.) - Locke on Living Things", p. 224, claims not only that you could survive the destruction of your mind but that you would continue to exist as a corpse71. Olson also cites "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Philosophers and the Words 'Human Body'", p. 295.
- So, most philosophers adopt the Psychological Approach, whereby one survives if one’s mind does. Olson quotes "Johnston (Mark) - Human Beings", p. 77 to the effect that it’s a conceptual truth72 that a person cannot be outlived by what was once his mind.
- Olson seems to agree that the TEs show that biological and psychological continuity73 can come apart74.
- While biological continuity is usually good evidence75 for one’s survival, it is not what that survival consists in, according to …
- The Psychological Approach76, which claims that some “interesting” connections between psychological states are both necessary and sufficient for my persistence. Roughly speaking, any past or future being that has my mind77 is me.
- The traditional problem of PID is – on the assumption that the PV78 is correct – just which version of it is the right one. What are these psychological connections? Olson will go on to consider versions that give priority to mental contents79, and those that focus on mental capacities80 before considering whether any physical continuity81 is also considered necessary.
- Mental Contents:
- These are memories, beliefs, desires and the like. Mental contents at a later time are continuous with those at an earlier time if they are caused by them. If there are enough of these connections, then the possessor of the later contents is the same person as the possessor of the earlier set.
- Olson has a couple of footnotes at this point:-
- He cites "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons", p. 206 (ie. "Parfit (Derek) - What We Believe Ourselves To Be") as an example of those who take (something like) this causal relation as constitutive of psychological continuity82. Olson, however, “uses the term more broadly”, but doesn’t (here) explain how. He also “pretends” that the relation is symmetric, claiming that it would be a simple but tedious exercise to eliminate the pretension83.
- Olson points out that even opponents of the PV84 agree that it’s analytic (from the meaning of “memory”) that if I remember the deeds of some past person, then I am that person. He therefore introduces the concept of quasi-memory85, which is just like memory but does not presuppose identity, only appropriate causation86. We are referred to
→ "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Persons and Their Pasts",
→ "Shoemaker (Sydney) & Swinburne (Richard) - Personal Identity" (Chapter 4 – ie. "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Reply to Swinburne"), and
→ "Noonan (Harold) - Personal Identity" (Chapter 8 – ie "Noonan (Harold) - Quasi-Memory")
- We’re referred to "Schechtman (Marya) - The Same and the Same: Two Views of Psychological Continuity" for “an interesting variation on the traditional account of the continuity of mental contents”.
- We would have to allow that I can be some past person at a time even if I remember nothing of that time. Even if I can’t remember what happened at time x, I can remember a time when I could87.
- There are periods of my existence – for instance of dreamless sleep88 – of which I have never had any memories. However, Olson concedes that I (presumably) retained my unconscious intentions when asleep89. Consequently he agrees that there are overlapping chains of mental contents that connect90 me to this past person.
- However, according to the PV91, one cannot survive “total oblivion” (maybe as the result of degenerative brain damage) whereby your past memories and intentions are destroyed (rather than merely inaccessible or garbled) – no therapy can recover them. This is in spite of the fact that the residual being might still be conscious and rational, with many residual abilities. His mind is discontinuous with yours, so you have ceased to exist and have been replaced by a numerically different being92.
- A footnote adds realism to this scenario – similar to Korsakoff’s syndrome93. We are referred to
→ "Sacks (Oliver) - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat", sections 2 & 12 (ie. "Sacks (Oliver) - The Lost Mariner" & "Sacks (Oliver) - A Matter of Identity"),
→ "Perry (John) - Review of Bernard Williams' 'Problems of the Self'", p. 42194 and
→ "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Material Beings", p. 183 (ie. "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Two Problems About Personal Identity: Memory and Commissurotomy").
- Mental Capacities:
- Those who support this view point out that even if all memories and other mental contents are wiped out, there might still be psychological continuity95 based on mental capacities – your (now contentless) mind has not been destroyed.
- Olson quotes "Unger (Peter) - Identity, Consciousness and Value", p. 11696, though it looks to me as though this is not the focus97 of Unger’s claim. However, he thinks various others share this view98.
- Olson thinks – correctly in my view – that this distinction between contents and capacities may be a red herring, in that without any content, all my capacities might vanish.
- Physical Continuity99:
- Reduplication objections114 encourage supporters of the PV115 to add a Uniqueness Condition116.
- Thus, the PV117 represents a wide spectrum of opinions that agree that some sort of mental continuity is necessary for our persistence, with some rider like uniqueness or material continuity to provide sufficiency118.
