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The Problem of Personal Identi

Oct 08, 1999 1778 Words
The Problem of Personal Identity

In the essay written by John Perry called “Will Tommy Vladek Survive?” Perry presents a very controversial topic. In this story Tommy Vladek is considered brain dead but his body is still totally functional. There is another child in the story who has had an accident, and his body is completely destroyed. The child’s body that is completely destroyed still has perfect brain function, and the doctors can put his brain into Tommy’s body. Perry presents different views on the topic of who will survive the operation, Tommy who is providing the body, or Sam who is providing the brain? When looking at the main question at hand. Who is Harry Vladek likely to bring home from the hospital? Perry states many times throughout his essay that, Tommy will probably not be the one who survives the operation. Perry is not 100% certain of this, but he states many different concepts of identity and the mind, to help understand who should survive the operation and why. These concepts include identity and similarity, body transfers, brain identity, mind identity and memory theory. The first main concept that Perry states is identity and similarity. He starts by stating the difference between identity and similarity, which most people use to describe the same things. However, when Parry uses the term identity, he means that there is just one thing involved. For example if you have twins, they are not identical twins because if the twins were identical, then only one person would exist. Similarity means two things are the same. So in this case, if you had twins you would say that they are the same. Some philosophers say that we are never identical from moment to moment, because we

are always changing and having new thoughts and memories in our brains every second. Personal identity cannot help with the Tommy Vladek case, because you can say that Tommy’s physical appearance has not changed at all. But then you could also say that Sam has not changed mentally, he has only changed just physically. So therefore you are saying that both boys are surviving the operation, one of them physically and one of them mentally. This would however mean that both boys are the same person, which Parry goes on to explain in his next part of the essay. Parry also looks at the chance of both Tommy and Sam surviving the operation. This, however is not possible because, if Tommy who is one individual and Sam is the other are said to both be identical with the survivor who is a part of each of them. Then you are simply stating that Tommy and Sam are one identical person. Which is not the case. Next Perry explains the concept of body transfer. Body transfer is very popular among those who believe in life after death. When you pass away your soul goes into another body, and you continue to live. However, if this were the case then the survivor of the operation would be Sam because he is the one who is acquiring the new body. The biggest problem with the theory of body transfer, is self-identity. Let’s say you were the best basketball player in the world, and one-day you woke up in the morning with someone else’s body. Even if you could play the same and think the same, you would still have a very hard time trying to get everyone to believe who you really are. A really good example of this type of transfer is seen in the movie Face Off. In this movie the bad guy dies, and the police need to find out where a bomb has been planted. In order to find this out, doctors take the face off the bad guy and put it on one of the police. When this police officer try’s to live the life of the bad guy, he goes through all the experiences of the bad guy, but does not know anyone who is talking to him. The police officer eventually tries to confront his wife with the face of the bad guy, and she calls the police and tries to kill him. This example shows that if Tommy were to receive Sam’s brain, it would really work out as Sam getting Tommy’s body. And it would also cause some very big problems for Tommy’s friends, and Sam’s self-identity. When a person is growing up they go through different life experiences; these life experiences are what make them who they are. A person shapes their own self-identity or brain identity. Meaning to be the same person, is to have the same brain. A person goes through their lives doing personal things to your body, and having life experiences that only themselves can understand. These memories are put into their brain forever, and this is what gives them self or brain identity. A good contradicting example that Parry gives is, if were possible to take all of your memories except one that you would like to forget, like a death in the family. Then put all of these memories into a big machine, and the machine makes you a new brain. Now does this still count as self-identity or brain identity, because you don’t have your original brain, you have a copy of it. Another way of looking at the concept is with a boat example. If you have a boat sitting in the water and every day you take one piece from your own boat, and start to construct another boat right beside yours. If you replace every piece of your boat, right after you take a piece off. Eventually you have two boats the exact same, only the one that contained the original pieces is now beside the new boat you just built. Now you are faced with the question of which boat is actually yours? Maybe they are both yours? Mind identity is another concept explained by Parry in his essay. He uses an example of if he had the same immaterial thing thinking in him, as Socrates did, along with being made up of the same material atoms as Socrates. But in neither case, could Parry say that he is Socrates. Parry then goes on to say that, it is not the immaterial thinking things that are important, but the sameness of conscious. Which also supports the idea that Tommy is not going to be the one who survives the operation, because Sam will be the only one who’s conscious is present. Another way of looking at the whole situation in a different way is, if you think of the hard drive of a computer as the brain, and the monitor as the body. What happens if you take the hard drive from a Macintosh and attach it to the monitor of your IBM? You then have a completely different system, which acts completely different and performs differently then the original IBM. This example states that if you believe in mind identity then you believe that Tommy will not survive the operation, because his body will be acquiring all of Sam’s past experiences and memories. Brain identity is another concept that Perry uses in his essay. He states that the brain is the part of our body that is responsible for mental life. The problem with this is, people are always interested in the mental or psychological attributes when dealing with people. Which is why everyone associates the brain with self-identity. People should ask themselves, why don’t we base a person’s self-identity on some other organ in the body like the liver or the heart. After all, people undergo liver transplants and even heart transplants, and when they get out of the hospital people still think they are the same people. Another way of looking at this is to take a car that has a blown engine. Lets say it a 98 Honda Civic and you put in a 97 Ford Escort engine into the body of the Honda. So now you are faced with the question of do you still have a Honda or do you have a Ford Escort. Most people will say that they still have a Honda Civic because that is what people see from the outside. But if you believe in brain identity, and you think of the motor of a car the brain. Then you would not have a Honda Civic anymore you would have a Ford Escort. This is the same problem that the Vladek’s face, when they are asked who they are going to be brining home from the hospital. Their son Tommy who’s body is still the same but brain is completely different, or Sam who’s memories and experiences are present in Tommy’s body. Memory theory is a very large part of Parry’s decision, of who will survives the operation. Parry uses example’s to put the other theories in the wrong and makes this situation look like there is only one possible outcome. He uses the example of taking all the thoughts in your mind right now and calling them Fred, then taking all of the thoughts in your mind from a few seconds ago and calling them Frank. Parry then says for the reader to do the same thing, only the reader calls their thoughts something else. What Parry is getting at with this example is that people cannot share identical memories, if they if they could they would be the same person. Memory theory states that, going back to the Frank and Fred example. That frank and Fred have many overlapping memories and so do Mark and Mat. The problem is that Fred and Frank don’t share any memories with Mark and Mat, none of them have memories that overlap each other. This is because everyone’s memories are their own. This is why Harry Vladek thinks that he won’t be brining Tommy home. Perry is not certain in his essay if Tommy or Sam will survive. However Parry is confident that the memory theory can be successfully defended, and therefore states that Tommy will not survive the operation. And the injured child Sam will survive, in the sense that all of the same memories will still be present. The only difference is that Sam will have a completely different body.

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