(This was a paper I did for Philosophy 102, loosely based on Dennent's "Where Am I?". My goal was to fictionalize a philosophical discussion.)
Journal Entry - May 12:
I'm now lying in a hospital bed waiting for a very unusual operation, and it's all because I enrolled in a philosophy course. Let me try to explain.
I was leaving my Philosophy class after a mind-rattling three hour exam when a man in a trench coat approached me. My first impression was one of surprise, since it was 85 degrees and I was wearing shorts and a short-sleeve shirt. But then he identified himself as a CIA agent and produced an identification card to prove it. My second impression became one of intense fear as I vainly tried to recall any insults I had directed against the U.S. in the last week, but could only remember a pointed comment about how ideal the cafeteria food was for Siberian residents. The agent assured me that I was in no trouble, but merely needed for an important project that would help my country.
I then proceeded to ask the logical question of "why me?"
"Because our records show that you have an interest in philosophy and this project needs someone with that interest."
"But I'm only a freshman. Why not choose a philosophy professor?"
"They'd be too concerned about their jobs, and besides they're less gullible"
I finally agreed, remembering the adventure, suspense, intrigue, and wild women I'd seen in James Bond movies. Little did I know of what lay ahead.
I was taken to a military hospital where the agent told me I'd undergo an extensive check-up to insure my physical ability to perform the project. I still had no idea of what this task was. I was sitting in the waiting room when the examining doctor slowly walked in, a grave look evident on his face. "I have some bad news," he quietly said, "X-rays of your head show the presence of a brain tumor."
"Can't the tumor simply be removed?" I desperately asked.
"No. It's too large."
I sank back into my chair in saddened disbelief.
"However," the doctor continued, "Though you've been scratched from your initial project, we can still save your life by an untested experimental operation."
"Anything. What's this operation?"
"Replacing the malignant tissue with electronic components. What we'll do is remove a small portion of your brain, duplicate all their functions and memory onto electronic circuits, place the circuits in their place, and connect the nerve endings. This would be repeated until the malignant area has been replaced."
"How much of my brain will you have to remove?"
"With the rate of growth of the tumor, possibly all of it."
A sudden uneasiness overcame me as I slowly remembered some of the discussions on the mind-body problem in my philosophy class. "Wait, even if you do that, I'll still die!"
"What do you mean?"
"Yes, I'm right," I answered, remembering the central state materialist position. "If you destroy my brain, you'll destroy me. You see I'm only a physical-chemical being. You can replace some parts of me, such as an arm or leg, or even my heart. But you can't take away my brain, because you would destroy the essence of my being, my thought patterns and brain states. These brain cells comprise "me". If you replace my brain with some computer, you'll only have an extremely sophisticated robot composed of my body being run by an electronic brain. This robot will look like me, talk like me, express the same ideas and emotions as I would, and even marvel at his survival from the operation, but he would only be an ingeniously disguised impostor. I, my tumor-infected brain, would be dead!"
"Relax," the doctor replied, "you have nothing to worry about, because you're wrong. You're not just a collection of cells, you also have a mind. This invisible, unmeasurable part of you is what your essence of being is. Christians refer to it as a soul. Let me argue it this way. You said that one can have a limb or an organ replaced?"
"Yes," I answered, recalling the operations in which they have been.
"Then isn't it possible to have all your body, except your brain, replaced?"
"Yes, I believe so. It's possible to have all artificial limbs and organs."
"Would you be less of a human being?"
"No, I would still have my brain."
"Right, now couldn't we replace just a small part of the brain, say a part used to store memory with an electronic equivalent, would you be less of a man?"
"I guess not, the rest of my brain would still use the electronic part to store and recall memory just like if it was composed of living cells."
"Exactly, if we gradually replace portions of your brain, even a part that controls for example the movement of your arm, the rest of your brain will react to it just as though it was the original part. Your mind would still exist, housed in a brain composed of electronic components. You would live on, not die".