- When Olson subsequently refers to the PV119, he’ll not specify which of these variants he has in mind120. The reader is asked to substitute his preferred version.
- The Biological Approach
- The claim of this book is that the PV121 is false – or at least in serious difficulties – and that psychological continuity122 is neither necessary nor sufficient for us to survive. He argues for this claim in Chapters 4 & 5, ie. in
→ "Olson (Eric) - Was I Ever a Fetus? (Human Animal)", and
→ "Olson (Eric) - Are People Animals?"
- In place of the PV123, Olson will adopt a radically non-psychological account of our identity, involving biological continuity – one survives just in case one’s purely animal functions continue. Biology replaces psychology.
- The Two Claims of the Biological Approach:
- We are animals, members of the species homo sapiens.
- Olson mentions his debt to "Snowdon (Paul) - Personal Identity and Brain Transplants" for pointing this out!
- Olson doesn’t claim that all124 persons125 are human animals126. For all he knows there might be (rational and conscious) “organisms of other species, … Martians, gods, angels, … computers” who qualify127 as persons.
- But, all human persons128 are animals129.
- We are what Locke130 called “men131”.
- Olson now clarifies his position, as there are various views that sound similar, but are not at all the same:-
- You are not merely intimately connected with a human animal132, you are numerically identical to one.
- So, the claim is more than that “your body133” is a human animal134, or that you are constituted by135 a human animal136.
- While it seems indisputable that we are identical to human animals137, once we’re agreed that we’re material beings, “legions of” materialist138 philosophers deny that we are identical to “our bodies” – by which it is tempting to think that they mean “human organisms”.
- Some materialist139 philosophers claim that “my body” is distinct from the human organism, which is consistent with my being a human animal140 and yet not identical to my body.
- But, many materialists141 explicitly deny that we are animals.
- A footnote refers us to:-
→ "Wiggins (David) - Identity & Spatio-temporal Continuity", p. 57f
→ "Johnston (Mark) - Human Beings", p. 64.
→ "Lockwood (Michael) - When Does a Life Begin?", p. 11
→ "Lowe (E.J.) - Real Selves: Persons as a Substantial Kind", p. 106
→ "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Personal Identity: a Materialist Account", p. 113
→ "Chisholm (Roderick) - Coming Into Being and Passing Away: Can the Metaphysician Help?", p. 171
- Psychological continuity142 is neither necessary nor sufficient for the human animal’s143 persistence.
- Vegetable Case: defeats necessity →
- Your associated human animal144 survives when you lapse into a PVS145.
- This animal survives with its life-sustaining functions even when it has irrevocably lost all psychological features.
- While alive, this animal doesn’t have much of a “life”; there is nothing it is like to be that animal. Yet, it is alive as a goldfish or rosebush is alive.
- It is not the case that one animal has been replaced by a numerically different one.
- So, if you are an animal, you are that animal, and can therefore survive without any psychological continuity146.
- Maybe the vegetating animal is not a person, since it possesses none of the psychological properties that distinguish persons147 from non-persons.
- All this shows – and this is the punch line – is that you can continue to exist without being a person, just as you would do so without being a philosopher, a student or a fancier of fast cars148.
- Olson has a footnote in which he sites "Brody (Baruch) - Ethical Questions Raised by the Persistent Vegetative Patient" as supporting the view that the patient in the PVS149 is the very same being that entered it – and that consequently one can survive without being a person.
- Cerebrum Transplants150: defeat sufficiency →
- Whatever happens to you, no human animal151 gets transferred along with your cerebrum152.
- in particular, the surgeons do not pare down153 the animal until only a cerebrum154 is left, and then attach a new complement of parts to that animal.
- The (now) empty-headed animal was there all along, not recently created by the surgeons.
- As far as the animal is concerned, a cerebrum transplant155 is like a liver transplant156. You lose an organ and the capacities – in this case psychological – that go with it.
- You lose the capacity to think and feel – just as157 you would lose the capacity to purify your blood if your liver158 were removed.
- Someone else – another human animal159 – gets your psychology – including your personality and apparent160 memories.
- Hence, psychological continuity161 isn’t sufficient for PID as some unique individual perfectly psychologically continuous with you and with as much physical continuity162 as might be desired – isn’t you!
- We’re referred to "Olson (Eric) - Are People Animals?" (Chapter 5) for further discussion.
- A Similar Claim:
- The claim that human animals163 don’t persist in virtue of psychological continuity164 is similar to the view that a human animal165 persists by virtue of being a human animal166 (or being a living organism, or an animal in general), and NOT by being a person, a human body or anything else.
