Brain transplants:the implications [1 of 3]

Although human brain transplant operations may oneday become a routine procedure, they have until now only been successfully performed in the heads of science fiction writers – and, of course, philosophers, who ask questions such as ‘Are we our brains?’ Or, put another way, if your brain was transplanted into another body, would ‘You’ go with the brain? Such paradoxes have been hotly debated for more than half a century now – but solid answers remain as elusive as ever. John Rogers Searle, for example (currently the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley) pointed out in 1983 that, in his opinion, “… each of us is precisely a brain in a vat …” This potentially unnerving notion has recently led UK philosopher Dr Stephen Burwood from the Centre for Research into Embodied Subjectivity (CRES) at the University of Hull, to follow with the observation that :

“ … there ought to be a certain, fixed answer to the question ‘Who survives the brain transplant?’ and no doubt, if such medical procedures were common, lawyers would demand one.”

In his article Are We Our Brains? (Philosophical Investigations 32:2 April 2009) he examines the complex implications of ‘embrainment’ (achieved via a notional brain transplant) from many viewpoints – for example :

“What if the donor body was of a different sex or a different race from the recipient? It is not just a question of the biological influence of the donor’s body on the recipient’s transplanted brain; though this is likely to be considerable, especially in the case of something like a change of sex. (With his brain bathed in hormones from a new endocrine system, for example, the recipient is very likely to have changed moods, attitudes, preferences, and so forth – perhaps even adopting those similar to the donor.)”

And reaching the potentially enigmatic conclusion :

“If the minded individual is embodied, this must mean more than being embrained.”

Coming soon : Brain transplants : the implications [#2]