"I don't know," I replied, but I don't have much of a choice, since refusing the operation would mean certain death. I agreed to it.
So now I'm lying here in my bed, waiting to be brought into the operating room. The anesthesia is doing its job for I'm falling asleep, my last thoughts are on the possibility that I may not be at my own wedding night. How sad indeed.
Journal Entry: May 14:
I remember slowly coming out of my sleep, thinking that I had been wrong, for now I had an electronic brain and was still alive. I opened my eyes to see if the rest of me was okay, when I saw it. My arm was made of metal! All of me was made of metal. They had not only replaced my brain, but my body as well.
I did the only thing I thought I should do; I yelled, happy that they had supplied me with artificial vocal cords. As the nurse came scrambling down the hall towards me, I thought that the central-state materialist views on the mind-body problem was completely wrong. Here I was, with no body at all, even my brain gone, yet I still existed.
"What's wrong?", asked the nurse whose face seemed strangely familiar, as she entered the room.
"What's wrong", I indignantly answered, "is that your doctors have not only destroyed my brain, but my body as well!"
"No we haven't", the nurse replied to my total astonishment, "Your body minus your brain is in room 203, and your brain is in room 204 and 205".
"What do you mean?"
"Exactly that. You are in room 205; you have half of your brain. In the next room is the other half encased in a similar mechanical body that you have."
"But my brain has a tumor."
"No it doesn't; that was only a ploy to get you to agree to the operation. Yes, this was the original project you were asked to participate in."
My head was filled with so many thoughts that I had to relax myself and try to reason out the situation. I was not completely made of metal and electronic components as I had thought earlier, but still in possession of half of my brain. According. to the central-state materialist I still existed because I still had my brain, though only half of its original size. No real lost, since supposedly I only used part of it anyway.
I could still think. Therefore, according to Descartes, I still existed. But what about the other mechanical body with half of my brain in the next room. Did he exist in the same way that I did? I saw no reason why I'd exist and he wouldn't, since we both had half of my brain. And what about my brainless body in the other room? Probably just the robot I'd originally thought would result from the operation.
My thoughts were interrupted by a loud scream coming from the room where the other half of my brain was located.
Another nurse entered his room and I could hear her ask "What's wrong?"
"What's wrong," came the reply, "is that your doctors have not only destroyed my brain but my body as well". My words verbatim, I thought, as a shiver ran down my metal spine.
I turned to my own nurse and asked "Your face seems familiar, why?"
"Don't you remember. You regained consciousness twice during the long operation and asked how much of your brain remained."
It was then that those memories fully returned. The replies had been 60% and 40%. So the now brainless body had a mind, even with 60% of its brain removed. Did it slowly become a robot, or did it still have a mind that I was now unable to experience?
I then asked myself the fundamental question that was in the back of my mind the whole time; Who am I? Am I, as the central state materialist would argue, just a physical-chemical being? Then am I now two entities, both having half of my original brain? If so, what would happen if I died? Would the consciousness that was possessed by the dying body revert to the living one, since it also possessed half of the original brain? Or would it also pass away, leaving the conclusion that two totally separate persons had resulted from the split, and that one could therefore be both alive and dead? Would the brainless body then only be a robot, since it possesses none of the original brain?
But what about the arguments brought up earlier by the doctor? Do we also posses a mind or a soul, as the dualist would claim? If so, who of the three possessed it? Could all three?
I didn't know the answers, but the doctor told me that I would know the answer tomorrow, because he would link all three of us together by an elaborate set of artificial nerves. I would finally discover the truth. I now look eagerly for that time to come.
ABC News, May 15, 6:43 P.M.
"...In other news today, an explosion destroyed a Langley CIA experimental laboratory, killing six and destroying files of research data. Officials noted that the experiments were highly classified and that recovery of information as to their nature and results is doubtful. Investigators are in the process of determining whether the explosion was of accidental origin..."
Copyright (c) 1977 John Gerner
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