- Olson’s key point is that all human animals167 ought to have the same persistence conditions168. Human animals169 include those – human vegetables, embryos170, anencephalic babies – with no psychological properties. So, all human animals171 have the same persistence conditions172 as such beings. We’re referred to "Olson (Eric) - Was I Ever a Fetus? (Human Animal)" (Chapter 4).
- So – if we are human animals173, and all human animals174 have non-psychological persistence conditions175 – then we have non-psychological persistence conditions176.
- The contrasting view is that our persistence conditions177 – despite the fact that we are animals – include psychological continuity178. Hence, some animals have radically different persistence conditions179 to others. Hence, our persistence conditions180 are not in virtue of our being human animals181, but by virtue of being members of some other kind182; person183, perhaps. Olson will discuss this further in "Olson (Eric) - Persistence" (Chapter 2).
- "Olson (Eric) - Why We Need Not Accept the Psychological Approach" (Chapter 3) will deal with the motivating factors for the PV184, why philosophers have been misled by intuitions about the Vegetable and Transplant185 cases and how the BV can accommodate many of the insights that motivate the PV186 just as well.
- Contrast with the “Physical Criterion”:
- The BV is by no means the same as the “physical criterion” (PC), which is a variant of the PV187.
- The PC188 is the view that I persist as some future person just in case some person has enough of my brain for it to be the brain of a living person.
- So, according to this view, I would go along with my transplanted cerebrum189, and would cease to exist were my brain to be so badly damaged that I were no longer a person, even though my life-sustaining functions continued.
- We’re referred to:-
→ "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons", p. 204 (ie. "Parfit (Derek) - What We Believe Ourselves To Be"),
→ "Noonan (Harold) - Personal Identity", p. 7 (ie. "Noonan (Harold) - An Initial Survey") and
→ "Unger (Peter) - Identity, Consciousness and Value", p. 109 (ie. "Unger (Peter) - The Physical Approach To Our Survival").
- Contrast with the “Bodily Criterion”:
- The “Body View” it that we are identical to our bodies – we persist just in case our bodies do.
- This view has received more attention than the Biological View190, and is usually taken to be the main materialist191 rival to the PV192.
- There are important differences between the Biological and Bodily views, but – because they are complex – Olson will defer them until "Olson (Eric) - The Biological Approach" (Chapter 6, Section 6 “The Bodily Criterion”).
- Olson claims that those who espouse the “Bodily Criterion” usually claim that we are organisms whose persistence criteria193 have nothing to do with psychology, so we can take this view as a special case of the Biological Approach.
- Olson cites as supporters of the view194 in question:-
→ Judith Jarvis Thomson ,and
→ Bernard Williams.
- While one could say that I am my body, or go where my body goes, yet deny that I am an animal, Olson thinks this view has little going for it, and will ignore it.
- Neglect of the Biological Approach:
- Olson claims that the Biological View195 has been196 “strangely neglected” in the literature.
- He cites – in addition to Thomson and Williams – Michael R. Ayers, Paul Snowdon and Peter Van Inwagen – as amongst the “few advocates197” of the Biological Approach.
- He claims the view is rarely taken seriously, quoting "Pollock (John L.) - How to Build a Person: A Prolegomenon", p. 30 ("Pollock (John L.) - Persons and Bodies"), as saying – in 1989 – that taking it as a conceptual truth that people are re-identified in terms of their bodies, though much discussed, is a straw man supported by no recent philosopher, and that the only genuinely popular criteria are mentalistic.
- "Noonan (Harold) - An Initial Survey", hailing from 1989, dispenses with the Bodily Criterion by p.5, and never mentions the more general Biological Approach. On p. 3 Noonan claims that TEs undermine the common-sense view that our identity is constituted by bodily continuity198.
- Some argue that we could not be bodies, because such objects to not write books, and that one’s body – like Lenin’s – may continue to exist long after one’s death199. Whether or not this is a valid criticism of the Bodily Criterion, it doesn’t obviously apply to the view that we are animals. We are again referred to "Olson (Eric) - The Biological Approach" (Chapter 6).
- Supporters of the PV200:
- Olson describes "Locke (John) - Of Identity and Diversity" as “notorious”, with “special problems of its own”.
- He identifies the following authors (whose relevant works are given in a footnote) as some of the “big names” accepting one version or another of the Psychological Approach:-
- "Grice (H. Paul) - Personal Identity", 1941
- "Hospers (John) - An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis - Second Edition", 1967, pp. 410-414201
- "Johnston (Mark) - Human Beings", 1987
- "Johnston (Mark) - Fission and the Facts", 1989
- "Lewis (David) - Survival and Identity", 1976
- "Mackie (J.L.) - Personal Identity" , 1976, p. 202f202
- "Nagel (Thomas) - Mind and Body", 1986, p. 40
- "Noonan (Harold) - Personal Identity", 1989, especially "Noonan (Harold) - An Initial Survey", p. 13
- "Nozick (Robert) - Personal Identity Through Time", 1981
- "Parfit (Derek) - Personal Identity", 1971
- "Parfit (Derek) - What We Believe Ourselves To Be", 1984, p. 207
- "Perry (John) - Can the Self Divide?", 1972
- "Pollock (John L.) - Persons and Bodies", 1989
- "Price (H.H.) - Two conceptions of the Next World", 1972, p. 104f203
- "Price (H.H.) - Survival and the Idea of 'Another World'", 1973, p. 27
- "Quinton (Anthony) - The Soul", 1962
- "Rosenberg (Jay) - Thinking Clearly About Death", 1983, pp. 92ff, 223204
- "Russell (Bertrand) - Do We Survive Death?", 1936, p. 73
- "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Persons and Their Pasts", 1970
- "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Personal Identity: a Materialist Account", 1984, p. 90
- "Strawson (Peter) - Comments on Some Aspects of Peter Unger's Identity, Consciousness and Value", 1992
- "Unger (Peter) - A Physically Based Approach To Our Survival", 1990
- "Wiggins (David) - Locke, Butler and the Stream of Consciousness: And Men as Natural Kind", 1976, pp. 168 & 173n.44
- "Wiggins (David) - Personal Identity (S&S)", 1980, pp. 160, 162, 163
- He also supplies a further list, the philosophers presumably not being “big names”:-
- "Agich (George J.) & Jones (Royce P.) - Personal Identity and Brain Death: A Critical Response", 1986, p. 273
- "Aune (Bruce) - Changing Things", 1985, p. 93
- "Brennan (Andrew) - Conditions of Identity", 1988: "Brennan (Andrew) - Memories, Bodies, and Survival", p. 275; "Brennan (Andrew) - Concepts of a Person", p. 336
- "Carruthers (Peter) - Introducing Persons: Theories and Arguments in the Philosophy of Mind", p. 194ff205
- "Gert (Bernard) - Personal Identity and the Body", 1971
- "Green (Michael) & Wikler (Daniel) - Brain Death and Personal Identity", 1980
- "Hamlyn (D.W.) - Persons and Personal Identity", 1984, pp. 206-211
- "Lizza (John) - Persons And Death: What's Metaphysically Wrong With Our Current Statutory Definition Of Death?", 1993
- "Lockwood (Michael) - When Does a Life Begin?", 1985, p. 19
- "MacIntosh (J.J.) - A Problem About Identity", 1974
- "Puccetti (Roland) - Brain Transplants and Personal Identity", 1969
- "Robinson (John) - Personal Identity and Survival", 1988
- "Schechtman (Marya) - The Same and the Same: Two Views of Psychological Continuity", 1994
- "Wikler (Daniel) - Not Dead, Not Dying? Ethical Categories and Persistent Vegetative State", 1988.
- False Friends: Olson thinks that – despite attractive elements (where understood!) – and despite their popularly being supposed to be supporters of the Biological Approach – both David Wiggins and Jay Rosenberg are really supporters of the PV206.
- David Wiggins:
- According to Olson, Wiggins was then (in 1997) the name most associated with the Biological Approach.
- Although (Olson says) Wiggins had once denied that we are organisms, the “later Wiggins” had argued for the opposite view and criticized Lockean accounts that would make our persistence solely a matter of memory.
- However, even this “later Wiggins” stops short of what Olson understands by the Biological Approach – which is that psychology is completely irrelevant – except derivatively207 – to our persistence.
- In contrast, Wiggins thinks that “certain broadly mental capacities – sentience, desire, belief, motion, memory etc – are part of what it is for a person to remain alive, and so to continue existing. We are referred to "Wiggins (David) - Personal Identity (S&S)", pp. 160, 180, and "Wiggins (David) - Locke, Butler and the Stream of Consciousness: And Men as Natural Kind", p. 168.
- Although – for Wiggins – memory doesn’t determine our persistence on its own, it is “crucially relevant to our choice of continuity principle for determining the biographies of persons”, "Wiggins (David) - Personal Identity (S&S)", pp. 162. It “…informs and regulates the continuity condition of personal identity, and holds it apart from mere continuity of body …” (p. 163).
- This is contrary to Olson’s view, which treats memory as irrelevant to our persistence, which instead relies on the “distinctive physicalist208 criterion” of life-sustaining vegetative functions.
- Olson thinks Wiggins’s view is that if I were to lapse into a PVS209, I – the animal – would “perish” and only my body would survive.
- Another of Olson’s claims is that – while Wiggins doesn’t pronounce on Brain Transplants210, "Wiggins (David) - Locke, Butler and the Stream of Consciousness: And Men as Natural Kind", p. 173n.44 suggests that it is plausible that psychological continuity211 could be sufficient for one to persist.
- Olson admits that there’s much in Wiggins’s work that he doesn’t understand212, but thinks it’s a sophisticated version of the PV213.
- Jay Rosenberg:
- Olson agrees with Rosenberg that “death is the end” because a person just is a “uniquely competent living organism”.
- However, he disagrees with Rosenberg that “one goes where one’s organ of thought goes214” as – he claims – this implies we are not living organisms at all.
- He says that Rosenberg recognises this, as he allows a disjunction215 “… or a functionally selected part of a living organism”.
- Consequently Rosenberg is also consigned to the ranks of the crypto-Psychological Approachers
- We’re referred to pp. 96-7 of the first (1983) edition of "Rosenberg (Jay) - Thinking Clearly About Death".
I made a few hand-written notes at the end of the Chapter, which are reproduced here for what little they are worth.
- Throughout, when Olson talks about “our” persistence, his choice is that it refers to the living human organism. This seems to make the term “person” either redundant / irrelevant or of identical reference to “human organism”.
- What does Olson understand by “person”?
- Is consciousness of “self” essential to being a person?
- Is Stephen Hawking (say, or a more diminished individual on a heart-lung machine & drip) a BIV216?
- The brain as an organ: it was certainly possible to view it so (eg. in Aristotle’s time) before its functions were understood, but no longer?
- It seems to me that the regulatory functions of the brain are essential to life, so if we transplant217 these – and get them to regulate another body – we have moved the animal to another body, irrespective of the mental aspects.
- Note different forms of Sorites218 arguments. “Paring down” atom by atom isn’t the same as gradual replacement of parts while maintaining (or gradually evolving) function.
- If we have a story to tell, we are in a better situation to maintain persistence.
- My copy of this Chapter of the book is very heavily covered with hand-written notes, most of which are reproduced and refined here.
- In these Notes, I’ve not been especially careful to distinguish Olson’s points from my own, nor even Olson’s points here from those he makes elsewhere.
- See also the general disclaimer.
- This write-up is logged as a Paper Abstract rather than a Write-up Note. This is contrary to my current standard, and I will make the appropriate adjustment when I’ve completed annotating the whole book.
- This usage is, of course, tendentious as a personalist who claims “you” are essentially a person would (or might) claim that “you” then cease to exist.
- There is opportunity to quibble over the assumptions / claims – just which parts of the brain are responsible for what? But, I suppose, the case could always be patched up according to the contingencies of actual brain function – this is an empirical matter.
Footnote 10: This is correct. She was initially put on a respirator, but taken off after a court battle – presumably to die, but she lived on for the reasons Olson gives.
- Again, what does what is an empirical matter, but it is important as we are not talking about persons in general, but “us” who have a specific physical structure.
- As the brain is important to all theories of personal identity, it is important to understand how it works, eg. Via:-
- "Andrewes (David) - Neuropsychology: From Theory to Practice",
- "Bear (Mark), Connors (Barry) & Paradiso (Michael) - Neuroscience",
- "Bennett (M.R.) & Hacker (P.M.S.) - Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience",
- "DeMyer (William) - Neuroanatomy",
- "Churchland (Patricia) - Brain-wise: Studies in Neurophilosophy",
- "Churchland (Patricia) - Neurophilosophy - Towards a Unified Science of the Mind/Brain",
- "Graham (George) & Stephens (G. Lynn) - Philosophical Psychopathology",
- "Le Fanu (James) - Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves",
- "Restak (Richard) - The Modular Brain", and
- "Russell (Robert John), Murphy (Nancey), Meyering (Theo C.), Arbib (Michael A.) - Neuroscience and the Person".
Footnote 16: This seems to be the definition of (at least the VS part of) a PVS; note the sharp contrast between PVS and brain-death.
- It is difficult to know what to call KQ.
- One is tempted to say “person” but this is tendentious.
- “Human animal” is correct, though some will say it’s equally tendentious, as insufficient.
Footnote 18: Oysters are animals, while oak trees are vegetables. A person in a PVS cannot display any goal-directed behavior in the sense that (even) oysters can. So, can they be said to be displaying animalian characteristics?
- So, presumably, Olson considers brain-dead individuals to be dead.
- Yet, while the body cannot breathe unaided, it must be carrying on a lot of its vegetative functions, metabolizing food and maintaining its body temperature, etc. Presumably only the autonomic nervous system is required for this.
- Olson uses the politically-incorrect term “human vegetable” for the individual in the PVS, but this seems better reserved for a brain-dead individual.
- That is, if Olson wants to claim that the individual in the PVS is still an animal, even though it cannot perform any of the (Aristotelian) animalian functions.
Footnote 20: But we’re (going to be) interested in what we are (maybe not in this chapter) so we can’t assume too much that is counter-factual.
Footnote 27: This may be a simpler case – for the animalist – than the WBT.
- I have some final hand-written footnotes asking
- whether identity and non-identity are the only alternatives,
- whether there are degrees of connectedness, and
- what is the situation with corpses, biological human beings being cyborgised and bones becoming fossils.
- Presumably, I ought to follow these points up later?
Footnote 33: She does “recall” your past, but “memory” – as distinct from “quasi-memory” – assumes the identity of the recaller with the individual whose experiences are recalled.
- This is a big ask, conceptually as well as practically.
- The supposition that brains – or brain-parts – can be rehoused in a new head and make sense of their new bodies – or be integrated with the host brain-part – is very moot.
- For example, the sensory homunculus covers the cerebrum, so how would this map to the new body?
- Connections are reinforced using “connectionist” principles, so how could these – even in principle – be surgically applied – or even known without destroying what is to be transplanted.
- As always, these are empirical matters – cerebra might have been more “modular” – but we are talking about “us”.
- "Claxton (Guy) - Intelligence in the Flesh: Why Your Mind Needs Your Body Much More Than it Thinks" argues that the entire body is involved in thought.
Footnote 34: I’m not sure of Olson’s grammar here, as to whether the “apparently” caries through. Maybe it’s just that intentions are private to the intender, deduced from the actions.
- Baker would say that she has your FPP. She probably has.
- But, this is very unlike the teletransportation case, as the cerebrum-recipient (like Locke’s prince and cobbler) has lots of physical evidence that she is not who she thinks she is, or has at the very least been subject to very radical change.
- Yet, if Baker is right, and persons are individuated by FPPs, then she is right to consider herself you.
- But, there is room for doubt that the FPP has been transferred – it may depend on how the case is described – eg. as in "Williams (Bernard) - The Self and the Future".
- To avoid tendentiousness, this probably ought to read “recall”,
- Is all memory cerebrum-based?
Footnote 42: Not the same as a lobotomy (Wikipedia: Lobotomy).
- Maybe she would over time, having the body-donor’s body and environment, presumably.
- It’s an empirical matter whether she would retain / lose / acquire any skills that might be (substantially) enabled by non-cerebral parts of the CNS / PNS.
- Philosophically, WBTs are entirely different to CTs, but here we are talking about practical issues.
- For WBTs, presumably, the “only” technical problem is wiring up the nerves in the spinal cord. Even this is doubtful, as there might (for all I know) be a mismatch for different bodies – ie. would we have any “nerves” or “connectors” left over?
- But for cerebra, it’s not clear what would be wired to what.
Footnote 50: This is hard to believe – on any account of PID – because:-
- He doesn’t consider the possibility – coherent under a 4D account of persistence – that you might have fissioned, or that the transfer is a case of fusion.
- He doesn’t seem to specify what happened to the recipient’s cerebrum. I presume it is taken to have been destroyed.
Footnote 51: Footnote 54: Check that it does, and amend this footnote!
- If you are a human animal, you would have survived even if the cerebrum had not been re-housed (analogously to the PVS case).
- If you are a person, and the resulting fusion is not you, then admittedly you would have ceased to exist.
- But if you are a person, then the recipient would have ceased to exist (or had moved) when its cerebrum was removed, so there is no principled reason for doubting that you would continue to exist, rehoused, as the recipient is the unique individual enjoying (we suppose) your psychological properties, with appropriate spatio-temporal continuity, etc.
Footnote 60: So, Olson points out that this biological continuity is more intimate than that which you would bear to your corpse.
- This distinction between cerebra and whole brains is important.
- The controlling function of the brain-stem and higher brain means that it would be unconvincing to describe this as “just another organ”, while – despite the popularity of the PV – this seems much more reasonable for cerebra.
- That said, most “organs” have clearly defined boundaries and connections, whereas this isn’t so – or not to the same degree – for the cerebral hemispheres.
Footnote 71: So, I might add, does Fred Feldman, though not Olson himself.
- There is enough physical continuity to satisfy the holder of the psychological view that there’s sufficient causal continuity for the recipient’s psychology to be (initially) identical to your own (rather than a copy).
- And there is biological continuity at the cellular level – you could describe the situation as your most important part having moved from one life-support machine to another.
- I have a (probably confused) footnote to the effect that Olson may well (as I do) consider a (human) person to be a phase sortal of a human animal. But, if so, is it possible for that (very same) phase sortal to hop from one animal to another? I suspect not.
- Johnston’s view is that each of us is a “Locus of Mental Life”, and that this locus is the brain – so we go where our brain goes.
- If we are such a locus – wherever this is instantiated – then it would be a conceptual truth that we can’t be outlived by that life.
- I’ve now written up Johnston’s paper – which deserves the close reading I’ve given it.
Footnote 75: This is an example of the distinction between epistemological and metaphysical questions.
- It seems to me that, it would at least beg the question – and may even be incoherent – to say that one’s biological and psychological continuity can come apart.
- Still, it’s an interesting question – on the animalist view – who owns the psychological continuity. I’m not sure what Olson’s answer is.
Footnote 76: I usually refer to this as the PV.
- This is a weaker claim than that I am (identical to) my mind, or that minds can exist disembodied, and the like.
- Quite what makes a bundle of mental states “my mind” is a difficult question for a holder of the PV to answer, as are the reduplication objections.
Footnote 80: I don’t have a Note on this either!
- I don’t have a Note on Content – maybe I should!
- I have a collection of papers on the sub-topic “Content” (see this link). However, most will be associated with slightly different topic in the philosophy of Mind. I do need a Note to sort this out!
Footnote 83: Is he therefore saying that the relation isn’t symmetric? Does it matter?
Footnote 90: Olson draws no distinction between continuity and connectedness.
- Or, a time when I remembered a time … This is the ancestral of memory, though Olson doesn’t use the term.
- I’ve dealt with this in an essay on Locke.
Footnote 93: See Wikipedia: Korsakoff's Syndrome, etc.
- This is a consequence of the “contents-based” PV, but seems very counter-intuitive.
- The main challenge – from the psychological perspective – is from the presumed continuity of the FPP.
Footnote 94: Perry contrasts a “brain zap” – where memories are totally removed – with “amnesia” in which they are present, but inaccessible.
Footnote 96: Footnote 97: Indeed, he says Unger “qualifies it” in pp. 147-52, ie. in "Unger (Peter) - A Physically Based Approach To Our Survival".
Footnote 98: Footnote 101: Olson (like many) oscillates between “material” and “physical”. There’s a technical distinction between the two concepts, but not so as to cause a problem in the present context.
- That, is, so you continue to be a person.
- One could quibble about whether more than a cerebrum is needed to support consciousness.
- Of course, Olson will challenge whether this is even sufficient, as he treats the cerebrum as “just another organ”, which can be replaced without affecting our (numerical) identity, and certainly doesn’t take “us” with it if transplanted.
Footnote 106: This is important – your mental contents (and maybe your mental capacities) might be physically preserved – as Olson suggests – in a big book and posted rather than being transmitted telegraphically.
- This is a Brain-state Transfer.
- So, it is a slightly different TE to Teletransportation, but just as open to reduplication objections.
- It is also open to Williams-like objections that the recipient just suffers a massive personality change.
- We are referred – in a footnote – to:-
→ "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Personal Identity: a Materialist Account", p. 108ff (ie. Section 10, “The Brain-State Transfer Device”)
→ John Hick, Philosophy of Religion, 1990 – p. 122ff.
→ "Davies (Brian) - An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion", p. 125f
→ "Lewis (David) - The Paradoxes of Time Travel".
- The Shoemaker section – indeed the whole of his Chapter – is important and addresses some of my immediate questions, even if it doesn’t exactly answer them.
- It is surprising to have two references to Philosophy of Religion. I don’t have Hick, and my edition of Davies is the Second (later) edition, and the pagination doesn’t seem to match up – nor could I see anything relevant in the Contents or Index, except perhaps Chapter 11 – “Life After Death”. I doubt it’s worth following up.
- The Lewis reference is surprising. Maybe "Lewis (David) - Survival and Identity" was intended, as both were published in 1976 and feature in Olson’s bibliography?
Footnote 109: Is this just sloppiness? Survival may or may not be equivalent to persistence. See Parfit.
Footnote 110: In the absence of a Perdurantist account of persistence.
Footnote 116: Olson doesn’t here mention the Closest Continuer theory.
Footnote 118: Olson doesn’t quite put matters like that.
Footnote 120: This statement shows that the book is intended as a positive statement of Animalism, rather than a refutation of the PV.
Footnote 124: I have a footnote questioning whether this strictly makes Olson not an animalist. I need to check the strict usage of this term.
Footnote 125: Olson irritatingly uses the term “people” rather than the accepted term of art “persons”. I will use “persons”.
- I don’t think Olson says what he understands a person – or “people” in his terms – to be.
- However, intelligence, rationality and consciousness seem to be on his list of required attributes.
- Thus, Olson seems to dismiss out of hand Locke’s main claim to fame in this area – the distinction between “persons” and “men”.
- However, the distinction can be maintained by the Animalist – by taking “person” to be a non-substance term, but rather an honorific applied to the substances, human animals (and other substances that deserve it).
- Olson says “people”, again when he really ought to say “persons”.
- He gives a couple of sample attributes: rationality and the capacity for self-consciousness.
- The two others seem to be candidates for being Phase Sortals, while this one seems rather flippant.
- The important point is that students (say) are not separate individuals from the persons (or animals) that are students, but pick them out during phases of their careers.
- This is also my “line” on what human persons are – phase sortals of human animals.
- The important point is that – if this is what persons are – then we are not persons; Olson’s view is that we are animals, full stop, though we may be persons for periods of our existence.
Footnote 156: This reads oddly. Rather, it’s like an organ donation – eg. of a kidney to a sibling.
- This is an interesting alternative description of what is supposed to take place.
- I agree that it is inappropriate in this case; the reasons being:-
→ A cerebrum is not an animal, and
→ There are two cerebrums, so there are reduplication objections (though maybe Olson means both cerebrums to avoid this objection).
- However, it is more appropriate in the case of a WBT.
Footnote 158: Shouldn’t this be “kidneys”, though removing toxins from the blood is one of the many functions of the liver?
- This is the key claim.
- There would be o temptation to say that you had ceased to exist, or “were no longer the same person” if you lost your liver, but many would claim this if you lost all mental capacity.
Footnote 160: These memories are your memories, but only apparent memories for the recipient of your cerebrum if that person isn’t you.
Footnote 188: Footnote 194: Footnote 196: Footnote 197: I have my doubts about van Inwagen in this regard.
Footnote 199: See the discussion on Corpses.
Footnote 201: I have the right edition, and this is the start of the section on Personal Identity in Chapter 20 (“Mind and Body”).
Footnote 202: This would be just the last two pages of the Chapter, so the pagination may be wrong.
Footnote 203: The Section on “Disembodied Survival”.
Footnote 204: I have the second edition from 1998 and the pagination is different.
Footnote 205: Footnote 207: I don’t know what this caveat is supposed to mean.
Footnote 212: Several things here:-
- I agree that Wiggins’s work is “difficult”, and wonder whether Olson has him right.
- Saying that human animals – as distinct from human persons – “perish” when lapsing into a PVS seems clearly incorrect.
- It looks to me as though Wiggins is taking the person as the substance term, a person being a phase sortal of a human animal. In contrast Olson – as do I – takes the animal as the substance, so I am identical to the animal, but have the property of being a person for stages of my existence.
- Wiggins updated his views in "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance Renewed", 2001, after Olson was writing.
- He had earlier (1996) clarified his views in an interchange - "Snowdon (Paul) - Persons and Personal Identity" & "Wiggins (David) - Reply to Snowdon (Persons and Personal Identity)" - recorded in "Lovibond (Sabina) & Williams (S.G.) - Identity, Truth & Value: Essays for David Wiggins", though Olson makes no mention of this.
- This is what Olson refers to elsewhere as the “brain transplant intuition”.
- It is really hard to resist – so much so that saying that a brain is a “maximally mutilated” (or “pared down”) human organism may be the way to go.
- We don’t need to include psychology as the motivator for this intuition – the regulatory function may do – but have the psychological “first person perspective” benefits come along for the ride.
- That said, the brain transplantee would consider himself to have swapped bodies, there would be a principled reason why he has, no rival candidates and little objection in either the philosophical or wider community. What more could you want?
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)